19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Green tartan in 1801

UPDATE: Last week’s Worth of 1875 rated a (drumroll here because it is 5 months late and better be worth it!) 8.5 out of 10.  Many of you were madly in love with it, but a few of you thought the colours and trim a bit disjointed, and it lost points for that.

This is my last week of ‘away’ Rate the Dresses where I haven’t had time to look at all your comments from last week.  Hopefully I’ve picked a good one!

I’ve been very good and have resisted the urge to show you this as a St Patricks themed post in March, with some dreadful comment about mixing Scotland and Ireland.

Instead I’m showing you this now because…ummm…green is good….plaid is good…Hawai’i is very green…also, it’s interesting (the Rate the Dress, not Hawai’i, though Hawai’i is interesting too).

Fashion plate featuring afternoon dress, February 1801, LACMA

While tartan is one of the ‘universal’ patterns (like the Meander, or Greek Key) that turns up in almost every culture, rather than the exclusively Scottish design it is sometimes thought of as, this dress, with its tartan over-robe and be-feathered tam o’ shanter (granted, Scotch bonnets probably weren’t called that yet – Burn’s poem having been published only a decade before) inspired hat, was almost certainly meant to evoke a bit of Highland flair.

What do you think of the puffed-sleeve white dress, cross-front over robe of green tartan (what fabric do you suppose the tartan was?) cross and bead necklace (the beads look like carnelian, or coral perhaps), yellow gloves (they were clearly quite the thing for the Regency lady), and distinctive headdress? Does it have flair or failure written all over it (in large green checks).

(also, how many more side notes do you suppose I can squeeze into this post?)

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.



  1. I feel like I’m missing some crucial, fad-based context for this.

    Which is probably not a good sign. I’m going to put it in the same category as those 80s prom dresses that seemed like such a good/trendy idea at the time and give it a 2.

    • That’s how I feel… Maybe this was a theme dress for a theme party? Otherwise, like the others, I think the model looks short and fat. Too bad the underdress wasn’t green..


    • fidelio says

      I think we may be seeing one of the early points in the 19th century fad for Romantickal Highland Stuff. Although Sir Walter Scott had not yet begun publishing his poetry, let alone his novels, the works of James MacPherson (the Ossian poems) and Robert Burns were well-known, and there was the beginnings of an appreciation of the Scots as people with an interesting history and culture. The wearing of tartan had been illegal in Scotland since the Rebellion of 1745, yet by 1822, when Geirge IV visited Edinburgh, the king himself wore a kilt, as so did a lot of other men, most made specially for the occasion.

      A lot of late 18th and early 19th century fashion has suitably denatured ‘ethnic’ elements in it–if you read Georgette Heyer’s novels, there are all these references to Circassian shawls and so forth–exotic details to dress up what was generally a fairly simple basic line in dress. This may be something along those lines–Scottish culture was starting to be cool, and what better way to show it off than to shoehorn it into current fashions.

  2. Oh, dear. She looks to me like a char-lady who has for some reason picked up a fan! With a smidgin of Rosie the Riveter goes Scottish. Remarkable outfit. Makes the model look short and fat – it’s that knee-length tartan over-all.

    I really can’t see an up-side to this. Apart from its being very funny, though!

    2 out of 10. ( For the giggles.)

  3. I actually quite like it. It looks more plaid than tartan to me. I like the hat.
    The overdress worn on its own could be quite modern.

    • A differing opinion is always good to add spice!

      And I do think this is a good opportunity to finish researching/writing that plaid vs. tartan terminology post I’ve been working on (I’m intrigued by what you think the distinction is, because I can’t quite guess from your comments).

  4. karenb says

    I didnt expect it to be from 1801. Maybe my impressions of early 1800’s dress is from tv programs and Ican’t recall seeing anything like this. If I saw it on a stage show I would of thought they got their period wrong. Interesting but I wouldnt wear it . 3/10

  5. It’s a great St. Patrick’s Day costume! But it’s not terribly flattering and thus, in my opinion, fails as fashion. A 3, because I’m feeling generous.

  6. I don’t care for this era usually. And this dress does nothing to help me with that! Her over dress makes her butt look huge. The gloves remind me of the rubber gloves you can get here in North America for washing dishes. The hat is kinda cute…nah…maybe not. 0/10

  7. Oh dear. Normally I am all for things with Highland flair (having been born in Scotland and all) but this is just not doing it for me. I think it’s that knee-length overdress – I have never, ever seen a short contrasting overdress that actually flatters the wearer. I do like the cut of the bodice, and I think if the tartan overdress had been full-length with perhaps an open centre front, the gown would have been much more effective. As it is… 4/10.

  8. I pretty well hate it. I can well see it being one of those things some costumer makes and wears to a ball to gloat about how simultaneously period and UGLY they are, as I try to avert my eyes from the horror. 2/10

  9. fidelio says

    After years of reading Georgette Heyer’s novels, I began to realize that looking at old fashion plates was essential to figuring our what her heroines were wearing. It’s wonderful that the internet makes this so much easier for us. I’m positive at least a couple of those ladies were wearing a knee-length tunic over a slip of something else.

    As eye-opening as that headdress is, this outfit isn’t as over-accessorized as some of the fashion plate ladies seem to be. If I take a deep breath and try and shove my modern sensibilities into a closet for a moment, I can see that this was, at the time, a striking outfit, and possible a refreshing change from all those white muslin dresses you see at that time–and possibly a bit warmer as well, if the tunic was made from a lightweight wool fabric. However (maybe it’s the hat) I can’t rise to more than a 7/10. It’s interesting and illuminating, but even allowing for changes in taste with regard to women’s figures I don’t like it as much as the other yellow-gloved lady we’ve seen.

  10. She looks like she’s wearing a full apron and dishwashing gloves. To me it looks like she was in the middle of cleaning her kitchen when her daughter came in and asked her to play dress-up and gave her the fan/hat. 2/10

    • I was thinking the green over-robe looked like an apron too!! and now that you mention it, the yellow gloves couldn’t be anything other than our modern dish washing gloves–how funny to think that could have been fashionable at one point.
      I think it’s the necklace that actually makes her look thick though–it’s stuck so high on her neck, like a dog collar.

  11. Well, it may not be quite as pleasing on her figure, but who cares? I love it! It certainly isn’t something to be worn to a ball, in my humble opinion, but I think it would look great for taking a stroll through the private parks on one’s own estate. It looks quite clever! I could see a girl saying to her friend with only slight bit of sarcasm, “My, don’t I look lovely today! I thought the pattern quite fun, and such as it is fun, so it needed to be made into a fun ensemble!” I also think the hat is quite cute as well.

    On a side note, the way they do the first “s” in “dress” is so funny. Why not write both that way? It actually looks exactly as I write my “f,” since I wasn’t taught NOT to do it that way. In fact, we didn’t even try learning cursive in third grade, like most kids. I just learned it on my own. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get it right!

  12. Zip Zip says

    Mmm. In person it might actually work nicely, on someone with plenty of height. On the fashion plate? eewwsh.

    5 out of 10

  13. Ouch! 2/10 and I like Regency fashions, but this is just cutesy bad taste. Slim lines don’t seem to go with plaid. Romantic can carry a bit and Victorian loads, but they’d sink the Titanic.

  14. Lene H. says

    Too much volume on the tartan makes me think of maternity-wear.
    I quite like the idea, but not the execurtion.

  15. Claire Payne says

    Oh dear. Is this a ‘pregnant Bay City Rollers’ fan look? Not flattering at all. Nil points from me I’m affraid. I like my waist nipped in thank you.

  16. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Well, it’s amusing. She makes me think of cucumbers and picnic blankets.

    While I don’t really like the look, it does do an OK job of breaking up the typical vast expanse of bland fabric with boobs on top that you see in most regency dresses.
    the necklace and earrings are nice.
    At first glance the wrinkles in her right glove looked like a snake tattoo, it was rather confusing until I saw that they were gloves.

    Weird and puzzling but not too awful, 5/10.

  17. Black Tulip says

    Erm no, a wrapover pinny and a pair of marigolds is not a good look.


  18. This was great for that Scottish lady who had some leftover kilt fabric from her husband’s kilt. Regency DIY, folk.


  19. It looks like a Regency/Empire take on a geeky Highlander (movie/TV series) costume.
    And given the abovementioned resurgency of Highlander themes in literature of the time, it probably is.
    So I give it 5/10 for geeky guts. And about 2/10 for the utter unflattering-ness of the size of plaid on the body/garment. That’s 3,5/10, right?

  20. Geoffwah says

    I’m perplexed, simply because it’s impossible – I repeat – impossible for one to divorce oneself of the modern symbolism of this pattern in this color because it has so permeated our textiles. Square patterns, in all of their forms, have come to “mean something”. Gingham checks put one in mind of the quaint farm life and/or Dorothy Gale, a bolder check pattern recalls picnics almost instantly, large single-tone, multi-value plaids lead one to think of cheap cotton used for lady’s aprons, maternity wear, family cookouts, men’s casual, short sleeve shirts or even cowboy-style long-sleeve snap button shirts and (of course) kitchen curtains. Thrift. Financial austerity. Times is hard. These all come to mind when one sees the oft-printed, monochromatic plaid. This, then, makes anything puff sleeve oriented seem almost comically out of place with what looks like a kitchen washcloth.

    Thus, this ends up looking like an old pregnancy dress that’s been donned by an insane woman who loves fans and elbow-length, butter yellow gloves. The cut (especially of the shoulders and the skirt, which tapers rather unfortunately) and the tiny corded waistline are very frump-making. The hat does not add. The necklace isn’t terrible. I’d probably make the cross a bit more conservative in size.

    2/10 for the necklace

  21. […] But, I digress. I found this lovely bit of inspiration on The Dreamstress‘ blog, in her Rate The Dress feature. Granted, I forgot to leave a comment with my thoughts, but it definitely caught my eye. […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

Comments are closed.