19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: pretty, pretty pink (or not) in 1858

This week I’ve finally gotten around to adding up last week’s score from the green tartan 1801 tunic dress – not that it was particularly hard, because the scores were so miserably low I didn’t have to do much adding.  The poor model’s highland flair and coloured gloves were quite raked over the coals – you compared them to a gardening apron and dishwashing gloves.  The outfit had only a few defenders, and some of those (Zach!) forgot to give it a rating, so the poor ensemble received a dismal 3.3 out of 10.

Whatever the official rating, I think you guys need to know that that outfit has one very important fan.  I LOVE it, and as soon as I find the right tartan fabric, I’m going to make it.  And I bet I’ll be able to prove that that design looks completely spectacular in the flesh.

This week I’m going from wacky tartan Regency to super sweet and girly mid-Victorian.  Extremely pink and frilly and feminine haven’t always gone over so well in the past.  Will this ballgown from the MFA Boston be an exception?

Ball dress in two parts, about 1858, American or French, MFA Boston

Ball dress in two parts, about 1858, American or French, MFA Boston

It’s quite a change in aesthetic from last week’s frock, but equally distinctive, and (I suspect) with equal possibilities for horrifying most of you.  But I may be completely wrong!  I certainly didn’t expect the lack of enthusiasm last week.  So which is it?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10 (no, 0 isn’t a rating!)


  1. Emileigh M. says

    I like it! Thought it probably wouldn’t be admired at a prom or banquet nowadays, I think it would look really beautiful if taken for the late 1800s dress that it is. The fabric is lovely, very floaty, and the lace trim is charming. There’s a lot going on on the bodice, but with a simple upswept hairstyle I think it would look very feminine, pretty, and graceful. Not to mention a hoopskirt and wide neckline always makes a waist look miniscule.

    I give it a 7/10!

  2. Referencing Firefly, this is the dress Kaylee wore to the ball. Ugly–so gauche–but she felt like a princess. So I personally give this one a 2, but then I give it a 10 for making sweet girls happy.

    • Ah, I too was thinking that Kaylee would swoon and squeal over it! Only I like it too! 🙂

      • Seconding MrsC. 8/10 from me; I guess I’m not enough of a Kaylee for it to make it to 10.
        But I love the hairstyle they paired it with! That wreath of roses sitting on the locks is l-o-v-e-l-y; I’d wear it in a minute!
        And unlike Stef, I love the shade of pink. That, I’d wear in a minute, too, but in a simpler version… and I don’t normally go for pink in my clothing.

        • P.S. Actually, they’re not roses… seem more like poinsettia or something? Could this have been a Christmas ball dress, or a Christmas ball wreath, at least? Still lovely.

  3. I think that’s really pretty, and even like the decorative pink fronds on the bodice. Though the green dangly bits could go. Say 8 out of 10?

    A question: since the ballgown is in two parts, do you think that the fine net over the skirt was removable? Is this one of those dresses that went from day to evening with different bodices, and if so, did the net go with the evening bodice?

  4. I am struggling with this.
    My immediate reaction is not positive, and after looking at the pictures I am struggling to find something to save it, some amazing detail to fall in love with… I guess out of all the shades of pink, this one isn’t the worst, although maybe it faded over the years?
    Anyway, I don’t hate this, but I don’t like it. So it’s a 3/10 for me. I am saving the lower scores for something I might detest 😉

  5. This is the most horrifyingly ugly dress I have ever seen. That is possibly the worst pink color ever. I mean, it isn’t bright or happy or pretty… it looks dirty. And torn. And oh so frilly. Ugh.

    I do, however, like the hair style… so it gets a bonus point.


  6. Black Tulip says

    My first thought was, “Eugh! Too pink, too frilly, so sickly I can feel my tooth enamel dissolving just from looking at it”.

    Then, in the interests of balanced commenting, I had a proper look at it. The dress itself is certainly too elaborate for my taste, but all the elements do work well together – with the possible exception of the flowery bits down the skirt.

    If it were any other colour, I’d actually quite like it. I just don’t like pink.

    5/10, losing at least one point for pinkness

  7. Ew. It looks as though it was made from dyed spiderwebs–with plant sprigs caught in them. 5 of 10, mostly for the 1850s silhouette (which I usually like).

  8. Fernanda says

    I love this dress. I’m a HUGE fan of pink and i have to say it. I like that it is too elaborate and it makes the waist look very tiny! Besides, the neckline is gorgeous

  9. Fernanda says

    I love this dress. I’m a HUGE fan of pink and i have to say it. I like that it is too elaborate and it makes the waist look very tiny! Besides, the neckline is gorgeous 10/10

  10. There is a lot of fussiness in this dress. Ruffly bits, netting bits, garlands down the front, crepe streamers down the back. However, it IS a ball gown, and if one can’t have over-the-top trimming on a ball gown, why bother having a fancy dress party at all? For me, pink always scores bonus points, and that particular shade of dusty, faded out, almost dingy pink is one that seems to work with my complexion. Every time I wear that particular shade, I get loads of complements for it. 6 points for being a quintessential princess ball gown that is too much and too young for me to wear for anything but a tea party (at home) with my daughter, but one extra point for being “my” shade of pink. 7 out of 10.

  11. I think it’s beautiful. It’s an amazingly delicate textile, and it has survived with all of its pieces so many decades. It’s a wonderful example of a mid-19th-century ball dress, when floaty and fluffy and light-colored were the ideal to show up in a dimly-lit ballroom. 9/10

  12. Yes, Kaylee would love it! It is just so pretty. For me, too pink. But I can see a young dark-haired girl looking very fetching in it – not a great colour for a blonde, so part of the calorie overload look could be down to the fair model.

    The form is very pretty. That word again. The lace on the top is lovely, the sequin stripes round the skirt are a delightful idea.

    I’ve talked myself into it. 7 out of 10.

  13. My first reaction was “meh”. I don’t love it (but then I don’t love pink and fluffy as an aesthetic so that’s no surprise), but I also don’t hate it. If you’re going to go pink and fluffy, this is a good way to do it. I’ll give it 5/10.

  14. oooo, pretty 🙂 I would totally wear that to an 1858 themed ball, right after I cut off the streamers hanging from her sleeves and the seaweed hanging from her waist. The pink is beautiful and oh so feminine. I’d give it a 7!

  15. I mostly like it. It’s just *slightly* too frilly, but I’d still compliment someone at the ball wearing that. I wouldn’t really wear it myself. 8/10

  16. Demented Seamstress says

    wwwwwwwwwwwwwww.Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. It’s WAY too pink and fluffy.
    I like some shades of pink, in moderate amounts, and gauzy fabrics are usually lovely, but this????

    Too much stuff and not enough colour variation, it’s a blob.


    P.S I’m the person who previously called herself The Mad Purple Chicken, I changed it because I finally realized how dumb it sounds.

    • Demented Seamstress says

      Oh dear, a bunch of w’s appeared in front of the eww. How did that happen?

  17. I LOVE it! all except for those funny floaty streamers at the shoulders. Aside from that, I love the gossamer sheerness of the dress, but not the dark flowers, therefore I give it a 7 out of 10.

  18. Hannah Alyse says

    8!!! Just because I am really thrown off by those green strings that were put there on purpose 🙂 But the dress…I LOVE IT! The shape is a favorite of mine and making it pink with ruffles was awesome. I think it’d look great with a brunette 🙂

  19. http://cheezburger.com/3396671488

    Ahem. If one were setting out to create a parody of this period, style and demographic this is what one would end up with.* I am left with the feeling that I want to subvert it in some terrible, terrible fashion.

    I have it. This dress would be just the thing for a zombie-walk.

    I’m not going to rate it because I can’t mentally divorce it from the cliche it has become since it was made. Also. iz pink.

    *Which is probably pretty similar to the thought processes followed by the Firefly costume department mentioned above.

  20. It’s etherial and pretty. I give it a 9/10 for looking like it would be cool at a ball.


  21. I really don’t like it, not the colour but the shredded look makes me think of toilet paper after the cat has a go at it.

  22. If I saw the dress when it was new I might have given it a 6/10 – it’s got some good lines, though way too girly for my taste. In the photos it looks like a skin disease. Maybe just my monitor…. Still,

  23. I have a real love of big kick ass dresses with 3D floral detail. I’ve made a few in my time for wedding dresses. SO I like this dress. In the 80’s it would have not even raised an eyebrow as a wedding dress if in ivory. Except in admiration. Not that this is a reason to love it. But I think it is really quite pretty and I have seen far worse. A raven haired blue eyed beauty would have been wow in it.
    7/10. No, make it 8/10. 1 extra for Kaylee!

  24. Love the shape. But speaking as a middle aged woman with the wrong coloring….I wouldn’t wear it. It would look hilarious. And hilarious is not the look a lady goes for at a ball. I give it a 5 because it would bad on me but lovely on a 16 year old blond girl.

  25. Overall I think it’s quite pretty. But a point off for the greenery hanging from the waist, one for the superfluous ribbons hanging from the shoulders, and one more for being just a little too much. So I guess that makes 7/10.

  26. Natalie says

    I really want to like it. I think it should be something I like but I really dislike the color. I will give it the benefit of the doubt that perhaps it has faded a bit? But it is still not catching my eye in some way. I want it to be soft and cloud-like but it just kinda looks ragged to me. 3/10

  27. Geoffwah says

    Whoever she was, she was a lucky girl to have so much money spent on her. I will agree with Natalie in that all of the layers of floaty tulle are hacked to pieces by the incessant repetition of pink brocade. The layers are unevenly spaced as well, which is a production issue, rather than a design issue. The bodice is a nice shape maybe but there is so much happening that the eye isn’t sure what it’s seeing.

    I think the lace off the shoulders looks funny still but in motion I’m sure it’s very eye-catching. I feel that, likely, the silk flowers were to bring the dress under some kind of themed party code, rather than an actual design choice. Either way, not terrible. Not great.


  28. Lene H. says

    My first reaction: Eyesore!
    But after looking a bit closer, I’m quite sure my 14-year-old self would have adored that dress. I’m quite certain I made one or two dresses in that style for younger sister’s Barbie-dolls.

    My 40-year-old self however is nearing a sugary overdose, heading straight for diabetes.

    So I give it 6/10 purely for taking me back to that girl so long ago 🙂

  29. Daniel says

    I’ve not read anyone’s comments yet, so I’ll say this. Raintree Country candyfloss barf this ISN’T, despite being equally pink and frilly. But it is much more restrained and much more delicate, if a wee bit too sugary and foo-foo for my personal tastes. But it is super pretty. I think all that gauziness does make it look a tiny bit distressed and tatty, even though it isn’t – it looks like it has fraying edges and hanging tatters, giving it almost a Cinderella effect – the sort of ballgown you might imagine rags being transmogrified into. Which is conceptually quite cool. Still. It’s a LOT of pink and it’s a bit fluffy and girlie so I would say 8 out of 10.

    • Daniel says

      Crikey, I wasn’t expecting quite so much lukewarmth (well that ought to be a word) and dislike! Looks like people here can actually be quite critical and objective when faced with Victoriana – BIG thumbs up for this, I was expecting it to be another barely-critical lurv-fest where anything 19th century can do no wrong. 🙂 Still sticking with 8/10 though.

  30. Those ribbon-y things off the shoulders gave me pause initially, too…but then, I remembered this was a ball gown, and oh! How entrancing those pink streamers would have been, well, “streaming” after the wearer as she danced polkas, polanaises, and mazurkas! All those layers of gauzy ruffles would have added movement and lift as well. This is not only very much a dance dress, but also a dancer’s dress.

    I can see this being worn by quite a young lady, perhaps mid to late teens, not quite the belle of the ball but something more intriguing: a true ingenue, delighted to be asked to dance but a little unsure of her charming self. Matching little pink kid slippers with a little gauzy rosette of similar fabric on the toes would set off the dress – and the dancer – quite nicely.

    As for those not-quite-in-keeping strands of green and rose foliage and I think, blossoms descending from the waist, perhaps matching them with a green and rose floral wreath worn in the dancer’s hair might pull the total look together a bit better.

    I like it. 9/10.

  31. Oh, dear! What a disappointment I am! For the record, that one was supposed to be a ten out of ten…

    As for this one, I love it as well! It’s actually something perfect for Ginerva Fanshawe from Villette (which I’m re-reading at the moment; oh! how I love it!), and it’s even from the correct period (just one year after the publishing date). It’s so pink and frilly–her tastes exactly.
    Gauze is an awsome fabric–I think the dress would have looked much better if there had been several layers between the overskirt and the pink fabric underskirt layer. That would make it look much softer and “floaty,” just like when you layer chiffon. The trim is to die for–it’s yet another thing I love about gowns from this period. Those weird garland things detrack a little, but they aren’t overpowering, I think.

    Now then, I shan’t forget the rating this week, least I make your bad side! 😉

    Ten out of ten!

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