19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Purple, Orange & Green in the early 1870s

Last week you were firmly in two camps about Worth Jr’s Arabian escape – either you loooooved it, or were really quite indifferent.  As happens when there are distinctly divided groups, the actual rating is a score that few gave the dress: 8.6 out of 10.  It’s certainly a step up for JP!

As long as we’re being brave, how about something a bit brighter?  This English dress from 1872-75 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art combines lilac, palest spring green, with touches of vivid orange in a meticulously trimmed dress.  Quite unusual!

Silk dress, British (probably), 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silk dress, British (probably), 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silk dress, British (probably), 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

As often happens, how we read the colours depends on lighting.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide which option is closer to the real thing, and if you like either.

Silk dress, British (probably), 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The touches of orange in the trim seem quite random until you see a detail of the dress:

Detail of silk dress, 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Then it becomes obvious that the dressmaker carefully picked out the colour of the small orange flowers in the lilac silk, and referenced it in the trim.

Skirt details, silk dress, 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bustling of silk dress, 1872—75, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What do you think?  Was the designer right to feature the orange?  Do the details make the dress?  Is the dimensionality of the dress – structured and masculine from some angles, all poofs and frills and femininity from others, working for you?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

And enter the giveaway if you haven’t already!


  1. Although if I heard the words “purple, green and orange” my first reaction would be general horror, the skill of the design and the clean lines and the particular hues used give me the exact opposite reaction.


    • Tenshi says

      This. This exactly.
      It’s clearly way more than the sum of its parts.

      And I love how it references 18th century menswear with those buttonholes and buttons – one of my favorite eras quoting another favorite? Perfection.


  2. I love it! In fact, I’d wear it. Your caption made it sound horribly garish, but the pastel nature of the colors saves it from that fate. A 10.

  3. fidelio says

    This should not work. It really should not work at all. The fact that it does is genius. Depending on which version is the true color, I think you’d have to be very careful in pairing it with the right complexion, but damn, if this thing doesn’t work.

    I especially like the restraint shown in the extent of the decoration–so much stuff from this era looks like someone ran amok in the passementerie department and only stopped when the fringe ran out.


    Also, thanks for the bustle and other detail shots.

  4. karenb says

    I would wear this dress as I like the colours and detail but the bustle is a bit odd from behind. I am starting to realize that I like neat and tidy bustles not the odd shaped puffy ones. The bustle looks nicer from the side view.
    Really like the buttoning down the side of the dress. And the cuffs.
    Lilac, green and orange are fine in these softer shades.

  5. I love it. I love the masculine/feminine elements of it, and of course putting the secondary colours together like that is brilliant. And each one is a colour value that balances perfectly. Even if you don’t notice the orange flowers in the fabric, the orange is still a great choice I feel, to work with the sage and lilac.
    I have a passion for rows of buttons as embellishment and I think on this they have been used very cleverly on the cuffs and skirt – and look at how the orange buttonholes get longer on the way down, such a satisfying detail.
    I would love to meet the person who designed/made this dress, and find out what their thinking was to come up with the little details.
    And the polonaise? Yum. The way it forms three poufs, so elegant!
    I am in love with a dress from an era I generally dislike.
    10, of course, after all that hyperbolic pontificating!

    • Elise says

      I usually dislike the era, too, but adore this dress. The ‘tongue’ thing in the front detracts a bit, as does the ruffled neckline. But small, teeny details. 9/10

  6. Courtney F. says

    I love the juxtaposition of the military style that those buttons and stripes suggest to me with the feminine, pastel palette. The orange ties the trim and the fabric together perfectly. 10/10!

  7. I love this dress! The color palate is unusual, but it works really well because all of the colors are rather subdued. I think the touch of orange is just enough to add interest without being overwhelming. I love the feminine details – just enough to be pretty, but not so much as to be overly frilly. The cut of the dress is devine, and I especially love the bustle, the sleeves, and the neck ruffles! It is the perfect combination of all of the elements and a lovely dress.


  8. I love this, for all the reasons folks have given up top. Gorgeous, saved from garish by the subtle tones of green and lilac. I especially like the fairly severe trim, the little line of flat ruffles at the neckline, and that beautiful soft green.


  9. Angela Wicentowich says

    I love this dress. I will admit that before reading the details and finding out one of the trims was pale green, I thought it was gold and wasn’t 100% pleased with it. Looking closer, I can see that it is indeed green and I became a little more fond of it. Saying that – LOVE the lilac and orange combination! LOVE the workmanship. LOVE this dress.


  10. Wow! WOW! What a great use of contrast trims! What spectacular fabrics and lines. The back drape is a bit awkwardly done in this mounting though. 9.75/10

  11. Yes! 10/10

    (Although I think my dining chairs are upholstered in the velvet version of that purple striped fabric.)

  12. By the way, I like the “paler” view of the purple, but even the more vivid purple works with the toned-down light green and the subtle pop of orange piping.

  13. wintu nancy says

    I’ve just discovered your blog and think I am going to really enjoy learning about vintage clothing. My score of a 10 is not based on any knowledge of the styles of this period, but rather on the fact that I like orange and purple together and the fact that the workmanship is beautiful and the details amazing.

  14. Elizabeth says

    I love everything about this dress, the colour, the poufy-ness, the trim, the buttons down the side, the way the front of the skirt differs from the back, all of it. I wish I could make it so I could wear it!

  15. I give it a 10 out of 10. What I really enjoy most about it is how the colors go together. This would be something either I would try to make or would have made.

  16. Kirsten says

    I love this dress! I think it’s beautiful, definitely a 10!

  17. This screams theater costume to me and I love it. Why? It’s crazy. It’s wild. It’s a tad bit hideous. It’s so smoothly constructed it looks like it should be wrapped around a building. And those three giant, loopy poofs in the back would provide excellent teacup cozies so I can sample multiple teas without losing the cups or suffering through a lukewarm beverage.

    A cheery 8.3 all around!

  18. Cherylyn says

    I cannot lie, I love this dress like “WOAH!”. 10 honey, all the way.

  19. Elise says

    Posting again…I just like coming back to look at this dress so much!

  20. Lynne says

    I just love it! 10 out of 10.

    It’s crisp and a wee bit cheeky, with its referencing of the military look. And yet so feminine and elegant! Such a fine piece of work – just look at the button-holes! And I really, really like the fine orange lines, linking to the main fabric.

    We have a winner!

    • Elise says

      Exactly! I came back thinking that if my military husband and I were living in the 1870s, I would probably wear something like this.

  21. I love a bit of contrasting trim and this truly makes the most of it. Love the colour scheme and buttons are just scrummy! And the waist! A nice 8 out of 10.

    (Incidentally, I always try start my project with a sort of put-together, grown-up look, and then contrasting trim makes its way to the front every time! I love it though)

  22. I think the bustle needs some primping as it’s hanging wrong, but aside from that I love the dress and would happily wear it (though I’d have to be smaller) 10/10

  23. Cheyene says

    Fabulous… one of my favorite fashion eras is the 1880’s… close enough!
    I love the purple, and the shimmer of the green fabric. It reminds me of some cards I made out of watercolor paper. I first painted it purple, and then added details with a VERY shimmery copper paint. Not the exact same colors and shades, but the same lovely effect.
    I would wear this dress happily. 🙂
    And the orange. I’m not a big fan of orange usually, but it turned out to be the shade of orange I like best. And I like mixing orange with purple, occasionally and tastefully!

  24. Colours – Love
    Trims – Love
    Lines in front – Love
    Sleeves – Love, love LOVE
    Bustling – not so much. To me the three poufs resemble a giant clover leaf gone wrong.

    That brings me to 8.5 out of 10

  25. Daniel says

    I love the combination. It’s striking and dramatic and the detailing is terrific. Not so sold on the waist cut and construction, but otherwise, I love it – it really grows on you the more you see the detailing. I’ll say 8.5/10 as while I love it, it’s quite a generic dress of its type and isn’t knocking me sideways, or any which way – I just really, really like it (LOVE the exposed buttons/polonaise cords!) and think it’s great, but it doesn’t really have major wow factor overall.

  26. Wow, I love this! The bodice looks to be cut really awkwardly in several photos but seems fine when on the mannequin with the head so I’m going to assume that the headless one has inappropriate shoulders for the dress.

    Anyway, the color combination is daring but wonderful. The whole thing is gorgeous and I want it.


  27. Usually I’m not a big fan of orange, but I think it actually works here. I especially like the shot of the fabric and trim up close–the colors are matched almost (if not) perfectly! The ruffle at the neck is really interesting as well; it’s neat the way it overlaps in the front. The only thing I’m not mad about is the bottom of the bodice. The squared off shape is interesting, but it isn’t even, and the narrow width makes the already skinny waist to look too thin. I think that if it were wider, however, it wouldn’t look very good, so it’s really best as is (except for the uneven-ness!). I still can’t get over how great the color palette is.

    Ten out of ten for coordination!

  28. It is hard to know why the dressmaker chose to emphasize those colors when they are hardly noticeable from a distance, but when you get up close the effect is gorgeous! It does have a bit of a masculine cut, but there are enough frills to make it feminine. 8.5 out of 10.

  29. Rebecca says

    I think it’s beautiful. Colors, design–all of it. 10/10

  30. Theresa says

    Absolutely adore this. The colors. The unusual combination thereof. Those buttonholes.

    If I had a million dollars, I would commission you to make this! (hint, hint)


  31. Demented Seamstress says

    I love it. All except that bodice point, it’s terribly square.
    If the bodice point curved down and tapered like most bodice points do it would be a ten. As it is it’s a 9.8, because everything else looks so amazing.
    I love all the military inspired bits, and the colours.
    For some reason this reminds me of Howls Moving Castle.

  32. Julia says

    This would be a lovely dress except for the colours. I sort of find the strong colourd version okay, but the fading purple with the green and the orange…. just no for me. So the highest score I can give it with these colours is 7/10

  33. Beautiful colours, and they’ve been put together really well. I also like the design, but the orange trim is the icing on the cake here. 10/10

  34. Lori K. Gibson (aka: Obelia Mercedes Gibson {OMG}) says

    OMG!! What can I say that hasn’t been said – 10/10!!

  35. Caroline says

    7/10 I like it from the side but not straight on. I don’t like the sleeves and neck ruffle (though that might just come from the lack of head).

  36. This dress is hyper-real! It looks like it should be a modern reproduction, or steampunk outfit. It’s screwing with my mind a little – steampunk is supposed to be a OTT interpretation of historical garments… but if this is a real historical garment, then steampunk is… accurate? Can get even more bizzare and OTT?

    10/10 for all the reasons everyone else has already said. However whoever dressed the headless mannequin needs a demotion, it looks so much better on the mannequin with the head!

  37. Claire Payne says

    9 out of 10 from me. I love the muted sheen of the colour, the side view is gorgeous, and the whole thing seems to balance out with good proportions. I used to love the late 1800’s but my love of the early 20th century took over. This could lure me back again. Beautiful

  38. Wow, I love this! I think the use of orange is perfect, it makes the dress really interesting instead of a more typical 1870’s dress. I love the ruffled juxtaposed with the more tailored elements, and the bustling. I think this is the first time I have given a 10 for one of these, but I think it deserves the 10!

  39. Myrthe says

    I really love this dress. I’d probably never think to combine these colours, but it works. I especially like the bustle and the buttons on the sides. 9 out of 10

  40. What you see as green looks more like gold on the school computer I’m sitting at; I love it. The orange looks good with that, too – a bit unusual, but all the better.
    I don’t quite love the silhouette – the sleeves are a bit weird, for one thing; and as I mentioned previously, I’m not a fan of buttons used as decoration, or really an abundance of buttons in general (which means I’m generally not so fond of this era, because they loved their buttons then). So, 8/10?

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