19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: 1850s rainbow striped fringe

Last week I showed you Liotard’s mid-18th century ‘up-market shop girl’ as Lynne aptly identified her.  La Belle Chocolatière’s rust and grey-blue outfit was deemed equally beautiful – of only she hadn’t tried to pair it with a pink hat.  This dropped the rating from a perfect 10 down to a round 9 – still exceptional.

I feel that I’ve shown too many muted, colourless dresses lately.  To remedy that, rather than showing you something black and white and stripey for the HSF Stripes challenge, here is something colourful and rainbow-stripey, with horizontal stripes and vertical striped fringing.

Evening dress in two parts, made in New York, 1856-58

Evening dress in two parts, made in New York, 1856-58, featured in New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, via here

What do you think?  Too much?  Does it look a little too much like a cupcake, or is it a fun twist on the usual floral, lacey 1850s evening gown?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Perhaps it’s the colors, but for some reason I’m forcibly reminded of a piñata. It does have a sense of gaiety, and to me the stripe arrangement looks nicely balanced, so for that, I’ll give this a 7 out of 10.

    • I didn’t think of a piñata specifically, but I did think of Mexico. I agree completely. 7/10

      Although, in a way, the only two things I do not like about this dress is the way the several rows of fringe make the already short bodice (long legged-lady, this one?) look even more stumped, and the way the colours do not look quite right on the white manequin. Maybe if a real Mexican lady (in New York…) wore this, I’d love it more.

    • Elise says

      I was going to say “This is what my spiritual ancestress would have worn in the 19th century to campaign for gay civil rights” You know, if rainbows meant that back then.

      And then I saw the Pinata/Mexico comments and went, “YES”

      But I still don’t like it, much. 6/10

  2. I love me an “unconventional” historical color scheme, but the vertical striped fringe plus horizontal striped fabric equals waaaay too much for me. It would be nice with a cream fringe, or even a single color picked out of the fabric, but as is? Not so much.

    6 out of 10.

  3. She looks like a curtain! I love the colorful striped fabric but the fringe just kills it for me. 5/10.

  4. Natalie says

    In a crowded room of tarletan and white lace and swags of roses, the stripes are a breath of fresh air, and could be worn by middle-aged women as well as young marrieds, to my eye, anyhow. It’s not too fluffy and girlish, and the colors are not garish, and the fringe seems to calm the stripes, somehow.

    In the same way, if I were invited to black-tie cocktails poolside, I might wear a bright Lily Pulitzer, or an A-line halter maxi in a stiff pique, printed with clear floral colors a hair away from Mod. Carried off right, these brights can be really neat.

    So for me, I’ll throw a 10 into the ring!

    Very best,


    • Natalie: I can’t be sure from a photograph but I suspect the colors of this dress have faded somewhat–it might very well have been garish when it was new! But there’s still something charming about it, to me.

  5. Laura says

    Hate hate hate it. I HAVE seen uglier, so 2/10.

  6. Yes, I keep seeing an aspidistra in a pot on her head but for all that, I love it. It’s so madly mad, has spirit and vitality and joy in it.
    I’m only giving it a 9 not a 10 because they didn’t
    t style it with the aspidistra hat of my dreams!

  7. I’m sure my mother had a sun-umbrella in the 70’s in this colour scheme. I think it even had the fringing.


  8. It has the virtue of not being all frothy lace and bows!

    I see two problems with the dress: 1) Except for all that fringe, and the stripes, the dress is so plain it hardly registers as an evening dress; 2) the multi-colored fringe introduces a kind of vertical stripe pattern that clashes with the horizontal stripes of the tiers of the dress.

    Despite these factors, I rather like it, though I couldn’t tell you why. Let’s say 7.5.

  9. Zach says

    Oh, heavens. What is that? It does look like a piñata. I think I could have stood the dress, had there been only the fringe (as much as I dislike most fringe, this isn’t so horrible it makes me go blind) on an ivory dress–just cover up the bottom of the dress where the candy stripes start and imagine the rest all in ivory and fringe. In fact, I would really like it that way! Those horizontal stripes are just awful. AWFUL. I suppose I can’t always have my way with these deceased people, though!

    Seven out of ten. I talked myself into it.

  10. Lynne says

    I think it just misses looking like deck chair covering. It is probably the fringe that helps – something in the slightly stronger colour colours just lifts it. I like it – and all the fringing on the top. 8 out of 10.

  11. I like it! Dresses from this era normally don’t do much for me, but this one does, even if there is a slight suggestion of deck chair. It’s a fun dress. 9/10

  12. Kim says

    Can’t get past the fact it screams curtain fabric to me. 3/10

  13. Daniel says

    She looks like a great big humming top!! Actually, I don’t really like this one very much. I don’t like the completely fringe-concealed bodice, and I’m not sold on the colours, which look like they were drawn on using chisel felt tips, and while I do like fringe, I don’t really care for this kind of fringe with differently stranded sections of colour – it just doesn’t make me terribly happy, and the friction between the stripes is just too friction-y. The skirt has potential, but the bodice – yuk. I do not like this very much. I’ve not looked at anyone else’s comments yet, so I bet I’m in the minority with my rating, but I’m gonna say a 2.5 out of 10 because the skirt is a nice shape.

  14. I can muster nothing more genteel or eloquent than: Hurk.


    The only positive thing I’ve got–the lady who wore this must have been quite interesting!

  15. Part of me wants to love it for being bold and different. The other part of me wants to hate it because, lets face it, it’s a little strange. As I stepped back from the screen though, it really does look like it was pretty striking from a distance. Also, when actually worn, all that fringe would have been in motion. Not exactly a subtle way to call attention to the bosom area, but probably quite effective. 7/10.

  16. Lene H says

    Say something positive or nothing at all… Hmmm….


  17. Ugh. Too much going on! I want to like it for being interesting… But I just can’t. My brain is rejecting all of the colors. Just… too much. But at least it is not boring.


  18. It looks like a circus tent that’s just had a fight with the elephants. The elephants won. 2/10

    • I agree, my first thought was also “circus tent”. It would work for a clown lady in a parade or something, but an evening dress? No.


  19. Tenshi says

    One has to give it that: This dress is certainly not boring. There, I said something positive.
    The fringe reminds me of curtains, deck chairs and awnings. A circus tent, maybe? Or a lamp shade. The bold colours don’t do anything for me either. They’re kind of just “there”, without a real concept behind them. It’s just… blue. red. green. Fringe. blue. red. green. Fringe. …
    It’s not offensively ugly, though, so … 3/10?

  20. ewa says

    I’m not an expert on the mid-19th century fashion, but the colors of the dress seem untypical for the time for me (correct me if I’m wrong). I like the stripes though, makes me think of the Wild West. Since I’m not a fan of the low shoulders in the period dresses, I will have to give the dress a 7.5

    • Actually, they are. The 1850s in particular loved bright colors, and the more eye-searing the combination the better. Things actually toned down a bit for the 1860s.

  21. fidelio says

    Besides the piñata and the lawn furniture, I keep thinking of barber’s poles and stick candy.

    I wish I could see this in motion; I’m sure the effect in a room without electrical lighting would be wonderful. Gaslight or candlelight might have softened the colors a bit too. And it’s a bold change from the sort of dainty-colored flounces you’d see on an ingenue.

    However, every time I try to type a score, it comes out 6/10, except for the time it came out 4/10. So I’ll be generous and go with the 6.

  22. It looks like seriously camp Mexicana from the suburbs of the 1950s! You can imagine that just out of camera range, there’s a dad rhapsodizing about his top-secret BBQ sauce, and a table covered in jello salads and desserts made of kool whip and marshmallows.
    5/10 for effort.

  23. This dress looks like it was designed by a 5 year old girl for Gone with the Wind, Sesame street style. The fringe plus colorful stripes way over does it. If the fringe was forceably removed, the dress might have a sporting chance but, with it, it looks like someone raided the home decor aisle of the general store somewhere in New Mexico. I give it a 3/10.

    • Oh but the costumes in Gone with the wind would have been immeasurably improved had a 5 year old girl who loved Sesame St designed them IMHO 😉

  24. The colours are so off putting that you have to look several times before you can see the style of the dress. I keep going back for another look to persuade myself a little more but hard as I try I just can’t like it on the style alone. 4/10

  25. Glanced at this on Wednesday when recovering from a migraine, thought “Whoa, need to leave that for a bit”. Now sufficiently recovered to examine it without passing out.

    Think passing out might have been preferable.

    Actually the skirt isn’t TOO bad, but that uber-fringed bodice. Ekkk


  26. I wish I’d seen this when I was making a Victorian ballgown! I wouldn’t have gone for the fringed bodice, quite, I think, but I like the sort of caped shape (actually, I did end up with a sort of pleated shallow cape but not as nicely shaped). The more I look at this one the more it grows on me. If I give it 7.5/10 will it bring up the average?

  27. Erin says

    I keep thinking of what it would look like while dancing, and I like it! So I would say 9 or 9.5/10. I also like the shape of the dress and think that maybe it would be revealed and then hidden with the movement of different dances.

  28. Mary says

    This looks like a case of the seamstress who worried that she’d get bored if she didn’t use every colour she could. My first thought was it is a beautiful shape, and wouldn’t this look great in a tone on tone embroidered fabric, with the same colour of fringe lavishly applied just as it is on the pinata dress. Basically you could embroider this, dye bathe it, and it would be gorgeous!
    Now I like a gown, sigh……. But maybe you’ll want to keep that one away from me. 🙂

  29. Wendy says

    Considering taste werevery different. I am still wondering what the seamstress thought of it. I am confident that at the time it was likely appreciated much morethan now. Still I have to agree it does remind one of Mexico ( and currently Pinatas or 1960’s beach unbrellas.)


Comments are closed.