19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Embroidered tulle tiers and lacing

Oooh la la!  Last week I posted an unusual interpretation of lace – oriental inspired silver metal lace from the 1920s, more sexy than the usual sweet lace image and you liked it.  You really, really liked it!  There were some tiny reservations about the table-cloth-y ness of the whole look, and the extremely low neckline, but they were teeny-tiny reservations, and the frock still managed a 9.6 out of 10 – that’s pretty much as close to a perfect score as it’s possible to get!

(personally, you can have that dress.  I thought it was fussy and over-done, and that neckline was scary!)

I was rather stuck with this week’s Rate the Dress, and spent hours searching for a garment that inspired me.  I finally settled on something, and hope the garment I have picked inspires an opinion in you, whether good or bad!

This late 1850s evening gown, with its tiers of embroidered tulle, polychrome fringed sleeves and and fichu-robings, and laced front, is certainly striking – definitely more blooming rose than shrinking violet.

Embroidered black tulle evening gown, 1855-1860. Sold by Christies

Embroidered black tulle evening gown, 1855-1860. Sold by Christies

What do you think?  Do the garlands of roses and laced front invoke a pleasant sense of charming pastoral imagery, or are they just too twee for words?     Is it romantic or ridiculous?

Rate the dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Caroline says

    I like the black and pink tulle motif, but the lacing? The fringe? The sleeves? The bodice? Yikes! I like the skirt but the waist up ruins the dress for me. 4/10 (I think that’s generous)

  2. Brenda says

    I’m beginning to realize that I’m not really a fan of the poofy 1850s-1860s crinoline skirts, but the more I look at this dress, the more I like the combination of the roses floating in the sea of black tulle. And the lace hem of the skirt adds some charm to the dress. Still, I don’t like the hot pink laces on the bodice. Looks too neon (at least in the photograph it does). I’m also having a hard time discerning whether the multi-colored fringe on the fichu and sleeves detract from the dress. I’m leaning towards them being too much color (when there’s already enough with the roses) and detracting from the bodice.

  3. I like the skirt, but definitely don’t like the top. The sleeves are alright but the fringe and lacing are awful. 5/10

  4. Elise says

    This looks so much like the Mexican postcards that my grandmother would send to me that I want to rate it highly out of nostalgia. It looks a lot like it should be a folklorico dress, and I had one very similar when I was 10, although mint and crimson, not black.

    But this one is just ok. Too much. 7/10

  5. Ugh. To me it looks like a cross between Central European folk costume and a child’s party dress–the worst parts of each. A 5, because the silhouette of the dress isn’t bad–it’s the floral motifs and color scheme that I find tacky.

    • German or Austrian or Liechtensteinian; but certainly not Czech. Ours are way too primary colour-ful to compare to this… and I prefer them that way. 😉

      I actually quite like the colour scheme here, though; maybe it’s the different monitors?
      Somehow, it reminds me of period fashion dolls. The bodice looks a bit too stumpy to me, much like those fashion dolls tend to be, with the lacing too thick just like it would be on a doll! It looks as if someone had followed a fashion doll’s example too closely. 😀
      And the fringe is taking away from the roses.
      I agree with the first two Raters on this, the skirt’s good and the bodice is not. Had it used the same rose trim on the bodice it does on the skirt, and shorter sleeves, I would have loved it much more. 6/10, because I still really love the skirt.

      • Kathryn says

        The bodice lacing definately has that wacky, slightly-too-big, uncanny doll clothes quality to it. Thanks for the great description!

  6. Re: Last week’s dress, you said “I thought it was fussy and over-done, and that neckline was scary!”

    Yeah, but the daring of the neckline was one of the fun parts! 😉 I admit last week’s entry probably wouldn’t have worked on a woman with a large bust, though.

  7. Natalie says

    I think it all works well together. All of the trims and decorations are variations of each other. Sure, it’s high-waisted, but once on, especially on a brunette young matron, it would look striking.

    Would I wear it? No way, because I don’t do black and pink unless they’re highly tailored – no birds, bugs, or roses in sight – but on someone else for the right party? Sure!

    7 out of 10

  8. Is it Mexican? I could forgive it if it were Mexican. The fringe would make sense if it were Mexican.

    Otherwise through some sort of anti-synergy it is rather less than the sum of its parts, most of which I don’t much like anyway. Also, that fringe. 1/10.

    • Not Mexican – the comparison goes the other way. Traditional Mexican folklorica costumes were heavily influenced by the fashions of this era, perhaps because of the brief reign of Maximilian and Carlotta in the early 1860s. Carlotta brought recent French fashions and attempted to win public affection with a series of elaborate balls and entertainments, and by touring remote regions. One can imagine that her dresses would have had quite an effect.

      • Elise says

        Those dresses still have an important influence among Mexican and Mexican-American immigrants today. Funny: All I know about Maximilian was my Spanish-language text calling him an outsider and I didn’t even know that his wife did that. I know that she was promoting the invasion in Europe.

        Anyhow, happy Cinco de Mayo, the celebration of the battle Pueblo and Maximilian’s defeat!

  9. Sue H says

    For a pouffy tiered dress this one is pretty good – but the fringe doesn’t work for now. Looks like it was going for romantic Italian ‘peasant costume lite’ reference. 8/10 because it’s black!

  10. Lynne says

    Oh, dear! I just can’t love those prissy roses. Another “too much going on” dress, galloping into kitsch. Could make a good retro toilet-paper roll cover. I’m a fan of black lace, but it needs to watch the company it keeps.

    4 out of 10.

    • “I’m a fan of black lace, but it needs to watch the company it keeps.”

      Lynne, that’s such a great way of putting it! Brava!

  11. Daniel says

    I don’t know. On one level, it’s VERY costumey – like something out of Raintree Country (which immediately evokes the atrocious pink Liz Taylor Raintree Rate the Dress).

    On another, I tend to like vibrant colours/florals against black grounds. So in theory I should like this a lot more than I do, but I think the flowers are – as someone said – a bit prissy so I don’t love it despite it being a favourite trope of vibrant floral against black. (I think that applies more to splashy painterly florals, actually, and probably more dense, lively florally devices….)

    It reminds me SO much of a dress I saw by a New Orleans dressmaker, her name escapes me, Madame Olympe? – similar ethos and approach. (Ah yes! Olympe Boisse. http://blog.fidmmuseum.org/museum/2009/07/meet-madame-olympe.html )

    Actually, I don’t quite get the people who say it’s not coherent – I think the bodice fringing goes with the skirt, picks up the colours nicely, and the lacing isn’t exactly subtle, but it is a nice splash of colour and really strong graphic zig-zag which kind of saves the dress from looking fluffy and foofoo all over….

    There’s a lot to like here. The initial impression isn’t great, and generally speaking, it’s not awesome, but at the same time, there REALLY is a lot to kinda like, so I will say 7.5/10.

    • Thanks for that link – I’ve seen that dress before, but now I noticed the flowers on it are exactly the combination I want to use on an embroidery of mine, and the closest so far to what I had in mind. 😀

    • Daniel says

      It’s actually growing on me quite a lot.

      • Daniel says

        REALLY growing on me, like a rambling rose. There’s just something that kind of works here despite the initial odds. Actually – and I’m sure posters will gag on their tea in horror – I think it’s that much-loathed zig-zag lacing. It adds a certain sort of edginess to the dress, and isn’t as cliche or twee as criss-cross lacing might appear, which is something you want to avoid when the dress is verging so closely towards cutesy overload.

        I keep coming back to look at this. Actually, I think I’m beginning to love it, and I can’t say why. So can I nudge my vote up to a 8.5/10?

  12. Oh my. I like the general shape of this dress, but the fringe! The uneven bodice lacing! I like the *idea* of the pink roses, and I think if the dressmaker had stuck to the scattered, individual flowers rather than the garlands along each tier of the skirt, the effect would be more pleasing. As it is, though, it just looks tacky to me. 5/10, because the idea behind the dress is sound but execution was less than perfect!

  13. Kathryn says

    I’m not normally a fan of dainty florals, or of black and pink, but that skirt is pretty glorious. It does its thing very well, and I can respect that. The fringe and lacing on the bodice have got to go, however. Terrible. Hana above compared it to the odd proportions of doll clothes. I think that’s apt. 6/10.

  14. I think I love this. I shouldn’t love it. By today’s standards it’s incredibly overdone and way too much all together, but what fun to have it all together. I love black and pink as a color combo. I love roses in straight lines like a garland. The pink lacing breaks up the other straight/symmetrical lines of the dress; since there’s so much going on in the dress, a more subtle embellishment there would probably be lost. Lastly, against my better judgment, I love fringes on a puffy 1850’s dress. Fringe would have such a charming effect when in motion on a dance floor. 9/10.

  15. Tenshi says

    Weeelll…. in theory, I love florals on black. I own several black dresses with floral embroidery or prints, but this just does not work for me. Something about the skirt is off to my eyes (while still being the best part of the dress), and the fringe and lacing just about ruin it for me. It could be saved if the fringe was to be replaced with black lace, maybe, and the lacing was also black – or nonexistent. As it is, though, it’s overdone and garish.
    5/10, because it still features roses on black, which generally is a good thing.

  16. I love its crazy self. I ought not, but I do, can’t help it. Such a nice change from th dull browns and dusty pinks of that era. I HAVE to give it 45/10 to help restore the score balance, but I guess you’ll only allow me a 10! 😉

  17. Angela Wicentowich says

    I’m torn on this gown. IF this gown was for a young lady, then even though I personally find it WAY too fussy and busy, I would give it 6/10. BUT if this gown is for a woman who is a bit older, possibly with a family, I would find it utterly ridiculous and give it 2/10. Maybe take the average of the two scores? Give it 4/10?

  18. karenb says

    I like it all. colour, lacing, fringes, roses…. the lot.

  19. Mel the Redcap says

    That… that is AWESOME! I love it!

    I have to join the minority vote and say it’s glorious. I would wear it in a heartbeat. XD 10/10

  20. That’s … a lot of dress.

    4/10, mostly taken off for the bodice’s almost cartoony aspect

  21. Gail says

    I’m sorry, I really hate fringe. The dress would be soooo much better without. I mean, you got the beautiful skirt, just bring the tulle element to the bodice.


  22. fidelio says

    I am managing, just barely, to rise above my beliefs, which tell me that fringe belongs on scarves, shawls, and upholstery but not on dresses. The color choices for this particular fringe help some.

    I am weighing the bodice lacing against the fabulousness of the skirt and the skirt is coming out ahead. All those roses would be just Too Sweet if this dress was white or (heaven forbid!) pale pink or some other pastel, but combined with the black there’s a nice punch there. Surely they could have risen above the craze for lacings and carried the roses up onto the bodice effectively. So: fringe (no effect) bodice lacing (-3) skirt (+9) = 6.

  23. Zach says

    Most of us seem to be at an agreement on the fringe! It is terribly easy to go wrong with fringe, and I can’t say I love this execution. Rainbow fringe is not a friend of mine, though I do appreciate that they took the colors from the flowers. I also strongly dislike the lacing in the front–there’s no bright side to it, the dress would just seem to be empty in that area. I really liked the skirt of the dress, and while I’m still fond of it, I think it would have looked nicer with only one garland at the hem, and the rest of the skirt having scattered roses, as would the bodice (minus the fringe and lacing–just put black lace where the lacing is and maybe the floral garland tulle as lace at the bottom of each sleeve). I can party with the people who always want to “add more,” but I think this dress needs less–something I think is caused by the black. If it had been a light color, like cream, then I could see adding everything and its mother on to it, but not with the dark background of black on the dress. It needs slightly more simplicity.

    I’ll give it a seven out of ten.

  24. I really, really, almost love it.
    Why do the 1850’s ruin so many good things with fringe? And it’s multicoloured fringe too! The same thing that wrecked the circus tent dress.
    Despite what I have said about black and pink in the past, I love the skirt. The bodice has troubles though, despite the fabulous cut.

    I opened this picture up in photoshop, darkened the lacing to a deep reddish pink, replaced the fringe with flowers from the skirt, and it became a ten.
    I would wear the modified version in an instant.
    As it is, it’s only an eight, and that’s being generous.

    • I was tempted to play with it in Gimp, too… except me and Gimp are not such good friends for it to work easily. But I can imagine, and I agree.

      • I am not very good with photo manipulating programs either, but this only took two tools; the burn tool for the laces, and the cloner stamp for the flowers.
        Not that it’s very hard to picture the changes in your mind. But it was fun to draw it out.

        I jut noticed that I used the word “despite” twice in one paragraph and I feel very foolish.

  25. It’s all just too much.

    I could almost cope with the skirt, although I’d prefer the upper tiers of tulle to have less dense embroidery at the edges. But that bodice! The fringe would look bad on a lampshade, let alone a dress, and the lacing looks like an afterthought to fill an empty space.

    I’d like to see Mouse Borg’s version, though.


  26. holly says

    too, too much going on so it’s a 2.5 out of 10. Your t-shirts, on the other hand get a 10 /10 from me. So hard to get a good fitting, good quality t-shirt.

  27. Melanie says

    I had to weigh in on this dress, because I just hate that fringe and lacing too. But in its defence, could it be that some unwitting auction house attendant didn’t lace the front properly? It may have been improved by the symmetry of criss-cross lacing rather than the slightly ridiculously wormy zigzag?

    The black is just so heavy and at odds with the frou-frou-ness. I agree with Zac that in cream it might have worked. Anyway, some poor soul paid 6 thousand pounds for this in 2007 – at least it appears to be in good condition. It’s 2/10 for me.

  28. Yikes! From the waist down it reminds me of those naff skirts dance students have to wear for folk dancing. From the waist up it’s just really tacky. 2/10.

  29. Susan says

    The ghost of Mary Todd Lincoln (well, perhaps it’s her spirit, not exactly her ghost) says she loves this dress, and thinks a matching fan would set it off quite nicely, along with a garland of roses for one’s hair.

    I tend to agree. Though “love” is too strong an emotion. “Like quite a bit, under the right circumstances and with the right accessories”, maybe.

    I agree that the lacing should be crisscrossed, not zigzagged. Making that slight change would improve the dress’s appearance considerably. And the bands of roses on the skirt seem to be rather flat or even in front, rather than curved to match the skirt – perhaps due to unfortunate hoops or petticoats?

    Otherwise – add the rose garland to frame the wearer’s face, and a black silk fan with painted roses (and perhaps a few sequins, and a horizontally striped ribbon to match the striped fringe), and I’d give it an 8.

  30. missjoidevivre says

    Hot pink and black? Sold. 9. (Autocorrect made that say Joy pink and black, exactly. )

  31. I do find this dress on the whole a little unsettling – although I adore it for simply existing – but had to come out in support of the fringe.

    If the lacing is truly a structural necessity and not pure decoration or simply to draw the eye to a narrow waist, I would execute it in matte black ribbon, but as far as roses v fringing I dislike the effect of the roses en masse and would prefer the dress without any roses at all – okay maybe the two on either side of the neckline just for a pretty touch – but no scattered pattern, and the rose borders replaced by rows of fringe. The dress would then be a striking bohemian thing of beauty rather than a bit of a Frankenstein creation.

    As it stands, 5.5/10.

  32. Sacheverelle says

    It does evoke a kind of non-specific folk-dressiness, but I still like it except for the front lacing on the bodice, which I generally dislike as a rule. As a gown of this period I give it a 6/10. I have seen much more impressive 1850s-60s gowns.

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