19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Lock me up in 1887

Last week’s 1860s wrapper made us think of warm fires and good books: until we noticed the terrible un-matched front stripes.  Unfortunately, mis-matched stripes could not be unseen, and could not be forgiven, and so the dress lost an average of two points for that flaw, whether your original rating was good, or bad.  Still, 6.6 out of 10 isn’t too bad after all!

Over the past year most of my Rate the Dress picks have been chosen to fit the Historical Sew Fortnightly themes, but sometimes I find a frock that I really just want to feature, and which doesn’t have anything to do with the HSF.  This week’s choice,  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art  is one of those.

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

Dress, silk, 1887, White Howard & Co.:25 W. 16th St.:New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CI68.53.6ab

I think this dress is fascinating.  The tomato red silk, paired with the red velvet in a very slightly darker shade.  The mix of pleating, gathering, ruching and draping as you move across the skirt, and from the apron overskirt to the velvet underskirt.  Most of all, the chain-inspired trim.  What a intriguing motif to use!

Fascinating and intriguing do not always equal good taste though, so I present the dress to you to discuss, dissect, and judge.  Will you deem it permanently linked to good taste, or shall we lock it away and toss the key (sorry, couldn’t resist a few bad puns)?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Zach says

    If someone had said “let’s put some trim on a dress that looks like giant chain,” I would probably say “No thank you,” but I think it works alright here. If someone had tried to be witty and put in in a design that would imitate actually being chained, I’m not sure I would like it as much. I love the mini chains on the velvet skirt–they’re rather neat! I wonder why they don’t show it from another angle? Perhaps there’s a giant blot on the other side, or a creepy skeleton entwined in the chains, or a freaky Victorian spider! Who knows?!?! They simply must be hiding something back there.

    Anyway, I’d say a nine out of ten for this one.

  2. I like it.
    I like the colours and the interesting trim.
    I do wish the trim went all the way around the cuffs and looped around the back of the bodice. The way it just stops looks a bit odd.


    • Ha! I was about to give it 10/10 when I read your comment. I hadn’t noticed the chain ending at the shoulders myself, but now I can’t un-see that, lol. And it’s the sort of thing I HATE SO MUCH when I see it in modern clothes. So now, as much as I love everything about this, maybe partially because I’m currently deep in 1880s bustle love, I now give it

      Do love that colour too, and the combination of satin & velvet. I would totally make this.

      • Elise says

        Me too! I’ve not bought several otherwise lovely items for that reason!

  3. Emily says

    The more I look at the little chains/buckles on the underskirt, the more irritated I am by them – they interrupt the fall of the fabric.

    I like the rest of it a lot though – the two tints of red, the neatness of the bodice and then the flow and fullness of the two layers of skirts.


  4. The dress itself is visually pleasing. The mix of the hues of red is stunning, and the trim, though I think the dress would look equally good with a different, subtle trim, fits with the simplicity of the style. Overall I like it. Though, to be honest I probably would’ve done pleated velvet trim or something else.
    9 out of 10

  5. Lindsay T says

    I love it! 9/10 for being fabulous, only docking a point because I think those little precursor-to-mutton-sleeves are dumb.

  6. I adore the shape and colour of this to no end. It’s one of those dresses that make we want to go out and buy velvet by the very expensive yard .

    That said I don’t like the chain trim, specifically how stiff it looks disrupting the sleeve cuffs.

    8/10 from me.

  7. Daniel says

    I LOVE the colour and the fabrics. It glows, with a warmth and richness and inner depth. The first impression is so good, an immediate 10/10 reaction. However, looking at it more objectively, the line of the overskirt is just the tiniest bit awkward, although fascinating how it’s draped and yet has such a straight hem around the front, and the chain trimming – once noticed – is difficult to unsee. I also find the two random bits of chain on the velvet underskirt slightly arbitrary, alth0ugh serving the purpose of anchoring the pleats, so not purpose-free. On the bodice, the chain detail works well to define the shape and enhance the curves, on the cuffs it works, but on the skirt, I’m not sure about the single chain down the side, which doesn’t seem to sit quite logically.

    Having said all that, it’s still a 9/10 because all told, it is a gorgeous dress, in a gorgeous colour, in lovely fabrics, and the quirks are not distractingly annoying, just things that once pointed out, you have to go “Hmm…” at.

  8. Mel the Redcap says

    …That’s really nice! And it’s so hard to get different shades of red that don’t look horrible together, but they’ve managed it here. 9.5/10, and it only loses that half-point because the chain on the bodice would look better if it draped across the back instead of stopping at the shoulders. 🙂

  9. Lynne says

    I love the shape and the draping, and the richness of the two reds. The chain trim seems a bit much – very Brunel, as Black Tulip pointed out. This might make the dress a winner in Steampunk circles.

    The bits of trim on the underskirt and the cuffs don’t work for me.

    But, minus the trim, and if someone poured me into a determined corset, I’d wear that!

    So, 8.5 out of 10.

  10. Lynn Brooks says

    10. 10. 10. and did I say 10. I want this. If I were living in 1887 I would so rock this. I would wear this tomorrow if I had it. Love the color, the cut, the chain. This is like Victorian does hip-hop. I am bouncing on my couch like a five year old.

  11. I actually love it! The simplicity of the lines, the bright color, the decadence of the velvet…it’s not something I would wear, but absolutely lovely. It reminds me of Lock and Chain, a club at my college. 🙂 I’ll give it a solid 8, with points docked for the awkward little skirt chains.

  12. Elise says

    Ok, so how funny this dress came out within days of me being selected for a job within the military to advocate for sexual assault survivors. Part of that is to make public questions about misogyny and rape culture, along with undoing the shame of male rape.

    Sooooo I can totally imagine my 1870s counterpart wearing this as she advocated for women’s suffrage, domestic abuse protections, property rights etc. The chains are the “chains of womanhood imposed by patriarchy!” I would say during public gatherings. “So gather and join with me now for equal rights for women!”

    So, I guess my projection makes this dress a 10/10. I love that fashion can bring joy in beauty, and it can communicate serious messages, too. I read a quote that went something like this: social justice helps us live, and beauty makes that life worth living.

  13. holly says


    If I put my hand on the screen and hide the bustle and some of the length, I’d wear that coat!


  14. This is beautiful! Love the color, the design styles, everything. The only thing I don’t like is the bell-shaped skirt, but I can’t hold that too much against the dress, as the rest of it is exquisite.


  15. Jamie says

    10/10! 10-thousand! I love it! The sleeves are tasteful to me, the color is beautiful, I love the bustle (it is a bustle, right?), and I don’t even mind the velvet very much. 😉 It’s nicely themed without having it jump out at you, screaming. Hahah. You know how they can go a tiny bit overboard sometimes…

  16. I love this. The trim is unusual, but it doesn’t look weird, and the color is vibrant, even all these years later. 10/10 from me, and 10/10 from my 6 year-old daughter who now thinks I should make (and wear) a dress just like this for myself.

  17. Color – check. Interesting cloth gathering/draping – check. Lack of abundant trim – check. Tasteful and interesting detailing (trim) – check. Overall elegance – check. 10 of 10.

    Initially I thought the chain motif was weird, but the more I look at the dress the more I like it, actually, to the point that this is going on my to-do-list (for who knows when), though how I’ll come up with that much velvet is anyone’s guess (stash year) – maybe substitute different fabrics, we’ll see.

  18. Lisa says

    Love the lushness of the textures and drape of the fabrics; the subtle inverted pleats in the front underskirt show off the weight and handle of the velvet without becoming too froufrou or overbearing. I think that the use of the two tones lift the dress from the ordinary to something rather special. Using such a striking, graphic motif – with such restraint – complements the glorious colouring and form of the dress. All round I think that this is a complete success. 10/10 from me.

  19. 10! I love this! I feel like it is rather subtle for a dress from this era, I appreciate that it isn’t swamped in lace and ruffles. The color is beautiful, and the use of the two different red fabrics is brilliant. I like the chain motif, especially the use of the links on the skirt, at first glance it looks like bows, but then you look closer and it is the same design as the rest of the trim. I though about docking a point for the way that the trim does not go around the sleeve cuffs, but then I decided that it is similar to the links on the skirt which makes me like it because it matches! All in all, a beautiful example.

    • Elise says

      This dress has a very mature taste, doesn’t it? Like something Irene Forsythe would have worn?

  20. Tenshi says

    LOVE! It would be a 10 from me, but I can’t ignore the fact that the trim doesn’t go around – neither around the cuffs nor around the neckline, and that is one of my pet peeves. I don’t like clothes that have a cool design in front and then are plain in back. That’s just lazy!
    But I love the rest of it too much, the colours, the different fabrics (how gorgeous is that velvet?), the draping and pleating and ruching and of course that clever, witty trim, that I’ll still give it a 9/10.

  21. Belinda says

    Ooh sexy! And so naughty! But yet tasteful and elegant and interesting. It makes me think the lady for whom it was made must have been a very unique and interesting person indeed. Talk about the ultimate hipster, to be doing steampunk a century and a half before it was cool.
    I feel like those little separate links holding down the pleats on the front of the skirt look a teensy bit lost though…

  22. Love this dress! The chain motif is so ahead of its time, and the slightly velvet “curtainy” look below the knees reminds me readily of my theatre days.


  23. Lene says

    Oooooh instant love!

    I would totally wear that – if I could squeeze myself into it.

    The only tiny little detail I did not totally adore was the bit of vertical chain embellishment along the side of the overskirt. It seems a bit out of place to me, not really connected to any of the other lines or details of the ensemble.
    But all in all:

  24. Pamlin says

    I LOVE this! It’s bold, distinctive, and I think every woman should own something amazing in red.

    1870’s is not always my favorite time period (I find many of the gowns a bit …bulky? for my tastes) but I would wear this in a hot second (and am already considering trying to remake it in purple, because I may have enough velvet!!)


    • Pamlin says

      Whoops! Totally undercaffeinated for this reply.
      it would help if I read the caption!

      Still a 10/10, with all my favorite parts of the 1880’s, while not being superpoufy, and allowing the fabrics to speak for themselves!
      (still want to remake it!)

  25. 9/10, possibly even 10/10, depending on what the colours would be in real life… they seem to have the potential of being unmatched, but I do not want to judge that too harshly given that I’m only seeing this on a monitor. It’s the perfect kind of mix between restraint (not too overboard with the draping and trim) and extravagant uniqueness. The proportions, too, seem just right for a bustle dress!

  26. fidelio says

    I see I’m not the first to bring out the ‘restrained’ angle here.

    So many outfits from this period are weighed down by the effort to be utterly fabulous that the eccentricity of the trim is balanced out for me by the way the designer of this dress has held back.

    The woman who wore this dress? She’s the lady the one who wore that awful paisley number wanted to be.

  27. Brenda says

    The dress is GORGEOUS. But I don’t like the chain motif…then again, the motif seems very modern/unique/daring for the 1880’s, so…

    9/10 Besides the chains, the dress is pretty much perfect.

  28. Love it. pretty much my favorite era, bold colour and such clean lines, and the chain trim is unexpected in the best way.


  29. Beatrix says

    LOVE IT!!!!
    This would not look too hot on me as a green eyed blonde – but imagine a sumptuous dark eyed brunette such as Anne Hathaway, Winona Ryder, Helena Bonham Carter, Selma Blair, Penelope Cruz, Eva Longoria, Nigella Lawson, Catherine Zeta-Jones – Heck probably even Johnny Depp could rock this!

  30. I like it! I like the contrast in texture between the two fabrics, the colors, and the chain trim. I wonder what the chains signified to the original owner? Does anyone know?

    I can’t help thinking they must have been intended as some kind of symbolic commentary.


  31. I rather like the tartan and blue outfit in the photo instead. 😉
    Gives me some ideas….

  32. Joie de Vivre says

    I really like this! I prefer reds that are less rusty but that’s a personal preference for cool tones. But the chain trim really rocks my boat. If I was required to wear a dress of that era to an event, I’d happily wear this or something like it. Shame none of the pics show us the front! I’ll give it 9, as I don’t LOVE it the way I LOVE some of them (and probably would if it was a blue based red) – but it is fantastic.

Comments are closed.