19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1860s paisley & swiss waists

There were a whole range of ratings on last week’s quite embellished stripey ca. 1880s frock, from “Want it now!” to “Ewwww….armpit ruffles.”  I’m very much in the LOVE.MUST.RECREATE.NOW camp, but I think if I did recreate it, I’d end up tweaking a lot of things just a tiny bit, so I can understand the final rating of 7.3 out of 10.

I don’t know what the logic of this week’s dress is in relation to last week’s frock, except that I woke up today and thought “I’ll post that dress”.

So here it is:

Early 1860s.  Coral-y orange-y pink.  Paisley, ruffles, a swiss waist bodice, but all quite restrained.

It has some slight display issues in the back, with an odd skirt fastening, and a poor replacement lace, but I’m sure you can overlook that and focus on the dress as it was meant to be worn.

What do you think?  It’s a dress that could be either too simple, or too frilly, depending on how you look at it.  The colour is a tricky one.  The swiss bodice is a bit unusual.  In fact, in a strange way, it could garner all the same criticisms that were leveled against last week’s dress.


How will it fare in comparison?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Brenda says

    Oddly enough, I find the dress simple enough with just the right amount of ruffles and lace. I also like the coral color. However, I DON’T like the swiss bodice. I can’t really explain why…I think it’s because the lace seems slung a little too low on the shoulders and sticks out in a bad way. Also, the paisley ruffles look awful. It looks like these huge holes were burned into the skirt.


  2. I just don’t know… I’ve never liked black with coral too much… Overall I like the style, so I will give it a 7.5 out of 10.

  3. The black paisley-shaped ameoba-like things on the skirt are kind of icky, but I like the color and the shape of the dress, and the rest of the trim. It could be demure, or dramatic, depending on what kind of blouse you wore it over. 7.5 of 10 (largely because of the black ameobas).

  4. Unfortunately my immediate reaction was to think, “High on a hill was a lonely goat-herd….” Sorry, clearly I’m feeling lowbrow tonight.

    However, dragging my mind back to more sensible things.

    I like the trim (bottom picture), but the black paisley things are just odd. Especially when you look at the close-up on the Met’s website, and realise that the lace doesn’t go all the way round. No strong feelings either way on the colour.

    Don’t hate it, but don’t love it either.


  5. Daniel says

    Yuk. It sort of reminds me a bit of a film costume, but…

    Boobs. Those Swiss bodices pretty much put your bosom on display already, but this is pretty blatant. It’s like “HELLO BOYS AND GENTLEMEN AND NOT SO GENTEEL MEN!”

    Something messy and squinchy and sad about what’s going on down the front.

    The skirt also looks a bit deflated and subdued – not quite as full and bouncy as it should be.

    The ruffles are nice. I like the ruffles. But the black Paisley motifs – they kinda look plonked on and VERY black and very unsubtle, which is odd because the ruffles are quite pretty and subtle, and then there are these gigantic black blobs around them. Did someone get blots all over the bottom of the paper when they designed this dress?

    But yeah. It’s odd. You’ve got great big bosoms being thrust out at you with all the subtlety of Dolly Parton in an ironing board shop. Then the rest of the dress is so subdued and deflated and even a bit pathetic, in a sort of insipid, washed-out, cautious pink – it’s just WEIRD. I feel kind of icky and wrong looking at this. It makes me uncomfortable, like a perfectly sweet girl has tried to do something to get the attention of the boys, and it just feels wrong. Maybe if the pink was brasher and bolder, and there was a more frilly, fluffy, lacy blouse/guimpe underneath, something with great big poofy sleeves and lots and lots of ruching and frills, it would work better.

    But yeah. I just feel uncomfortable about this. It’s missing the point in quite a few ways, and the TWO points it is making (fnar fnar) are made in a way that is kind of… uncomfortable. Apologies for the flashes of inappropriate humour. I’m going to say…

    3 out of 1o. It’s just struck me that 3 is kind of apt, given that it’s pretty much what you see when you look at the bodice.

    • I tried to post a reply yesterday but I guess it didn’t go through!

      There wouldn’t be any BOPping (Boobs On a Platter) due to the corset underneath. If you wear a fashionable non-gusset corset, the front of the dress will have a rounded line and not a BOP. It might be a slight issue with a gusset corset but you still would be held up and none of the “Dolly Parton” issues would occur.

      Here is a fashion plate showing a similar dress for a young teenage girl:


  6. I mostly love it! The botehs (the name for the paisley motif at the hem) on the the bottom are a little funny–I think it’d look better if they had their centers cut out so they were more outlines than silhouettes. But the rest of it with the color and the swiss waist and the other black trim and the peasant-y feel just strikes my fancy so well! I want to make a dirndl-esque dress like it now!
    9 out of 10 (point docked for botehs)

    • I prefer to use in-period terms for motifs, and while boteh is the proper name from whence the motif originated, in the 1860s vernacular the motifs would have been called paisley 🙂

  7. It’s the dress Julie Andrews would have worn if The Sound Of Music was set in the 1860s.


  8. It’s so easy to imagine a storybook heroine wearing something like this. I agree with everyone else about its faults, but I mostly think that it is charming.


  9. Not too fond of the Bavarian milkmaid treatment on top, and I have to admit that the paisleys on the bottom look more like large clumps of poo. 5/10

  10. This dress is making me sigh out of unhappiness and boredom. I just– I don’t know… I don’t really like anything except the color, not that it’s really bad or anything. I’ve seen much worse…

    I’m just going to give it a five for being average on my scale of love and hate. I don’t know what else to say!

  11. I don’t like the ‘boob shelf’, and I too think the paisley at the bottom looks like burn damage. The coral is bold and would maybe work with a different accent colour.


  12. Lol! This is one of the dresses I’m currently planning on re-creating for a Gettysburg trip. So, automatic 10. 🙂

  13. I’m another who looked at it and immediately thought of The Sound of Music. It’s just not quite right in a few ways and they add up to a very definite “Meh”. Don’t like the paisley blobs, though normally I love paisley.

  14. I do NOT like this dress. At all. Maybe because the mannequin blends with the shirt, but it really looks like underwear with a super long skirt. The top just feels unfinished. And the skirt… that wavy ruffle at the bottom just kills me. The black decorations on the skirt seem so random and chunky. I suppose the color itself could be interesting, or even pretty, but I do not like it with the black. The close up of the beading on the black trim is interesting though. I suppose it gets a bonus for that. But, on the whole, ick.


  15. At first I thought it a bit dull, then I imagined it with black glove and a black hat. Now I think it is a bit groovy
    I love the colour (again, I’m a red head and can work that colour well myself)
    The paisley black bits are a bit blooby, but it would work better as a whole ensemble if there were larger bits of black elsewhere (hence the gloves and hat combo idea).
    I like a dress that tries to say something, its better than a dress that doesn’t. It just needs pulling together a bit better as it is a fraction unbalanced
    7/10 because the paisley blobs are awkward and that is hard to work around. If I owned it (in that era) I would only have worn it once like this before I had to alter it

  16. Belinda says

    Oh what a conundrum of a dress…
    I like the silhouette and really like the colour.

    BUT, that draggy skirt fastening, and OH THE DEAD LEECHES!
    If it weren’t for the leeches, I agree with Shona that with the right accessories it could have been fetching in a Bavarian ingenue sort of way.

    That is all I can see now. A Hoffbrauhaus waitress-dress with leeches on it.

  17. I don’t like the swiss waist it just looks, well awkward….it’s like someone walking around with low slung jeans showing their pants. IMO.

    I’m find with the colour and ruffles so 6/10

  18. Beatrix says

    I like the shape, but the Bavarian milkmaid look in coral/orange/melon with black boteh jegheh/paisley/mango motifs & a white peasant blouse seem to clash horribly.
    I agree that a black hat, black gloves, & perhaps snugger black version of the peasant blouse might ‘save’ this mess.
    But still.

  19. Snoopy says

    I like it but I also think part of the problems people are listing are due to the fact it has been remade from an earlier period. I think this dress was a large hoop civil war dress and the fabric has been recycled. For the time period it was probably rated as a 7/10 by the women who saw it worn. A 9/10 by the men…lolol I give it a 6.5/10 because I see it as a creative reuse of fabric but I think the seamstress could have folded the excess fabric neater in the back end. I would love to see the inside to find out if my theory is correct.

  20. Lori Kim Gibson aka: Obelia Mercedes Gibson {OMG} says

    Absolutely darling – imagine a skinny teen/young adult miss – (who are the ONLY ones who look good in Swiss bodices anyway) – I love the paisley appliques – much more feminine than just lozenge appliques – and the neck line beaded ruffle – the wearer must have felt very pretty and grown up. The color is the happy bonus of the recent invention of aniline dyes of the 1850’s – like ‘modern’ color film/movies – their ‘black and white’ world was now color – the Victorian’s ‘went for it’!!


    • I’ve actually just been compiling a list of the new aniline dyes and the year they were invented, and I don’t think this is dyed with an aniline. Unless it has faded hugely due to poor dyeing (v. unlikely) there wasn’t a shade to match it in anilines until at least 1863, and I’d put this on the earlier end of the date spectrum given.

  21. There is something really off about the proportions of this dress for me. I think it’s how the big the paisley blobs are compared to the tiny ruffles framing them… or the unusual bodice… but the color is lovely so I will give it a 4/10.

  22. There are lots of things I don’t like about it, but overall it’s not too bad. The black trim is very nice on it’s own, but isn’t quite right for the bright pinkish orange. It looks like almost exactly the same colour as the waistcoat from two weeks ago. It does look nicer with black than with light green.
    I don’t like the cut of the bodice, especially the back, nor am I particularly fond of the way the skirt trimmings are arranged. The lower ruffle is far too wavy. At least it’s not an armpit ruffle.

    I think the niceness and the awfulness balance out exactly.

  23. Hmm. I like the coral color. I like the ruffles. I like the ruffle-y swag on the bottom. I like that the trim of the bodice matches the hem trim. Undecided on the lace-trimmed paisley bits, but they’re not too bad. I think its the white blouse on the white mannequin that throws me off, but I especially do not like the side view where we see the odd shape of the back. It goes straight down, and it just makes me think she’s standing like a caveman. I think some great accessories and actual flesh-toned arms (of any flesh tone), would help. BUT, I keep coming back to that flat bodice back. 5/10.

  24. blech – this dress needs 3 things: 2 giant beer tankards and a tyrolean hat, then she would be a serving wench at Munich’s Oktoberfest….


  25. Like Lene, I got an instant Bavarian costume vibe, as if it had been preserved from a production of The Student Prince.

    The rather overwhelmingly black paisley motifs on the skirt completely overbalance the delicacy of the bodice, and like someone commented earlier, the underbodice seemed like an undergarment that should have been covered by a shaped jacket.

    I did like the color and the lines of the ruffle placement on the skirt.


  26. I like it. I even like the paisley border. 8/10, and it would have been a 9 if the waist was strapless. Swiss waists with shoulder straps just don’t know quite right to me somehow.

  27. It reminds me of a dirndl. I love dirndls! I love the color of the dress, the coral, but I don’t like the big paisley appliques. They’re not defined/clear enough for me and read as ugly black splotches from a distance. Nor do I like the zig-zag ruffles surrounding the paisley applique. Not my fave, but I love the color of the main fabric.


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