19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Velvet scrolls in the 1890s

As I’m away on holiday, I haven’t been able to tally up the scores for the 1940s embroidered dress, but I can tell you they are likely to be pretty high: you LOVED it!

UPDATE: You certainly did!  30 out of 34 scores were 10/10, and the dress came in at an astonishing 9.9 out of 10 – I don’t think we will ever get that close to a perfect score again!

Last week’s dress was likely a younger woman’s frock, so in contrast, here is something rich and holiday-y that I simply cannot imagine being worn by a younger woman.

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), detail, late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), detail, late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

Evening suit, House of Paquin (French, 1891—1956), late 1890s, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.48.70.1ab_F

The amount of work that has gone into the dress is gobsmacking: the twisted silk scrolls, highlighted with tiny chenille work.  The weighted buttons to hold the hem.  The pleated collar and little pleated back vents on the cuffs.  The intricacy and details are astonishing.  It would take a lot of panache to pull it off without the ensemble overwhelming the wearer.

What do you think?  Was the work worth it?  Who do you imagine wore this ensemble?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Jenny Wren says

    BWAHAHAAA… that’s ridiculous. From the front, anyway. From the side, it’s fine, but from the front it’s just too much. Still, I prefer a lack of style to a lack of courage any day, so I’ll give it a 6.

  2. I’m not surprised last week’s dress got good scores; it was beautiful, and suited to a number of different body types.

    This week’s dress–not so much.

    I love the color scheme of this dress–the plum scrolls are set off to advantage on that deep dark velvet (Is it dark brown? Is it black? It’s hard to judge, but the contrast is wonderful). I also like the dress’s late 1890s silhouette, where the shoulders are back in harmony with the rest of the body, though the wonderful trumpet shape (with a slight train!) remains.

    That being said, I have problems with the way that plum trim is handled. I detest the frilled plum collar–it looks fussy without benefiting the look as a whole. I can’t see what’s going on under the jacket, but what I do see–the little white buttons and the bunched-up plum cord–looks excessive and odd. And the scrolls themselves, though marvellously striking at a little distance, also look bunched-up and odd at close range.

    So to me the total effect is sadly and awkwardly overdone. But it could be improved easily (starting by removing the frilled collar) and it’s possible the scrolled trim looked fine, even at close range, when the dress was new. So I’ll say 6.5.

  3. I LOVE Purple!!! The only thing I would change (so, yes, I do basically like the evening suit) would be to French seam the jacket, thus making it closer to the body, and lengthening the jacket skirt in the back. Generally, I do not like short jackets that cut-off the body line. My score 7.5/10 (for the jacket 10/10 with the improved jacket)

  4. Elise says

    As I am sick with bronchitis, my first thought for the dress was ‘I want to wear it right now and be warm and cozy.’ Can you imagine how wonderful a dress like this would be in Maine or Montreal?

    My favorite part are the very practical details of the thing. I noticed the weighted buttons right away that make the dress easier to wear. I like the vented sleeves, and I also see that the jacket’s single button closure is at the perfect place for ease. There will be no bunching with this dress, so you can wear it gracefully without having to pull at it or readjusting it. For such a sumptuous-looking dress, it is so much more practical than many things I see even today!

    I find the scroll-work a little too much, and I don’t like the trim proportions in the back, but then again, the scrolls hide the weighted buttons at just the right length on the leg so that you can stand up from sitting and have your dress fall just right. I like the color contrast (except for the blue buttons and lace collar)

    I give it an 8. It’s an incredible dress, if not outright beautiful. The high score is for all of the thought that went into the comfort and grace of the wearer.

  5. 1890s: The most fabulously flamboyant era EVER.

    I love it: The royal purple, the heavy velvet, the curly decorations, the back train falls sooooo perfectly! The only hangup is those little buttons near the neck.

    Seriously–you spring for so much purple and then tiny turquoise buttons?! I know turquoise was fashionable and the designer was probably going for contrast, but they are no where NEAR bold enough for this outfit. Pearl, pastes, gold, silver, more purple, even more of the turquoise elsewhere would have been an improvement.

    As it is, everything is perfect—except those infuriating little buttons!


  6. My initial response is a bit different than earlier responses. I also love purple, but I lean more towards ‘Holy cow, that’s horrendous!

    I feel it had to be worn by an older woman who was trying very hard to hold on to her youth. But I’m not a big fan of over-the-top.


  7. Maggie Smith’s Downton Abbey character could walk into a room wearing that and totally rock it. Totally. She’s about the only person I can imagine in it…

    I actually sort of like this. The color is nice, and I sort of like the scroll work. Or, well, I at least appreciate it. So, yes, definitely see this on an older woman, but I actually sort of like it in a weird way.


  8. That just has to be the dress of a Dowager Countess. It would be the perfect outfit to wear while glaring at young debutantes who are trying to catch the eye of the young Lords in the household. The designer really showed no restraint in placing that purple trim, but somehow it works for me, for an older woman running the household (and probably the local social scene) on her own. 10/10 because it inspires all kinds of outrageous back-story ideas at first sight.

  9. I can just see the kind of person who would wear that. However, I HATE the collar. I know high collars were the norm, but it looks like a nod to the Elizabethan ruff, which I’m also none too fond of. It was probably worn by an older lady simply because of the dark color. Perhaps a widow who had been in mourning for years. I’ll give it an 8/10 for the sheer grumba it must have taken to carry that off!

  10. Were it decades later, I would say that the owner had read “When I’m an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple” a number of times and really took it to heart. It is really unashamedly, proudly purple.

    Although I like the more natural silhouette of the era and the shape of the skirt, the scale of the ribbon trim makes me think more of a stage costume where the details are meant to be seen and appreciated at a distance, making it border on garish for everyday wear.

    Still, 8 of 10 for the brio of it.

  11. LOVE IT!!!! Especial the ruffles at the cuff. I might have to steal that idea for an upcoming dress. I would rather the jacket fit a little closer but that’s about my only complaint so I will give it 8.5 .

  12. L. A. Khatt says

    My first reaction was “I want my own copy of this!” However further looking brought up parts I would change, so , not an exact copy to be made.
    Love the color combo/contest – very rich. I was surprised to find the trim was twisted fabric (first impression gave me the thought it was applique). It’s a technique to play with at some point in the future. Scroll work is among my favorite design themes, so, another plus for me.
    What I’d change: the collar and the turquoise buttons. I’m ok with a tall collar as that’s what was in fashion at the time, but not with those ruffles (at least not as wide, maybe a half or a third as wide might be better). As for the buttons, I agree with what Liz said about them – they’re not bold enough and/or more were needed tie them in better or something else should have been used.
    Despite wanting to change the collar and buttons, I’m still giving this one a 10/10.

  13. I can definitely see it on the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey; Maggie Smith looks stunning in that sort of thing.
    Personally I’d not wear it but then frills make me feel uncomfortable, no matter how great they look on the dress.
    Looking past the fact that I couldn’t wear it though, I do think it’s absolutely gorgeous and I want to make something a little more restrained for myself one day.

  14. Kathryn says

    Lots of folks here are invoking “Downton Abbey”, but the TV show that comes to MY mind is the 1960’s Adam West “Batman”. It looks like something The Riddler’s squeeze might wear, no? So, so campy.
    6/10, because the workmanship is astounding and a pleasure to look at, and also because this dress has entertained me.

    • Kathryn says

      Only, on “Batman”, the skirt of this ensemble would be a micro-mini, of course.

      • Kathryn says

        ….or better yet, purple velvet hot pants.
        Come to think of it, the bodice/jacket wouldn’t be out of place in a Prince video, or Alexander McQueen runway show….
        You know, this is growing on me. It’s invoking a lot of things I really like. Can I amend my rating to 7.5?

  15. Beatrix says

    I think it is gorgeous.
    I can’t really see Maggie Smith wearing dark purple – muted tones, drabs, or pastels would seem to suit her ginger haired, pale blue eyed coloring.
    I could see someone like Helena Bonham Carter (doing her Tim Burtonesque Gothic thing) wearing this though -traipsing about in some dark & drafty Edwardian mansion in the sooty, grimy old London of a ‘penny- dreadful’ or a macabre melodrama.
    You’d have to be rather petite & small to average busted to pull off that short jacket though (I am neither).
    A sable to chestnut haired brunette or a salt & pepper haired matron (i.e. Miriam Margoyles) would look best in this ensemble (I am neither).
    As others have stated, I’m not sure what is going on with those turquoise buttons. Not as much thought has gone into the choice of those buttons as the rest of the dress? Bizarre.
    I’ll give it a 9/10 because of the buttons.

  16. Lynne says

    I love it! I’d wear it like a shot – if someone would jam me into a corset and heave womanfully on the strings. A dress for cuddly grown-up women – yes!

    9 out of 10 – one off for the odd buttons.

  17. Me. I would wear it in a shot. Probably while glaring at small dogs and scaring small children. I will, however, be requiring a Mandarin collar in place of that ruff, if you please.


  18. I love the dress in a costume kind of way. It’s so over the top, but I love it. It’s so daring! It reminds me of the Haunted Mansion and The Addams family, and things like that, but in a very endearing way. I guess that reveals my love for kitsch.

    I’d wear it any day in the winter over here… the outer jacket looks like it would go really well with a black velvet dirndl. There are some very inspiring elements in this dress!


  19. Daniel says

    Luxurious and opulent, but not overwhelmingly so – the woman who wore this would have considered it nothing less than her due, and would have worn it accordingly. I think it has a wonderful presence. The only thing I don’t like are the little white buttons down the front as they REALLY don’t fit in with anything else, and stick out like a sore thumb.

    Also – “evening suit”? Seriously? They didn’t use terms like “suit” until the late 1910s with any regularity – coat and skirt sets were “costumes”. The idea of an evening suit is more 1930s, too… very strange term to choose. It looks like an afternoon dress or walking ensemble to me.

    I bet the original design for this is in the Paquin design books at the V&A. I will have to take a look through the late 1890s ones next chance I get…

    Love the colour, love the style, love the fabrics, love the embellishment – but those small white buttons! Ugh. Will say 9/10.

  20. This will have to be 9 out of 10. It is beautifully made, spectacular, has fabulous detail and I’m sure will match a self-confident wearer’s personality perfectly.
    I’d have to deduct one “credit”, though, as I imagine the colour combination might turn the wearer into a pale, vampire-like wraith slightly overwhelmed by the dress.

  21. Felicity says

    I think it is amazing. Personally, I would be overwhelmed by the dress but some people I know could pull it off. 8/10

    I was noticing how the silk scrolls look “off” and I remembered that Cathy Hay blogged about recreating an edwardian ball gown. She found out that certain decorations looked bettering the reproduction because they hay not been crushed by storage and time. I would imagine that the scrollwork on tis dress was more opulent when it was new.

  22. YES! Oh yes, this is fabulous!
    Black velvet, purple accents, pleats and swirly things! Symmetry! I love it so much I am willing to overlook the random little sky blue buttons.

    Who do I imagine wearing it? ME! I don’t care if it’s not meant for a younger woman, I’ve been told I look older than 19. I can make serious facial expressions.
    It would be better without the discoloured lace, with purple buttons instead of blue, and if the collar pleats were shorter, but it’s still awesome like this.

    If this were some other colour I wouldn’t like it as much, but I have a weakness for gothy colour schemes.


  23. Erin says

    Interesting that the lapels are asymmetrical . I wonder if the buttons are opals– real or imitation. They have an iridescent quality that might look better in life. I love the way the side trim sweeps to set off the wearers hand. 9/10

    I was thinking of the dowager sorceress in the “sorcery and Cecilia” books. Powerful, lovely, dark hair and eyes….

  24. I’m picturing the Dowager as well, though the color is too dark for her skin. You know what else? The Evil Stepmother in Cinderella, or Maleficent if it was set in the appropriate era.

  25. It is over the top and I absolutely love it! If I could afford the velvet and the time to do all of that work I’d make one for myself! 10/10

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