19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1860s jacquard marvels

Last week I showed you a fascinating yellow frock that celebrated the innovation of simplicity: the refinement of shape, silhouette, fabric, trim, and underclothes that characterise early 19th century fashions.  Most of you were extremely impressed, and then a small group of you were completely unimpressed, and thought it boring.  I began to see one of those scenarios where the rating comes out to be something that almost none of you rated, and I was right.  8.3 out of 10 might have been the average, but it reflects how few of you felt about it personally. (and thank you to Sabine for finding the proper link to the dress)

Those of you who didn’t like it thought the yellow dress last week was just too plain, simple and austere. So this week, I’ve picked something that is a wee bit more detailed:

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

At first, all the details on this dress just look daft: mameluke sleeves (now sadly crushed) and pleated trim, bizarre circular motifs arranged in pyramids on the skirt.  The fabric looks dirty and discoloured with age, and the whole effect is just…odd.  But then you look closer, and thing get…intriguing:

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Like the fabric: a speckled brown, not dirty with age.

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

The patterns, not applique but are either jacquard woven en disposition  (specifically for this dress) or, less likely, machine embroidery.

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dress, ca. 1865, American, cotton, C.I.67.37.1 Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the motifs is circular, the other flower shaped, and they demonstrate a variety of different stitches: the full spectrum of stitches/weaves available to jacquard looms and embroidery machines.  The mad details suddenly become a celebration of innovation:  the design possibilities of the new machines.  The brilliant blue trim of the bodice is also probably aniline dyed, in another nod to inventions.

Reveling in the all that is new and modern is all very well, but it doesn’t always translate into good design.  What do you make of this dress, and its trendy new innovations?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. 7/10

    I like the fabric, it seems to be very delicate, I love the back of the dress, the match of blue and pale brown is also very intresting for me, but I dislike those motifs, I wouldn’t use them on my dream dress

  2. Since I was one of those charmed by last week’s offering of simplicity, it should be nor surprise that I don’t much care for this.

    I’m not particularly bothered by the “dirty” look of the fabric, since fabrics are so often altered by time, and I do find the contrast of the clear blue trim to the dusty ochre generally pleasing.

    As to the profusion of trim, I’d have to borrow a Project Runway term for my reaction — “hot mess”. Each individual element is visually busy, but they strike me as being unrelated to each other, so that compounds the overall business and makes my contact lenses whirl.

    I do really like the hem trim (probably because it’s so comparatively restrained), and the circle embroidery elements might have a certain charm if used for another purpose (and not at the same time), but in this case they look like a cascade of tiddlywinks.

    I’ll give it 5 of 10 for the skill inv0lved.

  3. The triangles of decoration on the skirt work well given its fullness, but I think all of the ruched ribbon trim on bodice and sleeves is a tad excessive. I also have some reservations about the print of the dress, seen close-up. A 7.5.

  4. Beatrix says

    Love the overall silhouette.
    The speckled brown with the blue ruched ribbon & the odd round jacquard/embroidery whatsits are just weird – almost a bit ‘Japanese’?
    I can’t imagine who’d wear this.
    Meh… in overall ‘design’ it is just bizarre.

  5. I actually love the colours together. Though perhaps not the best colours for someone with fair skin, this dress would look gorgeous on someone of Spanish, Portugese or African descent. Love that bright blue. 7.5/10

    • I thougth the same, good dress for someone with dark hair or skin. Pale girl would “dissapear” in it.

  6. Well, for me there is only one thing I like in the dress: the blue buttons. (I like blue)
    It is not a periode in fashion which I like (skirts too big), so it is not astonishing that the overall silhouette is not my cup of either. And the fabric would eventually work for very plain dress, but for something decorated – really not. I don’t like ruffles and there are plenty of them on the bodice.
    But the blue lace on the skirt could look nice, I think on a simpler design.

  7. To me this gown has two things going for it, the contrasting colours and the skirt, but one huge things going against it and that’s the bodice. I really don’t like the sleeves or the multiple rows of trims. If I judged just the skirt it would probably get a 7, and if I judged the bodice it would get 3, so I think I have to even it all out and give it a 5.

  8. Mm Berg says

    He he, I have this on my Pinterest board “Really ugly clothing”… 😀


  9. Innovations, certainly, but I wouldn’t wear it unless under duress. It’s just odd, with the fabric choice and the motifs and the blue trim… 4/10, and only because I appreciate the work that went into the dress, even though I don’t like the result.


  10. I love the fabric. It’s gorgeous. I also really like the way the fabric is used in the skirt. I’m less impressed by the bodice, however. There’s just too much trim and silly sleeves and, as I said last week, slumpy shoulders do not float my boat. Yes, they were the fashion of the time, but I don’t like them.


  11. The silhouette is fine, the trim placement isn’t too horrible, but the colours are hideous. What is the purpose of the multicolored flower motifs? The blue ones make sense, but those ones don’t.
    I do not like it.


  12. It was probably very innovative for it’s time. I have to wonder that it is in such great shape, not made over or rehemmed for little sister or excessively laundered. Perhaps the owner wore it once and put it away because of poor public reception? Or was is a favorite only used for special occasions. I’d say 6/10 for use of innovation and for quality and style. I am not personally bold enough for the pattern.

  13. I’m not a fan of this particular era and silhouette, and American dresses particularly tend to make me go yuk, but I do like the way the colour and the motifs work on the on the expanse of skirt. I’m less fond of the ruffle trim on the bodice and sleeves – there’s just too much of it. perhaps if there were only one or two rows of it, or it were narrower, it would work better.


  14. Lynne says

    Oh, dear. No. It was bad enough when I thought some poor soul had added those odd decorations to try to give the dress some character, but when I saw that the decorations were a woven pattern, the possible total shrunk again. Imagine meeting someone else who had that fabric! Nowhere to hide! A room full of two women in enormous ugly skirts.

    I like the shape of the dress. I like the base fabric, minus the scary border. But too many strongly coloured ruffles. Poor little thing. At least with modern dresses, if you go wrong, you are wrong over a smaller area. This is like making a mistake on a bill-board!

    2 out of 10.

  15. It is weird. The colors clash, the circles look odd, there is such a lot of trimming.
    I like the overall silhouette, though.


  16. Hmmm…

    This dress (much like last week’s) is a series of “I would like it…ifs.”

    I love the sleeves, but with all the extra trim on the bust, they looks fussy. “I would like it if” the seamstress had chosen one or the other.

    I love the flower-dot motifs. They add a burst of color. However, “I would like it if” the buttons had been done in red to help tie the skirt and bodice design together.

    The color combo (warm tan and bright blue) was very popular during this era, so it is possible that it’s the original scheme, but I struggle with it. I think the color may have originally been much darker. “I would like it if” the background color was a dark blue or even black. I think if we could see it in the original colors, the entire effect would be much different.

    Altogether though, a very spirited dress. I give it a 7.5 out of ten as it sits right now.

  17. I found all the Easter eggs!

    On a more serious note – I actually love the color combination, the brown fabric has a very interesting texture up close, and that blue is the perfect accent color. As to how they chose to implement the accents… well, maybe that I don’t love quite so much. I think there is just too much going on, especially the ruffles around the collar. I love the details and close-ups, but, overall the dress does not have the best effect.


  18. I am not fond of blue and brown together, so this color palate is not pleasing to me. I do appreciate the drape of the dress and the design however. I am not fond of the ruffles running into the buttons. The placement looks ill planned. Overall, I’d give this a 5 out of 10.

  19. Honestly…. the dots make it look like a clown threw up on it. I think it would look way way better without those. I like the trim on the bodice. If there were no dots I’d probably give it a 7 out of 10… but as it is…. maybe a 2 out of 10.

  20. Trying to put aside the fact that I love the 1860s in general, I love the patterns on the fabric along with all the detail pleating on the bodice. The yellow color I’m not too crazy about, but I like the color blue that it has been combined with. 7 out of 10 for me.

  21. How bizarre! The colour scheme, the fabric, the decoration, I would love to know who designed/made it and who wore it! I like to think the wearer would have been a rather unconventional lady:-) I do like the buttons and the blue ribbon, but everything else is just a bit to weird and busy for me, so 5/10 for effort.

  22. In terms of color combinations and palette, I really like the dress. But the form, the way the decorative elements were put together, and the top half’s discord with the bottom half… it screams cake topper to me.

    Love the color combos, hate the top half.


  23. Helene says

    I love the silhoulette of the dress. I really like the colour of the dress itself, I think if it had stayed with the blue trim at the hem, and the blue buttons I would have loved the dress.
    I could live with the rouffles on the bodice, but the ones on the sleeves I really dislike. I really dislike the pyramids of circles.
    I still give the dress a 6/10

  24. 4/10 for me. That is mostly for the daring to throw all these modern inventions together – thanks for pointing them out.
    I wonder if the brown base was a new fabric too?

  25. Natalie says

    I actually quite like this. I think the fabric is beautiful. I’m not a huge fan of the pleated trim on the bodice. It seems like that is where the dress gets a bit over the top. I give it an 8/10

  26. I LOVE the skirt! it’s gorgeous and the motifs are not at all what I think of when I think “mid-19th-century.” The color scheme is also quite nice–the off-white-brown of the skirt really makes the blue glow. The bodice, however, is a bit…unfortunate. I’m sure lots of time went into it but it is not my cup of tea and it doesn’t really go with the simplicity of the skirt design. so 5/10, since I like half of it.

  27. Brenda says

    Eh…overall, it’s just a bit much. I like the combination of light brown fabric and blue trim. It would have been so much better if the trim had been limited to the bodice and hem. The trim on the puffed-up sleeves look awful. Also, the woven-in motifs are too much. I really liked last week’s dress and would have liked this dress if it was simpler…I guess I just subscribe to the “simpler is better” school of fashion 😉


  28. I love everything apart from the blue trim – there is just too much of it. The buttons are perfect and perhaps one strip of the blue trim would be sufficient to keep the colour theme going. I especially like the skirt, both the patterns on the fabric and the shape. I give it 9 out of ten.

  29. Lylassandra says

    Yikes, yikes, yikes. A prime example of why innovation for innovation’s sake is not enough. 2/10, with points added because I do love that shade of blue.

  30. L. A. Khatt says

    I’m having mixed feeling about this one – plenty to like and not care for.
    Like: the color combo, the woven motifs in general and the silhouette.
    Don’t care for: the ruffle trim on the bodice and sleeves,the sleeves shape.
    I’m almost feeling like this dress has a split personality. The skirt, while having a western silhouette, the feeling of the motifs and the border have an asian feel to them. In contrast the bodice and sleeves, with all their ruffles, feels western/european.
    Changes I’d make: get rid of the floral motifs (I like them but they don’t really go with this dress) and replace all the blue ruffles with the trim pattern on the bottom of the skirt. Not sure about the sleeves – maybe something not quite so poofy. I’d keep the base fabric not only for the color but also for the pattern (it reminds me of some vintage kimono fabric – keeping the asian flavor to the dress).
    I’m rating it 7/10.

  31. Daniel says

    I really can’t get past the dirty dishwater colour, even though I know it’s meant to look like that. It’s just too close to bad foxing/age stains/etc

    Colour aside, I REALLY like this dress. Love the blue ruching and ribbons. The rondels are lovely.

    But there’s just too much dinge around the lovely bits – a really incredibly misjudged fabric, I’m afraid, as it just makes the dress look really grubby and filthy and neglected, and the contrast of the clear, vibrant blues really plays this up somewhat cruelly.

    I’m sorry. 4/10. The dirty dishwater just sucks the rating down the drain with it. Would’ve been higher with a better main colour.

    • Daniel says

      I’m also pretty positive that we are missing a waistband, almost certainly with peplums or an overskirt arrangement, which would have pulled it all together. The

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