18th Century, 19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: ca. 1800 innovation & tradition

Last week  I was a little disappointed in the lack of interest in Élisabeth de Valois and her velvet dress.  I thought it was a fascinating fashion choice, but it just wasn’t a good week for discussions.  Those of you who commented did like it though – it came it at 8.6 out of 10, which was just off its most common rating (8.5).  And it was a big hit as a pinterest pin, which is always a good indication of popularity!

This week, let’s return to the HSF as a source of inspiration for my Rate the Dress choices.  The next fortnight’s theme is ‘Innovation’ and one of the most innovative fashion periods ever was the streamlined neoclassical styles of the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.  Few fashion innovations are introduced completely out of nowhere: there is often a period of transition, in which elements of the old style mingle with the new trend.

This dress represents both the innovation, and the transition: radical in its overall simplicity, it retains hallmarks of earlier 18th century styles.

Gown, 1790-1810, Dutch.  silk & linen, Rijksmuseum  Gown, 1790-1810, Dutch. silk & linen, Rijksmuseum

I really regret not being able to find more images of this gown in particular.  The tiny pleats or darts in the bodice beg to be examined in more detail.  The front pleat gives a clue to the dress construction (does it hide a front opening?) but more images might reveal its secret.  What does the back look like?  What, exactly, is the trim around the hem?

For now, we’ll just have to speculate.  At least we can decide if we think it is a sartorial win or not!

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. I must admit a partiality for this style, and this seems to be a particularly well-done example, especially the distribution of the gathers around the neckline.

    The slight sleeve flare at the wrists is charming (but I can’t help but imagine the sartorial disaster if I were to wear sleeves of that length — permanent griminess).

    The color inspires visions of sitting in the morning room, writing in one’s journal.

    Just lovely — 9 of 10

    • I couldn’t keep those sleeves clean either. I get the feeling it was made for a lady who didn’t do her own housework.

      • Gauss says

        Ladies who wore this kind of dress probably never did their own housework…

  2. I would wear this dress. Lovely bright color, long sleeves, and if the neckline was more squere it would be perfect.


  3. Daniel says

    On the right person, a very lovely dress. The trimming looks like pleated satin that has been frayed along the bottom to form fringe – which is fascinating. I think its minimalism is very attractive – it has an open honesty and modest simplicity that is very pleasing.

    Rating it? Oh gosh, I do not know. It’s very pure in its simplicity. Lovely proportions. Exquisite subtlety. And I know how much you adore your yellow. It IS lovely. 9/10.

    • Elise says

      Open honesty–very apt description.

      I love it, too. 10/10

  4. Brenda says

    Simple. Lovely. I like the color too! There are enough details in the construction, especially in the bodice, that keep it from being too boring, though I can see it paired with a shawl or necklace.

    Too bad the trimming around the hem looks like it’s frayed…


  5. Stephani says

    This has everything I love most about the early (extended) Regency: simplicity of materials, cut, embellishment, and silhouette. It’s neoclassical references are evident but so are its references to the aesthetic of the more recent past. It looks rich, but spare at the same time. None of that gothic, Romantic nonsense–frills and furbellows that complicate the aesthetic. And the color! Like buttah!
    I’m super curious about the bodice darts; perhaps they’re indicative that this gown was pieced from an earlier gown.

  6. I really like it. The pleats in the bodice, the fabric that you can almost hear how it crunches when you move, the flare at the sleeves. If I had a body that was suitable for this kind of dress I would love to make a copy of it.

    I’m not a fan of yellow, but this this warm, golden tone is an exception.

    The only thing I’m not totally fond of is the trim at the hem, so that decreases the overall points. 9/10

    • fidelio says

      Google Translate thinks this is what the detailed description of the item says”

      Gown of canary yellow silk with high waist , diamond-shaped back yoke, long sleeves and deposited along the skirt’s seam with a white and yellow silk with bullion fringe. Model : round neckline with braided tunnel where yellow silk cord . Closure center front waist high through tunnel with yellow braided silk cord . On either side of the split four vertical seams . Sleeves diagonally cut the wire , flared over the hand . Diamond shaped back with two ribs in the middle . Within Bodice of linen with center front closure through three ribbons. Sleeves lined with linen ditto . Skirt with split front and center flanked by two stacked folds. Skirt has center front and behind a path of the fabric width ( 71.5 cm ) . Flanked by two smaller jobs and a key used. Center back a deep box pleat lined with two stacked folds. The hem of two back pieces shows traces of a halronde seam where the stitches are removed . The smoke may originally have been a little trolling ? Embellishment: on either side of the two center back ribs are eight scalloped grommet mounted where a braided yellow cord zigzagging through laced . Decorative Stabbing at the seams along the diamond-shaped back yoke and waist seam . Above the hem a white and yellow silk trimmings with hanging tassels .

      Clearly, some of the original just doesn’t come through!

      The dress, however, come through as a 10/10 to me.

  7. I like it. The silhouette is perfection, and the inverted pleat at the front is superb. It’s not my best color, but if it were I would wear it with pride.

    It is a bit plain, but I think the best way to address that is with good accessories–a striking bonnet or turban in the latest mode, an ornamented belt, perhaps a paisley shawl or a striking necklace. A 10 for raw potential.

    • Agreed–some dresses can be so overdecorated, that they really wear the wearer! This dress would instead compliment the wearer.

  8. WANT


    With so many thanks to Sabine for the link to the detailed photo. That tiny stitching alone deserves at least 20 points! And up close, that trim is far more interesting, too… The whole thing is deceptively simple, which is the way I love it most.

  9. I like those pleats/darts at the front and the little flare at the end of the sleeves. I like the colour too. But I’m afraid I don’t like the way the sleeves are set in to the bodice. They look uncomfortable and give the dress a sad, frumpy, slope shouldered effect. I’m not sure how much of that might relate to how the dress is displayed, but still. 5/10.

  10. Belinda says

    Looking at it closer in Sabine’s link (oh my goodness thankyou), that trim is amazing! Little tufty tasselly things! And the fabric is so special, I’m glad to see it in such a simple dress, so that it can speak for itself.

  11. I like it. It’s a lovely transition from 18th century to Regency styles. 10/10–I’d wear it.


  12. I truly love this style and glad to learn where and when the style came to have a presence in our fashion culture. Today what we call the empire style which has re-surfaced over time over many decades with various design tweaks which seems to update the style for its presence in that decade.

    The sleeves are also timeless however they can be dangerous, because the opening will catch onto pot handles and anything else you might walk by allowing the sleeve to catch onto something un-expectantly; such as the rob attached to my sewing table to handle long fabric piece.


  13. I think this is a lovely example of a workable dress. It allows the possibility to change it up for different occasions with different jewelry or accessories. I t certainly hides a wealth of figure flaws!

  14. I love the whole thing, the simplicity of the styling allows the fabric to use its voice. The delicacy of the trim when seen up close, the pleated bodice and the gorgeous sleeves!
    I’m going to Pin it and see if I can find time to make it in the future.

  15. Claire Payne says

    I love the colour and the simple minimalism of the style. I’m not a fan of empire line dresses however so for this reason I will give it 8 out of 10.

  16. I love this dress. The colour is gorgeous, and it’s so very elegant in it’s simplicity. The only thing I dislike is the trim around the bottom, it seems a bit messy compared to the rest of the dress. 8.5 out of 10. It’s a shame they don’t have this dress on display at the Rijksmuseum! I was there last summer, and although they have a selection of dresses from this period, this one was not included.

  17. Love the color and the details, especially the sleeves! I would, however, get rid of the trim, as it kind of pulls the attention downwards in a weird way. It should commit to minimalism! I agree with the previous commenters who said that accessories would definitely make this dress into something spectacular. 8/10.

  18. Well, simple is my jam, and this is lovely. The color reminds me of spring mornings and sunshine, and the shape is elegant. I think the trim is a sweet addition, and definitely adds to the over all look. I also like the sleeves with the slightly longer length. I wish I could see the back, though! 9.5

  19. Love the details, but it’s a bit heavy. Something about the stiffness of the drape makes it look really… homely.


  20. Nessa says

    Giving it a definite 9. This is from my most favourite period, I love the fabric and the simple, yet flattering cut. We’ll have to talk about that mustard yellow colour though. 😉

  21. I really like it, especially the sleeves. The linen and silk combination must have felt nice, too. I wonder if it would work as early maternity wear, all these pleats could allow for some adjustments.


  22. Sineuve says

    Neoclassical and minimalistic and not the typical white-muslin-net-stuff. I love it.

    Except for the trim. But that may have been added later. I mean, tassels? Perhaps it would look a bit long/boring without any trim.

    So 9.5

  23. StinkyMonkey says

    I have been reading your website for a long time, this is the first dress that has made me want to write a comment. For some reason I love it, it is simple and elegant and I really like the colour.

    This dress is definitely on my sewing wish list.

    9.5 out of 10 (always room for improvement)

  24. I love the neoclassical silhouette. I enjoy the slight flair of the sleeves and I LOVE the front pleat, opposed a flat front with a gathered bodice. I sort of want to make this next time I make a regency dress (by the way, just made my first dress from this era, I look ridiculous in it). I don’t like yellow. So 9, one off for the colour.

  25. Beatrix says

    Whatever did ladies of this era with chubby arms & large busts do? (Like me) I guess they just went around looking crappy. Sigh.
    This would look horrid on me but I love the elegant pleating & graceful silhouette. I even love the “I don’t do housework’ knuckle length sleeves.
    I’d love to see the diamond shaped yoke & box pleated back of this garment.
    That shimmering muted yellow would look fab on me with my warm coloring though.

      • Beatrix says

        I’m afraid the drawstring under the bust would give me a rather awkward ‘lollipop’ silhouette. 😉

  26. I find myself in love with the shaping, especially of the sleeves, and the tiny trim around the bottom. A good base for an outfit, perhaps, but not the star. Without a good set of accessories, the dress itself is rather bland, the color unflattering to most, and the deep front fold unbecoming (hopefully it is a the fault of the display and not of the dress). It leaves me with a lonely feeling, like it longs for something.

    6/10 with 5 points for excellent sleeve and bodice shaping and 1 point for the fact that it has survived in such nice condition.

  27. I give it a resounding 10/10!!! It’s so lovely and the darts were wholly unexpected sweet. I had never considered this method for fitting a bodice and I love it!

  28. Let me see…
    I like the little pleats at the neckline and the way the darts are shaped. The sleeves look lovely witht their little flare, if slightly long. The rest seems rather boring, from the color (too many square meters of nondescript yellowish fabric) to the ruffle (no drama, no constrast).
    On the whole, so-so.

  29. I love the clean lines, the simplicity, the soft color, the little touch of trim at the hem, the gently gathered neckline and the inverted front pleat. This is the kind of garment that a woman wears…it doesn’t wear her. I can see a summer bonnet, leather gloves, soft slippers and a reticule all ready and waiting for the next outing. An easy 10/10 for me.

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