19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Maria Fyodorovna in blue

Once again I’m being bad and haven’t tallied up the ratings from last week (sorry, my life is eating me alive).  I’ll try to be good and get them up today though!

This week I present to you Maria Feodorovna, aka Dagmar of Denmark, sister of the famously beautiful Queen Alexandra of England, and mother of the last Tsar of Russia, in something extremely feminine and lacy and ruffly and corsage-y.  We were talking about New Zealand designer Trelise Cooper (well known for her frills and furbelows) in my class this evening, so I guess I had such embellishments on my mind (though if this were a Trelise dress it would be made of three different patterned fabrics in pink and orange and teal blue all at once)

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928) by Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925), circa 1874, Collection of the Hermitage

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928) by Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925), circa 1874, Collection of the Hermitage

What do you think of Dagmar in her version of 1870s regal grandeur?  I’m sure her lace would have cost a fortune, and I’m also sure it’s the reason the painting is reminding me of a toned-down Maria Christina.  In fact, with only her very fashionable velvet and pearl chocker, four small rings, a hint of sparkle in her hair, a bracelet peeping from beneath the lace and a tiny brooch on display, Maria F is practically a picture of royal austerity, 1870s style.  I once made fun of her for her obsession with pearls, but she also knew how to dress down and be quite relaxed and adorably approachable.

What do you think?  Does the restrained colour and lack of jewellery balance the frilly frock?  Has Dagmar balanced dressing up and dressing down with this particular ensemble? Does it manage to project both royal glamour and soft femininity, or is it simply too fussy, accomplishing neither?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Although I’ve never been enamored of the added bulk of front drapes and back bustles, for a dress of its era, it’s quite lovely. The soft blue and cream lace are restrained enough that they focus the attention on her face (with the help of the frolicsome rose corsage, a nice accent of stronger color).

    8 of 10

  2. I love the dusty blue and all the lace, knots, and details. Very fashionable for the time! I think it would look stunning in any color, which means it’s an overall good design (I’d love a rich red version for myself).
    It’s a beautiful dress, but the heavy ornimentation is overwhelming her. Maria is a beautiful woman, but she gets lost in all the dripping lace and the downward pull of the dress draws your eyes away from her beautiful face. The dress alone is a solid 8 out of ten, but for Maria in particular, this dress is only a 6 out of ten.

    Averaged out, I’d give it a 7.

  3. Epitome of 1870s style. Perfect balance, beautiful color, good accessorization. I do give this a 10/10.

  4. For its time I think it’s very tastefully understated, whilst still being opulent enough to be appropriate for a lady of Dagmar’s station in life. I like the bodice more than the skirt, I think, but it’s difficult to tell when the portrait doesn’t really show much of the skirt. I’m finding it a bit hard to rate for that reason, but I’ll give it an 8 out of 10.

  5. I almost totally love this. Can’t quite put my finger on why I’m not completely sold… Maybe there is slightly too much poofy details around the sleeves… or something. I think just a bit of editing would push this up to ten-land for me. As it is… hmmmm…


  6. I like her modest jewelry. The portrait, in my opinion, doesn’t do justice to what the true color of the lace and silk must have been; it just makes both look dingy, though that might be because of adverse chemical changes to the portrait, over time. Discounting that, it’s a lovely color scheme, also.

    The only thing I dislike about her costume is the oddly puffy ribbon decorations around neckline and sleeves. Added to the expected puffiness of the overskirts of the dress, it makes her look a bit slovenly. So only an 8 of 10 from me.

  7. L. A. Khatt says

    Dagmar looks beautiful in this classic 1870’s dress. The light blue fabric (silk maybe?) trimmed with just the right amount of lace gives her a look appropriate to her station without being too OTT. Given that she was at the Romanov Court, the amount of jewelry is understated, but I think it’s the correct amount to give her ensemble the perfect finishing touch.

  8. I’m giving this a mere 3.5 because, unusually for a medium-toned dress, it’s completely overwhelming the wearer. The sleeves in particular look over-heavy, and the neckline is blocky.

    It shouldn’t impact my opinion of the dress, but between her expression here and her photograph that you linked to, I look at her face and think: this woman wants to start the future NOW, but she is trapped in the deep past.

  9. Deanna says

    She looks lovely. Quite restrained for the era, and especially considering that she is royalty. I would love to see that lace close up. I like the detail at the neckline, the softly gathered/pleated effect that almost seems to turn into a lapel has me wondering about construction. I also wonder whether the blue silk tabs continue around the back of the neck, and how and where the lower tabs/streamers on the sleeves are attached ? I like her jewelry and the rose corsage looks very pretty. I’m also liking the fluffy blue feathers in her hair, though I wonder whether they wouldn’t look a bit bright in comparison to the dress if she wasn’t standing in front of the deep blue curtain/hanging.

    I can’t help noticing that she looks just a little bit sad, though.

    • I thought the same thing… all is beautiful, but the wearer looks a bit downcast. :/

    • Deanna says

      I just realized I left off my rating. I’m going to give it a 9, as either the amount or length of the tabs on the cuffs are a little bit too much to look entirely pleasing to me, and also the (viewer’s) lower left of the skirt doesn’t look balanced. Seeing the entire length might clear that up, though.

  10. Very pretty! I want it. 9 out of 10. It lost a point simply because I personally can’t wear that shade of blue. It looks great on her.

  11. Elise says

    I love–love love love all forms of blue and white. I personally prefer understated ornamentation and patterns, so there’s a plus, too.

    7.5/10 because the lower sleeves are too heavy.

    Can someone answer me: Are the sleeves evocative of the 18th century? Are they supposed to be?

    • Well noticed! 1870s fashion was definitely inspired by the 18th century, and while this dress is far from the most obvious example of the inspiration I’ve seen, there is definitely a hint of rococo in the deep square neckline, and an distinct reference to 18th century sleeve ruffles in her sleeve trimming.

  12. Lisa says

    Not a fan of this period, it’s far too fussy for me personally. That said I like the draping of the skirt with its lush lace finish and really like the squared off neckline (could do with out the corsage though – I’d rather see a fabulous brooch from the Imperial Treasury!!). I do love her hairpiece, pearls and frothy feathers (?) look beautiful against her dark hair and elaborate up-do.

    What kills the gown for me are the sleeves. Take away all by one of the ruffles and this gown could muster a 7/10; taking all the pleats, ribbons, knots, lace and other assorted fripperies in to consideration however, I can only give the Grand Duchess a very average 6/10 (1 point just for the hair piece).

    • Lisa says

      oooh, have just clicked through to her pearls – love, love, love!! And adore the purple-robed, gloriously embellished cream outift in the 1885 portrait…

  13. It seems very toned down for the time. And yet perfectly in tune with the time. Lovely. 8/10

  14. Lynne says

    It’s pretty rather than stunning, but it’s very pretty. Lovely colour. And I do like the neckline and cuffs – they have made the most of both of them. The neckline, with the informal gathering drawn in at the corners with the slightly twisted angle piece is very pleasing.

    The jewellery is beautiful – modest and lady-like, and I especially like the black ribbon choker with the pearl jewel. The flowers were possibly a mistake, pushing the look too much into the icing Easter-egg catagory.

    Apart from the flowers, it all looks very right on her. 9 out of 10.

    • Lynne says

      Oh, dear! I’ve just read the pearl link, too. How sad. The single pearl is in memory of what I presume is a lost child. But she’s ‘expecting’ in our portrait.

  15. What a fantastic painting, the painter has really captured the shot silk, and the delicate lace. Quite extraordinary.
    I have such a soft spot for this powder blue shot with taupe silk. I love the lace. It was an embellishment heavy period in history so it could have been worse. Even so, I am not enamoured of the overly elaborate cuffs, but I do love the neckline with its clever drape and knot detail segueing into a lovely stand up tab detail at the back of the neck.
    Because of the cuffs that keep on giving, I give it a an 8.

  16. Belinda says

    The 1870s is not my favourite decade, but I really love this gown.
    I love the way the trim appears almost tied on, so that it’s at once frothy and detailed and yet sort of casual and negligent as well, like the lace was thrown on as an afterthought. The neckline really makes the whole thing for me. As for the sleeves, I agree with a few others that they are a tad clunky, but I like the way they draw attention to her exquisitely beautiful hands. It looks comfortable, effortlessly stylish (for the 1870s at any rate), and delicate all at once. If I could change one thing, I would remove the little dangle of lace from the skirt.

  17. I think this is just right for Maria/Dagmar and her place in space and time, although the flowers don’t belong with the rest of the outfit and the neckline proportions seem strange – very deep for the width.
    Still, she looks lovely. 8/10.

  18. I love it, and would wear it, only…
    I agree with Liz – there is a “downward pull” in this dress; the narrow neckline and everything below it, and it does not suit her, and would not suit me, either. (I don’t normally approach the Rate the Dress like this, but I can’t help it here with the dress being in my favourite shade of blue and Dagmar / Maria Fyodorvna having, on the whole, a face somewhat similar to mine…) If the neckline were less narrow and long, I think it would work much better as a whole and as an outfit.

    8/10, which seems to be my go-to rating for dresses I love to pieces, with the cautious exception of some of the pieces.

  19. Helene Illervik says

    I give this an 8. It would have been a 9 but for the corsage. I really love the “knots” in the corners of the neckline and on the sleeves. The lace looks exquisit.
    I personally couldn’t wear anything in this pale, muted blue, so I wouldn’t wear it, but give me one in pale purple/lilac!

  20. Beatrix says

    Well, this is the best looking maternity dress I’ve ever seen!
    I agree with the above posts that the dress has a bit of a ‘downward pull’ with the rectangular neck line, sloping shoulders, & a rather droopy bust.
    I actually have an 1878 cerise pink corset that belonged to my great great Aunt Beatrice who lived in New Orleans. Aunt Beatrice’s corset also results this rather matronly ( us moderns) ‘saggy bosom’ appearance & a bit of a droopy looking (but substantial) bum.
    So this was apparently ‘the fashion ideal’ for a woman’s figure of the time.
    I can’t help but think Dagmar’s rather lassitudinous figure was also a precursor to the ‘health corsets’ (or S bend corsets) which became so popular in the Edwardian age.
    I usually don’t really care much for putting brunettes in blue, but Dagmar pulls it off with great aplomb.
    Make mine in cerise to match my corset!

  21. Oh, this outfit is verruh, verruh nice! I love the lace details with the hue of the blue on her skintone. Love the hair and accessories (fan, choker, rings). Love even the yellow and pink roses. She looks stunning, albeit slightly sad and intense.


  22. Katie says

    I do not like the sleeves. Otherwise SWOON. I’ll give it an 8. Also I’d wear it even with the sleeves. 🙂

  23. It could be perked up a bit; but, generally, I like it. Definitely, the portrait went through the vissisitudes of the Revolution and WWI, so the stains are obvious. I love the lace and the sleeves.


  24. I love this dress. It is the epitome of mid-70’s fashion. Color, ornament, lace, all wonderful. And I based my wedding dress on it 🙂


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