19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Revealing Regency

Last week’s Charles James Surrealist frock elicited some strong feelings from you raters.  Some of you adored it, some of you hated it, and some of you adored some bits and hated others.  The pleated front was particularly divisive: half of you were fans of the mastery of fabric manipulation, the other half of you thought it was a scary alien fabric explosion.  Whether you liked it or not, James’ green frock was memorable, but came it at a rather bland 7.6 out of 10, which is what happens if you balance a bunch of raving 10s with a few ‘eww’ 3s!

One of the things that many of you commented on with the green frock was how terrible the mannequin was, and how much that affected your perception of the dress.  With that in mind, I’ve picked a frock that may win the award for worst mannequin styling photo ever:

I’m pretty sure that comes straight out of a Dr Who episode…

Luckily, there are better images of the dress!  And oh boy, for an era which is known for being white and demure, is this dress ever va-va-voom!

Check out that neckline!

And it plunges in back too:

I’ll let you discuss whether you think it would have been worn with all that skin on display (and presumably without a support garment, because there is simply nowhere for one to go!), or with some sort of modesty under-dress or chemisette.

The daring silhouette is balanced by delicate details and elaborately embroidery.

Those metallic motifs do look suspiciously like lips though…

What do you think?  Previous white Regency frocks have been dismissed as overly sweet or frumpy, or just flat out boring.  This one is more likely to be criticised for being overly sexy and provocative, and maybe a little too exciting.

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Seeing as how this is one of my favorite dresses of all time (if not my absolute favorite), I’m rating it a 10.

  2. Va-va-voom is right! I would totally wear that dress, except for that neck-line. 😉 I would imagine that it would’ve been worn with a chemisette underneath since that is such a plunging neckline since fashion plates that I’ve seen with lower v-necks usually have a modesty panel of some sorts. I’d rate it at an 8.

  3. My 1790’s dress I’m making has a equally deep plunging neckline…I erm…chickened out and added a ruffle to make it more ‘modest’.
    That first picture is like the clockwork droids crossed with the weeping angels. Scary.

  4. Brenda says

    OMG. In the first picture, the dress looks like a frou-frou negligee/nightgown from the 70s and the whole mannequin set-up looks like it was was used for some cheesy 70s B-rate horror movie.

    It looks a LOT different in the other pictures. I can’t help but wonder if at one point the dress was originally white but then yellowed over the years. The neckline IS quite revealing and was particularly shocked (1810’s shocked ;-)) with the open back. I love the embroidered flowers at the bottom of the dress but it clashes just a bit with the leaf/lips motif found throughout. Shoulda gone with one or the other. Still, I love the simple, early 1800’s silhouette and the delicate details of the dress. Back then, the neckline would have been very shocking but looking at it through today’s fashion sensibility, it looks very stylish (even though personally, I would still feel uncomfortable wearing it). I imagine that for an everyday activity like a house visit, some sort of chemisette was worn but for a ball, the chemisette was removed.


    • Lynn Brooks says

      Brenda, I was going to say the same thing about the first mannequin, lol.

    • Elise says

      Bwahahaha the creepy styling!

      I also find it a little vulgar. Even with a modesty panel or chemisette, the lines of the dress still proffer sexuality. While a film star could almost wear that dress today on the red carpet, it seems too in-your-face for the period. It reminds me of a description in Anna Karenina where she meets a loose woman (I forget the character’s name) who is described as covered up but still almost naked.

      Then again, when the only option for a lady was marriage, can we blame the wearer for trying?


      • Elise says

        Ok, so I can’t stop thinking about the wear of the dress and how prudish and judgmental I was. Lynn Brooks said ‘I like her already’. And considering the crowd I like best, all of them would wear something like this and rock it. I also think back to my teenage self dressing scandalously because I could–haven’t we all worn awful clothing? Would I adore this lady? Would I feel sorry for the wearer for trying too hard?

        I can’t decide if it’s on the delicious or the bad side of tacky. Depends on the wearer.

        So I amend it to 9/10 for the fun potential.

  5. Angela Wicentowich says

    I think this gown is quite lovely. I’m not usually a fan of pale coloured gowns, but this one is an exception. I would wear this to a function now!
    I rate it 9/10

  6. Dr. Who had to have styled the first image — a Weeping Angel trick-or-treating perhaps?

    I love the silhouette of this era, especially since it was one relatively free from restrictive undergarments.

    This one is rather startling in its decollete, and it looks to me in its daring like one that might have been worn by the about-to-be-dismissed mistress trying to reclaim the attention of the about-to-be-reformed rake upon meeting the about-to-be-ennobled impoverished leading lady in a romance novel, in which case a chemisette would have defeated the purpose.

    I love both fabric and trim and would love to have been able to wear it.

    10 of 10

    • “might have been worn by the about-to-be-dismissed mistress trying to reclaim the attention of the about-to-be-reformed rake upon meeting the about-to-be-ennobled impoverished leading lady” – LOL!

  7. Grace Darling says

    Simply beautiful. Print looks like little lipstick kisses.


  8. Oh my. I always try to imagine what these silverwork dresses would have looked like when the silver hadn’t tarnished, so the detailing is bright and light and less contrasting. Those motifs (thistle?) around the bottom are just so pretty. It would have been even more ravishing surely, originally.
    As I almost live in a slightly similar style of dress, I of course am in love. And I want to make one. PLEASE?????
    The list of our collaborative makes in my head is getting quite long… 😉
    10. Because delicious.

    • Well, yes, of course! We need way more time (and a bit more money) in which to make all our collaborative awesomeness!

  9. It’s gorgeous, I love it, and I’m usually not a big fan of regency gowns. This one wouldn’t feel out of place on a red carpet today I think. I personally would think that some kind of chemise would be worn under it, but I would never think about going out without proper underwear either. On the other hand if you wear a dress like this, then maybe you don’t need much help with getting the right shape.

    It’s a 10/10 from me.

  10. Lynn Brooks says

    Tres scandalous. This gown is beautiful and so me. I love cleavage. The woman who owned this must have been a daring woman. Sure she may have used a chemisette, but I see her as not wanting to be covered up. I can picture the owner being a mistress trying to lure her next benefactor. Or a madame, actress, singer, or dancer. I picture her being the kind of young woman who sometimes dampened her dresses, although she would not have dampened this dress. I like her already.
    The only thing I’m not keen on is the low back. With the low front I think I would personally want a higher back to I could have some sort of bust support. I think she was probably young enough, small breasted and perky enough to do without, but I rate dresses more on what I would wear. 8.5/10

    • Elise says

      Thanks for your post–you made me reexamine my use of a value judgment.

    • I’d have to check my dates, but I think dress dampening was something that happened a decade earlier. And the written evidence suggests it was extremely rare – rather like Lady Gaga’s meat dress!

  11. Oh, the print is so lovely! The dots look like coffee beans, leaves, or lips. The style of the dress is really beautiful, and the finishing is impeccable. The trim at the neckline is gorgeous, and the embroidery at the hem is just beautiful. I can’t find fault with this dress. It’s beautiful.
    That first photo, though, (wow!) that is a train wreck 80’s prom gone wrong. What is that blue fabric in the foreground doing? Thankfully, we have those other photos from the Met. Phew!


  12. juliaergane says

    Mais oui, it is French, so of course underthings there had been next to nothing (they had been for awhile). The English are just so, so …. words escape me…. Anyway, this is a very lovely gown. 10/10

  13. mom says

    Oh I LOVE “Rate the dress”, thanks so much, Leimomi!

    I love the neckline, front and back, and would also suggest it was worn with a chemisette or some ruching. It feels extremely immodest for all but the most debauced circles. I don’t think this dress belonged to a high class courtesan either – would she have been able to afford such a – clearly very expensive – dress? It rather screams “society lady”, someone very rich and refined.
    So, the neckline is the highlight – I love the flat and finished look of the braid? Embroidery? as a contrast to the fluffiness of the skirt part and the sleeves. The whole fall (hope this is the right word) of the dress and the fabric are marvellous.
    The only thing that seems not as attractive is the silhouette as viewed from the side – the slightly pregnant look and the bustle way above the “natural” curve oft he bottom seem slightly alien and weird to me.

    So, let me award this dess a whopping 9 out of 10.

  14. I LOVE IT!

    And I onder if the deep neckline was not made to wear a sort of visible underdress under it, so that the impression give by the dress would vary easily depending on the underdress…

    Anyway, I love the dress and would wear it (or would have worn it 15 years ago).

    What an inspiration for one of the projects…

    And of course: 10/10.

  15. Rachael says

    I love this dress and the fabric it’s made from.
    I would imagine when it was made it was worn with a square necked underdress or a fichu.

    I would rate it a 9/10. (Not 10 out of 10, because it really looks like whoever wore it would be in danger of their breasts escaping.)

  16. I do like this dress. The puffs on the sleeves are a little squashy and wide though, so I give it 9/10.

    And I agree that first picture is the worst! I’ve never seen it before and I don’t necessarily want to see it again!


  17. This is where a chemisette comes in useful. And, I may be a bit *cough* biased, but I love it. 9/10 because the fabric is a bit not my thing. Too beige. 😉

  18. L. A. Khatt says

    This would’ve been quite va-va-voom indeed if it was was worn as is. It’s lovely light fabric and gorgeous embroidery show it to be a society lady’s dress – so some modesty was needed. A lovely chemisette or fichu would have fit the bill.
    It’s a regency dress I’d love to wear (with a chemisette! ;} ).

  19. I’m usually one of the people who finds white Regency frocks boring. Not this time.
    I love the embroidery(though I would have preferred it if they had put the leafy edge on the top as well as on the hem), and the way the bodice is draped. I’m not a fan of the way the waistline comes to a peak at the front in the second picture. It’s horizontal in the ones with a cord though, so I’m assuming that’s the way it’s supposed to look.
    I can find nothing objectionable. 9/10

    (And now that you’ve nominated it for the worst mannequin styling award, I’m probably going to spend the rest of the week searching for a worse one.)

  20. Marilyn J. Hollman says

    There was a reason women rouged their nipples — I have read about the transparent bodices on dresses a/b this time. She definitely wore it like this w/nothing under except rouged nipples!

  21. I love the dress, though it probably wouldn’t look well on me (it might suit my breasts, but my upper arms are too meaty to look well under those dainty sleeves). For the right wearer, a 10 of 10 (though I agree that those motifs look an awful lot like lips–possibly an intentional but subtle sexual reference?).

    • I suspect they are intended as a subtle sexual reference. Whoever commissioned this dress clearly wasn’t shy about making risque statements.

  22. 1810 was post French revolution when the natural body was seen under the flowing dresses sometimes aided by wetting the cloth. Bonaparte’s French wet T-shirt time. I love this dress although it scares me because heaven knows where my bits would be. It all has to do with not appearing to be nobility post Revolution, wearing styles of the common woman, Classical references to Greek statues. This dress does it all especially its beautifully embroidered border. 8.5/10

  23. Love this! Beautiful, simple, elegant, and a bit sexy (especially for Regency!). Something prevents it from being totally over the top for me (the fabric? the colors? not really sure…), but I do love this gown.


  24. Helene Illervik says

    What a lovely gown! I’d love to wear it, though it wouldn’t look very good on me, might have when I was in my 20s.
    I’d love to make something like it to wear in the summer, before maxi dresses go out of fashion. Not that I ever cared about fashion.
    I love this gown, for me it’s a 10.

  25. 8/10 What some others said, about it being very shocking for the time and the embroidery not quite fitting together, and stuff. Still very lovely – I particularly like the draping around the shoulders and neckline.

  26. fidelio says

    I had a period example, sans modesty panel, floating in the back of my head, and here she is! Empress Josephine, by Proud’hon, painted in 1805. That’s five years before this dress, though, so who knows? Josephine was not afraid to flaunt it, but that was her, and not the wearer of this dress.

    I too wish I could have seen it before the embroidery tarnished.

    9/10 because I am just not sure about that waistline…

  27. I think it would have been worn with something for modesty. I love everything about it except for the sleeves. I am not a fan of sleeves that go over then shoulder for a ways and then poof.

  28. I’m on record as someone who isn’t usually a fan of Regency styles, but I do like this one. Especially the embroidery! The only thing I don’t like about it is the poofy sleeves. 9/10

  29. I love this one, as others have said this dress would not be out of place on the red carpet today. I especially like the sleeves.

    I will have to rate it 9/10 just because the low cut neckline is a little too low cut for me.

  30. Lynne says

    I’ve finally remembered what the embroidered flowers are. They are teazels.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuller’s teazle

    As you can read, they were used to raise the nap on fabric, both cotton and wool. Very attractive seed-heads, too. And don’t they make a beautiful embroidery motif!

    I do like this dress. But gosh, that is a low neckline. There has to be something in the wispy scarf line draped round the upper deck, surely?

    9 out of 10.

    • Lynne says

      Reading back over some of the other comments, there may also be an allusion to ‘School for Scandal’, with its Lady Teazle, happening here. “Suddenly thrust into London’s high society, the young and frivolous Lady Teazle finds herself a willing member of a vicious, scandal-mongering cabal that spends its time maligning friend, foe and family alike.”

  31. Beautiful. Add a bit of light fabric in the cleavage, reduce the puffs, move up the hem about 10 inches and you’ve got an anarkali I’d wear today! (Well, with a salwar and dupatta, but those are easy enough to add.) The lipstick effect on the pattern keeps it from being a perfect 10, but it’s definitely a 9/10.

  32. holly says

    Ewww! That is one ugly mannequin. That, and the dressing gown – reminiscent cord. The dress itself it beautiful, in particular the gold embroidery, which would have taken an inordinate amount of time. Ah, the days before social media…

  33. Some of the details, like the puffed sleeves, don’t appeal to me, but I say it’s a 10. I love how sexy and risque it looks, yet it’s still classy. It’s a refreshing change from the typical demure styles of the period. It probably couldn’t be worn over a large bust since there’s no room for a support garment, and it wouldn’t look too extreme over a small bust. I love it and want one of my own!

  34. I really like this one, I’m already a fan of the tiny backs of most regency dresses, but this dress doesn’t even have one, and I think it’s wonderful. a 9/10

  35. First, evidence that an open back wasn’t always covered up:

    Now that that’s out of the way, I really like the hem. It’s pretty, ornate, but still fits with the rest of the dress. What I don’t like is that neckline. I know many cartoons of the time make fun of the crazy dress styles worn to parties – of women showing off their backsides and their bosoms. This looks like one of those. It’s a bit ridiculous in that anyone bigger than a size a cup wouldn’t be able to pull this dress off without looking like they stuffed the gelatin into their bodice. Not a pretty picture.

    5/10 just because the hem is really lovely

  36. Tamara says

    Oh my goodness — I’ve been working on copying the embroidery from the credits of the 1995 Pride and Predjudice mini-series and here it is on an extant garment! The P&P version is done in what looks like colored silks instead of metallic but it’s definitely the same pattern. Thank you, thank you – I’ve glanced at this on the Met website, but since the pic was so dark hadn’t really looked twice at it, this gives me dimensions and a look at what the dress as a whole might have looked like, though I’m positive Lizzie Bennet’s would never have had that scandalous French neckline! Dress – 5, embroidery – 10!

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