19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Sumptuous mourning in the 1820s

Last week one option on the sparkly Callot Soeurs evening dress was almost universal: the dress was definitely meant to make an impact from across the room, and the bodice was a wee bit clumsy close up.  The overall consensus though, was quite divided.  There were a lot of swoons and 10s, and a a fair sprinkling of ‘ewww’ 4s (0r so), plus a swathe of ‘well, it would have been 10 but for that bodice’ 7s.  More 10s than 4s though, as the overall rating came in at 8.3 out of 10.

This week’s dress tones things down, a LOT.

As it should, because it’s a mourning dress, albeit one for the third, and most relaxed, stage of mourning.

This evening dress is both sumptuous and restrained, fitting for a mourning garment.  The low neckline and short sleeves indicate that this is an evening dress.  The main ground of the dress is black silk velvet, with appliqued decorations in black on  black silk satin.

When worn the luminous silk velvet and sheen of the satin would reflect candlelight beautifully.

There are bands of decoration rising up the bodice, petals which frame the sleeves, and abstract  pleated floral designs around the skirt hem

What do you think?  Is the dress still interesting and compelling, despite the monochromatic colours?  Does it balance the proprieties of mourning dress with fashionable elegance?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.  


  1. Needs something around the waist, but a lovely dress. Very restrained and muted and refreshingly sombre after the sparkles and brilliance of the last few Rate the Dresses. Always found something vaguely awkward about the hem/skirt silhouette and how the applique decoration relates to the dress as a whole – it’s a great dress but something comes across as a little blobby/clumsy and even a wee bit crude about the overall effect. So I have to say 7/10 – a proper finish for the waist band and perhaps a bit more refinement around the hem would have helped bump it up.

    • Elise says

      I agree. The embellishments do not complement each other. 7/10.

      Also, could someone explain the stages of mourning? Did the formality and rules of mourning exist to such a state before Victoria?

      • The stages of mourning varied from period to period, but that much formality did indeed exist well before Victoria – as far back as the early 18th century. For the 1820s, the mourning etiquette was solidified when the whole country mourned the death of Princess Charlotte, who was both beloved and the heir to the throne. The court actually issued official mourning guidelines for different royal deaths. They were pretty clearly influenced by public opinion – capitalising on sympathy, but making sure not to annoy people too much if too many royals died in too short a time, and not to put sellers of non-black fabrics out of business. Even death was politics!

  2. I like a neckline and those stripes. On the other hand I really hate to much velvet in outfit.

    well… maybe 5/10?

  3. Like the placement of the bodice stripes, but really dislike the hem adornment — it looks like the inspiration was sunflowers, but that strikes me as something too aggressively cheerful as an inspiration for mourning clothes, and the scale strikes me as overlarge (perhaps if the ribbon were narrower).

    6.5 of 10

  4. Love it. There is nothing I would change. It’s perfectly 1820s.


    • I agree with you 100% This is, I think, the first 1820s dress I can see myself wearing. 😀

    • Johanne says

      “It’s perfectly 1820s.” Agree.


  5. I’ve got to go with a 10 here. I find it elegent and very modern. I would literally wear that dress now. The oversize applique without a whole lot of frou frou, makes it very sophisticated.

  6. Diana says

    I love it. Perfect for second year mourning in the 1820’s. 10/10 I would wear it.

  7. It also feels a bit crude to me… like a dress for a doll, a bit too small for the large embelishment, sort of.
    But overall, it’s nice, not too much, not too little, and the embelishment is different enough to catch one’s eye without hurting it. It just doesn’t quite make me ooh, and I just know it could and should, because I always love tone-on-tone combination of velvety and shiny.

  8. Helene Illervik says

    I really like this dress a lot. I like velvet, and it sets off the applications so well. I love the petals on the sleeves.
    I give it a 9/10.

  9. fidelio says

    I salute the people who did the lighting and photography on this one; so many times all-black garments do not do well in photographs at all.

    I second the comments about the shortcomings of the decorations on the skirt; they’re just awkward.

    But it’s a very nice piece over all, with some very interesting and lovely details otherwise. 8/10.

  10. Considering this as an evening dress (i.e. will be seen in low light) I think it works well. Too much delicacy of embellishment would simply be lost.
    That said, I think the dress makes it clear that the wearer is nearing the end of their mourning period and may well be in the market for No.2… Sackcloth and ashes? Moi?
    8/10 because it’s lovely but not brilliant.

  11. It’s not often I see a Regency dress I’d like to recreate, but I’d like to make this one. I don’t even mind the puff sleeves. I love how the designer used a monochrome palette and different textures to create contrast, and I especially love the bold abstract pattern on the skirt. 10/10.

  12. I love the bodice, though I agree the dress needs a belt; a black satin one, to match the appliques at the hem and on the bodice.

    I don’t, however, like the appliques at the hem; I agree with Daniel that they look “blobby and clumsy.” A motif without rounded edges, or simple stripes, would have been better. As it stands, however, I give it only a 7.5.

  13. Lylassandra says

    I want to love this dress so badly. I love black! And when Regency dresses aren’t on me they can look quite lovely! And the trim color is so striking! And spare is so elegant! Buuuuuuut… I just don’t like the shapes of the trims. The lines on the bodice lead to nothing, just get chopped off at the seam. The shapes at the hem are just ugh. So with a heavy heart, I call this one a mere 6.5/10. The extra half point is for what might have been…

  14. Kathy says

    I love it. Who would have ever thought that you could mix black velvet & sunflowers.


  15. Belinda says

    It makes me think of a silver tabby cat, so therefore I can’t dislike it. It looks nice and warm, so appropriate for Scotland, and if it’s the final stage of mourning, I think the wreath-applique-doowhatsit-trim around the bottom says “sick of mourning, ready to par-tay”. There’s also something very 1990’s about it. I’m not sure whether it’s the velvet or the trim, but I can see the owner wearing a blossom hat- er, I mean bonnet. So even though it’s not the most drop-dead-gorgeous gown I have ever seen, I feel it rates a good solid 7/10.

  16. Thank you for posting that dress, I now know what I’m going to make (eventually) with the navy silk velvet I’ve had in stash for many years now.
    I love the dress, I’d probably scale down the hem decorations slightly, but aside from that it’s perfect! 9.5/10

  17. I’ve just noticed, looking at it again, that the space between the rouleau hem and the embellishments is somewhat uneven from front to back. Suddenly the awkwardness makes sense – the embellishments are going straight around, ignoring the undulation of the hemline, and there’s some unfortunate gapping there.

  18. Daya Dika says

    I agree , I would give 7/10 , Needs bit of refinement of hem , some work at waist band .I like the stripes on Bodice .The dress looks too bulky . I guess it dependsupon the body habbitus .

  19. I love this! I do agree with some of the other comments, a thin waist embellishment to match the silver would be nice. And the skirt decoration could have been a bit less clunky feeling. Maybe it’s the binding on the petals that I dont like? I can’t tell if the shoulder pedals have binding, and maybe that’s the way it should be. Very lovely otherwise, 8/10

  20. Stunningly elegant! I could just see how gorgeous it would look in candlelight, as, perhaps, a smile, that had not shown itself for several months, graced the wearers face as she watched the merry-makers of the evening.

    9 out of 10

  21. Brenda says

    Gorgeous. However, the flower petals on the hem of the dress and on the sleeves look a bit sloppy. Still, the overall look is simple and elegant without being too dreary.


  22. Rachel says

    Pros: I really enjoy the black-on-black approach. I also like, as a concept, the big circular embellishments ringing the hem and how they work with the vertical bands on the bodice. But…

    Cons: Those big circular embellishments. I like the size, but I really dislike the way they’re made. (I know very little about sewing, so I can’t clarify in any technical sense – sorry!) They look like endless hoops of squashed glove fingers. Maybe that’s due to the dress’ age though. I also feel that the shoulder ruffles are cluttering up the bodice.

    I agree with the comments that there’s something awkward and clumsy about the dress. For me, I’d like it better if the hem decorations were more restrained (maybe embroidery?), though like I said, I like their size and the overall idea of the dress.


  23. It’s a 9.5 out of 10 for me … I suspect there was a detached belt to go with this.

    1820s get a bit fussy for my liking and the skirt trim is more sophisticated than a lot of garments I’ve looked at. Not many make me want to create them, but this one always has.

  24. Lynne says

    I take Daniel’s points about the waist and the hem, but I am still enchanted, blobby or not. A very beautiful black dress, playing with the light-eating velvet and the light-reflecting silk very cleverly. I’m sure there was some kind of slim black sash/ribbon when it was worn.

    9 out of 10.

  25. I love the bodice and the sleeves, beautiful. The skirt trim looks like the illegitimate offspring of Pac-man and one of the ghosts, endlessly nomming one another. It’s not a good look.


  26. mom says

    How do I love thee, dress, let me count the ways…

    I like the elegant silhouette
    I love the restrained black velvet
    The poufy little sleeves balance out the masses of fabric at the hem
    Thee silk trim on the bodice – very streamlined, very understated

    How do I not love thee so much, dress:
    honestly, the scallopy things…what WERE you thinking?

    This whole outfit is screaming something along the lines of
    “Eligible young widow seeks handsome gentleman with at least 800 a year to dry her tears”, don’t you think? Is it known who originally wore this dress and who she was mourning?

    7 out of 10

    • Yes, if you click through the link to the V&A it lists the original wearer’s name, and that she was probably wore it during mourning for her grandmother.

  27. Beatrix says

    Love black velvet.
    Love the anthracite gray detail on the bodice.
    Cannot stand the clumsy floral/floppy glove motif around the bottom.
    A top stitched simple leaf design or even another plain band of the gray silk satin would have worked better,\.
    I’m watching the new king of Spain being sworn in. Everyone always goes on about how well the French & Italians dress, but the Spanish trump them by miles in style (in my opinion). The Spanish Queen mum’s simple yellow silk dress & the new ‘commoner’ Queen’s ecru silk suit are to DIE for. Looking at the Spanish ladies in the audience (LIKE WOW!) Fantastico y magnifico!!!

  28. Oh my goodness, I have the very distinct feeling that I have seen this dress ‘in real life’! I could be wrong (very easily) but if I’m not then I saw it as part of The Georgians exhibition at the British Library in London (I think. It could have been at the V&A instead, can’t remember).
    I just LOVE the bodice trim detail, I feel that it is exceedingly stylish and quite modern looking, – maybe I mean timeless instead! The sleeve and skirt shape are very much of its time, and I do like the trim in other places too – it’s just that the floral looking trim above the hem looked really quite oddly flat and garish close up. It needed something to give it a bit of oomph. This satin material works so well in the other areas where it is used, but it looked flat, a bit dull and just, well, garish I suppose. Too big, too prominent, kind of applied too heavy-handedly.
    For the overall look I would give it a 7. It would have been 8 but for the over-the-top trim near the hem.

  29. 9/10. I love it so much, it would be worth having someone die in order to wear it. I really like the era of massive hem appliques and these are impressive. I think it looks heavy though, and would wonder if the arms would be chilly in weather cool enough for this dress.

  30. I like it. And I usually hate Regency (they all look like night gowns to me). If I had to have a Regency Dress I’d consider this one. 8/10

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