19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Whoa…that’s plaid!

I’m sometimes a bit sad when lots of people rate Rate the Dresses based on how a frock would look on them personally.  For me, a huge part of the joy of historical fashions is that there is a look and an era for every figure, and they allow me to enjoy all sorts of shapes that don’t look good on me, but do look spectacular on others (the world would be so boring if the only clothes available were ones that looked good on me).

So last week’s discussion on the richly brocaded 18th century gown, and how it really did look better on one particular figure, and how many of you rather liked it for that, was an absolute delight.  I’ve got to say though, I may not have the  figure it looked best on, but I would wear that dress in a heartbeat, and lots of you agreed with me, because it rated a rather nice 8.4 out of 10, loosing a few points, perhaps because, as Daniel pointed out, it was gorgeous but still generic.

Switching our attention to this weeks offering, it’s a pretty good guess that if the title of the post is ‘Whoa…that’s plaid!’, the dress is going to date from ca. 1860.  Today’s dress to rate  does nothing to change that expectation.

This 1859-60ish confection of taffeta and striped picot-edged bows is made from very large plaid in shades of green and ivory with narrow pink stripes.

Quite coincidentally, this dress, like last week’s frock, and the suit from the week before,  from the MFA Boston.  I’ve been on quite a roll with their collection lately.  I’m not trying, but every time I find a frock that says something quite interesting (if not necessarily tasteful) to me, it just happens to be from the MFA.


What does the dress say to you?  I know a number of raters mentioned last week that they weren’t that fond of green.  Plaid can also be a bit touch-and-go on Rate the Dress, and this is a particularly distinctive, assertive plaid in its scale.  Does the expanse of skirt excuse the size of the plaid?  Do the bows keep it sweet and dainty, despite the boldness of the individual elements?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Although the lavender-grey is not to my particular taste, I find the overall impression quite pleasing. The thing that strikes me is that the use of the bands taken from the plaid to bring the eye to the waistline and to delineate the back of the neck almost “reins in” the boldness of the plaid. The second thing I noticed was how masterfully the lines of the plaid had been placed as a design element and how well the various pieces had been matched.

    9.5 of 10

  2. MissBrilliantine says

    Fabulous! The fresh green, the bold plaid and the lovely dome shape of the skirt all perfectly iconic of the period. 10 out of 10.

  3. mom says

    Actually I like this understated example of the 1860s Tartan Craziness. The tartan is relatively subdued (due to the colours but also the big pattern – I think “louder” colours and a smaller plaid pattern would be much, much more annoying). The long ribbons sort of “defuse” the plaid. On the whole, the dress looks very elegant and well-designed. The bows are over the top, though.

    8.5 out of 10

  4. 10!!!! Definitely 10. I wish I could give it 1000. It’s beautiful in every way!!

  5. I like the back a lot; the front is a bit overdone. And I think the striped ribbon looks better when it does not run so much against the plaid, which is another reason I like the back better.
    8,5/10, as an average of what I’d rate the individual sides…

  6. The back is very nicely done along the neckline. The bows down the front are a nice touch, too, though a tad busy with the puffed sleeves (love those little sleeves) and the hanging ribbon (I’d do away with the ribbon and keep the bows). The plaid, though large, isn’t particularly bold or interesting compared to others of the era, but it may have been bolder when it was made and the colors have since faded.

    Altogether sweet and shapely, but unremarkable: 7 out of 10

  7. Elise says

    I agree with the others who say that the bows and ribbon are not in scale or keeping with the rest of the dress. But wow–what a beautiful print. Plaid is my very favorite print. The Dreamstress may love paisley, but my heart will always belong to plaid. In fact, there was a tartan museum in Scotland that I visited at age 12 that has stuck with me ever since. While I don’t really like the idea of plaid for evening, I really like everything else about the fabric.

    9/10 for being just on the bad side of over trimmed.

  8. I like the silhouettes of the 1860s overall, and I think the design of the bodice is clever. I’m on board with all the bows on the bodice, even. But I really dislike this plaid. Pink and green and cream–it puts me in mind of the type of dress Kaylee from Firefly would wear. 6.5 of 10.

  9. I rather like plaid, but again, not absolutely knocked out by this one. It’s a nice dress, but I think the plaid is JUST a little too outsize, which makes the bows look almost comically out of proportion even though they’re not. A distinct case of “doll dress scaled up” effect. The colours are pretty, if a little wispy and wishy washy. Nice, but nothing really amazing. 6.5/10.

  10. NanElizabeth says

    10! So Little Women! So Dickensian! So refined yet merry.

  11. PatW says

    Very nicely done! The bows do teeter on the brink of being overdone, but end up working quite well- they are beautifully made. I like it. 8 of 10 because I’m not blown away by the colors.

  12. It’s a little too tableclothy for my taste. And as others have said, the proportions are a little bit off. 6.5/10 because it’s nice enough.

  13. holly says

    swimming against the tide, unexceptional 4/10

  14. Lynne says

    Yes, to both your final questions. 9 out of 10. Love the colours. The whole thing is exhuberant and lively, and would have looked beautiful on a young woman.

    And didn’t they make a nice job of the back of the bodice? With that cut, and those curvy pieces to put together, working the plaid in was a real challenge. And they cracked it!

  15. I quite like the overall design and the colour is ok too. I’m not so sure about the tails that fall onto the skirt from the bodice though; they just don’t work for me.

  16. Twila says

    This is my first time voting! However, since I have seen a remake of this dress in action on a ballroom floor, I thought I should add my observations to the conversation. Plaid draws the eye, as the colors flash and change on the ballroom floor. Its lively and exuberant and creates an overall impression of youth… all of which are greatly wanted in a dance partner.

    Also, if the plaid is in the correct scale, as this one is, it makes the wearer appear taller, which of course is very flattering to the figure.

    The bows, add to this gowns happiness and wearers youth.

    Overall this gown gives the impression of happiness, joy, and fun. All of these things are exactly what is needed on the dance floor.

    For being what is essentually the perfect ball gown my vote is 10/10.

    • MissBrilliantine says

      Perfectly put. This dress is about movement, the long streamers in the front would be in constant motion, not static as they obviously are when displayed. It’s a clever addition by a dressmaker that understood it’s use. I wish there was a day bodice to go with it.

  17. I love that plaid. I love that dress! 9/10 because I think three bows going down the front are just a tad too much…

  18. Love the color, love the plaid, and can totally picture a pretty brunette wearing this at a dance. Hopefully, she has a sassy personality to temper out those bodice bows, though. The shoulder and waist bows are perfect, but those two front and center are a bit much. 9/10. Really love the way the ribbons on the front bodice frame the wearer.

  19. I quite like the plaid, and I like the way the pattern has been incorporated into the design. All those bows and ribbons on the bodice are a bit too much for me though. 6/10

  20. I love it, mainly because it shouts “March sisters” to me. Beth or Meg. I am always taken with plaid dresses, and green, and I see a lovely brunette with her hair up in braids wearing it. Oh yes, a 10!

  21. I’m not very fond of plaid. Or a muted green. Or little bows all over the place. But the cutting and sewing of this dress is superb; the matching of the plaids, the perfect horisontal grainline and the hem, that follows the thin stripe perfectly… I’m so impressed.

  22. Witcharachne says

    I have a generally favourable opinion of it. I love plaid, and I really like this plaid. The pieces have been matched beautifully, and I really love the size of the skirt and the general shape of the bodice and neckline.
    Those bows though. Those bows…
    Maybe if there were less of them (particularly the top two in the middle front), it would be better, but to me they look strange. Like if I saw an adult wearing a bib to dinner.
    I’ll give it 7.5 out of 10. If the bows weren’t there it would be an 8 at the very least.

    • Libby says

      I was trying to verbalize what I thought, and this is more or less it! I’d give it a grudging 6 out of 10; grudging because I don’t want to rate it so low — I like the colors well enough, I like the construction a lot, and I think the scale of the plaid is just perfect — but THE BOWS. (I liked the ribbon until earlier commenters made me look at it more carefully! Still like it on the back.)

  23. Miry says

    I Think si a beautiful dress, well proportioned.
    And the ribbons and bows on the front are very gracious decorations.

  24. I love it, especially the back!
    I’m not a huge fan of plaid, but the way it’s used here looks amazing. I love the cut, and the colours work very well. The only bit that looks a bit off is the front, but I’m sure I wouldn’t mind that so much if the right person was wearing it.


  25. Susan says

    Gorgeous, and as others have noted, spectacular on the dance floor. The silk taffeta would both move lightly and catch the light. I can see the young lady wearing this dress with a garland of similarly colored flowers and foliage in her hair, along with short white kid gloves and perhaps a coordinating fan dangling from her wrist. Charming.

    But I’d turn that sash around and have the streamers at the rear, although they do continue the line of the what, bretelles?? here. But having them descend over the abdomen is not a particularly flattering look – you really don’t want to draw the eye there.

    The collection of bows are a bit poofy for my taste, but very much of the period, so I’ll give them a pass.

    So – 9.5. Move the streamers to the back, and I’ll make it a 10.

  26. Rachel says

    Not a huge plaid fan, but I don’t mind it so much here. The colors don’t overwhelm, and the wide bands of color work with the enormous bell-shaped skirt. Also really like the sash and how, like Cyranetta said, the plaid itself is used.

    Not liking those bows though. The back one is adorable, and the shoulder ones are fine, but those three down the front feel like… not an afterthought, but like the maker was just filling the space. Not sure what I myself would do instead, but it feels like bows just for the sake of bows.

    Overall, the dress doesn’t excite me, though there are individual elements I like. 7/10

  27. Brenda says

    Absolutely lovely! I agree that the bows counteract the boldness of the plaid. And even if I didn’t quite like it at first, the plaid eventually grew on me. I am quite the opposite of those who don’t like green: the shade of green on this dress is lovely (was probably an even bolder tone when the dress was made) and goes really well with the touches of pink. I had to nitpick though, I don’t like how the ribbon goes up the bodice. Then again, perhaps it was put there to to emphasize the narrowness of the waist….


  28. I think it’s a delightful party dress for a young lady and well executed; I don’t even mind the bows because I think when the dress was new and fresh they looked very sweet. I can’t really find anything about it that doesn’t suit the period or the occasion…10/10.

  29. fidelio says

    One of the things that strikes me about this dress is the way the rows of the plaid pattern on the skirt mimic the rows of flounces that were stylish slightly earlier. I don’t know if that was intentional, or just an interesting side-effect.

    I wonder if the bows down the front were an attempt to copy 18th-century echelles?

    Like a lot of the other commenters here, I have mixed feelings about the ribbons and the bows in front, and I’m deeply impressed by the way the plaid is handled–a large plaid is so much more difficult to manage in small areas like the bodice pieces!

    9/10; Scarlet O’Hara would have been ready to slap not only her sisters but all the other girls in the area of the way to get her hands on this dress.

  30. letthemeatcake says

    exibart.comexibart.comThing is, an early 1860s ball dress is usually something very nice anyways so there is a tough competition. To make it easier lets put it in the context of a movie set at that time: for instance ” the leopard” by visconti ( 1963). There is a ball scene ( set in 1862) and the most gorgeous girl at that event is the fictional character Angelica ( claudia cardinale). She wears this dress: http://www.exibart.com/foto/68566.jpg. (and the back view:http://moda.san.beniculturali.it/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Replica-del-costume-originale-di-Angelica-ne-Il-Gattopardo-realizzato-sempre-su-bozzetto-di-Piero-Tosi.jpg). Now THAT’S what I call a leading lady dress. The green plaid dress would look lovely in the background though, so it deserves as a 7 for that.

  31. letthemeatcake says

    Sorry for the typing mistake. It’s late in Germany now and I go to bed . Good night.

  32. Lauren says

    I’m never a fan of bows in the front, but the ones in the back are cute. I like green, and always plaid, so I will give it a 9. I would wear it 🙂

  33. Joanne Smythe (@regency_gal) says

    This dress says “Balmoral” to me. Gillies, Queen Victoria, shooting parties, loaders, tweed, red cheeked gentlemen drinking too much port, etc. Lovely, and so appropriate for an appearance at “casual Court” in Scotland! Also, faithful to the period, and beautifully constructed. Congratulations.

  34. To me, this dress says Gone with the Wind, Tara, the South, plantations, etc… and Scarlet O’Hara.

    Upon reading other comments, I see I’m not alone. 😀


  35. This dress says, “I’ll never go hungry again!” It brings to mind Gone with the Wind, plantations, Tara… and the inimitable Scarlet O’Hara.


Comments are closed.