19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Plaid for outdoor pursuits in the 1890s

Last week I showed you an 1860s ballgown in very large scale pale green plaid.  Your opinions ranged from wholehearted approval, to feeling that the proportions between the plaid and the trim were just a little bit off, to one lonely unenthusiastic meh.  While most of you did like it and felt it evoked lovely images of Little Women, Balmoral and Gone with the Wind, there was something about the dress that kept many voters from fully committing to a round number: I’ve never had such a swathe of score.5 ratings!  The final tally was 8.7 out of 10.

This week we’re sticking with plaid, but moving on to the theme of The Great Outdoors, as I show you a walking suit in rust coloured wool with plaid  silk taffeta.  With it’s practical dark hues, menswear inspired false shirtfront and faux bolero, and restrained ornamentation it’s very different in mood to last week’s ballgown:

The ensemble is described as a walking suit, but someone at the Mint Museum clearly had fun when they came to dress the mannequin for the photo.  “Hmmm…walking is a bit boring, and we have those antique skates, what if we make it a skating suit? ”  “Oooh, yes, and then she’s going to need that cute skirt-picky-upy gizmo that we have!” “And serious gloves.”  “Of course!  And then she should wear that little velvet toque with the funny puff too”. “But then it looks weird with no hair!” “Ummm…just wrap a scarf around it to hide that and hold it all on?”  “Perfect!”  “I don’t know…it’s missing something…”  “Oooooh!  I know!  Those 19th century sunglasses!”  “Yes!  Just the thing!  And then she can hang the silver sunglass case off her belt!”

(Is that even what that silver thing is?  I don’t recognise it and am just guessing here).

What do you think?  Does the whole thing say chic, cosy, elegant outerwear with a twist, or is it just wacky?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. It’s 10 for your description and a respectable 7 for the suit. It doesn’t make me go “ooh” in any way (except for that scarf), but it doesn’t make me go “meh” or even “ugh”, either.

  2. Becky says

    I give it a 7. It’s a well-made example of fashions of the era. And maybe that silver thing is a type of chatelaine?

  3. Jenny Wren says

    I presumed that toque was a wig, but a scarf with… that’s even worse. And skates with sunglasses? And why?

    It’s unfair to mark down such a lovely suit for its styling, though, so instead I’ll mark it down for being worn with that shirt. Vile beyond compare. 4/10.

  4. Elise says

    The accessorizing is so funny. Then again, if I had nifty things hiding away in the museum, I would be tempted to bring them all out as well. All trim aside, I think it is a perfectly reasonable walking dress. Yes, reasonable. 7/10

  5. I detest the color: a red-brown too dull to have much charm. The red and green plaid of the bodice clashes badly with it. On the other hand, the cut of the suit itself is charming, and I rather like the toque and gloves the museum has paired with it (though the chatelaine and skates are simply silly). Let’s say a 6.5.

  6. WANT. It looks more like a vampire out for a cautious autumn stroll, just switch the skates out with some ladder-rung boots!

    8 out of 10 for the dress itself. Very wearable and chic for fall and winter.

    I would probably place this in the later end of the 1890s rather than the earlier 1890s. The bolero style, slimmer skirt, and looser, rounder fit of the shirtwaist are more in keeping with fashion around 1898 (Winter of 1897, perhaps?).

    However, the museum gets a solid 9/10 for creative styling. The sunglasses would help prevent snow blindness on a bright, sunny winter day, plus they add interest to an otherwise typical outfit. The scarf threw me for a loop at first, but then I realized it looked silly because the only part of the mannequin left visible is the stark, mask-like face. On a human, it’d look quite cozy.

    • Elise says

      You are very right–the accessories DO make sense in that context.

    • This would be a wonderful vampire outfit!
      My first thought was classic horror films. The sunglasses and the plain white face give it a bit of an Invisible Man look.

      The overall look is strange, but I really like it. My one complaint is the lifter gadget, which is completely ridiculous and unnecessary for a skirt that’s already walking length.


      • holly says

        I was thinking it might be a good Halloween outfit!

  7. 10/10 for me, both the outfit, and the accessories. I’m definitely one to prefer ensembles with as little trimming as possible, and this is just right. I love the colour and the sleeves have just the right amount of poofyness to keep them from being silly and overdone.

  8. I like it. I like the colours and the practical yet still quite decorative aesthetic. 8/10

    I do think it’s ridiculously over-accessorized and I laughed hard at your description, but I’m not going to deduct points for how it’s been displayed.

  9. Belinda says

    I think it looks awesomely practical for 1890s, and were I out for a hike in the highlands then, I would totally wear this, and probably refuse to take it off. 10/10. As for the styling, I’ll give that a 10 too for sheer exuberance and fun. It’s like something off Dr Who!

  10. Kim says

    I like this dress. If your skating outside, please put on sun glasses! The jacket is lovely with the trimming. So sensible to wear gloves and a scarf. But where is the heavy coat? 8.5.

  11. Lynne says

    Whatever that silver thingee is, it was not meant to go with that outfit. Very wacky. I know we shouldn’t mark it for presentation – sort of zombie/steampunk? That head! But it does it no favours.

    I don’t like the shirt with the suit, either. Not a bad wee suit, if you get rid of all the tat. But no fanfares from me.

    4 out of 10.

    And thank you for the highly entertaining description! It is an outfit we had to see!

  12. Martina says

    I thought it was meant to be Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) in her dark glasses :). I like the outfit.7 out of 10.

    • Grace Darling says

      I thought the same thing re Annie Sullivan.

      The rust-brown colour reminds me of a line from a poem by Federico Lorca …”the dark magnolia of your womb”.

      The blouse is red/green Christmassy and, to me, the whole outfit has that seasonal feel to it.

      Quite delightful. 9/10

  13. Kathy says

    Wouldn’t she be cold skating outdoors even with a bonfire to stand near?

    A 5 as shown, if it had been a walking suit instead a 7

    • I’ve never been outdoors skating, but I have played outdoors in the snow for hours in jeans, light shoes, cotton socks, and a light cardigan, so this looks plenty warm to me!

      • Kathy says

        Brrr! I’m from the Southern US and didn’t go out in the snow unless I wore boots, thermal socks, coat, gloves hat and muffler when I lived up North for a couple of years.

        The one time it snowed in my childhood, my Mom wrapped my shoes & legs in plastic wrap to protect me and my sisters from an inch of snow.

        • I’m from Hawaii! I actually wear much warmer clothes in non-snowing Wellington than I have for any of my snow experiences. Being warm enough is not just about temperatures, it’s also about how damp it is, wind chill etc, so it can be (relatively) comfortable in snow under certain conditions, when you’d be much colder with no snow!

  14. Meh, it has nothing to recommend it to me at all unfortunately. The plaid blouse doesn’t go with the jacket and skirt; the accessories detract from any good points it may have and the whole thing just looks confused.

  15. I quite like it, although the shirt is perhaps still a little too loud even with the plainness of the suit to tone it down. The styling is, I think, a little much!
    I’ll give it an 8.5 under the circumstances.

  16. I love it. I am reading Amelia Peabody books right now and while Amelia would have been wearing Turkish trousers tucked into boots with her shirtwaister and short jacket, it still reminds me of her. Quite intrepid. And quite Steampunk too, which is why I suspect the props got brought out in quantity.
    A 10 from me because it just seems like the best fun you can have in a walking dress!

  17. A nice solid 6. There’s nothing that stands out to me as “That’s amazing,” and nothing that makes me go “Oh that’s hideous” (other than the styling making me laugh), so it’s there.

    As to the silver thing, when I first saw it I thought it was a knife case of some sort of maybe for scissors?

    I put in a vote that the stylist had one too many hot toddies while working on this, and just went “Ehhhhhhhh, let’s try this.”

  18. jamie says

    I call “Foul”!

    I am new to your site ( which I love by the way ) and am hounded by this feeling that we have been thoroughly lied to in regards to man’s technological/industrial “revolution”. Nowhere ….and I mean nowhere…do I see such precision of needlework, minute detail, embellishment, richness of fabric in ANYTHING ( sorry, did not mean to yell ) we see in a clothing store today. I won’t even mention the yards and yards of said rich fabric that goes into the making of these sumptuous garments.
    These facts alone make me think that we, as a whole, have devolved into this abysmal state of junk fabric ( need I mention the word ‘stretch’?? ) serged up on industrial machines in slave shops in third world countries. These ‘stretch’ fabrics are machined into loose, baggy, saggy clothing, with equally ugly patterns and prints, that look more suited for sleepwear than anything to be seen in public. How egregious!
    Something is amiss in the retelling of history…these articles of clothing are the evidence. Evidence so overwhelming that one would have to suspend reality in order to support this rubbish of an industrialized world as being “advanced”! Poppycock!

    Thanks for keeping this truth alive and well through presenting the ‘hard evidence’ of truly astounding artwork.

  19. juliaergane says

    The description says: DRESS (1 piece garment, no blouse, no skirt, no jacket — the jacket is FAUX). Whew!! Got THAT off my chest. Please read ALL the words. (I am an Ex-English teacher. Many of you would have failed that reading comprehension test.)
    I do give the proper kudos to the museum staff for a great presentation of this dress. As stated in the guidelines, I am not taking my own likes and dislikes in colour into my appraisal. The tastes of the late Victorian Era may sometimes intersect my own, and sometimes they may not. The dress as it stands is an elegant day dress for an outing. It has certainly weathered the years quite well. My rating: 8/10

    • Actually, a dress can be one or two pieces, particularly in the nineteenth century, when it was very typical for a gown to be made with separate bodice and skirt, which came together to make a whole (which could include separate belt, overskirts, etc.) Transformation dresses were made with alternative bodices (usually day and evening) to pair with the same skirt for different occasions.

      Yes, I was one of those obnoxious kids who liked correcting their teachers.

      • Me too! I knew there was a reason I liked you 😉

        And to add further to the discussion – a dress could be more than two pieces, as some came with detachable trains, overskirts, belts, alternative bodices, guimpes, and other pieces!

      • Me three. Okay, I did not always like it, but whenever I felt the teacher was selling us something they did not really understand and I knew better, I told them.

  20. So sporty! So jaunty! So steampunk! I actually love it even with the is-it-really-period sunglasses. I think I’ll up the ante with a 9

  21. For me this a 6. Initial reaction is just so-so. Maybe Leimoni is right in terms of the set up where the photographer just threw everything together in a weird outdoorsey mash-up, and that’s what’s throwing me off. But then the plaid and the brown just don’t go together. Maybe if the shirt was a solid color and there weren’t so many gadgets, I’d like it a little better.

  22. I love it apart from the etui – which is WAY out of place. Love the suit and the vibrant zing of the blouse which is bold and dashing, and the accessories – apart from the etui – work very well with it. It’s got elan and panache. I will rate it 7/10 as the etui pulls it down and while it’s lovely and striking it’s not the greatest EVER. But it just works so well for me.

  23. Rachel says

    I keep not knowing what to think about this one. At first glance, the dress itself was completely boring to me. But everything put together is all so strange … I’m imagining her as an eccentric 19th century lady scientist who’s out for a skate on a very sunny day, and she brought the etui to hold one of her beakers while she cogitates over her figure eights.

    But anyway. On later glances, I do see that the dress has its own personality independent of the accessories. The color is fine, though I’m not sure about the Christmassy/lumberjacky plaid blouse. The jacket’s cut is interesting, but without all the extra stuff I doubt I would’ve looked twice. It just doesn’t grab me. But I think the glasses and headscarf actually work with it, and the entire effect is at least interesting.

    That hat though. That thing just irks me.


  24. Lylassandra says

    I call this the “Steampunk was REAL!” ensemble, and I love it. Love the cut, the color, the plaid, the glasses and chatelaine. Even love the questionable scarf. 10/10

  25. I like the outfit, but the accessories are wacky indeed. 8/10 for the outfit, but 3/10 if I was rating the way it is displayed… and that’s only because the accessories are interesting, not because they really make a lot of sense to me…


  26. Terry says

    The silver thing at her waist is a clip which is called a Chatelaine… the hanging portion is to hold the glasses she’s wearing. Victorian women rarely carried a handbag and when they did, it was tiny, so instead they often used a chatelaine which could hold up to 9 chains with a clip at the end to take one of the many different types of items they might want to use during the day… these included all sorts of sewing items, a pen knife, pill box, etc.

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