19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Regency evening madness

Last week I showed you a ca. 1910 evening dress in pale gold and ocean blue, with a fringed floral lei around the bodice.  Your reactions were all over the place: love, hate, meh, so un-moved you couldn’t think of anything to say, likes with caveats – everything!  And you liked and disliked  totally different bits from person to person!  A very interesting reaction – I’d love to have been in the room when it was first worn, to see what everyone thought of it then!  As it was, more liked than didn’t, so it rated an impressive round 8 out of 10.  It’s just hard to find a 1910s evening dress you don’t like!

This week I’m sticking with the theme of rather mad evening wear, but going back in time almost exactly a century.  This 1809 Regency fashion plate for Evening Full Dress is full of quirky details: the horizontal bodice trim, the double layered sleeves.  The van-dyked peplum, and mirrored van-dyking with tassels on the skirt.  All accessorised with impressive ostrich feather hair plumes in a tiara, large earrings and a statement necklace, upper-arm bracelets, and the requisite long gloves and fan.

Full evening dress, June 1809, La Belle Assemblee

Full evening dress, June 1809, La Belle Assemblee

What do you think?  Just quirky enough to be fabulous and interesting, or totally mad, and more suited to a costume ball than a dress ball?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.



  1. The colors and general cut are fine (though the Van Dyking does not thrill me). I think the beaded trim badly detracts from the dress–the thin ropes of beads across the bosom look like cheap yarn draped across the breast, and the tassels are too big and drag the dress down visually. Overall, a 6.

  2. I don’t like this one much at all. I think the sleeves are my favorite part. I don’t liked the van-dyking or the tassels or much of anything else. If Scarlet O’Hara wore this, it still could have believably been made from curtains. 2 of 10.

  3. I really like it. I think the vandykes are bonkers but fun and I like how it’s not wishy washy – it just goes all out with the vandykes. I actually really like the bodice with the longer waist and the funky peplum action. Also the accessorising is really nice. It’s almost late 1860s transitional 1870s, which is pleasingly unexpected at this point in time. And having said that – I love that way of looking at it. It’s actually 60 years ahead of its time. How awesome is that? The tassels are cute and kind of have to be there, don’t they? Not sure what’s going on with the bodice front, but I kinda like it.

    9/10. And I feel like I could love it so much more if I saw it made up properly and the front bodice was more resolved and less wibbly wobbly linesy winesy. (Do those lines EVEN reflect actual booby distortion?)

    • Elise says

      Yes! Just on the right side of bonkers. I’m going all-out and rating it a 10. I would wear it tomorrow, if tomorrow were timey wimey enough to release me in 1809. (I see what you did, there, with your ‘wibbly wobbly linesy winesy’)

      I really like how the yellows grade to white. And I think that the black beads would sparkle. So there.

      • Heather says

        I agree! It would look fabulous in candlelight and I like the funky tassels and things. A fun little number.

  4. The sleeves are fab, but Nikki and I (my 3-year-old niece who is with me right now) hate the tassels! So 9/10

  5. In general I love the regency (or empire) period dresses, the soft lines, the clear tracings, the scattered trimmings sorted tastefully. But this one is WTF! I know the years when waist was brought back in English fashion (not in the continent, here the waist remained high) and I don’t ever wanna see a Jane Austen drama mimicing this style 🙁 1/10

  6. I love the sleeves, like the vandyked hem, the tassels and the yellow/white/black, but rather dislike everything about the bodice, including the peplum. 7/10

  7. Kathy says

    I love how the triangles echo each other and even kind of like the tassels.

    The squiggles across the bodices are fairly odd.

    An 8

  8. I like the skirt, but the bodice just does nothing for me. I’ve never been a fan of peplums. 4/10

  9. I love her crazy feathers and the vandyked hem, but the bodice is just odd and seems like it would be very unattractive made up and on a body. I give her 7/10 for the good bits.


  10. Sue H says

    This dress isn’t bad or anything, it just seems a bit confused. And as for the van-dyked bits it’s really rather moderate considering some other regency and Victorian excesses. 6/10 because I found it rather blah.

  11. Lauren says

    I totally thought it was a costume! I will give it a 2 because I do like the color and sleeves.

  12. I love all of it except the peplum. The peplum spoils the overall lines of the dress and takes it from elegant to lacking taste in one movement. 6/10 with the peplum; 9/10 without it.

  13. Grace Darling says

    Very lovely, even the feather duster on her head.


  14. I like it. To me it looks like she is going to a costume ball, and decided to go as a gladiator, but still in a fashionable style. The best part is the bodice, I think the van-dyked skirt was maybe a bit too much. It’s fun and I would actually like to wear it, so it’s a 9 out of 10 from me.

  15. Nan Elizabeth says

    I love it MADLY! 10 x 10. I used to draw historical cartoon stories from the a Regency period all my childhood, I also loved ( Josephine de Beauharnais ) Empire, and the Stuarts / Restoration. This is a thrill!

  16. Beatrix says

    Love the accessories, the van dyking, the tassels, the train, colors, am really hoping the ‘strands’ across the bodice are some sort jet beading that coordinates with whatever the black embroidery/beading is on the rest of the ensemble.

  17. Rachel says

    I really love those sleeves. Those are gorgeous.

    I’m on board except for the the tassels, headdress, and the fall of the beading across the bodice – the placement feels odd and arbitrary when all the other black designs are so deliberate and elegant. Not adoring the peplums, but I don’t hate them either. As for the armlets … kind of strange, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like them some. I’d pick better fitted gloves myself, but I don’t know how closely gloves fit in the 1800’s anyway, so I can’t fault her that.


  18. juliaergane says

    I really like this gown, especially the sleeves as I was never a fan of the puffed look in short sleeves. Very elegant 10/10

  19. fidelio says

    Vey interesting, and add me to the roll-call of peplum-haters. A lot of other interesting things, but that’s not one of the cool bits. 5/10

  20. Daniel has summed it up beautifully!

    It is daft, but a good thing. I feel I shouldn’t like the Van Dyked peplum and skirt, but I do – an unexpected look.

    9 out of 10.

  21. As a a fan of van dykes I love this. I’m not usually all that keen on the empire line and pale colours of this period, so I do prefer this being natural waist. If it was in stronger colours I’d love it more. Not keen on the lines across the bodice. If I made something inspired by this, I’d want the peplum to have the point down in the middle, rather than the point up, if you get what I mean. I think it’s more flattering that way; the way she has it emphasises a little tummy curve there, which is just not a curve I want to emphasise. I know various periods like the pregnant look, but it’s not my personal choice. Love the sleeves, like the tassels, wasn’t sure about the OTT headdress but have decided I like it. I wouldn’t wear upper arm bracelets due to bingo wings, but on a younger lady they look nice enough.

    Overall a 9/10 and it’s going on my pinterest board 🙂

  22. This is an overall ‘meh’ for me. I love the sleeves, and really like the color combination. The van dykes, and the rest of the dress, not so much. 4/10

  23. I can’t make up my mind about this. Daniel is right about it being reminiscent of later fashions – the lines give me a bit of an 1890s-Edwardian vibe as well, with the way the skirt drapes. And I rather like that.
    But it feels like there’s too much going on. I don’t like the bodice: the lines really look wonky and I don’t like the horizontal lines of it either, it gives it an apron-y feel. Maybe it would have looked better in real life; on the drawing, it really does look like the front is another layer.
    And I think the proportions are off with the peplum. No, wait, I actually think the proportions of the drawing are off. Her legs are too long.
    – Yes. I roughly measured out the proportions: it’s a 9 heads affair, with 5 heads in the leg area. Definitely fashion illustration style. That’s funny, I wonder when that 9 heads practice started? And when it became codified. That would make a very interesting research topic, for someone in a different field than me…
    If I imagine it on a real person, I actually like it better.

    8/10, I guess. I’m very divided on it, but overall it feels like something that deserves a higher rating for the possibilities it has for a real-life dress.

  24. I really love the skirt with the tassels adn it’s done in one of my favorite color combos, but the “lacing” across the bodice is not doing her figure any justice! I know the wide-boob look was in, but it makes her look so blocky! On an earlier bodice with a higher waistline, she might have gotten away with it, but now it is hiding her figure.
    The points on her peplum are great in theory, but coupled with the lacing, they really make her look fussy. Perhaps in real life, the points would hang better (perhaps add some matching tassels on the ends to weigh them down). The double sleeves are gorgeous, though!

    Nix the lacing, add some tassels and you’d have a roaring 9+

    As is, I have to sigh deeply and give it a 7 out of 10.

  25. I like it, it’s bold and detailed enough to be fancy, but simple enough to not scream for attention. I love the tassels on the points, and the IDEA of the beading across the bodice, but it could be better executed.


  26. I just put this dress in my Regency file – I absolutely love it for the weirdness.
    The only thing I would change is to have those trans-bodice stripes arranged in a definite pattern, like the two in the middle – V’d in to the center and V’d out to the edges.
    I’d also like to see the peplum drape against the body, instead of sticking out. If made, it probably would anyway.
    And I have my mother’s upper arms (thanks, mom) so would have to move the bracelets to the wrists.


  27. Joanne Smythe says

    Wow, this is quite a regency oddity. You don’t see too many peplums floating around in that era. The vandyking is interesting, and I like the trim, the pleating in the sleeves, and the embroidery or trim on the white inset (or is that part of an entire underdress?) that go with the white underskirt. But, the bodice is too busy, and the odd waistline, somewhere between empire and natural as depicted, anyway, isn’t working for me. Looks almost like it’s designed to cover up a pregnancy of 3-5 months. The dress gets an 9 from me for overall design elegance, and a 4 for cut of the bodice. Of course, if it was designed for that baby bump, it’s definitely a 10!

  28. I like the skirt and the trim, but I really don’t like the wavy lines on the bodice.They look extremely out of place and it would be much nicer if the bodice was draped like the sleeves.


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