20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Brown Wool & Paisley

Last week I showed you Barrocci’s young man in doublet and ruff, and the print of the doublet and the size of the ruff were just a bit too much for some of you, so the young man only managed a 6.8 out of 10.  While I feel a bit sorry for the poor young man who had tried so hard, I was pleased that no-one seemed to be swayed by the fact that I’d raved about his outfit in a post only  a week earlier!

This week I’ve picked an outfit that looks like it could have been from an alternative universe.  Somewhere a bit steampunk-y perhaps….

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

This ensemble / dress in two parts of brown wool with paisley ‘blouse’ features trim in the paisley, and in a plush camel fabric.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

The dress is typical of the fashions from between 1902-05, both in its silhouette, with slim sleeves, narrow shoulders, and an elegant skirt with suppltle drapes, and in its use of adventurous  and inventive detailing.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

The detailing is particularly adventurous in the bodice, with it’s faux half-over jacket.  It’s made even more unusual in its choice of fabrics: dead muppet is not a fabric I usually associate with the Edwardian era.

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

Ensemble (dress in two parts) in brown wool and paisley silk, ca. 1900, sold via Antique Dress.com

What do you think?  It is, admittedly, a rather strange and peculiar outfit.  But strange and peculiar can be a good thing for a lady who wants to stand out as being distinctive, rather than generically pretty.  So, for a sartorially adventurous lady, whether or not she was a lady adventurer, does this cut it?  Or is it just too wacky for anyone to pull off?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Wacky I can go with, and I’ve always loved the graceful, close-to-natural shape of the early 1900s, but that paisley silk whatever-it-is is a horror or looks like the result of a horror movie All that bunched up fabric reminds me more of spilling intestines, and the bunching obscures whatever beauty the paisley pattern might have had.

    Do NOT like the fur(-ish?) trim;do NOT like the lavender(-ish?) trim as a color contrast to the caramel brown of the main fabric (which I do actually like)

    Can’t go higher than a 3 out of 10 this time.

  2. Julia M Traver says

    I can’t believe it! This is the first dress that even I cannot appreciate from any aspect at all. I think you may have found a contender for The World’s Ugliest Dress contest. Can we give negative ratings?
    Rating: -5/10 (or 0/10)

  3. This is awful. What’s with the crumpled sack-like thingie sandwiched between the huge expanses of mudbrown brown?
    Nice sewing, I suppose, but a disaster in every other respect.


  4. Pfuy! It’ s totally imposible for me to think it over that someone indeed had put all the skills to create….this… Ughhh

  5. What the?? This is horrible. It’s like someone in Sewing 201 in high school decided to “get creative”, didn’t have any money for good fabric so used Grand-dad’s old army coat found in the basement, along with a 1970”s/80’s silk blouse and matching hair clips of Mom’s.

    1/10 for pure gumption

  6. This dress is like witnessing an accident – I’ve come back to the site for the fifth time just to look at it and find out if it has any redeeming features (apart from the nice sewing)…and….no. Just no.

  7. Oi Luvz it. LUVZ it. So what if the ruchy bit is a teeny bit strange, the faux bolero detail is DEEVINE, DEEVINE I tell you. If this is what old muppets are used for then double fab for upcycling!
    Being a Steampunk sympathiser (not enough time to be a true participant) I love it for its choices. Yes it would look more elegant in a different colour, and less mad without the ruchy bit, but I like a bit of mad.
    I give it 9.5/10 because it has no unique octopus detail, so it is not perfect.

  8. redbarngirl says

    Love the skirt and the top…but I can’t figure out the middle bit at all. At first glance I thought it looked like spilling intestines as well. Ick. 4/10

  9. I like brown, so that’s ok, and I like the shape of the skirt – the trim would have been nice if in some other fabric. The sleeves are ok. But the bodice is just hideous. Utterly ghastly, what did the seamstress think of?? 2/10 – burn the bodice and wear the skirt with a nice white waist instead 😉

    • I’m with you, Sarah; as I said, the skirt has lovely lines.

      I can’t imagine anyone being willing to wear the bodice, unless they were desperate for attention, of any kind.

  10. I like it. It is that era’s version of a belly shirt. lol I like the creativity of the middle. I like the pointy details at the shoulder blades, breast and wrists. In a buttoned up era, I like to think the creator of this ensemble was trying to be daring… and warm. I give it a 9.

  11. Rachel says

    Yeah, it was my first thought too. The bodice’s color + ruching + side ruffle = viscera. Just in time for Halloween too.

    I like the long swoopy folds of the skirt, the pointed sleeves, and the back of the jacket. Okay, scratch that, I like aspects of the back … I like structure and detailing … in general. On the backs of jackets. But maybe not this one.

    Looking at it as a concept, I’m behind the dress. I really like the idea of an Edwardian dress being bisected with a contrasting bodice like this. But different colors, different trim, different front, and something other than paisley ruffles.


  12. I wonder if the dressform is quite different from the shape of the lady for whom the dress was originally made, or whether the baggy paisley ruching and, for want of a better term, bust-flap would have worked better on a different shape.
    I also wonder whether it would have read as military in 1902? Wikipedia tells me that the British started using khaki in India from 1848 or so, and adopted it universally in 1902, but would fashion have picked it up over that time or stuck with the red of the dress uniform?

    Although my initial reaction was along the lines of “blurgh”, it’s growing on me. Possibly like moss. 6.5/10, mostly for the shape of the skirt.

  13. I like the shape of the bottom of the skirt and the back of the brown part of the top, I think the cut is interesting but the light brown trim looks like something cut off of teddy bear. The rest is just *blech*. The paisley makes me shudder.
    I give 1 pt for the skirt bottom and 1/2pt for the back of the top. I just can’t give it any more.
    1.5 out of 10

  14. Without the tabs of paisley silk sticking out to the side of the front it might have passed as a fun piece. However, those make it just plain clumsy and mistaken. I’ll give it a 4– cut of the wool skirt is nice, but the bodice is awful.

  15. I like quirky fashion and the theory of this dress (solid with a contrast print, tailored with ruffled, casual contrasting texture thrown in) is very nice, but the final product just doesn’t work in this case. Perhaps it’s the extra square tongue of fabric sticking out of the chest; it covers up the patterned fabric and is just unflattering. I think it would work better with a navy blue instead of the multi-colored paisley and a velvet belt to soften the waistline transition, but that’s personal taste. It actually looks quite nice from the back, but from all other angles, it fails. It does get some points for it’s classic 1900 silhouette and the lovely shape of the collar and sleeves.

    4/10 – A good dress in theory, but less than stellar in practice. (Though, if I picture Alice Roosevelt wearing it, it suddenly seems to work pretty well.)

  16. april pressley says

    It’s weird, but I love it, it is like a theatre costume, something an utter non- conformist might wear. Someone who cares more about creativity than being pretty. 8 out of 10 just for that alone. And thank you for showing such an unusual piece.

  17. I love the skirt, with it’s graceful swoop and the contrasting camel binding. But the bodice – urgh. The paisley doesn’t compliment the brown wool and it doesn’t even ‘work’ as a contrast, and then when you make paisley even busier by gathering it, it frankly resembles vomit. I can’t even bring myself to like the details of the over-jacket – it’s a little safari, a little military and a whole lot of no. It looks like the kind of outfit a devious MIL would have made for a daughter in law she doesn’t like, just to make her miserable. So I’m going to rate it at a 4.5.

  18. Jeanette says

    The silhouette is beautiful! But the paisley is just…..just….just…..odd? Is that the word? Yes, odd, and takes all the beauty away from the rest of the gown. 2/10

  19. Some dresses are just plain ugly–none of their parts work together. Then there are dresses that could be attractive, but have one glaring, obvious fault.

    The insanely short jacket–coupled with the red paisley underblouse–are this costume’s fault. At a quick glance, it looks as though someone had taken a blade to the wearer, slicing her jacket and shredding her torso in the process.

    The rest of the costume–the graceful skirt, the military-inspired tan trim–is quite nice, if not of show-stopper quality. But for me the ruffly paisley is a big turn-off. A 3 (yes, I hate it more than I hated the pale green designer shift dress with the things that looked like weeds coming out of it).

  20. The lines of the skirt are nice, and I think the paisley silk would be lovely if it was made into something else, but overall it’s terrible. The bodice is just horrible and I don’t like the camel colour. 2/10.

  21. Fascinating. My first reaction other than a bit of confusion about the ruffles was that I love the skirt. Looking more I cannot help feeling that the front flap/bottom detailing of the jacket looks like a snout to me. I hink the paisley and brown combination is beautiful, I like the ruching but the ruffles and that front flap cause serious problems for me. Two things which come to mind are the strong perpendicular between the upwards sweeping skirt trim and the front jacket trim. It seems dissonant to me. In tandem with that the ruffles mashed under the jacket and just squeezing out are cramped and confusing. I do think that it might look far better without the jacket. 4.5/10 for the whole but 7.5 for the skirt and blouse together without jacket. (Yes I know, just in my imagination anyway!)

  22. I noted that the blouse was described as only a faux blouse. Is that certain? I was looking at the back neck closure on the jacket and trying to see how it was put together/ closed.

  23. Lynne says

    I think you nailed it with ‘dead muppet’, Dreamstress! This is a very odd dress, and I can’t see anyone being able to wear it and have people able to conduct a serious conversation with them.

    2 out of 10 because I like the paisley fabric – which was far too nice to be sacrificed in such a way!

  24. Lylassandra says

    Omg, this is horrible. There is not a single thing about it that does not make me ill. 0/10, and if I could go lower, I would.

    On a completely different note, my brother just got back from Hawaii, and he brought my four-year-old a small pink plush turtle. I told her that you were from there and that I “knew you on the internet”, and she promptly decided your name was pretty and named her turtle after you. So… congratulations, I think? =)

    • Lylassandra says

      Oops, just read that I have to give at least one… so 1/10 it is.

  25. There’s adventurous, and then there’s – this. Bold is one thing, incoherent paisley explosions are another.
    Nonetheless, 3/10 because the skirt, sleeves & shoulders are rather nice.

    • What really irks me is the way the insanely short jacket sticks out over the breast like a snow-free ski jump.
      What ist THAT going to achieve? It doesn’t really enhance the curves of the body, it’s just weird.

  26. Kathy says

    If you could see the paisley, I think it is a pretty good match for the skirt material. The blue and red overwhelm the tiny bits of brown & camel. The ruching just ruins it.

    The super short jacket was popular during this time period, but the front flap is just awful.

    The shirt is pretty.

    a 3

  27. So truly awful that I can’t think of anything nice to say about it at all. 1 point, only because I can’t give it negative points!

  28. I like the styling of the jacket and skirt, but the blouse part doesn’t remind me of anything so much as day old intestines from all the best zombie movies. I think I’ll have to give it a 5 and the remaining 5 points got sucked away by the awful blouse.


  29. I’m rather torn about it. It’s a bit mad, especially at the top where everything seems to be in the wrong place. And yes, the fabric seems too heavy for it. But I’m oddly drawn to it and when I forget the craziness of the bodice middle, it’s quite pretty in my own style, actually.

  30. 2/10…

    This makes me think of the word “eviscerate”… !!!

    2 points for the curve at the bottom, that’s all.

  31. Eeew. That’s not a very nice shade of brown is it? I’m seeing a distinct silage/greenish undertone. Cow-poo brown. Mmm, nice. Especially trimmed with a delightful shade of furry baby-sick. This dress is weird. It’s like the dress that a glamorous matron convinces her young attractive daughter to wear in order to ensure that nobody looks twice at poor little frumpy Dilys while Mummy gets all the attention and admiration.

    It’s simultaneously youthful and incredibly unlovely.

    Positives! The cut is nice – the skirt has a nice movement. The bodice is actually really nicely designed. I think if the ordure-coloured elements were black instead, then it would be amazing and the paisley would really pop and zing.

    But as haute manure goes – 2/10. It just scrapes into two points for the positives. If the brown was black dress with the same Paisley – easily 8/10. But.

  32. Heather says

    I think some relative or cheapskate father gave her the brown fabric and this was her “eff you, if I have to wear this you are going to be embarrassed to be seen with me” solution. Or she had no sense of style, or she was such a…you know…that this was her dressmaker’s revenge.

  33. Hack, cough, choke, poke my eye with a chopstick! This is so horrible, I don’t know which part is the most horrible. Those flaps sticking out over the bust.
    the red ruching resembling intestines

    that’s the worst example of an old dress I have seen so far. Blech!

    2/10 for the effort and the craftmanship.

  34. Jocelyn says

    I like most of it. The paisley ruching gives it a modern touch, now if they got rid of the cropped top over it, that would be an improvement, or even better, made it into a jacket and to the waist, then the flaps would not be an issue and in a more appropriate spot. Otherwise, it looks fine. I give it a 5; it’d be higher if the cropped top wasn’t cropped…

  35. Johanne says

    Graceful outline but absolutely ruined by materials, color and finicky, unsuccessful details.


  36. Can’t wait to see what score this dress comes out with! While it definitely has some positives, the overall ‘ick’ feeling doesn’t give it a great score for me. I love the overall silhouette, like the brown wool, and like the paisley fabric (or would, if it weren’t on this dress!). I even like the dead muppet trim, though maybe not quite as deployed here.

    The bad? There’s a lot of bad. I can’t help but agree with all the ‘viscera’ comments! The boob-flap in the front is just awkward-looking, and what are those things in the back? They look like paisley versions of those snap hair barrettes I wore in 4th grade!

    I’ll give it a 5/10, just because I love the line of the high collar, trim sleeves, and swoopy skirt, but the details leave a lot to be desired!

  37. plantingoaks says

    Well, I quite like the lines of the skirt and I don’t hate the idea of the the ‘jacket’ but overall the smushed up paisley is a horrible match with the otherwise nice brown, and that extra flap over the chest… Really, it’s by far the ugliest dress I’ve seen on this site.

    So 1/10

    Which is a bit strange, as with minimal alterations I think I could really like it. Still the overall effect is what it is. I guess you could make one or two changes to most nice dresses to make them terrible as well.

  38. plantingoaks says

    Well, I quite like the lines of the skirt and I don’t hate the idea of the the ‘jacket’ but overall the smushed up paisley is a horrible match with the otherwise nice brown, and that extra flap over the chest… Really, it’s by far the ugliest dress I’ve seen on this site.

    So 1/10

    Which is a bit strange, as with minimal alterations I think I could really like it. Still the overall effect is what it is. I guess you could make one or two changes to most nice dresses to make them terrible as well. No credit for what you aren’t.

  39. It’s actually horrible. The colour. The fabric. The strange faux jacket (looks like a box with a lid – lift to see what’s inside?) I follow the rest in here – 1/10.

  40. Tracy Ragland says

    I don’t hate this as much as some commenters, but it isn’t a favorite. What I like is the skirt…it has a beautiful shape and drape. The bodice isn’t a favorite though. I like the paisley silk with the brown crepe but don’t like the ruffles flapping at the sides nor do I like the brown shelf flap at the bust. The only part of the dress I actually hate is the fake furry beast trim. What on earth?????

    5 out of 10

  41. Sewing Faille says

    Wow. Just, wow. I cannot even think of the last time I saw such an ugly dress. It is ugly in every way. It checks all the boxes for ugly– ugly color, ugly print, ugly print matching, ugly shape, ugly structure, ugly detailing, ugly trim, ugly notions, ugly collar, ugly sleeves, ugly bodice, ugly blouse, ugly skirt…


    If you took it apart into its component parts, each one of those would be ugly. Yet it is uglier than the sum of its parts. It is exponentially uglier than the sum of its parts.


  42. 1/10. It only gets a 1 because I like the shape of the skirt. The bodice looks like some steampunk zombie’s exposed guts after the rest of the bodice had been ripped away during the initial zombie attack. I need to stop watching sci fi for a while…

  43. Er, no. Just no. It looks like someone’s ringed her with a knife, the jacket’s broken open to reveal her guts spilling out. More zombie than steampunk.

    Oh ok, I do like the skirt’s trim so I’ll give it 1/10

    Oh gosh I just read the commenter before me, and she’s said something similar 😀

  44. Elina G says

    That lady’s waist line got a lot of attention! Seen from afar it looks like she’s been skinned alive. The silhuette of the dress is nice and with the dress made all of the same fabric and with slightly different trim and maybe a different shade of brown I might even wear it. The collar seems to be back to front. It started all so well…..but then something went very very wrong and the end result is just a botched job and gets a 2.

  45. I actually like this dress. The general shape and cut of the dress overpowers the drab colour. I think the short jacket is fun, and the ruched sash/blouse adds a bit of fun. Sure it could have been made with nicer colours, and the paisley part would have been gorgeous if it was another fabric and better made. Still I’m going to raise the average a bit for the dress and give it a 7.

  46. What an extraordinary dress! Blimey! It reminds me of something an adventurous fashion student might come up with… not entirely successful (in my opinion) but very inventive and demonstrating lots of skills. I’m not sure I’d fancy walking down the street in it though… even in 1900!

    Perhaps it was made for a very advanced Edwardian fancy dress party???

    4/10 but only for the skill involved!

  47. It’s…… interesting. I love the cut of the skirt and sleeves, but NOT the bodice. The colour scheme is gross.

    I don’t like the paisley, nor do I like the trim, but I do like the lines the trim is making.


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