19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: red velvet spencer

Last week I showed you a very fashion forward lady of 1914, to mixed reviews.  Some of you simply didn’t like the period, others simply didn’t like the way the ensemble wouldn’t suit most figures, and most of you weren’t too keen on the hat.  But lots of you did like it: thought it elegant, avant gard, and just ‘zingy’ enough to be interesting.  It rated a 7.4 out of 10 (it would have been a higher score if the two people who said they loved it, with exclamation points, had rated it!)

As the next HSF challenge that I’m supposed to write a (well overdue) inspiration post for is the HSF Choice Gentlemen challenge, I thought showing you a bit of menswear-inspired fashion was appropriate.

As soon as I selected this item I also realised that it is exactly the 1810s version of the 1910s suit I showed you last week: luxurious, slightly quirky, both very practical and very unpractical,  very feminine with a nod to menswear, and possibly, just a tiny bit silly.

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice.  KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Spencer, Underbodice and Skirt- ca. 1815, Spencer and skirt cut velvet with piping and wrapped buttons in hussar style, silk satin underbodice. KCI AC3145 80-5-36AC

Last week’s offering was luxurious in being a couture item, this one is made from a most luxurious fabric: silk velvet cut in a chequered pattern.  Both share quirky buttoning detailing, and other whimsical trim. With the high, lifted bust of the spencer jacket, and the hip-emphasising skirt of the suit, both outfits make their wearers femininity abundantly clear, yet both are styles  taken from men’s fashions.  Spencers were meant to be practical garments, as were suits, but in delicate silk velvet and hobbled hems, neither garment quite lives up to its promise of ease of wear.  And with layered peplums, fan hats, and little sticky-out spencer ‘tails’, both might cop a share of ridicule.

What do you think of this weeks outfit?  Better or worse than last weeks?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I give this one a 9. Expertly made, and obviously one worn by a woman with an element of social standing. I like how it incorporated an element of the Tudor period, and I like how it embraces a bit of an air to the Military styling, which is popular from time to time.

    What I didn’t like is the braid work at the bottom of the dress. But hey! It’s a 9 in my book.

  2. Oh God! I simply fell in love with this velvet checked fabric! I could caress it all day long (if I had this dress) 🙂 Tho’ the museum staff went wild putting that shawl around the neck, certainly WRONG! Some people simply don’t have any sense of taste, ugh. But anyways, love the fabric, love the piping, love the colours (Red+silvery white), love the tailoring! 10/10

  3. 9/10

    Incredible fabric, heavy, rich, wonderful colour.
    I’m not a fan of the period’s silouhette, but that’s not the fault of the dress or seamstress.
    The military-inspired details look great and are well-executed.

  4. Lisa says

    Would anyone have looked good in this? It’s confirming all my worst suspicions of Regency clothing i.e. normal shaped women would have looked like dumpy sausages. 2/10

    • Careful with your usage of normal please! I know lots of normal shaped women (two arms, two legs, head connected to the torso by the neck, roughly symmetrical) who look fantastic in Regency. That doesn’t mean I necessarily like this dress, but that it’s important to remember that all body shapes are valid, and that it is good that there have been different fashion periods that look amazing on different shapes – something for every body!

      • Lisa says

        Well thanks for your welcome. Don’t think I’ll bother to comment again.

      • pinterest.compinterest.comI think Lisa’s words ring less of body issues/normalcy and more of frustration and personal taste. I understand where Lisa is coming from, both from a personal standpoint and considering the fact that modern body ideals are much different today than they were then. Bobbing bosoms (especially according to some of the era’s fashion plates: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/488851734525753685/) are odd looking to the modern eye, as are many other historical shapes until you get to “know” them.
        Many people struggle with Regency’s more exaggerated silhouette just as many women struggle with other eras like the Edwardian era, 1920s, and 1960s, all of which emphasized a more columnar shape. High-fashion Regency does pose some special challenges with its unnaturally high bosoms. We can’t all expect to cover our bust lines with a four-inch wide bodice (yes, I have seen period dresses with bodices that short), myself included! Indeed, many might describe the preferred body types as rather sausage-like in that they are long and tubular. Many of us are not ideally shaped for Regency, but fashions of any era can be adapted, as women of all shapes existed at all times. Correct undergarments help, but many Regency women adapted the bustline to sit more naturally, as you can see in lots of daily wear garments.

        As for the pelisse, the fabric and color are phenomenal, the braided trim on the skirt is well done, and the white piping is dainty, but tailored. However, I am not a fan of the floppy collar or peplum. I am sad there is no front view! As it is, I think a 7 out of 10 is a fair call.

  5. The spencer tails are ridiculous, but the fabric is beautiful and overall I like the trimming. I’m less keen on the silhouette and the shape of the collar. 7/10

  6. Gag me with a spoon. The museum’s description says the sleeves cover the hands! That’s as bad a high heels for being practical.

    This ia also a two piece suit – Spencer jacket & shirt, so the shirt is just under her breasts.

    a 1

  7. Lisa W says

    Umm, dressing gown anyone? I do agree that the fabric is very luxe but those dingly-dangly epaulette things and heavy braid do nothing for me (and I totally agree with Melinda about the shawl, ugh).

    2/10 based solely on the lushness of the velvet and the fact that it would have kept you warm.

  8. I like it better than the 1914 suit from last week (though I think the silhouette of the *very* early 1800s, with its lighter, drapey fabrics, is more elegant).

    Silhouette–not bad
    Pattern–Patterns aren’t my favorite, though the cut velvet check in this dress isn’t bad and goes well with the military theme.
    Details; I like the tabs and piping, and the general Hussar look. I agree with other commenters that the braid trim around the bottom of the skirt doesn’t go with the rest of the dress and should have been left off. I don’t have much of an opinion about the scarf the Museum added– though if they were going to add one, it probably should have been plain white.

    Overall: 7.5

  9. Jeanette Murray says

    I’m just starting to venture into this era and have been studying fashionplates and historical internet sites. Most clothing that I’ve seen so far seems very simple and yet very elegant with nice color. At times I’ve seen spencers with vivid color and creative trim but nothing so much as this one. Personally, I enjoy all the details, the vibrant color, and the thought of a very secure lady wearing this for her cool morning walk. 9/10

  10. I don’t like this as much as I thought I would. Love the era, love the colour – I think it’s that peplum-esque frill that’s dragging it down. Not sure about the band of decoration at the bottom of the skirt, either – it seems a bit unrelated to the rest of the ornamentation.
    8/10 from me.

  11. Erin says

    I have been trying to figure out how to describe what bothers me about this spencer. It seems bulky and I think that some of that effect is caused by the contrast between the fabric texture and the smooth, linear piping and trim. I believe I would like it much more without this particular trim, although it is a little difficult to judge with only the one angle of view. I like the color and sillouhette in general although the textured velvet reminds my 20th/21st century eye of cheaper imitations in apholstery. In person I am sure the fabric is lovely, but I think I would trim it differently and the ruffle above the bustle and the high collar seem a bit wrong for the fabric too. Maybe a different fabric for collar, bodice or sleeves to lihten the effect visually.

  12. Rachel says

    The color and texture are great, and the tails are cute in a cartoony way (as in, I’d love them on a quirky character, but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was a 19th Century lady and saw them coming down the street) but by and large it doesn’t really speak to me. The button effect is the only part I hate, but the rest of it leaves me somewhere between blah and meh.


  13. I do wish there was a front view and from what I can see I think the fichu thing isn’t right with it; but the actual outfit (accessorising aside) I love! 9/10

  14. redbarngirl says

    I think it is absolutely lovely! It actually reminds me of something Caroline Bingley would have worn. I would love to make it exactly the way it is; the color is especially nice plus it is a good color for me. 10/10

  15. I think it’s ádorable. Always interested to see early velvet dresses of this period, you usually only see them as pelisses or spencer jackets, rather than actual full dress. I love the pop of the white and cream against the rich deep red. I think it’s simply charming. 10/10.

  16. I’m going to go with an 8. Lovely fabric, impeccable construction (especially with all those details in velvet. But with the patterned velvet, it just comes across a bit too bulky and busy, even in its relative simplicity, for me to warm to it without reserve. Although I suppose it would be lovelier in reality and in movement.
    (But I love those sticky-out spencer “tails”. It’s one of the reasons I love the look of spencers. They’re cute and don’t try to convince me otherwise.)

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