19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Rich wrappings, ca. 1840

Last week I showed you a rather ridiculous (in a practical sense) 18th century riding outfit in white and pale blue-green.  You thought the hat was a bit skunk-y, and the lapels a bit rumpled, and the horse just plain un-horse-y, but that overall it was quite something (in a good way) and came in at 8.8 out of 10.

This week I present a ca. 1840s dress in rich plum purple silk satin.

The dress keeps the embellishment to a minimum, relying on self-fabric piping trim on the sleeves, and an pleated wrap front opening for visual interest.

There are some interesting elements to the dress – parts of it are quite fashion forward for 1840, and other elements look backwards to the 1830s.  The garment may have belonged to an older woman, who was more comfortable in simple, conservative styles.




  1. redbarngirl says

    10/10 from me…love that era of dresses and the color is gorgeous! My sister saw the dress too and gives it a 10/10 as well.

  2. The luxury of the fabric is given its due by the simplicity of the ornamentation, and the ornamentation is enriched by the luxury of the fabric.

    The preservation must have been remarkable, because the color seems so unaltered by time (although its possible that some alteration has taken place)

    Gorgeous — 10/10

    • Elise says

      Yes, I like the intricacy of design with the simple (but rich) color. 10/10.

      By the way, could I hear from the experts? What are the avant garde, and what are the 1830s elements? Would love to know.

  3. Susan says

    Stunning dress, and stunning photos -Bronte-esque – in the blog sited by Gabrielle above, in which the replica is shown being (very) actively worn, in an old town in Derbyshire and upon the nearby heath. Very evocative.

    I do wonder if the original wearer tucked a little lacy scarf into the neck, for modesty and to soften (and thus also heighten) all that rich purple just a bit.


    • Susan; I’d bet the wearer would have added a lace scarf or collar (ecru or offwhite would have been best) and that the dress would look even more wonderful worn that way!

  4. Brenda says

    Gorgeous. Absolutely love it. It’s simple but not too plain…just enough embellishment to make it look elegant and feminine. And the color! I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for plums/magentas/fuschias in recent years and this is a beautiful example.


  5. Stunning! A 9/10 all because of the fabric – the lustre and the colour are wonderful, and the model on the dress lets the fabric do all the speaking.

  6. Cadbury’s purple satin! It’s gorgeous fabric. So sumptuous and delicious and just luscious. And it’s allowed to do its thing in the dress – this is all about the fabric. Just beautifully luxe. Yum.

    9/10. Would love to see it accessorised.

  7. Rachel says

    Whoa. I can’t remember the last time I liked a dress that came from one of my least favorite periods this much. That purple. That bodice. That big hoopy profile that I still don’t entirely like but oh my goodness so many yards of rich PURPLE. I think they could have gotten away with contrasting embellishments, but I can’t really fault them for keeping to that color. It’s wonderful and there are heaps of it.


    Would this have been a day dress or an evening dress? I know the bodice is very modest, but the dress looks so luxurious.

    • Susan says

      A dinner dress, perhaps? I wonder if it originally had a second bodice, for more formal occasions.

      • It’s a one piece dress (you can tell from the museum registration numbers – multiple item outfits at the Met have the registration # + a, b, c, etc. to denote how many pieces it is) so this is it!

        • I had no idea about the registration numbers, it will definitely help next time I’m browsing the collection!

  8. Yummy! I love that rich almost eggplanty purple, and the piping is just exquisite. The outer pleats on the front seem a little saggy though, and there is the (almost inevitable) seam puckering on the skirt.
    But for all that it’s gorgeous and I love it and I’ll give it a 10/10.

  9. Lisa W says

    I am really not a fan of this era at all, but this dress? I’m impressed.

    The colour and sheen of the fabric is to die for and I like the fact that the tailoring and trim details are subsumed into the purple gloriousness. Thet enhance the dress subtly rather than shouting out embellishment. I’m especially fond of the pleated bodice.

    It must have looked so lush under candle-light or gaslight (if worn at night).

    A surprising 7.5/10 from me (losing 2.5 marks because I just can’t come to terms with the proportions of dresses from this time period…)

  10. I would wear this everyday if I could. The wrapping at the front is perfection, and the fabric is killer. 10/10

  11. Lynne says

    What a beautiful thing! I’m often a bit wary of so much purpleness, but this is so dark and rich. I love the simplicity of the style.

    I’d wear that. But I’d want it in black! So… 9 out of 10.

  12. I see nothing to disapprove of. It reminds me of the sort of thing an elderly lady would wear, as you said.



  13. I love it, though, as you say, it’s a slight mix of styles. The piping trim on the over sleeves is beautiful, as is the colour. I wonder if the mannequin isn’t a tad too short waisted though, the bodice seem to sag a little? 9/10

  14. Kirsten says

    What’s not to like about a dress in my absolute favorite color! Nothing, it’s a perfect 10/10.

  15. It’s wonderful. I’m definitely on the favour of less trimming, and this is a great example of simple but so elegant decorations. 10/10

  16. 10/10 – it’s utterly gorgeous (helps that this is quite literally my favourite colour), the fabric is amazing, the minimal trim, the style, everything. I think whatever minor issues there are with fit can probably be attributed to a badly chosen dress form.

    It’s really the fabric that does it though – the same dress in a less lush fabric or in a duller colour would make it boring instead of stunning.

  17. I think this as an amzing dress – the lines of the collar/overlapping wrap thing on the front part is so simple and elegant, it reminds me of kimono, very beautiful.
    The pleats at the back fall beautifully, the piping is exquisite, and even the purple isn’t as flasy and cheap-looking as some of aniline-dyed dresses from the 1870s. It almost seems to glow from the inside.
    The only thing that annoys me a little is the way it makes the bum look big – no, honestly, the bottom-hiding part looks so huge and round, I think it would be more beautiful if it gracefully flowed towards the ground without looking as if a queen size bumroll were worn underneath. But this is just a tiny thing and doesn’t mar the overall effect.


  18. Julia Ergane says

    Actually, this one is difficult for me because I absolutely LOVE the purple fabric. However, as with most things mid-19th century (music, furniture, literature, etc.), I have a few druthers. Even though I can almost see Eustacia Vye in it (Return of the Native), it is too school marmish for me. I think it is my personality. It needs to be cut off at the shoulders if it is for evening. As is it could be half-mourning.
    Rating: 7/10

  19. 9/10 I’m not entirely sold on the front pleats, something about them is off, but maybe that’s just the manequin. It’s quite gorgeous otherwise!

  20. I don’t usually like fashions from this era, but I like this dress a lot. Even that weird slumped shoulder thing they did with bodices from this era sort of works in this example and manages not to look slumpy. It’s a beautiful colour, and I love the pleat work. I think the pleats are particularly effective in this rich satin, because of the shine.

    The only thing I’m not totally sold on is the sleeve shape. The sleeves are fine as far as the piped decoration, but then there’s that strange floppy puff thing going on. Going to have to dock a mark for that, I’m afraid, but only one. 9/10.

  21. holly says

    the colour is perfect, great detailing of pleats & loops. 10/10 from me

  22. Lyn Swan says

    Simply lovely… the color is so rich. I am amazed at the quality of this dress given the age. It looks brand new. I assume that it is an original and not a reproduction. My favorite era, thank you for presenting this dress. 10 without a doubt

  23. Grace Darling says

    I am wondering if this is a sort of maternity outfit which a woman ‘anticipating a happy event’, or
    in post-partum recovery would knock about in?

    It has the touch of the convalescent about it – Miss Havershamishy. Perhaps something the upper class lay-dee would wear in the Private Rest Home for Nervous Complaintners.

    The piping trim seems to echo the ringlet hair-style.

    Can’t explain it, this dress gives me the creeps.


  24. Considering the color and the materials, I want this dress to be, I don’t know, richer? It’s like designer sweatpants, fabulously expensive, comfortable, and almost awkwardly understated. I want something to draw the eye. Contrasting belt, some beading on the neckline, something. I know I’m swimming against the flow on this one, but

  25. letthemeatcake says

    Looks like something Emma Bovary would have ( or desire to have) in her closet. All in all it’s demure come il faut in the 1840s, but the cut is generous and the fabric lush and somehow sensual: 9.5

  26. 10! I’m not a fan of this sort of bodices, especially the back view, but that’s not the dress’ fault. It’s gorgeous, and the little hint of braid is just enough alongside that incredible fabric.

  27. Frances says

    I LOVE this dress. Although not a huge fan of purple, I think the understated elegance of the design really allows the fabric, all lush colour and satiny luxury, to take centre stage. I think it is an example of very good taste. And I don’t think the lady who wore it would have necessarily been elderly. I think a mature matron would also look lovely in it. The pleats on the front probably sit better on a figure. 10/10

  28. I love it except for the waistband which just cuts the whole thing in half in an unpleasant way. (it might just be my thing as a short person) 9.5/10

  29. Who needs a lot of trim when the color is so perfect! Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin~ 10/10

  30. Witcharachne says

    I love it. It’s simply decorated, but that only seems to enhance the luxury of that gorgeous purple satin.
    Totally, utterly gorgeous.
    9/10 from me (point deducted because something about the seams on the skirt are irritating me. They seem slightly off-centre and I’m all about symmetry).

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