Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: an end-of-the-crinoline era wrap gown

Last week we didn’t have a Rate the Dress, because of the blog makeover.  I’ll be getting to the Rate-the-Dress scores from the week before in a couple of hours, but for now I am dealing with the effects of a 28 degree day in Wellington (I am basically cold-blooded.  I can handle 14-25 degrees, and on either side of that my body freaks out) and have to limit my computer time or trigger a migraine.

I keep going back or forth on whether I think this is a very elaborate wrapper/dressing gown, or a perfectly proper outdoors coat-dress.

The bows on the shoulder  suggest  a most elegant inside wrapper – basically  an early tea gown, which first began to appear in the 1870s.

At the same time, it  is  also very reminiscent of the trimmings and silhouettes of the type of unshaped outdoor dresses that were popular in the 1860s, such as the ones seen in Monet’s Women in the Garden.  The back view makes me lean in that direction.

I suspect on days when my brain wasn’t cooked to a crisp I would know exactly what this was, and the precise  name, but today you shall have to endure me being quite stupid, and will have to make your own suppositions, whilst  you also consider the sartorial merits of this garment.

While the loose fit of the bodice suggests the gown could have been worn by a woman who was expecting, or simply a larger women, very unshaped dresses appear regularly enough in 1860s fashion plates to indicate that it was a general style.

So what do you think this is?  Tea gown?  Wrapper?  Very elaborate coat dress?

And what do you think of it aesthetically?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I do like the color of the main fabric and the paisley-ish motifs, and the loose fit makes my comfort-oriented heart happy.

    I am less charmed by the bows on the should (would have preferred an epaulette of self-fabric perhaps trimmed in a narrow band of the darker), and I actively dislike the tassels both in color and shape.

    7.5 of 10

  2. I like the pattern motifs and the color scheme. And I *love* the rear view. From the rear, the dress is elegant; majestic even, and the half-peplum is an intriguing, lively detail.

    But from the front the dress looks amazingly frumpy, and the huge tassels don’t help. I can’t give a dress with such a frumpy front view a 10, or even an 8. So it’s a 7.5 (the .5 is because of the glorious rear view).

  3. LOVE. Yes I see what you mean – front screams wrap, but the back definitely feels more like a real garment.
    Me, I get excited whenever I find a garment that looks like a me born (hopefully into money) in the 19th century could have worn and still been stylish. I’d possibly not have opted for the camel/tan colourway, but I really love it. I even quite like the tassels, no doubt also salvaged from the curtains (GWTW moment maybe?) as in spite of that, they have the right note of oriental mystique to my eye. So a 10 from me. I am not deducting so much as a half point for the shoulder bows as they are a feminising element and easily removed. 🙂

  4. I don’t like it. The tassels and the shoulder bows look ridiculous, as does the train at the back. I don’t think this informal style of dress works with a train. I think the little peplum might work well on a jacket or wrap, but it just looks odd on this dress.

    I do like the way the decorative motif on the fabric has been used, and I think the fabric itself is quite attractive. Overall, 3/10

  5. Heather says

    It does look surprisingly comfy, I like the pattern and the basic simplicity of it with the wow in the back. makes me think…some kind of artist gown. The tassels are putting me off though and the silly little bows. 6/10

    On a side not, what did women from different eras wear while expecting? I suppose I should go look into that, it would be interesting.

  6. holly says

    I’m not sure what to call it but I think it’s saved by the back view. The front is less successful, it could do without the tassels. Also, the shoulder bows could do with removal. The embroidered motifs are fantastic, and drag up my score.


  7. Rachel says

    Nope. That fabric plus that skirt shape has me thinking “ambulatory lampshade”. The tassels don’t seem right and there are just too many. The shoulder bows are too much, which is weird, because one of my problems with the dress is that it’s so subdued and … disengaged. The back is a bit more interesting to me. The one thing I like is that, while I’m not crazy about the swirly medallion designs, I like how they’re placed across the gown, especially in the back.


  8. Lisa W says

    I’m tending towards the elegant wrapper to lounge about in (with train artfully arranged of course!). I think the motifs have been used beautifully, and they definitely remind me of Arts and Crafts fabrics/embroideries. I confess however, that the bows and tassels detract from the overall (and relative) simplicity of line the garment shows as well as the restrained colour scheme and elegant patterning; it seems as if the seamstress got a bulk deal on passamenterie and put the whole lot onto one outfit. Overall a 6/10.

  9. april pressley says

    I like it. Is it an early printed silk? Looks like something an artist might make and wear. 8/10.

  10. Anna-Margot says

    Love the design and colour combo but agree about the bows and tassels, though it looks like the tassels are tied together, maybe it opens in the front, 8/10

  11. I rather like it. I’m think coat, because of the back lacing and the details. Given the color of the tassels, I’m curious if the embroidery on the dress was originally a different color (more purple-ish?). 8/10

    • I suspect it’s the tassels that have faded, rather than the dress, and they were originally a dark orange, and have faded to mottled purple.

  12. MJ Ruisi says

    …it seems to me that the patterning is very European Arts and Crafts style…timely for the dress ..so focus on natural coloration and accents that are compliments would have been “au currant”….the bows and tassels were prevalent details every where,how ever the Frog style of the “closures ” make me believe it’s as you stated an OutDoor Dress…..

  13. Oh dear. Tassels very seldom work well on dresses, and this one has quite a drapery/ upholstery look to it. The colour scheme is boring, and I’m not fond of the embellishments either. (wheat plants cradling checkmarks?) I suspect this wasn’t displayed with the proper amount of underwear, as the back of the skirt looks deflated.

    3.5 out of 10

  14. Very interesting questions. I vote for it being a wrapper. I can see why it also looks like a coat, but the idea of a train of silk outdoors sounds silly to me.

    That embellishment around the hem, with the gores and the train to complicate things, is quite stunning. I’d wear it if gifted the garment, but would pick something different if I had a choice. The colors are a little blah, especially for the 1860s with their new dyes! I give it 7/10.


    • I agree that silk train outdoors is stupid, but fashion has never been smart! I distinctly recall reading a bunch of quotes from the 1870s about the disgusting habit of trailing your silk frock through the dust and grime. And if you look at the frocks in Women in the Garden, that’s just what they are doing. The train actually made me think outdoors rather than indoors, because the tea gowns and wrappers I’m familiar with from this era are untrained.

  15. I stick with pregnancy gown, the width of the front goes way far beyond the common comfort-zone, what a wrapper or tea gown requires, what a pity on fashion plates pregnancy gowns weren’t represented at all to compare with! 🙁

  16. Lyn Swan says

    I love this. I would wear it. The bows on the shoulder are unfortunate, but I even like the tassels. As always, when assessing a period piece, I try to remember what I know of the period. Some are closer to my own esthetic, than others. Tassels were an accepted embellishment. The embroidery and applique are lovely. The back peplum and train suggest out door clothing to me. Perhaps for morning visiting?

  17. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and looking at it and I kind of think it’s an indoor gown – which doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been worn outside in the garden, just not in a mixed gathering, but only with a few intimate friends.

    I love the lines and the sweep and the back peplum and the decoration and general movement of the dress – it’s wonderfully graceful and flowing. Not so sold on the baby food colours, which is why I am rating it 8/10, but in a better colourway it would be 10/10.

  18. Johanne says

    Splendid! Everything about it is absolutely splendid.


  19. This one is a toughie to categorize. And the liberal co-mingling going on with the terms wrapper, morning gown, dressing gown, and robe makes it frustrating when you’re looking for extant examples. At least it does for me.

    I’ve seen wrappers from this era with short trains, but nothing this long. I’ve seen wrappers from the 1850’s with a back peplum. But the heavy tassels and the shoulder bows throw me. They look more “tea gown-ish” to me, but still wrong for whatever this truly is. I think Daniel probably got it right with “morning gown.”
    As a morning gown, all the elements are there and I give it a 9/10.

    As for esthetics, it’s generally OK. I’m not fond of the drab and boring color scheme, even if the tassels were orange, but I imagine on some people it would look fine. I like the overall shape, the velvet and braid embellishments, and the peplum in the back. The two crimes against style are the heavy tassles and the shoulder bows – lots of points lost there. Sadly, it looks like a lot of work went into making something that had a lot of potential but just doesn’t have any “oomph” to it.
    As for esthetics, I give it a 6.5/10.

  20. Gah. I love the back tassels but overall, not loving it. Too long to walk, too big to sit. 2/10

  21. Molly the Milliner says

    The detailing is beautiful! The wheat sheath embroidery and applique is exquisite and compliments the other darker accents such as the bows. I strongly believe this was a fall (the motif of wheat is classic as well as he coloring) pregnancy gown. If a woman fell pregnant in spring she would be able to anticipate when she would be large enough in the fall to commission such a piece.

    I am going to pretend, or try to, that those hideous tassels and frogging are silk dyed with non aniline dyes and thus have faded to no longer match. It is either that or this poor woman’s color blond great aunt Millie raided her dusty drapery bits and did the modern equivalent of hot gluing them on.

    Honestly if I pretend the tassels are the same color as the embroidery and bows, the effect may be a bit much nowadays, but not over the top during the era. I give it a 9.5 for form (assuming a fall outdoor pregnancy ensemble), the laborious crewel work (looks to be wool, and thus fits nicely with the fall theme- no delicate silks) and the back side is exquisite lay finished with the half peplum and coordinating embroidery and applique styling. The length is perfect (for that time) for walking the grounds of a well tended estate while waiting for a baby to come as well as styled enough to heaven forbid be seen in town! 9.5/10 (minus 0.5 for the tasseling color- but I will give it the benefit of the doubt)!

  22. Diana says

    I suspect that there is something missing under that skirt in the back. Like a bum pad, or a small bustle. When you look at the folds in the fabric under the tail you can see too much space and the way the fabric drags just there. Plus I think it is a pregnancy dress, therefore the extra width in the front makes perfect sense. If I am correct thane I give it a 10 out of 10. If I am wrong, which has happened once or twice in my life than I give it a 8/10. Because of how poorly the back shirt pleats balance. lolol But I would still wear it.

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