Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Actual 1880s opulence

Last week I showed you a linen and lace resort-wear frock.  I had serious doubts about the dating onthe dress from the beginning, and the more I looked at it, the less 1880s it looked.  I think it really is from the early 1900s.

I don’t know if a change in dating would have had any effect on the results though: it would still have lost points for not actually being that comfortable for summer wear, and for the dull colours, and odd colour matching between the laces and fabric.  Still, it was a very attractive frock in some ways, and seeing it on the wearer did help you to visualise it, so the dress managed an 8.4 out of 10, which is pretty darn good considering that there was one rating of only 3!

Since last week’s dating was a bit iffy, this week I’m showing a gown that is definitely from the 1880s.  No mistaking the bustle on this one!

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

This day dress (probably for visiting) features lustrous silk satin and lush patterned brocade (or at least one of the fabrics that would have fallen into the never-very-precise brocade category) in typical late Victorian rich, dark colours.

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Also typical of the 1880s are the asymmetrical skirt draping, and the elaborations of ornamentation and design.  In addition to the elaborately arranged front swag and bustle poof, there are glimpses of the silk satin peeping through the hem (topped, if I am not mistaken, with pom-poms), painted buttons running up the front of the bodice, and lace trim on the bracelet length sleeves.

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

The back is no less detailed, with beautifully folded and piped jacket tails sitting above an expanse of blue silk.

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

The side silhouette reveals the typical mid-1880s extreme bustle, with the added oomph of the panier effect of the side swags:

Woman's Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

Woman’s Dress, England, circa 1885, Silk (plain weave with warp-float and supplementary weft patterning) and silk satin LACMA, M.2007.211.781a-b

What do you think?  An exceedingly attractive way smuggle a tea trolly and a couple of picnic baskets into any event?  Or a total fashion folly?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

38 Comments

  1. I’m going to go with a 5. From a purely technical standpoint, this is an elaborately made dress with beautiful materials. However, I never understood why having a large rump was considered fashionable.

    • Frl.Löwenzahn says

      Me too! I always wondered what was the aesthetic ideal… I do like a natural large rump on a woman who has that kind of figure naturally, as they go in locksteps with volouptuous hips, but I’m never quite sure if this should imitate a spider or hide a pony.

  2. For me a 5, as well. The materials are fabulous, and I love the painted buttons, but the extreme bustle style of this time makes me think of Formal Wear for Centaurs and physical discomfort in the wearing of it. The asymmetry of the front draping may be all the 1880s rage, but it just looks accidental.

    Would love to see the silk satin and brocade used in a Miss Fisher mystery costume.

    • Laura Powell says

      Ha ha ha! Formal wear for Centaurs. Brilliant!

  3. Julia Ergane says

    I love the fabrics and the buttons, as the 2 previous reviewers stated. The whole bustle style has been something of a mystery to me; however, as I have seen farthingales and other types of devices to create different shapes, I will be kind. Personally, if I had a gown from around that period, I would only have something that was quite modest in size. That said, I have to express my admiration for the quality of the dressmaking. It is exquisite. This is what gives the dress my final rating: 9/10

  4. Dora says

    I’m actually a huge fan of the 1880s bustle silhouette and everything else about the fashion in that decade. I’m a bit iffy about the front of the skirt here, something about it is not quite graceful, but the back skirt and the bodice are glorious, as are the fabrics and trims and the general impression of tidy, controlled, powerful femininity. 9/10

  5. 10/10, I saw this dress at the Fashioning Fashion exhibit at LACMA. Gorgeous
    example of second bustle period. Love it as an art object and as high fashion.

  6. The fabric and colours are glorious! The bustle is … strange? Interesting? Fun? All of the above? 7/10!

  7. I love the up close details of this dress, they are so exquisite. I am not so much in love with the whole of it though. So many delicate points and then the back satin just falls in a glump? I know this may seem crazy but I really want it to be elaborately origamied into a larger version of the front hangy bit. It just seemed like the owner and the maker decided enough was enough and gave up. One should never give up, maximalism is for life, not just for above the waist!!
    So, 8/10, losing two points for the sum of its lovely parts.

  8. Rachel says

    Oh, those buttons. And the deep blue with the bronzey/purpley brocade. From above the waist (and the little tails on the back) I’m all for it. As for the skirt, I don’t mind the shape of the bustle. But those side puffs. I’m thinking unhappily of those short Elizabethan trousers. And I’m not sure how to express it, but I don’t like the way the print is dispersed throughout the skirt. It looks too carpety. I think I would’ve used more of that gorgeous blue.
    7/10

  9. I love the shade of blue,the buttons, and like the subtle contrast between the solid blue and the brocade. The bodice is exquisite. I’m less fond of the hugeness of the bustle, and the weird strip-like thing that juts into the center of the front of the skirt. (I detest the hat, but I am rating this as a dress only, assuming the museum came up with the idea of displaying it with the hat.) An 8.5.

  10. I love the shade of blue, the buttons, and like the subtle contrast between the solid blue and the brocade. The bodice is exquisite. I’m less fond of the hugeness of the bustle, and the weird strip-like thing that juts into the center of the front of the skirt. (I detest the hat, but I am rating this as a dress only, assuming the museum came up with the idea of displaying it with the hat.) An 8.5.

  11. Jessica says

    I’d give it a 10- it’s not the fault of the seamstress or designer that the bustle was de rigueur, and I think they did just about the best one could do with it. Those jacket tails are to die for!

    I second the desire to see it on Miss Fisher.

  12. Fabulous fabric…check. Exquisite details…check. Impeccable craftmanship…check, even if my spellchecker doesn’t think that’s a word. Clearly the height of fashion for its time…check. Do I understand why anyone would want a caboose like that? No way. But if it’s perfect for its era…how can I ding it? 10/10.

    • egg on face. I realized after I hit ‘post’ that I had misspelled craftsmanship…hit cancel, but it apparently posted anyway. Can’t delete it. Sigh.

  13. Lyn Swan says

    10/10 It is exquisite! I have never understood how ladies sat in these contraptions, but as has been said before given that bustles were a given…this is a superb example…the front piece adds interest and individuality. I do love it!

  14. Barbara Stevens says

    Gorgeous fabrics, fantastic buttons, incredible needlewomen’s work. But all in one garment – just a bit too much of several good things I think. I never have been able to get my head around bustles, crinolines etc. I have worn them to show off old garments and they really are clumsy and restricting. As for the hat – it is quite correct, even if it does look not to be. Think the original Sallie Army bonnet – a good match in style and period. Maybe the colours are better in real life, but they don’t do anything for me in the photos. For it’s time it was probably a 10, but I am going to give it an 8, because I think it could have been much better without some of the extra embellishments.

  15. Lovely brocade and tail, but the plain blue silk in a large piece at the back doesn’t do it for me, nor do the painted buttons. 5/10 and I’d only wear it if someone else bought it for me, but even then it wouldn’t be a favorite!

    Best,
    Quinn

  16. Lynne says

    I’ve decided it is time for me to stop trying to be nice and accepting about asymmetry. It makes me really twitchy! I’m just a confirmed picture-straightener.

    So, the dress would have done very well with me, if it hadn’t been for that irritating asymmetry in the front. The back is lovely, and even though the dagged hem with the blue bobbles peeping through is a bit over-wrought, it still has charm. What a pretty neck and front! And I really like the fabric combination.

    8 out of 10.

  17. I’d have to go 7. I like many aspects of it technically and the colors, I’m just not so sure it’s the best example of the period.

  18. Molly the Milliner says

    Ok so I am going to be a party pooper on the buttons, they just fit for me. Maybe a Figural brass would have fit the design better. They look to be petit enamel faced French button more appropriate for a light colored tea gown. The peplum like tails on the jacket and the cut of the fabric is so highly skilled. The asymmetrical has never been my favorite, but the execution is well done. So 9.5 with point loss for those buttons.

  19. Ruth Olson says

    it’s a 10 for sure for that era . I was always a tom boy so you wouldn’t have caught me in that beautiful dress. I love everything about it. very lady like and well made.

  20. Sonja says

    I give 10 points. It was my favourite dress and I did make a copy in another colour-combination (purple) – and while making it, I found all the small details – it´s fabulous!

  21. I love the colour combination and the bustle silhouette but not the pannier effect of the side swags, so I have to give it 8/10

  22. If it wasn’t for the asymmetrical skirt decoration, I would actually like this dress. I think it is a lovely combination of colors, and the ivory lace and painted buttons help break up the dark colors a bit. 6 out of 10, since the assymetric-ness is throwing me off.

  23. Miri says

    I like almost everything about it, the fabrics, the colour, the jacket tails are to die for. The two things that kill it for me, are for one the asymmetrical drapery – not so much that it’s asymmetrical, it’s that the right side looks, plainly put, ugly to my eyes. The left one is okay though. The second is the plain back of the skirt. It looks like it’s bunching up and folding awkwardly, instead of the graceful complex draping, I’d expect. It almost looks unfinished. Viewed from the front-left side, I’d have given it a 10/10, as it is though, I’ll go with 6/10

  24. The colours and fabrics are absolutely gorgeous, and I love the bodice with its pleated tails and painted buttons. But the skirt – asymmetry is fine, it usually doesn’t bother me; however, that strange pouf on the right hip is, as Miri so rightly says, ‘ugly’. A shame, as the rest of the dress is so delightful. 8/10.

  25. I’d go with a 7 out of 10. I love the detail of the jacket tails but I am not a fan of the saddlebags on the side of the skirt.

  26. Claire Payne says

    Pom poms! Looking rather stylish. Well I never! I like this tremendously so 9 out of 10 from me. (I scored it higher for the pom poms). I also love the colour, the pleated detail at the back waist and the 1880’s fabulousness of it all. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

  27. Love the dress! Late bustle is my favorite type of bustle because of the silhouette. This dress in particular is very pretty with the brocade and blue going together nicely. I know asymmetrical draping was big during the late bustle period, but the hip panniers on this dress are weirding me out with all the poufiness. Aside from panniers/side draping, I still love the dress overall.
    8 out of 10

  28. This ticks off most of my favorite historical fashion. Exquisite tailoring – yes, the colours – copper/brown and blue is one of my favorite combinations, bustle – yes (even if it’s on the larger side to what I really like). The one thing I don’t like is the assymetrical draping and the poofiness around the hips. That distracts it down to a 8/10 for me.

  29. The colours and style remind me somewhat of a mantua you posted years ago, and it comes short from the comparison. https://thedreamstress.com/2010/08/rate-the-dress-1700s-mantua/ But my memory and instincts prove correct: I gave that one a 10 back then, and in comparison, this one doesn’t deserve more than a 7 from me. It’s too unbalanced in all the various ways other commenters bring up (although personally, I’m rather fond of the 1880s silhouette, and I think actually turning that mantua’s looks into an 1880s costume would be equally great as the original).
    So, 7/10 for this one.

  30. mom says

    It is exquisitely and superbly made, so elegant!
    However, we’re definitely in hiding-a-pony territory there and since the bustle bit is blue it looks a bit as if she got mixed up when putting on the apron.
    Still, as an exquisite piece of craft/wo/manship, quite swoonworthy.

    So, 7.

  31. I think I’ll give this a 8.5. I don’t love the bustle but it is intriguing. I absolutely adore the detailing throughout the entire dress and I can not get over (in a good way) the daintily painted buttons. Oh my goodness!

  32. Luscious fabrics, interesting details and I think the bustle varieties of the late 19th century are the prettiest Victorian silhouettes. 9/10

  33. A bustle that one could use as a tea table, over decoration and asymmetry were in vogue in the 1880’s.
    Heck, I’d wear it back then. 10

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