Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Tassels, pleats, and pockets on an 1870s bustle

Last week I showed you an 18th century menswear ensemble, just making the transition from Rococo peacock to Regency Beau.  Reactions to the ensemble were quite mixed: you  though the colours were the perfect balance of interest/hated them and thought them boring, adored the mix of pattern coordinating without matching/thought it clashed terrible, loved the slightly wacky hat and big buttons for the pop they gave the outfit/found the hat and buttons utterly awful and cartoonish.  Still, most of you really liked it (I think it’s just SO MUCH BETTER than most modern menswear (though we’re getting better) that it’s hard not to at least like it somewhat, so it came in at 7.8 out of 10.

This week we’re going from slightly wacky menswear, to slightly wacky womenswear – with a little menswear inspiration.

This mid-1870s bustle dress  has a hint of militaria and menswear tailoring in the bodice,  combined with the 1870s bustle silhouette at the height of excess trimmings.  The dress features not only a fascinating bit of centre back trim, elaborate jacket pleats, heavily fringed layers of skirt, an asymmetrical bustle, three-dimensional turn-back pleating at the hem, but also the height of ridiculous/whimsical 1870s skirt ornamentation: a parasol pocket.  For those moments when it’s so much handier to tuck your parasol into a pocket than carry it, of course.

Sadly the MFA does not provide an image of the front of the dress, so you’ll have to rate it based on what you can see from the back.  Do you find it  charmingly whimsical, or laughably ridiculous?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I tend to like military influence in historic fashion, and the prussian blue/ivory is a stunning combination, but I do not like the ivory “origami”, particularly in the back bodice hem. It left me the impression that the wearer was attacked by a flock of dinner napkins. The ivory trim that emphasized the lines of the outfit is lovely, so 8 of 10.

  2. This is definitely over the top but I love it. You couldn’t get away with this level of decoration today but I love the effect created by the different layers and textures. In fact I like the tassels best although they are undeniably ridiculous. Best of all though, I think, is the colour combination – I really think the effect is stunning. So overall, I think I would give this dress 9/10 for sheer impressiveness!

  3. It’s totally crazy, but the colour combination just makes it stop from going into “caught in a tapestry warehouse” look. It’s balancing right on the edge, and for me it ends up being just right so it’s a 8/10 from me.

  4. Crikey, they really raided the trimmings department for this one. I wasn’t sure about it at first, then ended by warming to it. The colours are gorgeous; rich and sophisticated and very very smart. And the wack-a-doodle embellishments give it such swagger. 8/10

  5. Julia Ergane says

    Actually, I quite like it. The colour combination is exquisite and the small tassels really highlight the lines. The asymmetricality of the whole does not bother me in the least — and I saw the parasol pocket! I think that this is quite practical, especially when going shopping and not wanting to be burdened down. My rating 9/10

  6. I think it’s geometrically interesting, and the colors (navy and cream) are as unobjectionable as could be.

    I suspect (not sure why) that I’d hate the front, but since I cannot see the front, 8 of 10.

  7. Jeanette Murray says

    I so wish I could post photos here to share with you the recreation made by a friend of mine. She made it perfectly in black and ivory and it is stunning! I’m a bit in love with both the original and the recreation and give it 10 of 10 since I’ve been able to see the dress in motion and know how fantastic yet beautifully elegant the gown can be!

  8. Ellen Duran says

    I’m going to have to rate this dress a full 10 of 10.

    I absolutely love the stark contrast of dark blue and ivory, and the details are impressive. I started costuming a little over a year ago and this dress was the first one I saw that made me decide I HAD to make something… so besides just being gorgeous, it’s also a special dress for me. Regardless, wouldn’t change my rating!

  9. WOW! Someone thought of that and then made it! I love the asymmetry and the engineering and of course the colours.

  10. Love it! I’d never have the guts to wear it, but I’d admire it on a daring young lady. 10.

  11. Anna-Margot says

    Love it, the subtle colour combination and the over the top decoration blend to make the most wonderful gown, wish they had a front view, 9/10

  12. It’s wacky, but that’s what the 1870s were all about. I really like the colours and I suspect they go a long way towards making this dress work. 8/10

  13. holly says

    I think I neeed a parasol pocket now!

    Bonus points for the colour combo, plus it’s got plenty of everything; tassels, accordion pleats, decorative bound buttonholes, lacing, piping, net, ruffles, etc.


  14. Johanne says

    It is exactly the definition of over the top. Yes! 10/10

  15. Careena says

    The colours make this. If the colours were more gaudy it would be over the top, too bright, too many frilly bits and tassels, but the deep blue and ivory lend it an elegance which the fripperies keep from being too severe, and of course it is such a perfect example of the period. I love it and would happily wear it. 10/10 for me.

  16. Oh, I’ve loved this one for years. It’s on my pipedream wish-list of things to make one day (aka will probably never happen, but I can dream). Full 10/10 – unless I can give 11/10?

  17. Love this! It looks absolutely gorgeous. The contrast colors totally make the design stand out, in a good way.


  18. Lynne says

    10 out of 10.

    It is great that this is an inspiration dress for people – I can see why!

  19. Jane Craven says

    Oh yes. Just my kind of thing how inspring. 10. Love the whimsical parasol pocket idea.

  20. Barbara Stevens says

    So over the top that it’s wonderful. I love it. I wish there was a front view – anyone got one they could post? 10/10 from me.

  21. I really like it. I love the colours. The trim should make it overly busy but somehow it all goes together nicely. 9/10

  22. Pfff…. Why didn’t they take a photo of the front? Is it so hard??? But in regard of the dress the back is really adornfull, perfect for promenade or visits, and the color combination is lovely too, the creme accents really mark out from the navyblue foundation! 10/10

  23. I surprisingly like the dress. The parasol pocket is rather fun, and the trimmings coordinate so well that they don’t really distract your eye too much. The fringe sort of reminds me of Queen Anne’s Lace or something. It could have used just a little less trim though, so I give it:

    7 out of 10

  24. The dark blue fabric makes me think of denim. I want to love it, really love it but the color pulls me back and says “Canadian Tuxedo”. 9/10.

  25. I love this! The colours are so lovely. I like the slightly over-the-top-ness (totally a word), and it’s balanced by keeping the colours more neutral. 10/10!

  26. Stacey says

    This dress is absolutely gorgeous. 10/10 for me. Parasol pocket, interesting asymmetry, clean lines and restrained colours take the edge off the more precious details, while still remaining fashionable. I would wear it, no questions asked, to any event that it would be even remotely appropriate for. And many, many that it would not.

  27. It’s hard to find something NOT to love about this dress. The colors remind me of the nautical combinations seen during the 1890s-1900s that were very popular, and is a particular favorite for me. The trim is what does it though. You can never find anything that detailed in a modern day store, and the hours that went into all the fabric manipulation for this dress is mind-boggling. All the workmanship, plus some of the whimsy, and the great color balance – love, love, love! 10/10 for me!

  28. India says

    Normally I really dislike bustles but I love this dress – or maybe I love this dress because I dislike bustles. They’re pretty much the ultimate distortion of the female form but this dress takes the bustle, turns it on end – literally – and plays with the whole concept. The parasol pocket is the perfect steam punk addition. Whoever wore this dress had not just style but panache. 10 out of 10 and I’d wear it too …. and I never thought I’d find myself saying either of those things about a dress with a bustle. Ever.

  29. I’ve just been looking at this one recently in my Pinterest boards.
    I think it didn’t make it to the “instant oohs” one; it’s a bit overdone for that. But it’s close. 1870s are almost inevitably always overdone, one way or another, and this dress does it in all the good ways*. And not too surprisingly for anyone who knows me well, I love the colours. 9/10 (And it really only doesn’t get higher because I’ve already found my perfect blue-and-white 1870s dress and it’s not this.)
    (* Okay, and I’m immediately relieved and grateful on sight that it’s an 1870s dress without an abundance of buttons everywhere. *shudder* That’s always a trend that puts me on edge.)

    • P.S. I’m making notes of colour combinations that make, for me, the bustle era work. There’s something about the blatancy of that silhouette that requires mostly juxtaposition of hues of basic colours (in the “what’s in a child’s packet of paints” sense).

  30. The rule of thumb for the Early Bustle Era was “when in doubt, add more” and this is such a fabulous example. It’s definitely of its time. Love the color combination – a strong contrast without being stark or harsh. Tassels, beads, pleats, ruffles and other various and sundry fabric folding…marvelous. 10/10. (A shame, in a way, since the Natural Form Era was just around the corner and this [surely] expensive dress would have gone out of fashion fairly quickly.)

  31. redbarngirl says

    Love! Right now I especially love the colors…I woke up feeling like wearing them and so I’ve been wearing blue and white all day. If I had had this dress in my wardrobe this morning, I would certianly be wearing it now! 10/10

  32. Okay. I approve of the navy and cream combination and how it is used to make a very detailed, elaborate dress look fresh and quite stylish. A chic combination. On the other hand, I am a bit jarred by the sudden stark geomery of the cream yoke and the “lacing” down centre back which seems a bit unrelated to anything else, a bit too delicate beside the stronger ivory elements. I also feel like the ivory bows and blocks on the bustle are just a little bit too much over-egging, as it’s a bit like someone decided to smeakily dump meringues on her bum.

    I don’t hate it but it kind of leaves me a little cool – I want to like it more than I do, and it ought to be much nicer than it is, but something’s not quite right. I also don’t know that I quite like ALL the chenille fringing. While I don’t have the Dreamstress’s intense loathing for fringe, I feel it’s not QUITE right on this dress, no matter how perfectly matched it is colour-wise. This is a dress with few fringe benefits. (sorry).

    6.5/10. Could have been so much more. Could have been a heck of a lot less.

    • WOW. I’m really in the minority here, having just seen everyone else flipping out over how much they love it. Still stand by what I said.

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