Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Velvet & tassels

Last week I showed you a 1920s frock embroidered with poppies, cornflowers & wheat.  You almost universally agreed that my choice of hat improved the dress, mostly liked the embroidery, mostly liked the scallops, weren’t sure about the colour of the silk, and universally disliked the waist seam which interrupted the flow of embroidery.  So the ensemble received an 8 out of 10.    Pretty good, not fabulous.

The dress did elicit much  discussion over whether the poppies were a commentary on the recent war.  While I’d like the idea to be true, I suspect it’s too much of a modern take on it.  I  have never found any period sources that  suggest that wearing poppies was anything more than a fashion statement except on Poppy Day, any more than roses were a link to Alexandra Rose Day (which was also commemorated in NZ and other colonies in the 1920s), and I have found period sources that suggest it had nothing at all do do with commemoration, and was simply a fashion, so I’m not convinced.

Even though NZ is being hit by an unprecedented heat-wave at the moment, and even though I grew up in Hawaii, I can’t help but feeling that Christmas ought to be cold (of course, since I’m from Hawaii, cold  means anything under 18 celcius (65 fahrenheit)).  In keeping with my ideals of a cold Christmas, this week’s Rate the Dress is an alpaca wool frock with seasonally-appropriate red velvet trimmings and tassels:

The overall silhouette of this dress is quite typical of the late  1860s (i.e. boring), but the striking red velvet trim at hem, waist, shoulders and cuffs, with matching buttons, gives it a point of interest.

I’m certain that the tassels on the bodice trimming and sash matched the red velvet when the dress was new, and that they have since faded to their odd lilac tone.  Please humour me and rate them as they must have been, not as they are.

The skirt achieves its fullness through gored panels, pleating at the sides, and fan pleating at the back, all adding to the fashionable elliptical shape.

What do you think?  Does this dress have the fashion award for daytime festivities circa winter 1868 all wrapped up, or is gift wrap + militaria a bad fashion mix?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Lucille says

    It’s ambiguously decent- if I saw it on the street back in the day, the colors and design would likely elicit such a response as this: “Hm. It’s okay. Oh my, look at that peacock blue frock over there! I must speak to my dressmaker about something like that for the Yule ball.”

    As with last week, the ground color had so much potential. White, navy, or black would have been so much more eye-catching. Beige? Not ugly, but not amazing either.

    However, the overall design strikes a chord with me, so 8/10.

  2. The lopsided tassels on the bodice slightly irritate me. Actually, I like the red, and I even like the pink tassel contrast even if it’s age related.

    Um. It’s cute? I keep having to scroll back up and down to remind myself what it looks like as it really is failing to make much of an impression on me. Silhouette’s OK.

    Ultimately, it’s more “meh” than “merry” so I’m gonna say 3/10, and already I’ve forgotten what it looks like again.

    • I’ve looked at this about 12 times now and every single time I forget about it in moments, apart from a memory of unfortunately positioned tassels. Maybe that’s how it survived, people kept forgetting it existed so it could hide away in its chest unmolested (we’ll leave chest molesting to the unfortunate tassels.).

  3. Emilia says

    I’m in the early minority, but I find it utterly charming. The tassles would’ve given it such movement, a mirror of the movement the steel hoops give the skirt, and the crimson and straw is a textbook mid Victorian colour combo, meant to be harmonious and lively. I would have done thinner crimson bands on the sleeves and given it more of a soutache treatment. But still, a charming dress that would be delightful at a reenacting fête. 8.5/10.

  4. I prefer simplicity of design, so I really like this dress. Color and use of trim are fantastic (not too much, but not too little either). My only issue is with the tassels. Not their color, but their presence on the sleeves and bodice–they look so much like an afterthought. I’d have eliminated them, or replaced them with big buttons in brass. Note: this is the kind of dress that would be accessorized in period with a collar and engeageants, and it’s hard to say what kind would look best with this dress. I’ll say overall a 9.

  5. Nina Virgo says

    The nipple tassels on the bodice are daft, they would swing wildly as you walk! The skirt shape however I like very much and the hem with the two borders of red is lovely. But it doesn’t rescue the dress for me 4/10.

  6. I like the silhouette of the late 1860s; simple, graceful and ladylike. The festive red velvet lifts this dress above the ordinary, and the tassels are a whimsical touch (perhaps the Victorian equivalent of the Christmas sweater!) Beautiful back view with the fan of pleats. 9/10

  7. I like the pleats at the back, but the rest of it… nope. For starters, it has nipple tassels. There’s just no getting away from that. Then there’s the background colour, which is unpleasant on its own and is even more unpleasant paired with red. There are a lot of colours that look good with red trim, but not beige. And then, of course, there are the tassels. They don’t work and they look silly, except on the chest where they look inappropriate. 1/10

  8. It’s gold and red. Gold AND red. It is my lounge in a frock. Which is arguably not the best thing one could say about a dress. And to truly capture my lounge it would need a wild paisley pashmina. But that’s not really the point is it. 😉
    I like it. I don’t love it. I am generally not much of a fan of high contrasts like this – I find them overly simplistic, but I admire the madness of the over shoulder tassel hangers (tug the left for the maid and the right for the butler!) and the zig zag sleeve trim I really like.
    Plus it rather charmingly reminds of the ever so famous curtain dress from Gone with the Wind.
    So, an 8 from me. I am not really into it but it has a lot going for it too.

  9. Lauren says

    So winsome and fresh and crisp! Such a different Christmas look from the usual heavy warm velvet dresses. I love it! Minus one for the zigzag bands, which should have been plain straight bands.

  10. I want to giggle at this dress. And hug it. And it reminds me of my slightly wonky little Canadian teddy bear, and the reversible red-white French trapper’s toques I recently came across online and have been entertaining ideas of, and of the soft warm merino hat I made instead. So. Really a great choice for Christmastime. I just don’t know how that feeling translates into a rating. 😛

    Maybe 7,5/10, because it is wonky; but it’s very insufficient to capture the feeling.

  11. Tracy Ragland says

    I actually like it. The skirt has a lovely graceful shape and I like the restrained trim. I’m not a fan of yellow so I’ll take off a point for that. It isn’t over the top but I don’t think it’s forgettable. 9/10

  12. I like it a lot. I’m not a fan of tassels and I don’t like the red trim on the front of the bodice or the sleeves (I think plain stripes on the sleeves would have been better and I’m not sure what I’d have done for the bodice, I do like the part that continues onto the back but the front just looks awkward). Even so, I like the colours, the bands of trim at the hem, the silhouette and the pleats at the back of the skirt. 9/10

  13. Barbara Stevens says

    Oh. Back view rather nice. Front view just plain messy. Tassels right there? You’ve gotta be kidding. Get rid of the braid on the front bodice, much finer braid on the sleeves, give the tassels to the kids to play with, and it is a good serviceable daytime frock.
    Oh those tassels – I can just hear the comments from the ‘gentlemen’.
    As is – 4/10. Altered as suggested – 7/10.

  14. I like it. The crooked nipple tassels bug me. Overall, not super memorable, but pretty. I’d probably wear it. 7/10

  15. I really like it – it’s not a stunner, but it’s smart, clear everday wear. The color contrast isn’t too hash (as it would be if the fabric were red and white), the lines are simple and elegant. I wonder if the skirt shouldn’t look more bulg-y from the front view (if you know what I mean – more concave – maybe it depends on the choice of underskirts and crinoline?). I would definitely urge the lady to remove the tassels at breast height (maybe tell her that today people associate them with ladies in skimpy clothing twirling them about?), but that’s about it.
    Good dress, not spectacular, hence: 8.5

    • Not just the front view. From the back, it looks like there’s a crinoline underneath with hoops only at the bottom or something, and maybe no petticoats or just one? Definitely insufficient undergarments.

  16. As others have said, the unfortunate placement of the nipple tassels really drag this down. I mean, I haven’t seen tassel placement like that outside of a “tribal” dance bra! The overall style is fine – simple, but fine. The colors are fine – it’s really the nipple tassels.


  17. It’s not just the front tassle placement that’s crooked–it’s also the trim on the bodice from which the tassels dangle that’s uneven–I hadn’t noticed that until I read some of the later comments. Still, that would be less of an issue if you got rid of the tassels and placed gold buttons on the trim, near (but not at) the ends, so that you weren’t placing anything directly on top of a nipple. 🙂

  18. The beige dress is great, and being of alpaca, I love it. The trim is terrible. It should be of another color — black, dark brown, dark green, blue, but not red. The whole trim pattern is unimaginative, and enough has been said about the unfortunate tassel placement. I can just imagine everyone’s eyes watching them! 5/5

  19. Libby says

    I love it — it looks like something Louisa May Alcott would have Rose (of Eight Cousins) wear. The phrase “nipple tassels” is a little hard to get out of my head, though. 8/10.

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