Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Restrained florals and bows in 1888

Last week I showed you an 1820s fashion plate featuring a the epitome of youth and sweetness in ballgown form.  Combined with the model’s expression, I call it the ‘Someday my Prince will come’ dress.  There were the usual complaints about not liking to rate fashion plates because they aren’t fully developed dresses.  I think makes fashion even more rateable, because we get to see the idea of a fashion at its most extreme and pristine, rather than a fashion adulterated by the skill of the seamstress, the preferences and body shape of the wearer, and the ravages of time.  (So no, I’m not going to stop showing fashion plates, and please humour me and either rate them or just keep quiet about it).  And it was certainly interesting to see the interpretations of the dress depending on exactly what fabric you imagined it in – and the comparisons to extant gowns of similar fabric and trims.  A most fascinating discussion!

Overall, while a few of you really liked the dress for its iconically 1820s features, the rest of you just couldn’t get over the heavy hem decoration, with comparisons ranging from hoverboats to daleks.  The visual weight of the hem dragged the rating down (Har har. I’m sorry, I tried and tried, but it is almost literally impossible to not make this sentence a pun!) to a very poor 5.8 out of 10 – the lowest we’ve had in a LONG time.

This dark blue dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features the almost severely fitted and body-enclosing silhouette of the late 1880s, softened through the use of draping and ruching, a gathered skirt with a slightly bustle, and touches of lace and velvet.

What do you think? Do the floral fabric and the softer touches manage to give a bit of youth and levity to what can be quite a stark, restricting shape? Do you like the combinations of fabrics and textures?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

54 Comments

  1. I like this dress a lot overall, but the lace inset at the shoulder doesn’t strike me as giving “a bit of youth and levity to what can be quite a stark, restricting shape”; to me it just looks odd. The insets on the skirt make better sense, but I think I’d like them better if they were a contrasting silk (in brown, say). I also like the velvet stand collar and bows. An 8 from me.

  2. Rachel says

    Hey, a dress I’m actually familiar with! I’ve always loved this one because it’s so strange and dotty – the cartoony bows, the contrasting Frankensteiny fabrics. But I think there’s something flattering about it as well, especially in the asymmetry. I don’t know, it might not be the most sophisticated dress, but it’s one of my favorites.

    9/10 because I like it that much.

  3. The shape of this is beautiful and I am really fond of the main fabric. So this would get a 9 if I could fool myself that the brown courduroy-looking velvet things were added by the Met. (If the lace was nicer it would be 10.) But the brown velvet combined with pink flowers on a blue dress? That’s just not a winning color combination. 5/10

  4. It’s a good concept, but the execution is, well, really unfortunate. Using two contrasting fabrics was a great idea, but why those fabrics? They’re absolutely horrible. I don’t like the velvet trim much either.

    If it was made in different fabrics it would be a bold, sophisticated dress and possibly quite attractive, but the twee fabric ruins that effect and the highly structured, asymmetrical construction simply doesn’t work for a sweet, girly look. 2/10.

  5. Tegan says

    What is going on with that shoulder? Even if it was symmetrical, I wouldn’t like it. I don’t like lace shoulder or back inserts NOW. They look cold, uncomfortable, and fragile in an area that gets a lot of movement. Because the rest of the dress is gorgeous, I’ll give it a 5.

  6. You’re just winding up the bow-haters now aren’t you? 😉

    This is an odd one. I don’t like the way the hem flies up behind, it makes me think of pet-en-l’airs at its most literal translation, much as I like those garments!

    I like the silhouette overall with the kickup shoulder puffs and fitted bodice. Not so keen on the fabrics – mole velvet, blue print and lace is quite a strange blend.

    I quite like the front view a lot, but think the profile is not good. It looks like the model would be permanently giving the impression that she just did a botty jerk in the face of whoever was behind her.

    Yet! The more I look at it, the more it kinda grows on me, despite all the reasons not to care for it overmuch. It shouldn’t work, yet it does. Despite all my conflicting feelings, I feel compelled to give it a 6/10 (as it’s either a 5 or a 7) and I think if the back of the skirt actually touched the ground or was more even, it would actually make a safe 8.

  7. Elise says

    I once heard Emma Thompson talking about the blue dress that Ang Lee chose for her character, Elinor, in 1995 Sense and Sensibility. He liked how ‘pinched’ it looked, and thought it appropriate. Honestly, I felt similarly looking at this dress. There is a sort of hesitation about it, as if the maker couldn’t quite commit. And the silhouette seems similarly pinched.

    6/10, because I want to be encouraging.

    • Elise: I don’t get the hemline similarity between Balfe’s Golden Globes gown and this one, but I do see one thing they do have in common. I think both gowns are meant to exhibit sexuality beneath an apparently prim exterior. (The side view of the 1880 gown’s bodice shows this best, I think). Unfortunately, what the 1880s gown gained in sex appeal it lost in overall beauty. Same with Balfe’s “boudoir” look, in my opinion.

          • Elise says

            No worries! Discussions are my favorite because I learn so much! And I have learned a whole lot from you!

            I was just happy to see so quickly a hemline treatment that really confused me on a real-life person who was moving. (many differences, of course, between 1825 and 2015, but the hem was similar)

    • Elise: I don’t get the hemline similarity between Balfe’s Golden Globes gown and this one, but I do see one thing they do have in common. I think both gowns are meant to exhibit sexuality beneath an apparently prim exterior. (The side view of the 1880 gown’s bodice shows this best, I think). Unfortunately, what the 1880s gown gained in sex appeal it lost in overall beauty. Same with Balfe’s “boudoir” look, in my opinion.

  8. Lynne says

    Oh, dear. My first thought was ‘wardrobe malfunction’, and I can’t seem to get that out of my head. That insert on the shoulder looks as if the dress has been ripped. Possibly during some extra-energetic 1880s dance moves?

    I like the basic shape (the bodice is beautifully shaped), and the main fabric is pleasant enough without setting the world on fire, but the velvet and the inserts? No.

    6 out of 10.

  9. Kathryn says

    1880’s does Start Trek TNG uniform. That is all I can see, and I can’t unsee it. It’s the asymetrical diagonal conrast panel off one shoulder that does it. Well, that and the military-esque shade of blue and the deep band collar. In this context, the bows are even more egregious than usual. They’re not even infantalizing in this case, they’re just…weird. They don’t fit at all. Why are they even there?

    But, the blue fabric is great. And I love the 1880’s silhouette. The inverted pekats are lovely, as is the contrast olive-brown velvet. The whole thing looks very skillfully sewn to boot. I give it a 7.

    Is it possible that the dressmaker and/or dress wearer was also a sci-fi geek? I don’t actually know much about the types of people who were fans of early sci-fi, and I think I want to go learn more now.

    • Kathryn says

      I don’t know why autocorrect made ‘pekats’ when I keant to write ‘pleats’. Apologies.

      • What are pekats even? I like the word, but it seems it actually is nothing, at least Google doesn’t know it; might not be autocorrect. 😀 Sometimes, I’m really surprised by the things that come out from underneath my fingers…
        Your thought about early sci-fi geeks is intriguing. I don’t know if there was a particular aesthetic to it at the time, and I’m inclined to think this has nothing to do with it, but Jules Verne definitely was very prolific…

        • Kathryn says

          I also doubt there was a particular aesthetic, I just got off on a fun train of thought. I’ve been meaning to learn more about Jules Verne, though, so thanks for the reminder. It seems this was also a useful train of thought!

          As for pekats, I guess we’ll have to chalk that up to human error!

  10. I’ve missed your posts, but I’m back with a bit of time and wanted to say… I love this dress!! I rate it an 8/10 for it’s daring asymmetrical shoulder lace insert and pairing navy floral with brown velvet. I love the brown + blue combo and find it inspirational for preppy every-day wear if it could be translated to a pair of bermudas in that floral and a nice brown blouse with a neat lace insert somewhere! Lots to love in this one. 😀

  11. I love the lace incert at the shoulder, and peaking through the skirt. To me it screams steam-punk but accurate! If I ever get to make a steampunk costume this would definitely be an inspiration. I’m not a fan of the front bows and flowery fabric though, but from a distance you can’t see the flowers. Still those details drop it down to an 8 from me.

    • And this goes to show that each Dress Rater has a different taste, because the flowered fabric is my favourite part of it! Well, actually second favourite: my first favourite is the rather clever draping of the bodice.

    • Elise says

      I can certainly see how this dress is a heck of an inspiration for a Steam Punk costume!

      (By the way, I had the wonderful delight of explaining “Steam Punk” to my dad over Thanksgiving. Very fun!)

  12. I mostly just find this one a bit odd. I don’t like the blue and brown combination and I’m not sure what the designer was going for with the lace inserts. I do like the silhouette. 2/10

  13. I mostly just find this one a bit odd. I don’t like the blue and brown combination and I’m not sure what the designer was going for with the lace inserts. I do like the silhouette, except for the puffy bits at the top of the sleeves and the way the hem comes up at the back. 2/10

  14. I really like the severity/simplicity of the silhouette, and I love the velvet details (yes! even the bows! ESPECIALLY the bows!). Personally, I’m not so keen on the lace shoulder, although I do realise that asymmetry was a big factor in late 1880s dresses, so 7/10 from me.

  15. I rather like the combination of colors and materials in this dress. There is one thing that is really bothering me though. There is formal symmetry in the skirt, but unbalanced symmetry in the bodice with where the lace is placed, making it look like the person wearing the dress is about to fall over. If it weren’t for the unfortunate placement of the lace on the bodice, this would probably rate a 9 out of 10 for me, but due to the lace, I vote:

    7 out of 10

  16. I think it would be fairly good, but for the somewhat odd placement of lace on the bodice. 6/10

  17. Nope. The lace shoulder overlay gives the impession that the seamstress ran out of the base fabric, and the brown trim is both an unattractive shade to combine with the navy and looks clumsily applied.

    The combination of fabrics looks utterly random (grab one from bin A, one from bin B, etc.).

  18. Nope. The lace shoulder overlay gives the impession that the seamstress ran out of the base fabric, and the brown trim is both an unattractive shade to combine with the navy and looks clumsily applied.

    The combination of fabrics looks utterly random (grab one from bin A, one from bin B, etc.).

    5 of 10

  19. I actually like this dress a lot! I love bows, basically on anything. I don’t find the shape to be too strict, I think it’s lovely, especially the modest gathering at the back. I love the fact that the hem is sort of flying at the back, it gives the dress a bit more girly feeling, like young woman hurrying to meet her friends or chasing butterflies on the field or what ever. I also like the lace inserts, even though the asymmetrical insert on the shoulder is a bit oddball.
    Over all I think it’s rather cute little dress, even though very fitted on the bodice. Only thing I don’t like is the colour choice of the velvet (or fine corduroy). Blue, light pink or even green or cream would have been better options. However, available options might have something to do with the selected colours. Even with modern selections we have, it’s not always possible to get the exact colour you are looking for. Just because the brown corduroy I say 8/10.

  20. Michaela says

    My first thought was yes; I actually like the color combo. The intention of the skirt insets is great, but UGGHHH. That shoulder. If it had been done in the velvet, it might have been better. So no on the lace, a very large maybe to velvet. Actually I like most anything in velvet.

    Overall, I really love the silhoutte, despite the slightly too large bustle put in the back. The sleeves are very nice, especially the cuffs, and I like the cut of the bodice.

    So 7/10.

  21. Emilia says

    I want to love it more than I do. Theis particular velvet bugs me, especially the bows, and the inserts strike me as less deliberate design choices and more repairs or coverups for problems. If the blue was solid, perhaps? The silhouette is graceful, I just wish the dress was moreso. 5/10

  22. I love the silhouette and draping and the pattern of the fabric is pretty. Not so crazy about the lace, though, and I think that the velvet would work better if was a different color. 6/10

  23. I like this dress overall. The lace is weird to me. I kind of wish the velvet bits were pink or even a midnight blue or black. 8/10. I need that floral silk.

  24. Lucille says

    The silhouette is wonderful, but the lace on thd shoulder simply looks odd. The bows also detract from the simple design, and the panel-pleat things would-in my opinion-look better in a darker color. Perhaps a deep red or brown to balance the blue.

    All in all, it isn’t horrid, but it isn’t fantabulous either. It is simply meh. 6/10 because of the silhouette and color being save-able.

  25. JessieRoo says

    Although I like each of the fabrics on its own, I’m not sure combining the lace with the velvet (which, by the way, looks to be much more of an olive green than brown to me) in one dress was the best idea. Both work with the main fabric, but seem a little at odds with each other. Nevertheless, I do like the dress over all. No, it’s not the most sophisticated design ever, but it is neat, simple, and reasonably practical. 8/10

  26. bovine queen says

    I love the silhouette. I have a photo of my great-grandmother in a similar dress. I live in her house, so I feel a kinship with her “time period”, hence my feelings! The shoulder insert is so weird though, so I must give this a 7.

    I usually dislike bows, but these match the cuffs and are not overwhelming, so I won’t discount any for them!

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