Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1890s Lady in Red

For last week’s Rate the Dress I presented an extremely sweet and feminine late 1870s frock, as painted by Jules James Rougeron.  Some of you were uncomfortable with the way the paintings subject was presented as a purely ornamental object to be admired and inspected, rather than as a person, and some of you were uncomfortable with how long the skirts were, and the effort it would take to drag them around, but mostly you really quite loved it.  Not entirely though – there was something a bit off, like a dessert that is just sugar, with no flavour to balance the sweet, which, like the weight of the hem, dragged the dresses rating down to a nice but not amazing 8.4 out of 10.

This ensemble  from the FIDM  is just as fashionable for its period as last week’s frock, but quite different in mood.  The colour scheme has changed from sweet pastels to bold red and black.  The bustle has reduced, but the sleeves have ballooned into the extreme  gigot shape seen  in the middle of the decade.

The striped detailing on the enormous sleeves showcases the interesting grainlines of such sleeves, with the stripes running horizontally across the fullest widths, and wrapping around the slim lower arms in biased lines.

The striped sleeves are echoed in the lines around the pleated hem detailing, and in the narrow trim on the net collar which floats over the full bodice, working with the full sleeves and skirt to emphasise the narrowness of the waist.

This outfit is slightly more practical than last weeks, with a hemline that grazes the ground rather than trailing on it,  but it is equally an outfit meant to catch the attention of anyone who looked at it, and to be remembered as an outfit, not just a frame for the wearer.

What do you think? It’s certainly not subtle, but for a time when a woman wants her clothes to do the talking for her, do you think it says the right things? Is it bold and striking in all the right ways? Or harsh and garish and blunt?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Although gigot sleeves would drive me nuts to wear (I can only imagine the damage I could do to bric-a-brac brushing by), I can appreciate them as an art form, and these do seem beautifully artful in construction and design and nicely balance with the skirt hem treatment.

    My only quibble is the overlay of black gauze on the bodice. To me it makes it look “sooty”, and I think I would like something better defined as an overlay (maybe a black lace in a geometic motif?).

    9 of 10

  2. The dress is certainly a bold color and would look stunning on a dark haired and/or dark complexioned woman. I like the striping details (though I’m not wild about the ruffle around the bottom). I don’t know whether the belt was originally part of the dress or not, but it’s a nice touch all the same.

    On the other hand, I don’t like the black tulle dickey over the bosom very much. It diminishes the air of elegance of the outfit and adds an aura of cheap Halloween costume to it (at least for me). Overall, no more than a 7 (it would rise to an 8 without the tulle).

  3. Anna Marie says

    I like the black tulle overlay quite a bit! I’m going with 8.

  4. I love red, and I think red and black make a great combination, and I agree with Catherine that this would be a great statement dress for someone with dark hair or complexion. This dress certainly has some interesting details, but what bothers me the most is the sleeves. Fashion has certainly changed, and I might have worn them myself in that time period because they were fashionable, but in this case the sleeves remind me of drumsticks, and the whole dress makes me think of a lobster. (Sorry, I can’t seem to take this seriously today.) 😉 7/10.

    • Sarah: I agree with you somewhat about the gigot sleeves. They work best, in my opinion, for a tall well-proportioned woman. They look terrible on me personally, but I can appreciate RtD entries that would look terrible on me personally–and this is one of those.

      • I certainly don’t want to disparage that the sleeves are interesting in their own way, and might look nice on some people. I might actually like them as a style if they weren’t so big. (I still wouldn’t want to wear them personally :).) I think this is just one of those things of fashion that I just don’t really like in any way, though other people are certainly welcome to like them for me!

  5. Julia says

    I do like this outfit. I [or–at least–my 2016 self] cannot wish to walk around in such huge sleeves, but they are what makes the dress a “wow” [good or bad] and not just a “nice dress”
    And the despised lace collar/dickey-thingy? perhaps a fashionable, small-busted woman wants to improve her silhouette without resorting to bust-improvers?
    (It’s so hard trying to see with 2016 eyes, what is beautiful in another era.)

  6. Stephanie M. says

    I love this dress. I like the tulle collar and think that it would be gorgeous in movement. It is kind of blah on a mannequin, but it would subtly flutter with each breath and air current. The striped sleeves are wonderful. from the front they are a great statement, but from the back the diagonal lines give a sense of energy and length, like the sleeves are pouring out of the bodice in a molten chocolate sort of way. I like the restrained ornamentation on this dress and I think that the ruffle ties it all together. 9.5/10.
    On a personal note, as a tall, dark-haired woman with broad shoulders I could totally rock this dress. But please protect your knick-knacks, as I fear it would take me a while to learn the proportions of those sleeves.

  7. I’m sort of ridiculously in love. Red is my signature wardrobe colour and a shade this bold and beautiful gets two enthusiast thumbs up from me.

    Thank you for another splendid historical fashion share.

    ♥ Jessica

  8. Rachel says

    It’s interesting how it’s simultaneously pinched and explosive. I quite like the sleeves as objects (particularly from the side, and particularly the fitted sections on the forearms) but not as sleeves.

    I’ve never had a problem with thick black belts, but I do here. It just looks so angry. Those huge sleeves and that stiff wedge of a skirt, and then that tiny little blocky belt. The toothy pleats. The petite Cyclops eye of that brooch. I’m anthropomorphizing way too much, but this is a furious dress.

    On the other hand, it’s cherry red. And there’s something I really like about the black net on the bodice. And the pleats aren’t bad on their own.

    For me, it would be easier to love with different (but still striped) sleeves. And while I like individual things when I study them, and I like the dress more as I get used to it, the initial impression is still very blurgh (for me), and that has to count for a lot.


    • Elise says

      Pinched yet explosive. What a great expression. Personally, I dislike the dress very much. I know that this was a “more is more” period, but it looks jarring and sort of try-hard to my eyes, no matter how well constructed. 4/10

    • Kathryn says

      I did things a little differently today; I read through the comments before really examining the dress myself. No particular reason for it, it’s just what I did. But it’s a fun way to approach Rate The Dress, I have to say! Your *fabulous* description here basically made me picture Gossamer from Looney Tunes, so that’s the image I had in mind when I finally looked closely at this thing.

      While I don’t quite agree with the angry vibe you get off this dress, it is definitely hgh-energy. I actually like it for the most part, for many of the reason others have already shared, like the interplay between the striped sleeves and the black overlay on the bodice. My main criticism is of the ruffle at the hem. I know it’s meant to echo the striped sleeves, but where the sleeves are all heat and motion, the hem is just static and somehow plain. It’s like slamming one brakes for me. Jarring. Overall, though, 8/10

  9. It’s garish. The red is lovely and the black contast could have worked but the striped sleeves tip this over from bold into too bold. 5/10

  10. Without knowing this was an original dress, I would have guessed it was one of the film costumes created for Crimson Peak!! I’ve not seen the film but I have seen some of the costumes and other GREAT costume shots and this dress looks like it would fit in seamlessly alongside them,

    The skirt shape does somewhat bug me – I’m seeing a bit too much of the centaur bustle of the previous decade, and can’t decide if that’s a hold-over or a mounting decision, although the skirt does seem to be hanging just fine and draping appropriately so I guess it’s just a lingering bustle.

    I love the striped sleeves but kind of wish there was more of the stripe elsewhere, although I do like the overall relative simplicity. And having said that, I just looked closer and realised that band around the bottom of the skirt is actually the same stripes, and not a really deeply box-pleated ruffle – CLEVER. Clever, clever, clever. That makes me love the dress more, because it’s cheaty, but it’s cheaty in a pretty fantastic way.

    Plus, I like her handbag and gloves, even if I’m not sold on her hat, but the ensemble as a whole is excellent.

    As a costume for a Gothic horror film, it is absolutely spot on perfect. As a dress, I can’t help wondering if it is just TOO costumey/blatant, as there isn’t an awful lot of subtlety about it, the cheeky trompe l’oeil effect of the skirt hem more a lucky accident than a deliberate trick, I suspect.

    So. As a costume, 10/10. Easily. As a dress – hmm, depends who wore it and whether she could work it, but I would say probably 7/10 – I love red and black, but I feel this is quite a difficult dress to wear without its wearing you back, and it’s quite brash, so, splitting the difference, let’s say 8.5/10?

    • Crimson Peak was my first thought as well! I’ve never liked gigot sleeves, but I appreciate them a lot more after seeing that movie.

      I love the colours, but I don’t think the placement of the stripes and the various bits of gauze work very well. The bodice looks quite odd completely covered in that ruffle, especially when flanked by two enormous red bees.


      (And I do recommend Crimson Peak! So much good aesthetic, and it isn’t really a horror film!)

  11. What a dress! Quite stunning and certainly memorable, though I rather think it’s too bold, even for the 1890s. I give it 9/10, because I do love the silhouette and I really want to steal the belt and buckle for my own, but it borders on garishness.


  12. Lyn Swan says

    I would love to meet the woman who could carry off this dress! Black and red always makes a staement. I have to admit that this era is not my favorite…the here is jus too much cloth and the sleves are so big! That said, these are done with exceptional skill. Daniel, when I saw your comments about the “faux pleats” I said What?…upon examination I am amazed to see that you are indeed right. It would be interesting to know whether or not the “pleating effect” was intentional. As a costumer, I agree with your comments…a fabulous costume. It would be great on stage. So…8/10…

  13. Elizabeth says

    Red is my favourite colour, and those are some beautiful shades of red, however the placement of the stripes on the sleeves and the hem reminds me uncomfortably of both Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts and also some kind of ladybird-like insect. Despite liking the colour and silhouette therefore, I can only give it a 5/10

  14. I love it! Wish I were young and thin enough to pull that off! Those big sleeves in that color would add 50 pounds to my already fluffy frame! 9/10

  15. mom says

    I LOVE this thing (and a big THANK you to Mr. Mom, who has taken the baby for a walk so I can actually comment and rate a dress – first time in months, I think).
    The bodice + sleeves are fabulous, 10/10.
    The skirt bit is slightly less gorgeous; the shape of the skirt looks wrong, somehow, maybe something a bit slimmer might do the trick?
    The trim looks a bit boring, something you might find in soft furnishings. There HAS to be something special to balance out the fabulous top + sleeves, but THIS? I don’t know. Unfortunately, I am too hazy with sleep deprivation to think of something clever myself.
    Still, 9/10, a sight for sore & bleary eyes, and I know what I’m speaking of. 🙂

  16. Etta says

    It’s hard to be indifferent to this one. I know a lady who would absolutely look lovely in this- red and black (and sometimes white too) are her favorite colors- to fit with her incredible force of nature personality. I’m not sure I’d like this dress as much if I couldn’t picture the wearer so clearly. Such a bold combination would overwhelm most people. The effect and skillful creation is pretty impressive. I usually think those gigot sleeves are overpowering and ridiculous, but they actually really add to this impressive piece. It’s so crazy, in-your-face confident I have to respect it, if just for audacity’s sake!


  17. My first thought when seeing this was Bride of Dracula, or that it belonged in some kind of Gothic horror story. I’m not a fan of horror stories, but I am a big fan of bold dresses, and this surely is a bold dress. I can’t give it anything other than 10/10.

  18. Lori Watk says

    ..UUUGGGGHHHH! Okay that said, I hate it. I know I know! Let me explain —
    I hate red. Its one of two colors I can’t wear. Which you would think I could since I’m Italian and have dark skin and hair. But a big fat NOPE! I simply hate red itself. I have a ton of children and red is a color I never let them wear or that I wore around them. It makes children angry, I’d state that it was scientifically proven but I remember reading something about it when my oldest son was young but I can’t prove it. SOOOO I can’t state that firmly.
    Since I hate the color, it spills straight into this dress. However, I also hate stripes.
    UUUUGGGGHHHHH! I can’t get past that color, its like a huge bowl of cherries exploded and stained the dress and they ran with it. I got it! Professor Plum killed Miss Scarlet in the library and this dress was the crime scene. Or was the dress the murder weapon. LOL! Okay I’m getting off course. Or am I?
    I’m assuming a great deal here. I think who ever this dress was made for was short. That torso, I mean bodice.. um… **shiver** Wait?! would Mrs. Claus wear this if she was in mourning because Santa died? I’d almost bet this was a Christmas dress, which is very unfortunate. That lace bib over the bodice… **shiver**
    The only thing on this dress that I can like is the……. wrists. My eye goes straight to them. I like that part and only that part. I hate the poufy part of the sleeves, blah! I can’t deal with that bodice it looks like a bib for the poor woman. The color, I expressed that feeling. OH! I just remembered what this dress reminds me of… A cigarette butt. I know! You ever been driving at night and someone throws out a cigarette. The fire sparks and then fades to black. That’s it! Its like the lit end of a cigarette. Maybe that’s why I have such strong hatred of this dress? I just can’t wrap my head around this dress. WOW! I literally couldn’t! Bride of Dracula. Bride of the grim reaper, bride of ewwww. That bustle, she’s smuggling out small children. the stripes at the bottom, ewwww. Its like they grabbed a table cloth off the table and threw it over her head, she chewed thru it and let it fall. Ewww!
    Okay, apart from the cigarette butt, I’m going to throw this dress a 3 out of 10. Points given for entertainment value. I can see this costume in a Dracula movie.

  19. Julia Ergane says

    My maternal Grandmother would have absolutely ***ROCKED*** this dress!!!! She could have been one of Gibson’s models. Anyway, I love it! Red! Black! YUM! Maybe the sleeves could be a bit smaller; but, what the heck! 10/10

  20. Sonja says

    I don’t really like gigot sleeves in general, but I like the stripe-and-net details on these ones. I don’t quite like the black netting on the bodice either. I’ll say 7/10.

  21. The boldness of the red and black really sways me, I can even look past the giant sleeves. I like the size of the bustle too! 9/10

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