Rate the dress

Rate the dress: married in purple poppies in the 1880s

Last week I showed a 1910s dress featuring draping in robin’s egg blue brocade and white lace.  Some of you loved it, only one of you hated it, and most of you found the fabric divine, but felt that the fabric handling was just a bit beyond the skill of the dressmaker, and the whole effect left the dress feeling unresolved and quite provincial.

It came in at a 6.9 out of 10, which is basically the Rate the Dress equivalent of saying “Well, good on you for trying”.  (and also, someone noticed that the skirt slit means it should  be added to the infamous Rate the Dress gallery of ‘dresses-that-look-disturbingly-anatomical-from-certain-angles (and ones by Charles James that look purposefully and unabashedly anatomical from all angles)’ )

This week I present another dress that features asymmetrical  skirt  draping, though this wedding dress, from an era when white was slightly less ubiquitous as a bridal colour, executes them in perfectly matched aubergine satin and damask, with taffeta ribbons and dark lace in complementary hues, rather than contrasting brocading and lace.

The dress is typical of the mid 1880s, with rich, dark colours, lush fabrics, and a mix of structure, asymmetry, and elaborate fabric manipulation, including shirring and ruffles.

A (sadly rather poor quality) detail image reveals that there is actually lace tucked into the drapes and bustling of the skirt, but it has been dyed a dark shade to harmonise with the main garment fabrics.

What do you think?  Was the creator of this dress a better fabric manipulator than last weeks?  Does the single colour scheme bring together the disparate design elements of the skirt and bodice?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I love the color of this dress–but then I’m usually fond of dark, saturated colors, including purples. The brocade is beautiful, and the lace collar and cuffs provide a restrained but elegant finishing touch.

    Unfortunately, the asymmetrical pleating, lace inserts, ruffles and shirring do not end up looking like innovative fabric design. They look more as though the dress had been carelessly stuffed into a trunk and not pressed or arranged properly upon its removal. The designer’s efforts to be bold and different are apparent, but the end result is disappointing–at least to me. A 6.5 of 10.

    • With regard to Leimomi’s question: “Was the creator of this dress a better fabric manipulator than last week’s?”, I think the answer is “She (or he) had better technical knowledge of how to execute a variety of techniques, but no greater amount of taste in trying to turn those technical exercises into a pleasing dress.”

  2. Elise says

    It reminds me of stockings that got one leg twisted when you put them on. Even if it’s all the same color, the asymmetry seems unbalanced, and makes me uncomfortable. Lovely color. 6/10

  3. I could almost echo Catherine Raymond’s comment word-for word.

    To recapitulate anway – beautiful color and fabric – the treatment of the skirt comes off as carelessly fussy (the first thing it reminded me of was flotsam on a beach). Also a 6.5 of 10 for me.

  4. I don’t know if it actually is crushed and limp, or just looks that way as an inherent part of the design. I really don’t like the shirring where it is, the way it is – the way it is very regular, combined with the assymetrical rest, pulls it all out of whack, I think. The bottom of the shirred section should have been assymetrical, too, to make the assymetry more obvious and more pleasing. Probably. In any case, I like it better from the back where there’s no shirring. Still no discernible “plan” to the drapery, though.
    The bodice is very plain and I like it much better than the textured skirt, which definitely reflects badly on said texture.
    It looks like an 1880s precursor to the cheap and flat attempts at “whipped cream” evening gown skirts nowadays (do you call it whipped cream in English, or is that a Czech invention?). And the bodice is neat. Once again, that supports what I once said on a Czech site concerning modern dresses like that with fairly nice bodices and awful awful skirts – that pleasingly arranged drapery and well-fitting boned bodices require completely different skill sets that may not always be found in one seamstress at once!

  5. Rachel says

    The color is beautiful, but the different textures feel very jumbled and not … segmented well? Parceled out well? The swag across the hips is really bunched up and the lower lacy swags feel sloppy. The swag disappoints.

    The band of really dense shirring (is that the shirring?; I’m not clear on all the right terms) between the swags is an interesting element. Smooth out the top swag, get rid of the middle lacy stuff, and just play around alternating the shirring and ruffles, and I think this would’ve been a good dress. That and darker lace up top. And maybe a belt.


  6. Unfortunately, the back of the dress has all the draping of a deflated balloon. I’m not sure if it’s the dress’s fault or the museum just didn’t have proper undergarments. It looks like it might be the dress’s fault because the bodice is more natural form in style. I do like the color (perhaps the bride was in half mourning? Or redyed her dress later? Both are possible for the time) but I think a lot of the skirt is simple overkill. 4/10

  7. This looks terrible. This has many reasons: the photography isn’t good, the presentation isn’t good, the light isn’t good either. The fact that its more than a century past its prime isn’t exactly invisible either with the lace and trim hanging down like a limp dead houseplant you forgot to water for five weeks. But even if you try to ignore all this and try to image this dress in its original state and glory (which isn’t easy, actually) it still wouldn’t be a 10. The fabric mixing is not a success and the lace is a bit much and the asymmetrical trim… I am not feeling them.

    I do try to believe that the asymmetrical back of the skirt is due to the presentation and not part of the design – because if I didn’t this dress would lose 2 points for that alone. So if I had to judge the version of the dress that only exists in my head in its probable “original” state it would get 8 out of 10.

    But what I see here? The proportions being so off in the first picture with the upper body being larger than the hips, the limp lace, the limp decoration, the color looking unappealing in whatever light they had…. well, let’s go with 8 because all that is not the dress’ fault, is it?

  8. Beautiful fabric, but I dislike the shirring, and the outfit as a whole appears messy. In particular, the pointed lower end of the bodice doesn’t work with the top part of the skirt. 5.5/10

  9. Gorgeous bramble-jelly purple, makes me crave blackberry jam and all the lovely things. I’m a bit confused about the skirt, though, as I can’t work out if it’s on or off-kilter, I think you’d always be whopping it six inches side to side if you were wearing it just because there would always be something slightly off balance. The asymmetry doesn’t quite work here as it’s not quite bold enough to make an appropriate statement.

    The skirt actually kind of looks like it has at least three bums and no fronts….

    Love the colour, and I love the overall effect of the fabrics, they feel rich and luscious, just like the colour, so I’ll give it 6/10. But this is NOT a dress for a woman with OCD, simply because of the surplus off-centred bustles.

    Mind you, I would be intrigued to know whether anyone has actually tried to produce a 1880s dress of this era/style with a skirt that could be rotated to look good (and different) from various angles.

  10. I like the color, but I think there is just two much going on in the skirt. 5/10

  11. For me, this is one of those 1880s dresses that looks fussy and overdone instead of structured and elegant. I don’t dislike the jacket, but the skirt really doesn’t appeal to me and the collar and cuffs make the whole thing look very frumpy.

    Looking at last week’s, I’d say the fabric manipulation skills of the different dressmakers are about equal. I tend to agree with Cathy – this week’s dressmaker was certainly capable on a technical level, but I don’t think she(?) had much idea about how to make the result aesthetically pleasing. Last week’s dressmaker was less inclined to go overboard with the detailing and the result is more graceful overall, but it got away from her(?) a bit. 3/10 for this week’s dress.

  12. Etta says

    I keep thinking of some sort of 1880s mermaid, rising from sunset-reflecting water… Who then got all sorts of nasty saggy, sea weedy, soggy detritus stuck on her lower half. I’m also not a fan of white lace on top, dark on bottom- too much color disparity for such a busy dress!

    I do love the color and fabric- silk brocade in such a delicious tone? Yes, please!

    5/10- an undecided score for an undecided dress

  13. I love the bodice, but the skirt is a mess. Asymmetry is supposed look planned, this looks like they grabbed a handful of tissues, dyed them and then threw them at the skirt. I especially hate the shirring which makes it look cheap.
    5/10 and that’s all for the bodice

  14. The colour is beautiful, the bodice is great, but to me the skirt is a mess. The assymetrical draping, the shirring, the different textures. It’s as if the bodice was finished and then the maker just decided to randomly throw all the remaining purple fabrics that was left in the stash on the poor woman wearing it. It’s a 5/10 from me.

  15. Love the color. Love the lace. Love the bodice. Hate the skirt…especially the shirring. Blich! 5/10. As I usually love Victorian this is a scathing review from me.

  16. Exquisite fabric and colour, and the front view is excellent. The back looks crumpled and misshapen, and the asymmetrical bustle is rather odd. Perhaps careless work by the museum, but they are usually very good indeed (I live about 25 miles from Manchester and have visited the costume gallery many times). Perhaps just a slightly weird use of gathers and drapes? 7/10

  17. Julia Ergane says

    LOVE the colour — HATE the dress. It really takes a special 1880s dress for me to go ga-ga — and this isn’t it. It looks smothering and very matronly.

  18. Lori Watk says

    Its an interesting “thing” (at a loss for a word there, sorry). That lace was not seen until pointed out. I like the color but not the dress, hence the “thing” remark. I generally love dresses such as these but this is “dress-wreck”. There is so much going on below the waist that it takes from it. 4/10

    • Lori Watk says

      found the word that I was searching for “chunky”

    • Lori Watk says

      Can I change my 4 to a 6? This has haunted me… oddly. I read the comments posted and I agree with almost everything. 🙂 I especially agree with “it must have looked right at that time period” or something along those lines. I imagine during that period in history this dress would have been coveted by others. Also, I love history and purple would have been a color that everyone would like to wear but royal decree wouldn’t have allowed *at least 2 to 3 hundred years before this dress was made. So the color would speak loudly and the use of a lot of fabric that color would definitely scream “I’m rich!” So I’d like to change my rate please.

  19. LOL…when I saw the (smallish) photo in my newsfeed, I thought it was modern steam punk. In which the asymmetric, overdone look is kind of intended. I think as a funky costume today it would be fabulous. But I just can’t see it in the period. 8 for current style, 4 for the poor Victorian lady who must’ve gotten COMMENTS on it give an average of 6 for a dress that needed to be schlepped to another century in the Tardis.

  20. apricots says

    As I scrolled down I saw the beautiful colour, the lace trim, the beautiful fabric which was shown off well, and I was a fan… until I kept scrolling and reached the skirt. The weird beaded look ruffling thing around the thighs does not work with the rest of the draping, and the draping at the back looks like a piece has billowed out of place and then just been sewn in there. The bottom of the skirt works but cannot rescue the rest of the skirt. 5/10, with the points all going to the beautiful colour and the bodice section.

  21. redbarngirl says

    I can’t help liking it overall, even after reading all the comments. I absolutely adore the bodice. The skirt works from the front to me. I wonder if it is a fault of the display and age that the whole skirt seems rotated about 6″. Perhaps there is supposed to be a bit of a puff on the other side to make it more balanced, one we can’t see because of the angle and the apparent limpness of the fabric? I imagine it made a lot more sense in its younger years. 7/10

  22. The bodice I like, it’s well fitted and has beautiful lined. The colour is beautiful. The skirt to me looks a bit like a patchworker with a strong sense of the avant garde had been experimenting. If they’d left the shirring out and carried mote of the damask around the skirt and tied up the bustle it would look better. Although the back did have a shape and form to it. And I don’t see the value of adding all the beautiful lace to the skirt and dyeing to match. It makes me wonder if they didn’t much like it in the original colour, there wasn’t time to rip apart and restitch the whole skirt so it was a practical approach to hiding the lace.
    I think perhaps the dressmaker was great at bodices 9/10 but not so great at complex skirts or handling mixed fabrics 4/10… giving an average of 6.5 / 10
    That being said if I attempted this I wouldnt know where to even start

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