Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Frances Adeline in mauve

Last week I showed you an 1880s Worth gown in red, with elements borrowed from a number of 18th c decades.  Many of you loved the dress, but weren’t quite sure about the skirt trim (in most amusing ways), bringing the dress down to an 8.8 out of 10 – very good, but not the best Worth has done by far.

This week I present Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward in an early 1860s ensemble that consists of a what appears to be a skirt and swiss waist in mauve silk  satin, and a sheer blouse with puffed mamaluke sleeves.  The sheer blouse gives us an interesting, and fairly unusual, contemporary depiction of a visible corset cover or chemise.

Frances Adeline 'Fanny' Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, early 1860s

Fanny was the youngest child of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward.  She is most famous for her detailed diary documenting her life during the Civil War.  She’s also known for helping to save the life of her father, brother, and three other men when one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators attempted to assassinate him by stabbing him.  After the attack Fanny, who had been in the room with her ill father when the would-be-assassin crippled her brother with a blow to the head and burst in with a knife, bandaged the badly injured men while the only other un-injured person in the house went for a doctor.  Sadly, Fanny herself died of tuberculosis only a little over a year after the attack.

While Fanny was undoubtedly a fascinating, intelligent, and strong woman, today we are most concerned with her taste in clothes.  What do you think of the outfit she picked for her only painted portrait?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

(and Daniel, I swear I picked this out and had it written and scheduled before you dubbed last week’s dress the Fanny dress!)


  1. Although the blend of fabrics (including the shawl) is pleasing, and I rather like the sleeves, my automatic reaction to the straight-across line of the bodice is an emphatic “Nope!” It looks more like an architectural feature and about as comfortable.

    7.5 of 10

  2. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I was wondering about that!!

    I really like this outfit. It’s a nice combination of textures – crisp, dry tulle with lovely ruching and velvet baby ribbons with soft, supple silk satin/moire, and the shawl blends with the tulle in a very attractive manner. Her shoulders look VERY sloping and the sleeves appear very low set, so I wonder how well she was able to move her arms , particularly in such a delicate fabric as tulle. I actually get the impression that the straight-across trimming may be just under the bust, kind of a shelf effect, so that it’s not necessarily as uncomfortable as it looks. The overall effect is very pleasing, a pleasant outfit for a very pleasant looking person (which sounds condescending, but she does look smart as well as pleasant, and just a nice person to know.)

    I’m going to say 8.5/10 for this, as I agree that the stark line across the front looks a bit uncomfy and the very low set sleeves don’t really seem practical, even if it all looks very pretty.

  3. Cynthia says

    I personally like the dress she chose. It’s unique and the color is very lovely. I think she might have left the shawl off or chose something a little different. Considering the events that surrounded her life and family, it’s something I think the dress suits her.

  4. Anna says

    I gather that many people had mocked this outfit(of course, in an etiquette approved way). the proportions!the Swiss waist is practically a midbust. what a ridiculous cross between wearing a Swiss waist and a wearing underwear as an outside dress. scandalous! Speaking of scandal, the shirt. there’s sheer and Sheer, and it is absolutely inappropriate to show off the unmentionables like that.And sleeves, this multiple puffy style just looks weird with this outfit and it certainly wasn’t the most fashionable thing, so no excuse here. but i tried to see if this outfit was savable. A sensible jacket instead of lace shawl could do the trick, or maybe a Sontag of a fichu? the other way could be redoing this terrible Swiss waist into a dirndl-ish waistcoat, which wasn’t so common either but I’ve seen an actual fashion plate with a similar solution and it looked much better that this.
    In short, the outfit is terrible but not entirely hopeless 1,5/10

  5. Rachel says

    The thing about the Swiss waist is that it looks like a purple serving platter, with her the thing being served.

    That said, once I get around that, it’s a really interesting ensemble. I love the blouse. As over the top as the sleeves are, the blouse itself doesn’t feel that way, at least, not in a bad way and that stripey effect is really nice and –

    Hold on, are those tassels ringing the top of the Swiss waist?

    Why tassels? Weren’t the purple ruffles enough?

    Even with the waist weirdness, there’s still something about this I like. I’m guessing that it would hit contemporary eyes as being pretty outlandish, and those horrible little lampshade tassels… but I’m still confusedly drawn to the outfit.


  6. Amy says

    Wow, mashing the chest while adding ruffles!?!?
    Otherwise a gorgeous dress, I love the lace top and chemise showing through.

  7. I love the color of the silk–such a lovely shade.

    But I don’t like the transparent lace sleeves or upper part of the bodice. It’s certainly daring, but it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s kind of tacky–a Victorian sort of body display for the sheer sake of body display. Worse, the ruffle around the bodice *right at the nipple line* looks coarse and tasteless.

    A 6.5 out of 10. 1.5 of that is for inventiveness.

  8. Erin says

    I really like this. The combination of colors and textures, at least as they are painted, appeals to me. I like the contrast of the pleated band and the softer vertical stripes in the bodice. It may be common as I haven’t looked carefully at many 1860s dresses but I enjoy the way the ribbons-through-eyelet stripes are vertical on the bodice and become horizontal on her sleeves. I wonder if the painter heightened the white of the chemise for the sake of the composition. I agree that she looks interesting and ‘a nice person to know’ but she also, almost looks like she is suppressing a cough or trying not to inhale too deeply to me. I wonder how long she had TB. It may be far-fetched but I wondered if making the waist under-bust would help make breathing easier if she were already ill. As an aside: Weren’t evening gowns and fine blouses sometimes very translucent? Shows what I know- not much. I am thinking particularly of some dress descriptions in Little Women. Last question- could the style have been influenced by war shortages? I guess not likely as there is lots of fabric there.

  9. I like the skirt, and the colour, but the swiss waist is just awful with where it ends and the trim on it reminds me too much of 1970’s lampshade tassles.

  10. Buttercup says

    I definitely have mixed feelings about this one. I like the colour and sleeves but the lampshade trim under the bust just looks uncomfortable and more like a shelf. This one is a 4 out of 10 from me.

  11. Kathryn says

    Overall, fussy and overdone. As is, I really dislike it. Some other folks have made comparisons to lampshade fringe. I see it for sure. In fact, my mind’s eye takes it even further: not just the fringey lampshade, but the purple velvet couch covered in doilies sitting next to it. Bleh.

    But, when I look at it through a slightly different lens, I see Molly Ringwald and ’80s New Romantics, and that makes me a little more forgiving. It makes me see the edge in this outfit. Others call the revealing/body display nature of it too much, but I think it’s just right. I love the juxtaposition between the ultra-high neckline and the sheer fabric that shows off everything anyway. There’s a bit of a middle finger to the establishment there, and I cannot resist a young woman who has some subtle middle fingers to give out. Add a fedora and a single giant hoop earring, and this outfit would be perfect. 7/10

    • Kathryn: I rather like Fanny’s nerve myself–I agree that a young woman “who has some middle fingers to give out” is appealing. I just think the way she did it was kind of tasteless, that’s all.

      • Kathryn says

        Oh, dear, I apologize. I wasn’t trying to be down on anyone else’s critique, and I am sorry if it came accross that way.

  12. Johanne says

    Making a stand here for ethereal especially since it is a portrait, an invention of the painter’s brush from his model. The hands are his weakness, but that is the painter not the sitter. I love the romantic froth for a young woman, the beautiful color of the material, and the transparent bodice. The change to the eye from froth to the structural line of the bodice is abrupt and surprising. Sweet dress but not too demure.


  13. Sixer says

    Shockingly, I have no problem with where the waist ends (it looks in the painting as if it cradles, rather than cutting stiffly across like some of the bodice we’ve seen. A little strange for modern times, maybe, but not particularly uncomfortable), or the fact that her chemise is showing (probably it’s an historically inaccurate reference, but the King and I is my basis for appropriate bodice height on a bell skirt, and certainly this shows less than Ann’s dancing gown. It doesn’t seem subversive at all). I simply adore the pearly, translucent purple satin paired with the gauzy bodice and unbelievable sleeves. I don’t think the sleeves would be attractive to me in an opaque fabric — they are rather too much like great, overfed caterpillars — but they have a lovely softening affect here. My only real quibble is that Thing behind her, which seems to either be a discard wool throw or else a great asymmetrical bow. The color and texture are fine, but I don’t think this dress benefits from a large unsymmetrical back addition. Since it’s not 100% clear what it is, I’m only docking .5 for it. Which brings it to a respectable 8.5/10: I would love to try it on but I might not ever wear it out.

  14. Lyn Swan says

    I like this dress. The fabric is a lovely color and I do like the effect of the swiss waist/bodice. I did think the embellishment of pleating at the top of the swisswaist was a bit much, but have seen this sort of thing on other dresses from the period. My only real objection was to the stripes in the tulle of the blouse, but that is also quite appropriate to the time. As always, I try to set my modern sensibilities aside and look at the garment from my understanding of its context. So, for the dress, an 8.5. And for dear Fanny a 10. She appears to have been a young woman of courage who knew what she liked and was not afraid to go for it!

  15. Rose Crozier says

    The bodice is odd, and the neckline odd, but I like odd. It reminds me very much of the current sheer trend in shirts and yokes. The trim along the edge of the sheer part reminds me too much of a cushion though, so 7/10 overall?

  16. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI don’t have anything to say about the dress itself besides that I don’t really like it. I do appreciate what other people have said though about historical context to appreciate it from that standpoint and also the factual knowledge about the time period that has been shared.


  17. Emma says

    I’m not sure about this one. I’d like it better without the tassels and the gauzy sleeves. Also, the bodice neckline seems awkwardly placed so that she seems to be hunched over even though she isn’t.

    I do like the see through chemise? with the high neck. I think it contrasts well with the low neckline of the swiss waist. I also like the colour of her dress.

    Overall I think she looks pretty (mostly because she is pretty herself and the colour suits her), a little bit daring (because of the low neckline), but not very daring (because her petticoat covers absolutely everything, there isn’t even any cleavage to be seen and she’s covered from neck to wrist even if some of the fabric is see through.) She’s certainly interesting and I love her flowers. 6/10

  18. Kirri says

    I agree with Daniel that she looks like a nice person to get to know and I want to suggest we have tea together, but first could she change her dress as it would put me off my crumpets! Lovely colours but the combination of curtain pulled tight around her middle complete with tassels (still look like that to me although they may not be) then prison bars encasing her chest and neck… 4/10

    Btw, I think she would look stunning if she changed into that lovely red dress from last time.

  19. Lalaith says

    The color is gorgeous, but I’m concerned about the sheer top and sleeves. The ‘visible undergarments’ look is… not my favorite, so I rate this at 6/10. Sorry, Frances!

  20. I give this dress 8/10 because i just think it’s pretty… i could see myself on something like that, minus the puffy sleeve and the stripes on the sheer top. I think the whole thing would have been a lot prettier with a different neckline… maybe something that matched the chemise a bit more. The sleeves are just weird. I love all the different textures though!

  21. Lori Watk says

    I love paintings. Its one thing I study and study before making any comment. I immediately think lampshade. Much to my dismay I wonder if its the painter not the dress that made it that… stark. I can’t wrap my head around her wearing this dress, in any way shape or form. This would not only be a “middle finger” to the public (just using that because I’m at a lack of words for it) but to her own father and I sincerely doubt that would be the case after saving his life. I think a lot of this is artistic license, which would be the painter giving the public and her family the finger. I can’t think properly on this painting and by proxy the dress. So to be fair to the dress and myself — I’ll rate according to what I like, the color.
    7.5 out of ten for color alone, the painter ruined any other rating I could give.

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