Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1871 butterflies & bows

For last week’s Rate the Dress I showed you menswear, and like most menswear Rate the Dresses, it wasn’t that popular in terms of votes and comments – it’s not that those that commented didn’t like it, just that very few of you commented.  I think we don’t really know what to do with menswear.  We’re so used to it being boring that super exciting and embellished historical examples are a bit weird and scary, and more restrained historical examples are, well, boring.

The 1840s summer whites of last week straddled the line between weird and boring, but did it fairly well, so, despite slightly odd proportions, and an overall pyjama-y look, they managed a quite respectable 8 out of 10.

I knew exactly what kind of dress I wanted to show you this week, but every example I found was in white or ecru, and I thought that, as a contrast to last week, I should probably find something that was a colour.

In the end, I’ve succeeded in finding an option that 1) isn’t quite what I was looking for, 2) is still mostly white, and 3) has small, not fantastic quality photos.  But, it is a fantastically interesting garment, so hopefully that will make up for the first three!

This early bustle dress byMmes Kerteux Soeurs (a Parisian fashion house that lasted from the late 1860s until the 1910s, and supplied dresses to the same client base as Doucet, Pingat, and even Worth) from the Museum of London features pink and white striped silk, with a front ‘apron’ of the same silk embellished with wide pink silk ribbons with lace butterfly motifs.  The same ribbon and lace trim fans out over the bodice, and an elaborate pink and black silk bow or rosette ornaments the waistband.

At the back of the dress, the skirt front closes over the fullness of the  back skirt, fastening with bows of pink and black.  The ornamentation of the bodice front has also carried from front to back over the shoulders, turning into a wide bertha effect.

The use of the wide striped front piece, with stripes that turn at the corners of the panel is almost reminiscent of late 17th and early 18th century mantua (such as this example, or this example), with both the layout of the stripes, and the layering of overskirt and underskirt inverted.  Here, the stripes form corners at the top of the skirt, rather than the bottom, and the front of the skirt drapes over the back, rather than sitting under it.

Whether the historicism is intentional or not, this dress is certainly an interesting example of the transitional styles of ca. 1870, with  the wide elliptical hoopskirts of the 1860s moving into the back emphasis of the first bustle era.

What do you think?  Is it fresh and interesting, and would the wearer have looked quite fetching at her ball, or is it just fussy?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Love the effects of the stripes in the back. Not a big fan of the bodice but the front skirt contrasting with the back is beautiful. Oh, and half a black bow?? Wonder what inspired that addition. 🙂

  2. Tracy Ragland says

    The black bows are jarringly out of place and I’m not all that fond of the bodice, but I love the skirt! Especially the back with the contrast between the striped silk and the butterflies. I really love the early bustle look and like this example a lot. I give it 7/10

  3. The fabric is beautiful, but the way it’s used in this outfit does strike me as fussy. Actually the dress is fine but the ornamentation is just wrong (from the black bows and flowers to the way the lace trim is used). A 5 out of 10, because I’m feeling generous.

  4. ProfessorBats says

    It’s frustrating not to be able to zoom in on some details and the front part fabric motif. I did a double take on those two vanilla cream and raspberry stripe fabrics, at first glance thinking it was all one fabric. What an interesting construction with the wrap-around effect of the skirt, and a similar wrapping and V shape formed on the bodice! A bit saccharine for me overall, not sure if I find the addition of the half-black bows actually help or not. Maybe it was more pink and white, less cream, originally, in which case it would all (black accents included) popped with much more freshness. I like the transitional barely-yet first bustle skirt shape, but I’m less in love with the still somewhat low-shouldered bodice cut of those years. It somehow makes it too girly for my taste. Vote: 6.5

      • ProfessorBats says

        I’m glad you did! I don’t remember ever seeing this one before.

  5. Belinda says

    Having the bertha detail at the back of the bodice is rather cool, I think, and I even like the black and pink bows for giving it some sass and rescuing it from being fussy, but I’m just not sold on the corners of the ‘apron’ meeting at the back. Something about it just made me think of someone folding up a picnic blanket and the poor wearer of the dress being caught in the middle. Especially with the lace on the edge of the apron… it doesn’t echo the bodice so much as look like the fringe on a blanket. So I feel I have to cap the score at 7. For blanket-ness.

  6. My first impression was “really nice, but kinda meh” – then I saw the back view, and suddenly the whole of the dress made perfect sense. I rather like the geometric quality of the stripe placement and the shawl/blanket effect of the front of the skirt. Given its period I don’t see it as fussy, it’s actually quite restrained for its time. Almost a bit too restrained, perhaps? But I love how the top layer is wide pink stripes with narrow white stripes, and the back/underlayer is reversed. It’s really quite a subtle dress in several ways – it repays looking at, because the first impression is indeed a bit underwhelming, but then you look at it and start noticing the little details, such as fabric use, stripe angling, etc.

    It’s not quite a showstopper for me though, so 7.5/10.

  7. Buttercup says

    I don’t like it much. It just looks disjointed to me. The different fabrics, black bows, for some reason it looks like she has a tablecloth tied to her. 4 out of 10

  8. Gillian Stapleton says

    I love this – it makes me think of raspberries and cream. Just the right balance of shape and proportion and the black adds an extra surprise of colour. I also greatly admire the museum’s recreation of hairstyle and accessories (I know we’re not meant to be judging this, but it adds so much to the overall impression). 9/10

    • I just want to say I am much, MUCH happier at people complementing the recreations when done well than complaining about poor presentation! Acknowledging good work is so much nicer than whinging about something that is almost always a result of time and money constraints!

  9. Sixer says

    It is hard to comment on menswear. On the one hand, I know from my brothers that finding interesting guy clothing is next to impossible at a mass market level and I feel for them, but on the other hand I don’t pay attention to modern fashion in general. It’s much easier to rate from a perspective of “would I wear that” than “is that artistically sound,” and the next most natural thing is “does that make practical sense based on a knowledge of figure and function” which again is not something we often get male perspective on.

    Now, for the dress actual. I love the shape of the back! The almost bustle effect of emphasis, the contrast between the downward points and upward shoulders, the long stripped train. 4.75 for that half, then. Quarter a point taken becasue, what in the world were they thinking using black in the bow? And that is a rather over sized monstrosity in and of itself. The front is rather tame, as noted, and the bodice looks rather awkward. Is it just the photo? Was that the desired effect for this time period? Is the bow somehow creating the illusion of more depth than the top can comfortably fit? A 3 for the front then, not bad but would take some work to fix. I think I would tack down the bodice lace for starters, and then replace the bow with something that matched.

    Total: 7.75, rounded to 8.

  10. Kate says

    The front was pleasant, though the large rosette seemed waist-eating to me. Then I saw the back and fell in love. 9/10

  11. Lalaith says

    It makes me think of someone’s Very Nice Great-Aunt who always has those strawberry candies in her purse. 9/10.

  12. Love the interplay of stripes and the general shape, but those half-and-half bows at the back are actually alarming, since they remind me of an attack by birds. 7.5 of 10

  13. Angela says

    This dress evokes the adjectives fresh and charming for me. I imagine a rosy cheeked girl on her coming out. I love the unexpected black bow and find it all very sweet and restrained. 10/10

  14. Charlotte says

    This dress is delightful! I like the slightly historic feel of the apron and the front bodice, and the contrasting stripes in the back make the bustle look lighter and more youthful. I prefer the bertha in the back…come to think of it, the dress is kind of like a mullet- business in front, party in back. Great colors and patterns- the black is a little shocking, but can be forgiven. 10/10 because it is two dress I would like to wear in one!

  15. First impression was gorgeous, then I looked closer. I think the contrast in stripes from front to back is a little too much and the black bows really need to be pink or cream, despite that though I love the lines

  16. Love it. How could we not love butterflies, elegant stripes swooping in graceful lines, clever back to front and front to back transitions? I suspect the extreme contrast of the black with the rest is either the colour balance of the photo or one of those uneven fading over time issues. Having failed to photograph a dress I have just finished that is black with red and green applique, because the black just jumps out so much, I think it is that.
    It is delicious. 10/10

  17. Kirri says

    I don’t like the contrast between the two stripey fabrics, however I really love the apron and the way it ties in the back, very saucy! What really brings it down for me though is the half black/half pink bows which make it so unbalanced. 4/10

  18. Charlotte says

    Not keen on the bows or the stripes. 5 out of 10

  19. Ack! I meant to rate last week’s, but ended up getting busy and completely forgetting.

    I rather like this one. It’s totally over the top, but fashion in that era was a go big or go home kind of a deal, and this dress is a fine example. I particularly like the apron. It’s a nice combination of historical and innovative, and it does a good job of unifying the skirt and bodice. Plus, the colours are lovely. 10/10

  20. I like the bertha effect in the back. I am not quite sure about the black bows, but I will go for it. I don’t like the rosette in front either. I think I prefer the stripes that are in the back to the ones in front, but anyway. 7/10


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