Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: An Empress in Tiers, 1886

The rate the dress of 7 days ago was a vivid green 1910s number, with black lace over-tunic, paired with a belt that, as it turns out, didn’t necessarily belong to the dress, and inexplicable modern necklace.  Whether you liked it or not hinged on how you felt about the colour (deliciously vivid vs. gaudy), and your attitude towards the white neckline filler (refreshing vs. abrupt).  Despite a few people who really weren’t fond of the colour or silhouette (or very obvious hem), it came in at a quite pleasing 8.2 out of 10.  Very nice!

This week, we’re going from bold green to soft pastels paired with  dark neutrals, but keeping with the theme of lace overlays, albeit in a very different mood.

This mid-1880s dress with unusual asymmetrically tiered skirt comes from the wardrobe of the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (aka Dagmar of Denmark, aka Princess Alexandra’s little sister).  You’ve rated Maria Feodorovna here on Rate the Dress before, and  this dress seems in keeping with her taste as demonstrated in other paintings and photographs: extremely feminine, and heavy on the lace.

Dress worn by Empress Maria Feodorovna, 1886-87, The State Hermitage Museum

Dress worn by Empress Maria Feodorovna, 1886-87, The State Hermitage Museum

The skirt of this dress is, admittedly, extremely frilly, but the bodice, despite the bows and lace, gives off an impression of simplicity and tailoring.

Does the outfit  manage to balance itself, and create an overall harmonious impression, or is this outfit just a terrible mess of discordant ideas?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Oddly enough, even though objectively, element by element, I might take point after point off, for some reason I find the whole remarkably pleasing. There was an instant mental image of a Renoir painting, especially the Impressionist feeling of the softness of the lace and the floral fabric. The simplicity and severity of the bodice for me acts as an effective anchor rather than a distraction.

    10 of 10

  2. I totally agree with the poster above. The skirt especially is the kind that would normally make me wonder if she lost a fight with a pair of curtains, and yet I just totally love it. There must be a perfect balance to add so many frilly elements, and still come out looking so classy. 10/10

  3. Well, I like the silhouette. 🙂

    I think my problem with this one is that there are too many different things going on at once. The lacey tiers of pastel flower print, the severe, dark velvet with the dark bow, and the odd little scallops of pink and orangey-red at the hem. It just adds up to a confusing mess, rather than beauty, as far as I’m concerned. A 6.5 (the .5 is largely for the designer’s attempt to experiment and come up with something wonderful and unusual).

  4. It’s strange, I see where they sunk money and care into this dress but it doesn’t really grab my attention. It looks pleasing but if I passed it in a museum’s case I would quickly move on to more interesting pieces. I wish I could get a good look at the lace though because that’s the only thing I really wonder about. 7/10

  5. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI like the bodice, although I think there could be just a little less lace down the front. The skirt looks nice, except I don’t understand the scalloped trim at the bottom. I would’ve liked it better without that. The combination between the two parts has grown on me. So taking a little off for each of the “flaws” in each section and a little off for slight incongruity in my mind at least between top and bottom. (I think a lighter brown would have pleased me better) 6.5/10 (In large part to that scalloped hem)


  6. Charlotte says

    I love the shape of the silhouette, the neat jacket and the perfectly placed swags of the skirt are great. It’s the pattern on the skirt fabric that obscures the lovely shape for me. If the skirt was in a solid colour, maybe matching or tone on tone to the jacket (but a different fabric, say a taffeta or heavy silk), it would be inspired. I love the lace frills. I love the fit of the jacket. I hate the curtain pattern.

    7/10. It would totally be 10/10 if the skirt wasn’t patterned.

  7. Charlotte says

    I love the bodice, I hate hate hate the skirt. 6/10

  8. Tracy Ragland says

    I really don’t like the hem treatment at all. While I actually love the perfectly tailored bodice with the über-frilly skirt, adding the scalloped element seems wrong. 7/10

  9. MayravB says

    As I scrolled down, it went from, “Ooh I love it” to “Oh no, no no!” right around the waist. Oddly, though, I really like every element on its own, and think it could be the centrepiece of a VERY cool 10/10 dress. Except the print, which makes me think of twee 80s curtains. Brown velvet with floofy lace? Would make an excellent riding habit. The draping on the skirt with the lace? Beautiful! The coral-y scallops could be amazing trim on a ballgown. But all together I think it looks like a thrift-store frankendress! So…3/10.

  10. If it weren’t for the matching lace I’d assume they just paired a random skirt and bodice together. The skirt looks awkward and overtrimmed, and the colours don’t work well at all. The bodice would be quite lovely if someone hadn’t spilled mashed potatoes all down the front of it.
    I do like the velvet and the little buttons, and the scalloped hem is pretty, but they don’t belong in the same outfit.


  11. Lynne says

    I’m with Cyranetta. While I might find things I don’t like about it, the whole thing works, and is generally pleasing to the eye. Even the scalloped dags at the bottom, in the darker colours, pull the whole confection back to the dark top.

    9 out of 10

  12. That skirt looks like Laura Ashley curtains. The jacket goes some way towards balancing the over-the-top skirt, and the colours harmonize well, but I can’t look at it without thinking of Laura Ashley curtains. I’m afraid I’m going to have to deduct points for that. I really don’t like the dags along the hem either. 5/10

  13. I like the skirt. I like the bodice. But they don’t really work together, IMO. I feel like the texture and draping of the skirt and details of the lace would be more apparent if it was a solid color. 6/10

  14. Zeila says

    An empress can afford to be a little over the top, but I just can’t make my eyes blend these two ideas together. It’s like she woke up with her ball gown still on and quickly threw a jacket over it to make it in time for her next engagement. Clothing is about first impressions and this one is more of a double take.

    • I adore the bodice! But, my personal preference is matchy-matchy and I would be happier with a skirt made of the same material. The skirt of this outfit would be nice with a ball gown bodice (same material) for a young girl. Not together. 6/10. (I love how Zeila put it-woke up in her ball gown!)

  15. I really love this dress, the combination of velvet, florals and lace. I do like how it’s done in more earthy tones, if it’d be in sweeter colors (pink) I’d not like it nearly as much. The only thing which bothers me about this are the scallops at the bottom, they don’t really seem to fit with the rest. 9.5!

  16. It’s hard not to look at a period garment through 21st century eyes. When I look at this lovely dress, I see an incredible amount of skill and craftmanship which I so admire. I also see someone who perhaps for the time was willing to take a risk (which often scares me) to try putting different elements together and to my eye, she was successful. Just as today when I look at runway fashion, I often think “Wow!!”, but I could wear that. The same with this dress, I never feel comfortable in lots of ruffles, but at the same time I think they are beautiful. So I give this dress a thumbs up!!

  17. Rachel says

    Aw, my comment got chewed up somewhere between me hitting post and it appearing on-screen. Short version is that I love the tiers but not the skirt’s fabric.


  18. Susanne Hughes says

    Bodice 10/10, skirt 6.5/10. I love a flounce with the best of them, but this is too flouncy for me.

  19. Grace Darling says

    Truly scrumptious! What funny little ‘dragon scales’ on the hem….would they
    have been added if the dress was handed down to a taller person?

    I like the whimsy of the whole effect and the summer into autumn
    feel of the mix of textures and colours.

    Wouldn’t need to wear a lot of jewellery either, just a nice pair
    of ear-bobs.


  20. It reminds me of a painting, looks better from a distance when all the elements become a harmonious whole. Up close you start noticing things that are a bit much like the lace on the top and the scalloped hem. I’m going to go with the long view though and from that point I love it

  21. Murgatroyd says

    The dark brown of the bodice does a great job of offsetting the florals in the skirt, but the lace is just a bit too OTT for me. Also, the scalloping on the hem is a bit strange. 7 out of 10.

  22. My first impression: velvet bodice is incongruent with the sweet floral and lace skirt, which looks spring or summerish to me.

    Next impression…what on earth are those scallopy things at the bottom, in colors that look more orange/rust than the pink/reds in the print? Perhaps they’ve yellowed over time?

    I rather like the bodice and, as someone else mentioned, it would be great as a part of a riding habit. I like the skirt…minus the scallops…if it had a summery wear-to-a party bodice.

    The scallops I don’t like at all.

    6/10, with a couple of points added for the skill needed to sew it up.

  23. Lyn Swan says

    I want to like it, and as others have said there are elements I like, but over all it is a hot mess. That is, just too much going on for me! Obviously well constructed from quality materials.

  24. Lalaith says

    The top and the bottom look like they belong to different dresses and were sewn together by mistake. The skirt, however, is lovely. 4/10 for the skirt.

Comments are closed.