Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: a belle in bows, 1898-1900

Oh dear…last week’s late 1860s Rate the Dress

OK, some of you did like it!  But it came in for some harsh criticism, and some pretty bad analogies: tongues, teeth & Daleks for starts!  And even most of you who did like it liked it in spite of itself.  Kit promised to “enter therapy and bind 40 half ovals as a penance” for her high score.  I’m kind of in the same boat.  I know it was awful, and yet, I felt it could have been really effective on the right person – if it only weren’t for the mess happening at the bottom of the bodice.  I can forgive ugly (as long as it’s effective) but I can’t forgive bad construction, so my rating would only have been a 5 – lower than your average score, which was just a tiny bit below the average of 5.9 out of 10 that it came out at.

I’ve kept within the same colour scheme this week: black and ivory, with just a touch of another colour.  This type, rather than last weeks very divisive marsala satin, the contrast colour comes in the form of soft sage green velvet.

While not as famous as her French counterparts, Mrs C Donovan was one of the most important American dressmakers of the late 19th century, and her gowns at times rivalled those produced by the great European houses.

This particular evening dress uses the sparkle of sequins and the lustre of the unusual silk to reflect the shine of the increasingly popular gaslights that would be lighting the ballrooms that it would have been worn in.  The tulle and lace insets in the skirt and bodice show the trend towards increasingly delicate and fragile female fashions at the turn of the 20th century.

What do you think?  Does this dress achieve balance between the heavy fabrics and structured silhouette of the late 19th, and the more ephemeral aesthetic of the Edwardian era?  If you didn’t know the designer, would you think Parisian couture?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. To me the top looks messy, the color scheme muddled and the main fabric looks better suited to heat-resistant mats. The basic shape is elegant, though. 6 of 10.

  2. Take the cream froth off the neck, the green velvet stick on bows & the black fussyness off the shoulders then pop the black lace shawl from last weeks dress over her shoulders it would be nice classic clean lines. 4/10

  3. Pam Plemouse says

    There is something un-french about it, something of more-is-more-ness. I like the scarab nature the shiny fabric and use of black netting; it may be fragile, but it looks like armour. It piques my adoration for villianesses. I like the pigeon-front and the sage bows prevent it from looking to costumey. Marks off for clear sequins and the likelihood that it can only be worn once or twice without damage. 7/10

  4. Goodness, I can’t see past the chainmail! I usually try to be positive but this just has too many disconnected elements for my taste. 3.10

  5. The green velvet seems to be fighting with the green velvet (maybe that was added later?), but I do love the “evil princess” aspect so much….8 of 10.


  6. Deanna says

    Huh. I really like the overall silhouette. And some of the elements (those perky little bows!). I admire the unusual fabric, yet it doesn’t seem the right choice for this dress. I like the sequined tulle as a concept, but the bodice embellishment just looks off with the rest of the dress somehow. The velvet frills at the shoulder look sort of wrong, too, yet the bows would look stranded without them. I think I might like the creamy froth at the top of the bodice if there were something different than the sequined tulle beneath it. The lace insets really enhance the lines of the skirt, but the lace doesn’t really seem to “go” with the skirt fabric. I like the satin sash that emphasizes the neat little waist, and the bow there is awfully cute.

    There are too many things that don’t seem to belong together, but the overall shape and lines of the skirt are so good.


  7. Gosh. I kinda like it. I think it’s got all the graceful elegance of an Edwardian gown without the sometimes rather silly poof-and-floomph that arrived soon afterwards. I do feel it looks a bit stiff and conical, even though the fabrics are soft and delicate, and I do get the “not-such-a-pretty-princess” vibe, but that’s no bad thing in my book. It looks tall and graceful and refined to me, although there is some clunky about the hem (probably bad shadows) and it’s not the best dress of its era.

    So I’m gonna say 7/10.

  8. The Internet seems to have eaten my post so I’ll try again.

    This is another love/hate gown. I love the sage green bows and the general silhouette. I don’t like the black/flesh tone contrast, or the coarse mesh over most of the skirt of the gown. If it were me, I’d lose the pale flesh ruffle at the top of the bodice and replace the coarse mesh on the skirt with solid black panels separated by bits of lace–or alternatively with fine black tulle and lace. And I’d lose the bow at the waist. It clashes with the shoulder ruffs and bows and even if we assumed it faded badly, there’s really no reason for it being there.

    A 6.5 out of 10.

  9. Wendy says

    I like the sage green velvet, and the overall cut of the dress. That’s it. The rest is yuck.

    Looks like someone raided their stash and put together whatever they had, to make a dress.


  10. Erin C says

    Something about this just screams “scratchy”. And even if it’s soft as baby alpaca, the chain-link fence look thing does nothing for me. I suppose the silhouette is alright?


  11. Aleksei says

    It’s a bit of a Monet. Far away, the lines are elegant. Up close, it’s a fussy mess. I like the random star sequined spots on the bosom, they’re delightful. The bows are dreadful. Whomever described it as chainmail nailed it. 4/10 for me.

  12. The dress has a lot of positives for it. I like the general style, I could definitely think it was Parisian, the bows add some colour without being too sweet and sugary. Unfortunately it’s all drowned out by the fact that my first reaction to the dress was “Is she wearing a colander as a skirt?

    So in total I can give it anymore than 6/10

  13. Lizzy says

    Overall the dress feels very disjointed. I’m not sure what bothers me the most. Someone went a bit crazy with the trimmings on the top, that’s for sure…..lol

  14. At first glance, it seems like the kind of thing a costume department would design for a saloon-owning madam in a 1950s, big budget western movie; the kind of madam that’s got impossibly red hair and a beauty mark and drinks whiskey for breakfast. Or someone had 30 pairs of fishnet stockings and didn’t know what to do with them. At second glance, it’s still just too pretend Hollywoodish for me. 5/10.

  15. Stephanie says

    It’s better than last week’s dress and I’m sure that it would look very pretty under gas lights, and I love the soft green of the velvet. But my overall impression is of chain mail, or fish scales, from the lace over the satin. 4/10

  16. Lauren says


    This one is just painful to look at, so any saving graces–apart from the nice silhouette that is visible at first glance–are lost on me, unfortunately. I can’t put my finger on what type of packing material the main fabric reminds me of. Not the absorbent pad under meat from a grocery store; maybe a filter from an air conditioner? not sure

  17. Kathryn says

    I could do without the Wild West Saloon lace rows at the hem, but the rest of it is pretty great. Love the colour combination, love the belt, love the weave on the main fabric, and I even accept the bows (but only because they look like sage green velvet, and also because they are a little more adult than your average overly sweet bow.)

    7.5 from me. It would have been higher without the cheesy hem.

  18. Johanne says

    I like it except for lace at hem which appears too heavy and disproportionate. Do like the rest including bows, glittering bodice and belt.


  19. I see a celebration of the new wave of architecture and industry. It reminds me of Edwardian metalwork, and I think that is incredibly cool. Industrial chic.

  20. It reminds me of those pop-tab “clothes” that were all the rage online among the repurposing types some years ago (I haven’t moved in those circles for quite some time, so I don’t know if they’re still being made or not).
    So that’s not exactly a favourable comparison for an evening dress. It doesn’t speak to me.

  21. At first I thought you were having us all on, and it was really one of those dreadful 1980s reproductions made of cheap polysilk and black net and the velour bows off last Christmas’s chocolate boxes.
    On closer inspection, I wish it that was true!
    4/10, because I’m sure it was eye-catching, and the silhouette is very nice.

  22. JessieRoo says

    Lovely silhouette, color scheme, and bodice trimmings. The edging for the lace panels on the skirt is kind of sloppy, and I am not sure about the hem treatment-and that might just be because it’s nearly impossible to see. But otherwise I love this dress, star-spangled pasties and all!

  23. Lalaith says

    The skirt looks like chicken wire. I thought of it immeditely after seeing the dress, and now I can’t get the image out of my head.

    Even were it made of something other than chicken wire, I’m not a fan of the color scheme or the shape.


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