Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: an interesting take on late 1860s

Guess who forgot to do Rate the Dress last night?  Yep, me.  In my defence, it was a public holiday in Wellington, and my brain got stuck on Sunday mode.

So, a few hours late, but here you go!

The overall consensus on Vionnet’s green harlequin dress was that it, like everything Vionnet made, was practically perfect in every way.  It got very hard to keep track of the ratings, there were so many 10s in a row!  The neckline treatment, and alternating grainlines, came in for particular praise.  But a few of you couldn’t get Robin Hood out of your brain, and others assumed it was as simple as it looks (!), pulling the rating down to an exceptional, but not quite perfect, 9.2 out of 10.

As a follow up to Vionnet’s diamonds and simplicity, this weeks Rate the Dress is an elaborate late 1860s confection featuring as at least as many half-oval scallops as Vionnet’s dress featured diamonds.

The dress silhouette shows the transition from the late 1860s full elliptical crinoline, to the bustle of the 1870s, which in this instance creates the illusion of an exceptionally high back waist.  It’s possible  that the dress originally had a sash or other waist feature which is now missing.

The dress may also have had an alternate bodice, or a guimpe which filled in the low neckline, taking it from a dinner dress (as shown) to a day or reception dress.

The lavish use of lace trim was made possible by technological advances that improved machine-made embroidery on net laces.

What do you make of this ensemble?  What would have gone around the middle to make it right?  Or is it perfect as it is (or un-redeemable no matter what belt was worn?)

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. PepperReed says

    This isn’t my favorite era, by a long shot. I do like dresses that have a bold design feature (and the burgundy is quite a nice contrast to the yellow). But that black lace — Shudder!!! Ugh. NOPE. That last picture with the black lace shawl to blend/subdue it, is the best of the bunch.

    For some reason, my first impression was of the smiling monster fish in Yellow Submarine (all those teeth!).


    • PepperReed says

      The silhouette and the lovely neckline bumped up my score from a 4.

    • PepperReed says

      Looking at it again, if you took off the ‘row’ in the middle of the skirt, and flipped the ‘teeth’ direction on the sleeves, it wouldn’t be too bad. Still love those bell sleeves and wide neckline…

  2. Deanna says

    Wow! I should feel quite like a “ship in full sail” if I were to wear this. Lovely fabric and lace, and the cream and burgundy are very nice. The design of the narrow lace is charming, reminds me of the center of a Claddagh ring. The scallops and trimming must have been an awful lot of work. I think a wide burgundy belt, perhaps with a filigree or embossed metal buckle, would suit it. The dress looks lovely in the photo with the lace shawl. And so completely over the top in all the others! I feel rather conflicted, as part of me loves the over the top-ness, and part of me just feels, “Yikes! Too much!”


    • Deanna says

      The lace is lovely in itself, but like others, I wasn’t convinced that it belonged on this dress. Yet, when I tried to envision cream colored lace, I didn’t really think it looked better. It would tone down the scallops, but also make them look rather out of proportion, since the burgundy stripe trim is so much wider than the burgundy binding around the scallops. Anyone have a clever idea how to change them?

  3. My first thought was “birthday cake!” It’s the color of the lace–I think if it were ivory or white I might like it better. I’m not sure that a sash would make it any better.

  4. WOW! Like a fancy French confection. A part of me loves this the other part may have night terrors. Definitely a lot going on here. Missing a sash/ belt in the burgundy? Love the male fashion & they do look wonderful together perhaps he tones her down enough, although in a room full of other such well dressed women/men they may be the least over done. 7/10

  5. Deborah Thomas-Wilton says

    I reenact in this era. So I would love this dress except for the black lace. I think a blonde lace would have allowed the burgundy trim to shine. The black is just too dark. So I give it a 8/10 .

  6. Rachel says

    Baby teeth baby teeth baby teeth.

    I’ve seen too many other lovely gowns from this era to like this, no matter how extravagant it is or how much I love cream, burgundy and black.

    If I focus, I start to find things I like. But the overall impression is just so much, I don’t want to focus. It looks ponderous and unpleasant to wear, and the trimming is overblown and not particularly elegant.

    But the photo with the diaphanous black shawl does make it look a lot better. Maybe if you put it on a real person, without the stark flatness of a mannequin, and you give it a bit of contrast, it isn’t too bad. In the right evening lighting, it could maybe be bold and lavish.

    But don’t smile too broadly.


  7. Lynne says

    I saw teeth, too. Rounded, nubbinsy baby teeth. A dress that could gum you to death.

    The overall shape and proportions are fine, but even a simple belt/sash/waist feature couldn’t redeem the overwhelming skirt trim!

    5 out of 10.

  8. MayravB says

    I kind of like it! Even though it looks like it’s covered in tonuges (and in my head as I looked at it, I thought, “luh-luh-luh-luh-luh”), even though it has a weird apron-y feature from the front, and even though it makes the wearer look like she’d move like a dalek. Somehow I find it charmingly eccentric instead of freaky. If they removed the second row of trim at the bottom (the downward facing one) and the apron-thing, I think it’d be an 8.5 for me. But as it is:

  9. Deanna says

    Okay, now I am completely in love with it! I want to be a sturdy, clunky, silken & fancy lace Dalek! I’ll have ridiculous fun at the party, lumbering around with my plunger & egg beater, whilst repeating “Exterminate”! Thank you for completing shifting my perspective. 🙂

  10. Perhaps the scalloped decoration was inspired by Greek pottery, where you do see lines of decoration a bit like that. On the whole I think it looks better on pottery than on a dress, but I don’t dislike it on this dress and in these colours. The colours work well together and the burgundy silk is very nice. 8/10

    If I was going to pair it with a belt I’d use a very plain belt in the same burgundy silk as the trim.

  11. Not sure what to say about this one.

    The diamonds in the Vionnet dress from last week’s RtD were subtly marked; the scallops here are bold, unmistakable from across a ballroom. The scallops are also a less elegant shape than Vionnet’s diamonds, in my opinion. By the way, I am presuming that the lines of scallops are all oriented properly in straight lines and that any apparent crookedness is due to problems with how the gown is displayed.

    If one were to add a belt, it should be, I think, a dark red sash edged with lace, to fit in with the scallops. It would tie with a large bow in the back, to match the scale of the rest of the gown. But that approach would not work because the gown is very short-waisted and any kind of sash would 1) hide the little peplum of the bodice; 2) make the gown look even more short-waisted and 3) clash with the big dark red ribbons already on the dress at the back of the skirt. One could use a very thin belt (either a matching dark red or a black), as some of the commenters have already suggested, but that would look odd when contrasted with the volume of scallops on skirt and sleeves (particularly from the rear). So I’m inclined to go with no sash at all, even though I agree the dress needs something.

    I think the gown needs to 1) lose the little peplum at the bottom of the bodice; 2) lose the wide red ribbons in the back, and 3) add a sash at the waist that ties in the back, probably in a dark red. Even then, it’s not a style for everyone and I’m not sure I like it even with my suggested improvements.

    As it is, a 7. Modern taste would condemn it, but it’s quite well within the envelope for the 1860s, and it has an integrity of design I admire, even while I’m wincing at all the huge scallops. 🙂

  12. Pam Plemouse says

    Sorry, don’t like all the noise…far too busy for me. Possibly if a narrower binding were used on the ‘tongues’, or a paler cream…. or if only one or two elements were chosen, I’d enjoy it more. 5/10

  13. oh I love this silhouette, it’s like some mad ocean liner with portholes everywhere! It’s the kind of dress where if you start walking in a direction everyone is going to get out of your way. A strip of the burgundy ribbon as a belt just above the peplum would help the bodice greatly though. 8/10

  14. I love the colour and the embellishments (unusually for me, often it’s them that put me off). The thing that I can’t quite get over is that high waist – I think it throws off the proportions, and if it was just a little lower this dress would be one of my favourites in a while. I do think a burgundy sash would be good with all that burgundy above and below the waist, but as one of the other commenters said, that would only make it more short-waisted.

    So overall 7/10 (I almost gave it 8, but then I scrolled up again and realised how very apron-like the scallops make the front, and that lost it a point)

  15. Buttercup says

    Well stick a candle on my head and call me a birthday cake! I’m afriaid its too bakery looking for me. Like a lot of others I think it looks better when disguised with the lace shawl. I’m giving this one 5/10 but that’s mainly for demonstrating that it can be hidden with a shawl.

  16. I really like the colors, the combination with the red accents and black lace. But the scallops just don’t really work for me. Too bulky, too many, too something. It would look a bit better with a contrasting belt probably, but still, too many scallops. 5/10

  17. Sorry to the Victorian-lovers who think anything with a hoop under is 10/10 and the second-best thing since Fissy, but – this is BAD.

    It’s really bad. I suppose the fabrics are both nice colours, but I don’t like the colours together. The scallops are cartoony. It looks like a child’s drawing of a “pretty dress” literally translated from the child’s drawing, with all the wobbliness and bulgy bits – adorable in crayon, hideous in reality. And all those scallops. Dear Lord, all those scallops. Plus, you have lopsided bodice darts (probably fitted to a slightly asymmetrical wearer, so won’t let that affect my rating) and the general workmanship, although there’s LOTS of sewing there, unfortunately looks clunky.

    Plus, the more I look at it, the more I hate the black lace with the burgundy, especially at the cuffs – not enough contrast, not enough coordination, so there’s some faint swearing between the black and the burgundy, and combined with all the swoopy scallopy froof, this is motion-sickness-inducing.

    If the blue dress was a Dalek dress, then it was a classic, properly-designed Dalek. This is one of those hideous new-look Daleks they tried bringing out about 8 years ago, the clunky, garishly coloured ones with deeply ugly bulging bits behind, that almost nobody liked. (to be honest, I liked the vacuum flask sealing around the top, but that was pretty much it.)

    Horrid. This era can do so much better, and has done so much better on multiple occasions. Because it’s not ENTIRELY hideous with the black lace shawl over the top, in heavy shadow, I’m giving it a 2/10

    • Also, that particular shade of burgundy is nagging at the back of my brain with a weird connotation that I can’t quite place. It’s Costa Coffee burgundy, but that’s not it. I’m thinking there must be some shop or brand that uses this sort of ribbon (in sythetic, obviously) all the time and that’s what’s nagging at me. I know it’s silk ribbon but all I can think of really is the modern synthetic stuff which it does look like in the close-ups.

  18. The profusion of black lace motifs just confuse my eyes, especially since the era’s silhouette is so voluminous that the strong contrast of the trim is overwhelming (and I do not care for the black and burgundy together).

    I may find it hard to fairly evaluate this era’s fashion because I always imagine trying to navigate in a full bustle/hoop arrangement and foresee only disaster, so in the interest of fairness, I’ll ameliorate my dislike to a 5/10.

  19. Julia Ergane says

    OUCH! CLOSE MY EYES! — Take it away!!!!! — Short waists are most always unfortunate — and this example shows why. Frumpy, frumpy, frumpy! That gorgeous lace shawl is wasted on this monstrosity. Nothing can make it “better”. Lace like that should only be worn over bare shoulders. Cartoonish is another adjective that I can give it. The only thing you can do is burn it. Rating -1/10

  20. Oh dear, I know I shouldn’t really like this but I do! It did strike me as rather dalek-y, and the raised waistline and bustle does make for difficult proportions and the sense that the wearer would look as if she was being engulfed by the dress. I’m not overly fond of the apron effect, and it desperately needs something at the waist, perhaps a sash trimmed to match with some extra back interest or an echo of the apron’s curve at the front. But the colour combination is unexpected and yet works well, and the decoration is very bold and is applied consistently to the whole dress. And can you imagine having to sew the binding onto all of those half ovals? — doing one would be bad enough. But I do like it – it’s bold, has character, and would have been absolutely fashionable and admired. I’m giving this a high score but promise to enter therapy and bind 40 half ovals as a penance. It’s a 9.

    • Deanna says

      ” I’m giving this a high score but promise to enter therapy and bind 40 half ovals as a penance.” 😀 Thanks for making me laugh, Kit.

  21. Lauren says


    First impression is yuck, but I’d like to see it being worn, with the shawl, in a group – this isn’t a dress to judge in isolation.. Imagined in a group, this is the most modest loud dress I think I’ve seen!

  22. It looks like something that the cat dragged in, too many scallops, the size of them is wrong, the black lace is ick, in fact the whole thing only gets an “ugh” from me

  23. Stephanie Madill says

    Too much. It makes me think of either Maman Gigon in the Nutcracker making me want to know what all the little dancing bonbons hidden under her skirt are wearing or of a circus tent. Both effects are heightened by the very high waist, making the bodice look like a finial. I like the colours and the fabrics and the lace, and I want to like the dress, but each time I look at it I think “blech”. So 3/10.

  24. Hawke says

    I’m sorry I missed last weeks – it was a lovely dress and I completely forgot to comment! It deserves its 9. I am struggling to set aside my dislike of anything from 1865 to about 1910 for this week’s dress, but I’ll do my best.
    my first thought was that the scallops seem weirdly elongated and out of proportion. If I took off the ribbon over them, I would get pills and not circles, which is what I want. That, combined with their rather flat ends, the cream and burgundy combination, and the way the two rows at the bottom face each other really does make them look like teeth.
    I like the color combination, but I feel that this dress has too many big shapes to go well with such a high contrast color scheme – I think it would be better if the cream and burgundy were switched.
    I’m also going to second that comment about getting rid of or covering the peplum on the bodice – the silhouette is very nice already there, and the peplum just makes it look wrinkled.
    I love the lace though, and the shawl that goes with it, I love the sleeves, and while I’m not a fan of bustles normally, this one has nice coverings over it(though I do NOT think bustles work with high waists) – I give it a 5.

  25. Grace Darling says

    Yum…..smell the marsala – it’s what tiramisu would look like as a frock!


  26. I think this gown looks regal, elegant and impressive; as if someone of importance wore it. Love the gold with the deep red, almost dark chocolate trim and fine black lace. I don’t believe it needs a belt or sash, as that would be just one more line to break up the expanse of gold in the middle. Silhouette is lovely and I can see this gown at a posh dinner party before or after an evening at the opera. I especially like the sleeves which would allow one to eat without sweeping any food off the plate. Others have commented on the shortwaistedness of it, but I think it only looks that way because of the deepness of the neckline; the wearer was probably showing considerable, ahem, milky white bosom. The mannequin doesn’t seem to fill it out completely. 9/10

  27. JessieRoo says

    I know I am late to the party, but I couldn’t help but weigh in in defense of this poor ensemble, which to my (wishfully) expert eye looks as though it’s the sad victim of a malevolent curator: with such a plain edge, that bodice surely was mean to tuck into the skirt; and what is up with the apparent lobster tail bustle stacked on top of a regular old set of hoops that they’ve stuffed under the skirt back. Whatever it is under there, it looks completely wrong not only for the time period, for this specific dress. Fix those, and it’s a dream. A tooth fairy’s dream. (hey at least the maker didn’t choose a nice fleshy pink trimmed with ivory!) All joking aside, I actually think this is a really nice, tastefully colored late 1860’s look, with finely worked details.

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