Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1870s Japonisme swags & sparkle

I truly never know what you will make of a dress!  I thought that last week’s sheer red aerophane number would be just too wacky.  The 1820s are such a wacky era to start with, and this was a particularly out-there example.  But, while it only managed one 10, the overall reaction was very enthusiastic.  A few of you couldn’t get past the part where our modern mind screams ‘but her undergarments are showing!’ (trust me, that’s not how it would have been seen in period – I think I’m clearly due up to do a whole post about that!), but despite that (I know, it is so hard to stop looking at things from a modern perspective, and try to imagine it in period, I catch myself doing it all the time – like the way I hate fringe 😉 ) it came in at an eminently respectable (heh heh) 7.8 out of 10.

This week I’m staying within the same general colour scheme, and sticking to a fabric with a similar shot effect.

This afternoon or reception dress by New York based dressmaker Martha J de la Mater combines chrysanthemum patterned silk brocade, russet brown shot silk taffeta, bead fringing, and fanciful, almost theatrical, even for the 1870s, skirt draping.

The chrysanthemum patterned silk brocade shows the influence of Japononisme, quickly becoming popular in the wake of Japans opening its borders to the West after centuries  of enforced isolation.  Japanese goods and artwork had been trickling into the West since Commodore  Perry and the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854, and  were prominently featured at the 1876  Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, setting off a huge craze for all things Japanese in America.

The dress isn’t quite complete, as it’s clearly missing its buttons, and would have benefited from a bit more in the way of skirt supports, but hopefully you can look past these to envision it in its prime.

What do you think?  A gorgeous showcase of how up-to-date the wearer was, or a misplaced mania for the newest fad?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Carly says

    My first thought when seeing the photo thumbnail was eyeballs. My second thought was sheep. You really need to be close to tell those are flowers.

  2. For my taste the chrysanthemum print is just wrong and makes her look like she was attacked by a swarm of something. The scale of the print seems more appropriate to interior decorating, or if used in a garment, a robe. Or if the chrysanthemums were closer in value to the base red? I don’t know the fashion mindset of the era enough to determine whether this would have been “dernier cri.”

    7 of 10

  3. The mastery of drape and fabric manipulation is wonderful, and I think the fabric combination is beautiful….but the ‘theatrical’ elements would be (in my opinion) too theatrical to be really tasteful in any period. 6/10

  4. Rachel says


    It reminds me a bit of that.

    That brocade is magnificent. Look at the train. And all that russety red. And is the fringe beaded? Wow. That’s really cool.

    But – and I realize I may be showing my ignorance of Victorian styles – all this for a day dress?

    I know it’s an ornate period and the sleeves and high neckline are right for a day dress, but all that red, and all those chrysanthemums, and whatever’s going on with the front draping – it feels a little absurd for anything less than evening wear. As best as I can tell, it seems somewhat pretentious.

    But, the front’s draping aside, it’s pretty. It’s interesting how the deep V shape on the bodice, wide belt, and short sleeves sort of simulate a kimono.

    But imagining a woman wearing this while she goes about her day to day business, however undemanding it might be, is a little ridiculous. And in general it feels somewhat overfussed, though that may just be down to the period.


    • I suspect this is an afternoon reception dress, or a visiting dress, and the museum has just given it the general title of day dress, which I left.

  5. I like it! Not quite a WOW!, but I have favorable feelings toward it. Maybe because I’m a sucker for a shot silk taffeta (especially in the red family), but I like the overall effect of the beads and the contrast brocade, too. Entirely tasteful? Well, maybe not, but I have a soft spot for the “upholstered” 1880s, and this is forecasting that trend, I think. (Put ALL the bead fringe on ALL the things? Yes please!)


  6. This, in my opinion, is much more like it. The dark red is appealing (though not a shade I’d be personally comfortable wearing). The floral embroidery along the back gives the dress a ton of interest. The bodice detailing, with its tucks, is superb. Even the beaded fringe feels right–adding interest without being overpowering. The only detail I don’t like is, unfortunately, right on the front–the odd bell-pull shaped sash with the tassels, and the asymmetrical overskirt-like thing.

    I need to post this before I change my mind, as the front view is not optimum but oh, the delicious sides and rear view!

    8 out of 10.

    • Once again, I find myself (mostly) in agreement with you. I often find myself thinking 1870s dresses could be improved if their boodices did not end at the waist; now I’m thinking “be careful what you wish for”.
      There’s also shades of the eyeballs on my side, but I like the fabric nonetheless.
      So it’s 8/10 from me, too.

    • Lyn Swan says

      I don’t see the embroidery you mentioned…where is it?

      • The “flowers” or “eyeballs” as some of the posters have characterized them, are embroidered on. Or so I thought, anyway. The design is not a print, though it might be a brocade. If it is, I apologize for sowing confusion.

          • I was an idiot; you actually said so in the description, but I read the description so fast I guess I didn’t register most of the details! Apologies.

            P.S. I don’t see eyeballs in the brocade either, but I can understand why some people see them.

  7. I can’t not see eyeballs. I can’t even think about the rest of the dress because I can’t not see eyeballs.

  8. I think it’s fun, wacky, ‘exotic’ in the sense of the time, and reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan. Maybe I’m just overly dramatic, but I really do like it and love that rust color (it looks really good on me and I can never find it in stores). A point off for the bodice reminding me of those cheesy brocade vests popular in the 90s, but 9/10

  9. I like this even though it reminds me of a peacock or maybe because it does either way 8/10

  10. Angela says

    Wow! I LOVE this dress. From a staging perspective it is the perfect dramatic aria dress. Gorgeous. 10

  11. I suspect that this dress is much more impressive in person. Yea, I see the eyeballs, but up close that all goes away and then it’s gorgeous! I’m not crazy about the beaded fringe, but that’s really the only thing I’d change.

  12. Elise says

    It seems that it is missing something…some transfer between the front and back. I really can’t rate it.

    There is so much potential.

  13. Grace Darling says

    What a stunning dress and showcasing of the print to it’s advantage. I can see a western woman
    wearing that to a function where Japanese dignitaries are present. It is a beautiful blend of
    East meets West and yin/yang: feminine skirt/train with the masculine waist-coat-like styling of the bodice.


  14. I love it. I’m not a fan of fringe, but for once it’s really tasteful and complements rather than overshadows the rest of the trimming.


  15. Buttercup says

    I’m not a huge fan. My first thought when I saw it was that the scrunched up bit in the front looked like she had somehow got her dress caught in her undies! I also think it looks like home furnishing fabric. I can see the eyeballs too. 5/10

  16. Lalaith says

    I would have worn it- scratch that, I would wear it. Lovely colors.


  17. Laurel says

    Would the buttons have been part of the decorations, or have blended. I love the influence of the Japanese inspiration. The draping is beautiful. 10/10

  18. Oh, dear. I seem to be the only one thinking it, but this is a dress made of a red bedsheet with a ruffle, pieced out with bits from a 1970s duvet cover!
    Er, I’m sure that before 1970s duvet cover patterns were invented, this dress was … impressive. Or something. You certainly wouldn’t argue with a hostess wearing a garment like this one, would you?

    • LoriWatk says

      God love you for saying that! Bedsheets, lol! I am reminded of bedsheets as well.

  19. Honestly, all I see in the first picture is eyeballs and wrinkles. I can’tell get past that image. I’d give it a 4/10.

  20. I can’t quite decide if I would like the front skirt draping better if it was properly supported and ironed or if it would always bother me.

    Other than that I love the deep rust color, and like the flowers, which now that everyone has said eyes I’m seeing that.

    7/10 overall, it loses a point or so for the weird front skirt draping.

  21. Stephanie says

    It’s alright. I really like the colour and the chrysanthemum brocade is gorgeous. I even like the fringes. My problem is that the front and the back of the skirt look like they belong to different outfits. I think that it would look better if the front under part of the skirt was in the brocade and the back were in the solid, to match the drape, or if at least part of the drape was in the brocade. 6/10

    • Lyn Swan says

      Ok, this is a tough one for me…There are so many wonderful elements to this dress…I like that the bodice ends at the waist, elegant, flattering and exquisitely sewn. Sleeves fitted with brocade at the wrist…lovely draping of the skirt…(Leimomi is right, with proper underpinnings the skirt would come into its own, even the asymmetrical draping on the front) But, the color (to me) Is wretched. I know, I know, many love it, and I tend to like fall is colors…but…All of that said, on its own merits, without my color prejudice I gladly award an 8/10. I do love the bead fringe on the skirt, but am undecided about the dangles on the peplum.

  22. Hawke says

    8….because I don’t like the sparkly fringe. It doesn’t go with the rest of the dress at all. Other than that it’s lovely (though a bit wrinkled)

    • Hawke says

      amendment: the abrupt end of the brocade at the sides bothers me – i want it to come around to the front just a bit more, and drape like the russet does rather than having an abrupt line. And I want the sleeves reversed – main fabric chrysthanamums with the cuffs the plain russet. It looks like a vest now, which is odd, because the seam is so flat. It reminds me of those cheap modern clothes that try to simulate layering but come out looking flat.
      And I suppose the fringe on the skirt can maybe stay, but I really dislike that it’s covering the brocade at the waist.
      Still – love the contrast of the bodice and skirt while still looking like it’s one dress and not two thrown together, and I LOVE what we can see of the sides and the back. A solid 8.

  23. Tracy Walker says

    I have to agree with everyone who sees eyeballs. I love the drape and trim; were it not for the flowers cleverly disguised as staring eyes, I’d give this a 9. As the dress stares at me unless at extreme close range, I’m going to have to dial it down to a 6.

  24. I really do like this one. I agree that the flower fabric does look like eyeballs, it also gives it a masculine feel and -being strange at heart- I’d go for eyeballs over the deflated weather balloons from last week (The 1820’s Gown). Toot

  25. Kathryn says

    This dress is staring back at me and giving me the heebie jeebies.

    I normally have all eyes for Japanese brocades, and I really would like to see this one in a different context, but the scale of it makes it a blindingly poor choice for this dress. Whoever chose it could stand to have been a pupil of dressmaking a bit longer before looking to strike out on their own. As it is, this dress has startled me a great deal-Iris a coronary if I examine it for much longer.


  26. I think it is absolutely beautiful. I find the use of the various elements of colour, pattern and cut to be very well balanced. The colours give me shivers of delight! I love the pretence that it is a kimono inspired top with an obi, very Jedi Japonisme! And the train falling from it.
    Another 10 from me.

  27. LoriWatk says

    Okay, again… I’m odd man out. I’m going to give extra points because some of you have pointed out some good qualities to it. I have a set of futon covers that are that rust red and that’s as far as I go with reds. I look dreadful in reds so I’m a bit hateful to the color in general. The fringe, maybe on a table runner. I see all sorts of home textile uses out of this. However, I do (sort of) “see” the kimono look and I do love the Japanese Kimonos. I don’t like how the left side (my left not the mannequin’s) looks ruffled, muffled, out of place. The right side under the arm looks flat and the other side looks off. I can see lovely dark wooden toggles used instead of a regular button, which would add to the Japanese look. The flower-eyes are too home decor for me. Rate 5-ish…. Can’t stop thinking about home textile products to rate it higher.
    5 is as far as I can go.

  28. Wendy says

    Love the cut, hate the colour. The brocade is lovely, but maybe not for a dress. That tacky gold beaded fringe has got to go! 7/10 and that’s mainly for the cut.

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