Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: a red & white striped 1880s ensemble

Sometimes I get bored and stressed doing Rate the Dress, and feel like calling it off, and sometimes there aren’t many responses, but then we have weeks like last week, where Rate the Dress triggers fascinating discussions on how the garment is displayed, and if/which display is more correct, and how you can tell when a dress was displayed based on the style of display (which implies that we often aren’t really getting a true ‘period’ look at a garment much of the time), and it’s all well worth it.

So, whether or not you loved the 1780s yellow chinoserie frock from last week, I think we can call it a success.  At 8.5 out of 10 though, it was pretty successful in the aesthetic respect too though!

For this weeks Rate the Dress, I wanted to pick an outfit that might have been worn with an Olivia bonnet, so I went rummaging amongst my saved links to 1880s frocks, and instead of finding something to pair with an Olivia bonnet, I got distracted and found this jaunty ensemble:

It seemed like a nice clean, crisp contrast to last week’s florals and floofs, so I went with it.

Now, this is the right type of dress (a day dress), and the right era for an Olivia bonnet, but I definitely got the impression in my research and in the fashion plates depicting Olivia bonnets that the most Olivia-y of Olivia bonnets were quite frilly and romantic, and were best paired with frocks in florals and lace, or, at the most severe, rich satins and velvets.  The slightly nautical freshness of this outfit just doesn’t seem right for a frilled-lace and bow bedecked bit of head-ornamentation.

At the most I could imagine it worn with a straw hat with an Olivia shape with a peaked brim, trimmed with crisp organza pleats, and a red side bow that riffed off the red epaulette-bows of the dress, with, perhaps, some wheat sheaves.

More likely though, it would have been worn with something a bit more boater-esque, as shown in this fashion plate:

1887, Godey’s Ladies Book

It’s certainly the right sort of dress for long walks by the shore at the end of the season, just as autumns chill begins to creep in.  The white colour keeps it fresh and crisp, but the wool fabric would have kept the wearer nice and toasty, while still breathing if they day warmed up.

What do you think?  Does this outfit please your fancy?

And, since it’s not really an Olivia bonnet ensemble, what kind of hat would you pair it with?  (bonus points for linking to an extant example or fashion plate for your hat-spiration, bonus BONUS points for making sure it’s from a museum or other original source and not just pinterest! 😉 )

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Lontra Canadensis says

    I love it! 10/10.

    Some nice trim and detail, the red is a nice change from blue to say “nautical”, and not overly frilly/froofy (given the time period). I’m not very clued up on the hat question, but a bonnet seems very wrong. The boaters in the illustration don’t seem like they’d be quiiiite right, but better than anything else in my headwear-deficient imagination. Maybe it just needs a boater with the right trim.

  2. Lontra Canadensis says

    I love it! 10/10.

    Some nice trim and detail, the red is a nice change from blue to say “nautical”, and not overly frilly/froofy (given the time period). I’m not very clued up on the hat question, but a bonnet seems very wrong. The boaters in the illustration don’t seem like they’d be quiiiite right, but better than anything else in my headwear-deficient imagination. Maybe it just needs a boater with the right trim.

  3. This is stunning. I really love the architectural precision of its construction. I would normally balk at the width of the red stripes, but for some reason, it works.

    For some reason I have a mental image of an adaptation of a military shako as the hat to accompany it, but I have no idea whether or not such a thing would have been available, so no bonus point for me.

    10 of 10

  4. Jessica says

    Very nice! I give it 9/10 only because the center bodice panel doesn’t really do it for me, otherwise I love it.

  5. Amy B. says

    I love the red and white stripe on the skirt and the little tabs on the back of the bodice are perfect, but the stripes on the front of the bodice don’t quite do it for me. 8 of 10

  6. I ABSOLUTELY love this! That gentle buff-fawn-cream is perfect for the rich claret and the balance/draping/proportions are so good, it’s very elegant and refined. One thing I just spotted that is now distracting me is that the bottom claret stripe on the bodice seems to be skewed at a slight angle, which is a little exasperating, and forces me to give it a 9.5/10

  7. Julia Ergane says

    LOVE! It takes a lot for me to like a dress from this period; however, this has it all. 10/10

  8. LoriWatk says

    I hate reds and yellows, mostly because I can’t wear them. I have to give this an exception to that rule. I loved it when I first saw it and I’ve looked and looked and I still love it. The only thing that bugs me is the buttons, oddly. I sincerely doubt that after all this time that the buttons would look new or that all the buttons would all be present. Buttons, I love them, not on this dress but I do love me some buttons. Now that I’ve gotten over my button passion, the hat… I really like the idea of a straw bonnet of some sort. So I get some extra points for finding a hat but I can’t find it in a museum piece. Also, I think that this sort of hat would be the best fit just not the right color, I would like it better in that deep red. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-0uP-L38Mf5o/T0csd8_GY3I/AAAAAAAACzU/kA02Hrg9dVA/s1600/6a00d8341c2c1a53ef0133ec507480970b.jpg And I do not think that for a walk along the seaside a straw hat would have been warm like the dress would have. I adore this dress, I love the white wool (I could easily see this in a cashmere with a dark maroon cashmere, oh yummy!) Would a cape with hood in that deep red not be a bit better then a bonnet. I have so many thoughts now that I went searching for a bonnet. I’m still a bit stuck on those buttons, I think I’d pick different buttons. I simply love this, even if there is red in it. Hate the lace at the cuffs. So with everything that I love and hate about this I’m going to give it a 9 1/2 out of the 10 simply because I love everything except those few things.

    • I think it’s entirely plausible the buttons would all stay intact, and in very good condition. The buttons appear to be shell, which doesn’t age like modern plastic buttons do – I have a bunch of 19th and early 20th century shell buttons, and they are pristine. Since they are non-functioning buttons, they wouldn’t be likely to fall off, because they are not being tugged at and used. Nor would they get grubby from being touched. This was likely to have been a very wealthy woman’s dress as well, worn for only a season or two.

      • LoriWatk says

        OH! Thank you for the button lesson, I can understand that however there is a button in the middle on the front that is different, which is nice to see. In that case I still don’t like them (sorry) but if that’s all I can find to not like, I’m good with it. I still love this.

  9. I can see this dress being worn with an Olivia bonnet, in a red velvet to match the trim on the dress, with maybe just a little white lace at the edges that matched the lace at the cuffs.

    I like it. It’s not…quite…the sort of dress I’d ever want to wear, but I like it. It has a clean restrained integrity of its own, and that appeals to me. The only thing I don’t like about it are the flat white pearl buttons on it, which look cheap to me in this setting. I’d replace them either with 1) dome buttons, covered in the white fabric, or; 2) brass buttons, a la your Polly Oliver ensemble, but sized to match the size of the flat buttons here. I have a slight preference for the white, but brass buttons would work as well. Pair with red boots, and wow!

    9.5 out of 10.

    • LoriWatk says

      OH I like your idea for buttons. I like the idea of the dome buttons covered in the white fabric, oh yummy! And the idea for the red boots, yep! WOW!

  10. MayravB says

    Oh my goodness, it’s so fresh and jaunty! I love it. Love the colour, the pleats at the bottom, the red bows, the stripes, the draping!

    …Ok, well, non-functional buttons in places where one expects functional buttons is a pet peeve of mine but who even cares when it’s on a such a neat dress?


  11. I’d be inclined to pair it with a boater, but I also think a straw Olivia hat with crisp lines and relatively restrained decoration would look very nice. I like the colours and the asymmetrical skirt drapery, and the little red points on the back of the bodice, but overall I’m afraid this dress doesn’t do a lot for me. Partly it’s because of the wide horizontal stripes, but it’s mainly because of the shoulder bows. Those are, as Tim Gunn would say, in questionable taste, and if they weren’t there I’d like the dress a lot more. 7/10

  12. I see now that both the white and the red dress fabric are wool, but I think a wool hat, Olivia-shaped or not, in the same fabric would look great!

  13. SueAnne Griffith says

    One of my favorite RTDs in a while! I love how crisp and nautical the dress is, as well as how it manages to pull off an impressive my-wearer-is-a-woman-of-importance look without much lace or frills getting in the way. I only wish the striped section was wider on the skirt or perhaps for the bottom trim of the skirt to be red, for more color. 9/10

    Bonus: For pairing, I rather like a flowered straw hat with the ribbon around the brim, worn by the woman on the far left in the last fashion plate on the page. http://bartoscollection.com/fp1887.html (Apologies, but it won’t allow me to share a link to just that picture, so here’s the whole page of 1887 plates.)

  14. Tracy Ragland says

    I absolutely love the cut of this dress and all of the details too! I normally don’t love red but this was the exception. 10/10

  15. Hayley says

    What a gorgeous dress! Draped white wool is so scrummy, and the deep red sets it off beautifully.
    What I don’t like is the blockiness of the red, and the width of the stripes, it’s too chunky and looks a little bit prison-outfit than nautical. If the stripes were narrower and the red highlights were scattered about a bit more, it’d be a 10.


  16. Janet van Dompseler says

    I love it. The only thing I would change is the lace at the sleeve cuffs. I don’t like fussy and the lace doesn’t relate to anything else on the dress. As the fabric is wool, a straw hat may be too breezy looking but I’m not a hat expert. It may need something a little more substantial but still not over done. 10/10

  17. ceci says

    Maybe sort of a fez shaped hat in red, with a white cockade trim? I am a bit bothered by the lace at the wrist, it seems extraneous, otherwise fabulous. 10/10


  18. Mary Ann Hadley says

    A straw boater for punting, and a peaked straw that with a simple red ribbon for croquet or badminton. I love it, it’s just my style. A bustle day dress for the active woman. 9/10!

  19. This is gorgeous. A rich yet light colourscheme, and such accurate, skilful workmanship. And a great sense of design balance from all angles. 10/10

  20. Where is Waldo? Despite that being one of my first thoughts with this dress, I do rather like the color and stripe combinations. I like how it is fresh and clean and not all frilly.

    8/10 for me!


  21. Emma says

    I thought I was going to like this a lot but I just don’t somehow. The red bows? on the shoulders bother me. Also, the stripes on the bodice don’t look straight and neither does the lines of buttons (which look kind of tacky as well, I think I’d prefer them in a different material and fewer of them.)

    I do like the skirt, the sleeve cuffs and the collar though. 6/10

  22. I love this dress! I really like the bold stripe/color blocked paneling. It’s unusual, but I like that the bodice is symmetrical, vs. asymmetrical skirt. This design would not have been pulled off successfully in muted colors, or lower contrast.

    The only thing I don’t like are the sleeve tops. Because of the color blocking, they look like red rose blobs, which is actually kind of cool. But with the tailored feel of the dress, the puffed, slashed feel doesn’t match, even though it’s cleanly made.

    This might be a personal taste, but for a seaside dress I think I would have designed this with a collar that was open in front, just because for outdoors-wear the closed neck seems a bit stiff. Although maybe that was the point to keep out the wind? As a design, it seems to go well with the dress, just maybe not with what I think of as seaside wear. 9/10, the one point taken off for the puff sleeves.

    • It is super closed up isn’t it?. But, you know, Victorian dress! Social mores > weather practicality! Outdoors dress = covered from neck to ankle, with a high buttoned up neck.

      There are open V necks for indoor afternoon reception frocks, and very low necklines in evening and ball wear, but anything daytime was either fully covered with a high neck, or worn with a guimpe that covered the chest and neck.

      • Elise says

        Oh Victorian social mores… Poor children should work and who cares if they get hurt in the factories or starve in the streets! < Gasp! A woman shows her upper chest in the mornings when the weather is hot!

        Then again….many people continue to espouse those mores. Still, I am pleased for our progress so far compared to Victorian times (broadly): Votes for women, anti-cruelty laws for children and animals, public school…More to do, but inspired by the past all the same.

  23. Alice says

    Absolutely stunning 10/10! I would love to wear something like this especially with a small straw boater.

  24. LCLassman says

    Just lovely. I agree with others that the red-and-white striped front bodice doesn’t do it for me. 9/10.

  25. I love this! I want this! Severe, nice little details, the bold red. Almost perfect – Only thing keeping it from max score is the buttons on the front. I think they are a bit too white and to shiny to really go along with the softer wool. 9.5/10.

  26. Beka says

    This dress just makes me want to keep looking at it. I really like the draping and color scheme. 9 / 10 for me!

  27. Jane Craven says

    I really like the clean simplicity of it. I am inspired to make a verson for me.

  28. Colette says

    Ooh, definitely 10/10. Love the crisp lines, the deep red….. The tidy silhouette.
    Works for me!

  29. Wendy says

    i love it! so crisp and clean and stylish. The shoulder bows are a bit silly though, half a point off for them. A trim matching the shape of the cuffs would have been better. 9.5/10

  30. Emelie says

    I love the dress! Late bustle era is one of my favorites, and deeper reds are always go. There are two points where it could become better though. First the buttons don’t quite add the visual interest that they could if they were more contrasting, I think fabric covered buttons in the lovely red wool would look lovely. I also think the backside of the dress looks a bit empty, and an addition of red at the box pleated trim would fix this. It is not quite interesting enough as is for a 10, so it will get a 9 out of 10 from me.

  31. Oh. That red. Not a hint of orange in it. Last week’s yellow did nothing for me but I LOVE that red! I think the dress looks fabulous…I like the touch of lace at the wrists to soften what could be a severe look; I like the balance of red to white…the only thing that really disturbs me is the off-centered back..the asymmetric draping looks fine on the front but for some reason the skirt back just looks crooked to me. 9/10

  32. Johanne says

    Love it! Such eye-catching style, contrast, design and tailoring.


  33. Elise says

    What a lovely dress. My personal style, exactly, if I were wealthy enough and healthy enough to have worn it back then.

    And hooray for discussions!

  34. Amy says

    I’m for anything that’s remotely nautical and this is stunning. I’m not one for very high necklines but, if it were mine, I’d have lowered the neck about an inch so I could at least move my head! Otherwise, it’s a positive 10!!

  35. Stephanie says

    I love it! Even though it has most of the 1880’s details that usually drive me crazy (asymmetry, ugh), it’s gorgeous. 9/10
    I noticed that the dress is in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal. Montreal is one of my favourite cities and I lived there for two years while I was finishing my studies. Montreal can also be one of the coldest places I’ve ever been (and I’ve lived well above the Arctic Circle and on the Canadian Prairies). The city is on an island in the St. Lawrence river and so the winds howl directly in off the north Atlantic and it is usually very humid. So, while I couldn’t find the actual weather for the summer of 1887 in Montreal, I would suggest that dress would reasonably have been worn throughout the summer.

  36. This is one of my oldest extant favourites. It’s not in the top ten, but it’s a very respectable 9,5/10 (half a point down from my koumpounophobia for the buttons being the kind with visible holes that I can’t stand 😛 – yes, I’m being completely biased. It’s still one of my old favourites, I think I can afford to be.)

  37. This dress has been on my wishlist for a while. I look at it and think “Well-off woman does Navy Admiral in her own style”. While others have dismissed the shoulder bows, I love how they give a nod to the fringy epulettes of some military uniforms.

    As for a hat, an Olivia bonnet could work, depending on how it’s finished. The Olivia bonnet reminds me of the fantastic hat worn by the Admiralty during the Napoleonic Wars, so it would complete the nautical/Navy theme I think is happening with this dress.

    I’ve never truly noticed the buttons before, to be honest – I’m too busy admiring that red! While gold coloured dome buttons would certainly add to the nautical look, I think for the understated feel of this dress, the shell buttons work. I’ve sat here for a few minutes, trying to picture any other coloured buttons, or even no buttons at all, and I think the dress needs them to finish the bodice and to tie in with the buttons at the sleeves and back.

    The lace at the sleeves seem a but frou-frou for the heavily tailored look of the rest of the dress, so it looses a mark from me there.

    9/10 from me.

  38. Lizzy says

    I love it because I imagine a woman going to her seamstress and asking “Could you make me look like a lighthouse?” 🙂

  39. Amie says

    Love it!
    Reminds me of those nautical signal flags.

  40. Grace Darling says

    I am surprised that dress is not a shade of pink – surely it had to have gone through the
    wash a few times….were the red fabrics of that time that stable and run-proof? I usually
    like this silhouette but this not this one so much. Too clunky for me.


    • It wouldn’t really have been washed. That was what all those multiple layers of cotton and linen underthings were designed for, to protect the outer layer of clothing.

      • Grace Darling says

        Didn’t these outfits get soiled from mud splashes, food stains, spilled tea etc?

        [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

        • Because clothes were so much more expensive, people were more careful with them. And even today I know people who could wear white every day of the week for a year and never get a mud splash, food stain or bit of spilled tea on them!

          A dress like this was also likely to only have been worn for a season, and maybe only half a dozen times, depending on how wealthy the wearer was.

          Finally, dresses that did get stained were unlikely to be preserved in museums! And this one might very well have a big stain, placed out of view in this photo, which was the reason it was never worn again.

          Daniel is absolutely right though: most 1880s dresses were never washed in the modern sense. Undergarments kept them from absorbing sweat and body odours, and they were aired between washes, and maybe spot cleaned with kerosene, vinegar or strong alcohols like vodka. Even with modern dry cleaning methods is very difficult to clean a dress that is constructed like many 1880s garments. The combination of different fabrics and materials, and the multiple layers, make washing impractical.

  41. Oooh I love this, it’s so clean and crips and the details are very subtle but gorgeous, love the fabric choices and I think the wool used to be more white then this when I look at the button colors. I like the silhouette to, it’s not as exagerated as others I’ve seen and I like that. I would wear this 😮


  42. Kirrin says

    I love to see the dresses you find, even if I don’t comment.

    But this one I really do love 8/10. It is sassy! I’d like to think I would have worn it, but most likely I would have been in a sensible brown or grey dress walking beside my lively fascinating friend. This dress is worn by someone freethinking and absolutely fun to be around, even if slightly self-obsessed…

  43. Deanna says

    Oh my! “Smart” is the word that comes to mind. It’s just so crisp! Lovely red and white. I love the shape of the bodice, the little buttoned tabs on the back are delightful, and the shoulder bows are unexpected and charming (and look rather interestingly constructed). And all those buttons marching up one side and down the other! Wish I had to time to find the perfect hat.


  44. Susan says

    I should like this. I should like it quite a lot, in fact, since it incorporates much of what I appreciate in clothes of this era: beautiful silhouette, fine materials, interesting “architecture”, and so on.

    But I keep envisioning KellyAnne Conway’s g-g-g-grandmother at the inauguration of James Garfield…

    Sorry, 6/10. Maybe 6.5. At least there’s no blue thrown in this time.

  45. cornishware.co.ukI’m sure it’s a very nice dress.
    Unfortunately, it’s also a red-and-white striped Cornishware storage jar someone has put down on the counter part way through drying up, with the white linen tea-towel still wrapped around it!
    See here: http://www.cornishware.co.uk/storage?color=red

  46. I love it! It’s something I’d feel comfortable wearing since it’s not frilly. I’d prefer another colour than cream, but that’s due to spending time trying to keep school uniform shirts white, and failing miserably.

  47. India says

    I’m completely in love with this dress and I’m the one who truly, madly deeply dislikes bustles. My only very, very minor cavil is with the lace on the sleeves and even that isn’t enough to reduce the score from 10/10. As for a hat, well, anything suitably jaunty would work no matter the basic, underlying style.

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