Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: A vision in lace and gold, ca. 1850

Reactions to last week’s 1930s gold lame Jessie Franklin Turner number were actually surprisingly similar to the smocked Liberty frock from the week before – a mix of strong love, a tiny bit of strong dislike, a fair smattering of blah, and sleeve-dislike.

What do you get with  surprising similarity?  An identical 8.3 out of 10  rating!

I really struggled to pick a dress for Rate the Dress this week.  As a juxtaposition to the last few weeks, I really wanted something bright, and sweet, and girlish.  Alas, nothing I found seemed to be the right contrast.  I  finally settled on this 1850s evening dress, because the gold, and the lace bertha, seem to resonate with last week’s gold frock, and its flutter sleeves.  Next week I’ll definitely have to find something with colour though!

(of course, knowing me, that could be a warning rather than a promise 😉 )

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

This ca. 1850 evening dress in white damask silk satin, with gold brocading of rather exotic, parasol shaped flower heads, is trimmed with silk net lace, embroidered with gold patterning.

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

Evening dress, ca. 1850, Silk satin with silk and metallic-thread supplementary patterning and silk net with metallic-thread embroidery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.2007.211.872a-b

The lace is used to form a deep bertha that almost completely obscures the fitted bodice and just-above-the-elbow puffed sleeves, and an asymmetrical frill that provides interest and movement on the otherwise restrained bell shape of the skirt.

LACMA has chosen to pair the dress with pearl jewellery which echoes the colour and lustre of the silk, and an elaborate gold brooch which draws attention to the narrow waist and point of the bodice front, which is finished with three rows of very fine piping.

This dress could have been part of a wedding ensemble, but could equally have just been an evening dress, as pale shades and metallic accents were popular colours under candles and (later) gaslights.

What do you think?  Are you swooning in delight, or yawning in boredom?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. This is pretty much the platonic ideal of a “princess dress” for me. Sweet and demure, but lustrous and rich, ethereal and pretty. The asymmetrical flounce on the skirt keeps it from being boring, the smaller skirt diameter keeps it from being ridiculous, and the bertha keeps the tiny bodice from looking too small. (Indeed, in a period of fashion where great efforts were taken to make the waist look small, obscuring a tiny waist with lace seems like a coy message: “Waist? Why yes, I have that… under this sheer curtain. No need to show off!”)

    I ADORE it! 10/10 from me. There’s nothing fashion forward or ground-breaking, but what it does, it does perfectly.

  2. For me this is lovely, and I would imagine even lovelier when one can see the glitter of gold and sheen of silk in candlelight.

    10 of 10

  3. I think this week’s dress is charming, and would have been more so new, when the embroidery and brooch bore no hint of tarnish. It’s very much a young woman’s dress, perhaps a coming-out gown, and I personally prefer gowns with more drama to their design.

    8 out of 10.

  4. Aileen says

    I love everything about this dress 10/10.

  5. ceci says

    Lovely especially after seeing the close up of the lace and the fabric! 10/10 for me.

    Also lovely was your tribute to your parents yesterday, so thank you for that too!


  6. I haven’t seen this dress before. I like the fabric design–it’s unusual but interesting. I like the swag on the skirt. But… the shape of the bodice is obscured by too much net hanging down! 🙁 If it was a normal, bust-length bertha and maybe used on the sleeves but with slightly less length, I would like it much better. I think it gets 6/10 for being totally ruined by losing all bodice shape.


  7. PatW says

    I think that carrying the lace onto the skirt makes it work. Lovely, young, and spring-y.

  8. Tegan says

    It’s very sweet. I kinda love the droopiness of the 1850s. And I think it’s an excellent execution of said droopiness.

    9/10 because it is a little insipid

  9. SueAnne says

    While I love the designs in the lace, my first thought upon seeing the full dress was “Spider webs on the bodice? Uh, ok.”

    Despite the pattern on the fabric, and the pretty details, it’s still a boring dress, though I’m assuming it looks better on a moving person (all that lace in motion…)


  10. Grace Darling says

    Jellyfish! Pretty, pretty gown with lovely tones.


  11. Emelie says

    The fabric and the lace are both very lovely, but I don’t feel so keen on the usage of the lace, especially the way it sits at the neck and the placement of the asymetrical bit at the front – it feels like it should be mirrored with such an end-point but the other side got torn of. As it is, the dress is screaming for more atention at her left, where you can only see the lace bertha. I’m also not too sure that this is the sort of lace that best would suit it self to becoming a bertha, and I believe it looks better as shirt trimmings.


  12. Awww, sweet little Miss Marple-as-a-young-girl effect – the lacy bertha and pale colours give it a bit of a fluffy little grandma effect rather than suggesting a young ingenue. Maybe that’s modern sensibilities taking over – I’m sure this was a very ingenue dress in its day, but it does give off a lot of vague indeterminate mothy-fluttery-washed-outedness. You would need MAJOR personality to conquer this dress and make it work for you. It’s just sort of a nothing of a frock. There’s no contrast or detail anywhere to catch the eye – it’s a wallflower, a dandelion clock, a faded cobweb in the corner of a grey porch, the ghost in the looking glass. The kind of fine but quietly unassuming evening dress that Jane Rochester would wear after the end of Jane Eyre.

    It’s beautiful, but it’s instantly forgettable.

    When I look at it, it’s a 5 or 6 out of 10 – let’s say 5.5/10 while looking at it, and then as soon as I look away, I completely forget everything about it, so I give it 1/10 for memorable qualities, so let’s split the difference and say 3/10 for absolutely failing to capture attention in any way whatsoever.

    • I can see what you mean about it being forgettable as a design. In fact, it doesn’t have much design: it’s everything that was fashionable at the time it was made, with no interesting commentary or diversion from the norm. If it has a point a view, that point of view is conformity. Nevertheless, I doubt the young woman in it, or the impression she made, would be forgettable. After seeing her at the party in this, you’d probably forget the dress, but remember the impression of feminine delicacy and luminous prettiness she left.

  13. Julia Ergane says

    Hear! Hear! Daniel, I could not have said it better myself. I’ve never been much of a fan of Victorian lit, music, art, etc. I know this is an anathema to many who just love Gone With The Wind. I don’t. I guess it is the historian in me (as well as the cynic). It is always just too too much. If I had a Grand-daughter I would not dress her in this meringue frou-frou. 4/10

  14. The fabric is beautiful, and so is the lace. They would completely work separately, but the intricacy of the lace is lost on the patterned silk, and the elaborate silk is obscured by the lace, especially the over-large bertha. 7/10.

  15. LoriWatk says

    Normally I wait till the last minute to give a rating. On this however, I can’t. I simply adore it. As a fan of the Victorian era I just love it. I like the lace and can see how this would have moved in candle light, I bet it was so lovely. I can see this on a maiden, oh so demure. I just love it. I like the lace in the front, so pretty, I bet it was lovely moving in soft light. I just love it.
    So 10 out of 10 for me. Sorry Daniel that you don’t like it. I can see your point but I still just love it.

  16. When I first looked at this dress, I felt as if it were a bit on the mediocre side – beautiful fabrics that got lost in the execution.

    The more I look at it, the more I like it but find it strangely forgettable.


  17. Florence says

    Mh, I think it needs more contrast – the colouring is a bit meh.
    Beautiful fabric, but together with the lace – no. I don’t like how all that lace obscures the waist and then the lace flounce on the skirt looks like it was tacked on as an afterthought.

    The skirt width is just perfect.

    Altogether: 5/10

  18. I LOVE the fabric of the dress, and I actually really love the lace detail on the skirt…. but I kind of want to see the lace in black so it’s more of a statement. But then I think the black would overpower the color altogether, so it’s kind of a lose-lose.

    DO NOT like the lace as a bertha; it’s the kind of thing were you go to all the trouble of having a beautiful fit, only have it all covered up and you’re thinking, “dang it, I should have just left those dart puckers alone!”…..Or maybe the lace was a cover up.


  19. I would rate this 10/10 but the lace bertha is just way too deep! So this gets 9/10 from me. It is nearly perfect… I just don’t like that the bertha covers the beautiful bodice! Also, the gold metallic pattern of the fabric is just a bit distracting…

  20. This dress was obviously designed to showcase the lace, and it does a good job of that. The use of different fabrics and textures is very effective too. 9/10

  21. Lylassandra says

    Yikes, what a nightmare! Hate the fabric, hate the overly-long lace bertha, hate the weird tacked-on lace swag. 2/10

  22. I thought the placement of the lace bertha was actually quite clever. I agree with Karen Roy that the placement draws attention to the small waist in a modest-seeming, clever way. A flaunting of youth, if you will, with the lace providing subtlety and modesty.

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