Rate the Dress: 1821 Red & Green Zig-Zags

It’s Rate the Dress day again! Every week I feature a historical garment — whether an extant original, or an artistic depiction, and you have your say about its aesthetic merits within the context of its time. This week’s pick is a seasonally inspired 1820s dress with red & green zig-zags.

Last week: ca. 1910s purple polka dots

Last week’s purple polka dotted frock was an interesting one.  Nobody loved it enough to give it a 10/10, and a few of you really didn’t like it, but most of the ratings were pretty positive.

I have a love/hate relationship with the purple number.  Or, more accurately, a hate/love relationship.  My initial reaction was “Gah, it’s hideous!”  The more I looked at it, the more I found elements that I ought to love, or that were beautifully done.  There is so much there that is good, and yet somehow, for me, it just doesn’t work.

The Total: 7 out of 10.

That’s the lowest we’ve had in a while, and pretty bad for the perennially popular 1910s.

This week: a ca. 1821 afternoon dress:

To celebrate the holidays I’ve chosen a red-& green dress:

The most obvious and striking feature of this early 1820s dress is the red & green zig-zagged fabric.  The fabric takes advantage of advances in printing, bleaching and dyeing technology that revolutionised early 19th century fabrics.  The print is created with engraved metal roll-printing; an invention which allowed relatively detailed prints to be created reasonably cheaply, bringing previously prohibitively expensive printed fabrics, if not to the masses, at least to a wider expanse of the general public.

The impact of engraved roll printing was made even more pronounced by improved dyeing and bleaching techniques which allowed prints with multiple contrasting colours to be printed directly next to each other on the fabric at a relatively reasonable price-point.

So this fabric, while perhaps a bit fuddy-duddy to modern eyes, would have been quite new and exciting in the 1820s, justifying the extensive use of it for almost every aspect of the dress.

Note the use of contrasting stripe placement on the pereline body and collar, and the bias-cut of all the major bodice pieces.  The bodice is trimmed with double rows of self-fabric piping, and stripes created by gathering stripes of fabric cut along the green stripes.  The bodice stripes highlight the lowered waist of the 1820s, and the curvier, more waist-focused, silhouette.

The same stripes trim the tops of the double layer of skirt ruffles.  The ruffles utilise an interesting change in stripe placement from the top to the bottom ruffle, creating visual movement at the hem of the dress, emphasising the softer, fuller skirts of 1820s fashion.

The only non-fabric trim element is the narrow wool braid that edges the pelerine and the cuffs of the dress.

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Tell us what you think!  Do the zig-zags, and the way they have been used, add a bit of festive fun to this afternoon frock, or is this example of an 1820s dress a bit of a dud?



(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)





  1. Cyranetta says

    On the whole I find it charming and remarkably restrained in design for such a flamboyant fabric. Very much like the braid outlining, and the self-striping. Only niggle is that I don’t care for the centre front panel – I would have preferred a seam down the middle with mirrored pieces to either side,

    9 if 10

  2. Meira says

    I’m giving it the highest rating I’ve ever given anything, not because I like this dress (I do, as it happens, but in an 8/10 way) but because the fabric tickles me in just the right place. To my eyes, it looks exactly like the kind of garment many sewing bloggers used to write advice posts about–advice posts that always bugged me, warning their gentle readers that making outfits entirely out of quilting cotton is a Very Bad Idea because it Won’t Look Right and makes the outfit look a Bit, Well, Cheap, and Home-made Instead of Hand-made and ugh, rather Becky Home-ecky, so Never Use Quilting Cotton As The Main Fabric In a Garment. And then the maker of this dress is like, oh yeah? BLAM! This was the last quilting cotton left on the Christmas novelty display, and its been there since 1995! This ain’t no oversized gingham for you make a Scandi-chic dartless blouse out of! No, this cotton is crunchy. This cotton was 1.99 a meter and all of the dye will wash out the first time you wash it! This cotton smells faintly of basements and probably someone, somewhere, has a matching sofa-cover-and-curtains set made out of it. With matching pillow-shams. And I’m going to wear it from head. to. toe.

    10/10, for making me smile

    • Geez–What is now considered quilting cotton was once what we made our clothing out of! I go into quilt stores and drool over the beautiful fabric thinking “Oh, that would be a gorgeous dress.” Or blouse or nightgown or whatever. It’s not the fabric that betrays “Becky-Home-ecky, but the workmanship! I’ve worn items I’ve made and people ask where I bought them. At a thrift store I found a baby dress made out of darling fabric that is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen because the workmanship is just crap. I’m guessing that a beginning sewer made it without any instruction from a live person.

      But back to this week’s dress–I like it! I’ll bet it made quite a splash in it’s day. The ruching on the bodice is a charming detail. 9/10

  3. Merry Christmas! (It’s still Christmas here, of course).

    I love the cheerful red-and-green-zigzag print. Thanks for the detail about how such prints were made in the 1820s. I also really, really love the pelerine. The lines of the collar and care are elegant, and somehow make both the bodice and print look much better. The ruffled cuffs work just fine with the pelerine and bodice, though I’m not fond of ruffles in general.

    Unfortunately, I don’t like anything else about the dress. The double-ruffle at the hem looks absurd and odd after that wonderful bodice combination. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the dress looks as though it’s shorter in front than in back (something I’m trying to discount as it may have resulted from the way the dress is displayed here). I would have rated this dress quite highly if the skirt had been plain, or trimmed with something other than ruffles.

    I’ll be a tad generous because it’s Christmas, after all. 7 out of 10.

  4. Buttercup says

    I quite like this dress. The bodice and collar combination is very attractive and makes this dress all the more interesting. I also like the colour and pattern. The only downfall for me are the awful ruffles around the bottom. These ruffles make this sophisticated and stylish dress look home-made. Such a tragedy. It’s like the top half of the dress is going to an elegant high tea while the bottom half is thinking about cleaning out cupboards and sweeping the floor! 7/10

  5. WENDY says

    I find the print hideous, but am impressed by the many ways they varied the placement of the zigzags to give different effects. Love the cut of the dress (even the skirt ruffles!); if the fabric had been different, my mark would have been much higher. 6.5

  6. Lalaith says

    A dress to wear while looking directly into the camera. Marvelous.


  7. Angelle says

    It seems wrong somehow to critique a historical garment from the stance of modern sensibilities, but I don’t love the fabric or the ruffles at the bottom. Perhaps if the fabric had been used more as an accent I would find it more appealing and less overwhelming. On the other hand, elements like the piping and ruching use the print in artful ways and I can see the excellent craftsmanship that created this dress…which in the end I would still prefer in a different fabric and without the bottom ruffles. Maybe 5/10?

  8. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I hate the dress and all its demure slope-shouldered over-trimmed Early Romantic prissiness!

    Now that that is out of my system, as an example of what the non-riche were doing with the newly inexpensive fabrics it’s awesome. As an example of what you can do with stripes and self-fabric trimming, with a couple of bobbles, it’s excellent.

    The ruching trim on the bodice is not just piped, but double-piped! The diagonal line gives the illusion of a smaller waist, but it’s not to the absurd level of the later Romantic and crinoline era. Speaking of crinolines, this would look better with a fuller petticoat to hold the fullness in the back out instead of leaving it a mini-mullet dress.

    The stripes are used to good effect in vertical and diagonal except the bodice diagonals don’t match. It would have looked better with a vertical stripe center and diagonals mirrored like this: \\\||||///

    And the ruffle on the bottom changes stripe direction, not in a planned way, but more like “Oh crap, I should have bought another half-yard” way.

    I would love to have seen this when the fabric was new, because I think it must have been much brighter

    All considered


  9. Campbell says

    The bodice is having a lot of fun with an interesting fabric. The double ruffles on the skirt, as noted by previous commenters, are a sour note to the zig-zag symphony.

  10. I love this. I love the fabric, love the ombre red in the zigzags. I love the motif of the ruched inset then released ruff, I love the mash up of textures this creates and also how the ruched inset distorts the print. I love how the ruffles are cut on the bias and the stripes run in opposite directions. I love the sleeves and most of all I love the collar thing. Pereline? WOW. I do love that. I love the soutache double tracking around it too. I also really love that the maker didn’t decide to run it down each side of all the ruched insets, because that could have been a thing and it may have been a bit sketchy.
    I find it quite wearable, except for the fabric. I do love the idea that it seems so modern yet is so of its time. 9/10

  11. I find the pelerine odd. The rest of it, I like well enough; I think the use of the fabric manages to make features of the 1820s I most often find clunky look quite clever (I do have a bit of a soft spot for the roller prints when they’re not too OTT colour-wise – which they often are, but this colour combination is okay by me). But the pelerine is odd; looking like an afterthought made out of remnants of which there wasn’t quite enough.


  12. Heather says

    I’m not usually a fan of the 1820’s, but something about this dress just works for me. I think the loud fabric really balences out the parts of the 1820s that I don’t love. This dress stands out, and I would definitely have complemented the wearer!

  13. Susan Robinson says

    I have never liked dresses from the 1820-30’s and I think the print is awful. That said, I totally get why people would go nuts with colour after about 30 years of pretending they were ancient Greeks in white. Particularly since colour was easily available. Sort of like people my age who spent way to much time trying to look like Mrs. Kennedy and all of a sudden there was Carnaby Street and Courreges (did I spell that correctly?). Way more fun. I agree that whoever made the dress did a brilliant job with what they had. Still…

    I won’t vote.

  14. Emma says

    There’s very little I do like about this one! I think the colours clash terribly and that the printed pattern is very unattractive. I also dislike the ruffles immensely! I think the pereline sits oddly and the trim on it is uninspired. The shape of the sleeves are odd and the hemline is strangely curved (although that might be the posture of the dummy.)The bodice seems to be nicely shaped though and I like the trim on it.

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