Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Crinoline Era Purple Stripes

The response to last week’s Rate the Dress was quite a surprise to me, so this week I’ve picked something surprising: a crinoline era dress that combines a very traditional silhouette, and very traditional trimmings, with very unusual fabric, in a very unusual layout.  What will you make of it?

Last week: A blue bustle-era dress with embroidered roses

I can never exactly predict how a garment will be received, but sometimes I can make a pretty good guess.  Less often, I am totally and completely wrong.  Last week was one of those.  I thought the dress was an awful mish-mash of unrelated ideas, in a very unflattering colour combination.  Most of you, however, did not agree!

The Total: 9.2 out of 10

It’s quite unusual for me to think a dress is a 6, and most of you think it’s a 9 or 10 – usually it’s exactly the opposite.  It’s great though: lovely to see totally different perspectives.

This week:

This striking purple and grey number makes full use of its bold, big stripes to accentuate the design details, from the wide collar, to the darts that shape the bodice.

Rows of tasselled fringe in perfectly matched colours, provide a textural counterpoint to the shiny taffeta, and a visual balance to the strong vertical lines.

The front tassels mimic the desired silhouette, and create the faux-front effect fashionable in the 1850s.

Interestingly the fabric layout mixes balanced and unbalanced stripes, and the dressmaker chose to showcase an unbalanced pattern across the back of the dress, creating an interesting visual asymmetry in a dress that is otherwise completely balanced from side to side.

The various available images show a range of colours, from muted pinky-mauves, to almost blue-purple.

What do you think of the stripey-tassle-y concoction?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating — feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting. However it’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

(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. Love the stripes and the colors, but really had a viscerally anti- reaction to the tassels, and I’m not sure why – maybe they remind me of insect pupae?

    7 of 10

  2. Just luscious in color and silhouette. The use of stripes is lovely too. The tassels, however, brought to mind a ladder, and I wondered what a young child (or circus monkey) would do when confronted with such decoration. If the tassels could have draped I think it would look better, at least to my eyes. Very unusual to say the least.


  3. I like the color scheme (though I hope the red-purple is closest to the actual color, because I like it much better!) The “asymmetrical” stripes in back don’t bother me any either. And I like the tasseled fringe along the bertha-like collar and sleeves. What I DON’T like is the “false-front” of graduated lengths of fringe–to me it looks like she has attached a mobile to the front of her skirt, for some unknown reason. Without that “false-front” I might have given this a 10.

    As it is, however, 8 out of 10.

  4. I quite like the fringe on the bodice, though I would have preferred it to continue around the back creating a false shawl collar. The fringes on the skirt I’m not sure if I would keep as they are or have around the whole skirt in some manner. They do remind me of the lampshades my grandmother made, but I’ve gotten used to seeing them on 1850s clothing. The fabric looks strangely striking and drab to me in the same time. The misch-masch of sleeve ruffles is too much for me.

    6 out of 10

    • What I really like about the tassel fringe is the colour combination with the inclusion of pale green, and the way it curves from the upper arms to the middle of the bodice.

      But I do wonder: Is it attached wrong-side up? I can see that it might have been done on purpose cause the lines were wanted, but maybe it would have looked less like rungs on a ladder on the skirt if the row of balls at the top of the fringe had been left unobstructed..

  5. Chloe says

    The colors and fabric are amazing. Upon first sight I was very taken with this dress. Then I saw the rows of fringe. It looks like a dress that’s still in the design process and the designer is trying to decide which length of fringe to use on the front. “This one.. no this one.. maybe longer??… Hey Mary which length do you like the best? all of them? well.. okay!”
    And the sleeves have so much going on below the elbow I cant really look at it for too long..
    I adore the vertical stripes and asymmetrical colors on the back. The dress looks very well thought out and constructed, the embellishments.. not so much.
    What a great find for the week!


  6. Gillian Stapleton says

    I’m in agreement (for once!) with most of the opinions so far – gorgeous colour and fabric, great use of the stripes – but the front of the skirt with its horizontal rows of trimming reminds me of a haberdashery sample card. Everything else is spot on, but that one thing jars. 9/10

  7. Hearthrose says

    This dress alarms me. It’s not just the stripes, although they’re enough, it’s the weird not-quite-matching sleeves. And the tassels on the skirt, which look random and poorly attached.

    If you wore a dress of similar stripes today, I still wouldn’t care for it, but I wouldn’t be alarmed. After all – it would be very unlikely to be much of an investment, and would probably hit the recycle bin before it was worn many times. And such a dress today would say, “I’m having a fun day!” which is a fine sentiment.

    But a dress like that back in the day was a substantial investment. How many times would this outfit be worn, the “I’m eccentric and I like really bright things!!!” statement be made? I can’t see this enhancing anyone’s social status. It looks like a giant – and expensive – mistake.

    4/10 for being a historical version of “What Not To Wear”

  8. Elaine says

    The colors remind me of a circus clown. 4/10.

  9. Salome says

    The only thing I miss on this dress is a side rope to pull, so the front curtain would be lifted and little midgets would start their performance…
    And NOW I’m getting ideas…!
    3/10. I like the colour scheme though.

  10. I can’t be the only one with “circus tent” as a first thought when I saw the dress.

    I think the work with the stripes is cool, but it’s totally offset with the fringe, and I also get really annoyed with the uneven stripes in the back. All in all, a fun idea that should have been edited down by the dressmaker.

  11. So I’m not the only one that thought ‘ladder up the front’ with the rows of tassels…I’m guessing the dressmaker thought she had to do something to break up the uneven stripe in the front, although I was very impressed with the near-balance of the uneven stripes in the back. I’m wondering if she were dealing with a limited fabric selection …or perhaps the person for whom it was made LOVED the colors and insisted on a dress out of fabric that was actually intended for draperies or something…and the dressmaker did the best she could with it. But I didn’t like the ladderish tassels and I didn’t like the black lace on the sleeves, although I’m sure those were there for a purpose, too; maybe to create a contrast so that the white lace was more accented? Or to set off Milady’s favorite black lace mitts? Whatever… Minus two for the tassels and minus one for the black lace…7/10.

  12. Cara says

    I love the back, and the stripes. I think I could like the bodice tassles, but I’m so distracted by the skirt false front and the monstrous sleeves I can’t tell. I still like the fabric and the silhouette, but all together it’s a terrible lampshade.


  13. Deanna says

    Wow! My initial reaction was just a gasp. 🙂 The color is quite pretty, if a little bright in some photos, I like the stripes even if the scale and color together are verging on being a bit much, and the fringe round the neckline is rather pretty (and I love that all the tassels are color-matched). I feel as though it would be better with either all, or all but the bottom row of skirt fringe removed (a single bottom row would need to be moved down a bit). I do not like all the different shades in the undersleeves/engageantes. Combined with the tassels and pleats, it is so visually cluttered. Perhaps the entire dress would be better without the tassels – the back view is so pleasingly simple (aside from the asymmetrical stripes. They are SO close to being matched but aren’t, ugh!).

    7.5 – It certainly makes a big impact, even with some aspects I don’t love.

    P.S. Can we mention that pale pink confection?!

  14. Lalaith says

    I like the idea of it, and the purples are Excellent, but the longer I look at the tassels the lower my rating goes. A bit Much for most occasions, but the sort of lady who would order something like this is not likely to be overwhelmed by it!


  15. Anor says

    Can anyone help me with a half-remembered quote describing a “small woman, so completely covered in buttons and bows” (or something like that? I think it is from a book on either the Anne of Green Gables or Little Women series?

    Anyway, that’s what I thought of when I saw this dress.

    And that if I didn’t already have a migraine this would give me one!

    Though I love the colours and artful arrangement of stripes.

    5/10 overall!

  16. Wylie says

    Ack! No. I don’t want to be a big purple circus tent.


  17. Anonymous says

    Pros: Love the fabric! Love the use of the fabric!

    Cons: Hate the tassels! Hate the use of the tassels!


  18. Heather says

    Oh dear, I think my love of this dress might reveal my lack of taste 🙂 I love the stripes and the colors (Is it possible that this is a half mourning dress? It is a pretty cheerful creation, but the colors (especially with the black accents) seem reminiscent of half mourning). I do agree that the placement of the tassels on the skirt is a bit odd. I think a better use of the tassels would be as a trim near the bottom of the skirt. Just move the other rows of tassels to travel around the bottom at the level of the bottom row and I’d happily wear this dress. As is its still a 8.5/10 for me!

  19. This is hilarious for me. I am rhinestoning a costume and decided just to do the front for now as it takes so long. AND I’ve been buying crazy tassel fringe for a lampshade so this is my life right now!
    I am hearing the dressmaker in my head – “My lady, we only have enough tassel to either trim the front a lot, or both front and back a little!” M’lady – “Oh never mind the back, stick it all on the front!”
    I’m giving it an 8 – it has a Dickens character’s heightened, frenetic reality, and if the back of the dress was as bonkers as the front, I’d ave given it a 10.

  20. Buttercup says

    Yes to the colour but a big fat no to the sleeves and tassels. In fact this dress is a good lesson in how not to use tassels as embellishments. Hopefully the sequel to this dress does not involve vertical drapes . 5/10

  21. Bridget says

    I really like it. Although(to reference another reviewer) “I’m eccentric and I like really bright things” may as well be my motto.

    As soon as I saw it I figured people would be criticising it for having tassels, which modern taste has relegated to home furnishing. That and the(at least) three different types(and colors!) of lace, fringe and box pleated ruffle that trim the sleeves. Yeah, I can concede that this might be gilding the lily a bit, but dammit, I’m a Natural Form gal and tassels +4 other types of trim do not deter me!

    I really love the color scheme and the stripes. I’m just assuming the warmer purple of the photos on the headless mannequin are the real color scheme, because I like that one much better. Reminds me of candy. I find the 1840s-50s silhouette pleasing, and the details are really nice. How did this dress’s creator find tassel trim in the exact same colors as the stripes of the fabric? But I think my favorite thing about this dress is how good the stripes look in the diagonal cut bodice front. I love how the middle section of fabric between the two darts is mostly white in contrast with the purple around it. It just draws the eye in so nicely. The Victorians really knew how to make the most of striped fabrics, didn’t they? I feel like we moderns don’t take advantage of all the cool things you can do with stripes.

    10/10 Heck yes I’d wear it!

  22. IsobelAyres says

    I could maybe get behind it without the rows of fringe on the skirt, but I think it’s generally horrible with it. A pattern that strong, with so much ornamentation, is just stressful to look at. Nowhere for the eye to rest.


  23. Elizabeth says

    Like the fabric, but oh, those sleeves! If the tassel ladder, and half the lace on the sleeves went I’d start to really like it. And if the collar/bertha went across the back the way I expected it to it’d be perfect.
    5/10 (mostly because of the sleeves)

  24. Pal says

    I love it!
    Like others, it must be the eccentric in me.
    I also just made a pair of really out there shorts that make me think of a gypsy circus tent due to the fabric choice (size too but I am choosing to ignore that part!)
    They makes my teenage daughter cringe.
    I love the tassels!
    At first, I wasn’t sure about the skirt tassels but I love the idea of swaying as one walks.
    BTW: I don’t think it was a “choice” to use the imbalanced stripes on the back until after it was cut and the dressmaker started to assemble and then discovered her “choice”

  25. Magdalena says

    The actual dress I really love (and for some reason, I like the stripes too, when I thought at first I would hate them!) but the tassels along the front just seem disjointed to me. (And not very practical!) So the rating ends up being:


  26. Rachel says

    For me, the stripes are a good choice, though they do make the dress look a bit like an after-dinner peppermint done in purple. The way the angular shapes follow the lines of the dress and become soft and flowing is very attractive. The proportions of the bertha as well as the overall shapes of the sleeves and skirt feel well balanced.

    But the embellishments don’t work for me at all. I quite like overinvolved fussy sleeves, but here the layers create a very jumbled impression, and I think they would have done so even when the dress was new and fresh.

    But the real problem for me is the tassels. There are so many of them! And so little! And they don’t work with the stripes. I can imagine this dress in movement, perhaps on a day with a bit of a breeze, and it turns into a lavender chaos of tiny moving parts. Almost as if the dress itself were crawling.

    For me, the dress feels overbearing, off-putting, and a bit sickly-sweet.


  27. Kelley Christopher-Gaston says

    The fringe on the front has got to go. I do like the dress other than that. 8/10

  28. Lisa W says

    How many antimacassars were killed for this dress??!! Fabric is rather glorious but those tassels… 6/10

  29. Erin English says

    Oh wow. I really don’t like this dress. The only thing I can say I like about it is the use of the stripes. The designer/dressmaker was extremely meticulous and clever in using them to accentuate the lines of the dress. So credit definitely goes there. And I actually like the asymmetry on the back.

    But otherwise I really dislike it. The parallel tassels in front really bother me. I don’t think we need more lines in this dress that already has a ton of lines–and perpendicular!? I also hate that the lines of tassels are different lengths and trying to look like a robe when there isn’t one. Nope nope nope.


  30. Nicole B. says

    This dress should be replicated as a movie costume; it has such an abundance of presence. Every eye would be right there! I do love the mauve, and I agree with Heather, above, that this looks like a representation of the final stages of mourning, with its bits of black lace trim. Something about the sleeves bothered me at first, but then I realized that it was only the almost-white undersleeves conflicting with the darker off-white lace on the sleeves. The last photo without the undersleeves looks fine.
    The cut is jaunty and flattering, and I think it would be fun to get those crinolines and tassels swinging!
    My one complaint is that I’ve never been much of a fan of very wide stripes. Since that is only my personal taste, it shouldn’t kill the score.
    Godey’s, eat your heart out!


    (I’ve noticed you very rarely choose dresses that I can rate as really bad.)

    • I do try, but I can’t find many historical dresses at all that I really think are BAD. Lots of boring ones, but no one comments on those 😉 . Some that are badly displayed, but that’s not their fault.

      Last week was one of the few things I could find that I actually really thought was seriously unattractive – and most people loved it! 😛

  31. Mary Ann Hadley says

    This dress makes me sad. The color of the silk is fine, however the mismatch of the back is distracting;. I really don’t know how you’d get around it. The tassels are fine except for the ladder effect up the front of the skirt. It implies to me that a woman choosing this much decoration has something excessive about her personality or habits. She seemed to be attracting attention to herself, and not in a good way. Additionally, the combination of both white and black lace is excessive. Other than that, I do like the bodice design.

  32. That fabric is gorgeous. Like a number of other commenters, I mostly love it apart from the fringe trim on the front. I’m not sold on the bifurcated bodice point with the little tassels either, and the sleeves probably didn’t need quite that much lace, but overall I like it.


  33. Emma says

    It’s altogether too much for me. Too many stripes, too much colour, too many tassels. And I really hate tassels, almost without exception.


  34. Maria says

    Alas, my first impression was that this dress is something that poor Catherine Sloper would wear in “Washington Square”!

  35. Front of bodice: Perfect!
    Back of bodice: Where’d that shawl collar go?
    Sleeves: Beautiful!
    Back of skirt: Nice! A bit plain, but the details elsewhere make up for it.
    Front of skirt: I see what they were going for, but if a true underskirt/split overskirt combo was out of the question, at least put some trimming along the edges of the tasseled panel. As it is, it just looks tacked-on and incomplete.
    I’d say 6.5 out of 10. I love the color(s) and the general aesthetic, but there are a few bits missing that really detract from this dress’s overall appearance.

  36. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Colors? OMG it’s MAUVE! That dress is so avant garde for 1857!
    ( see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauveine )

    Styling – very much harking back to the earlier fancy petticoat/overskirt era.

    Good use of stripes to enhance the shape of the era. I think the white stripe, although unbalanced, was used at center back because it gives a visually more prominent back length. Also good matching in the side-back pieces.

    My gripe is with the tassels. Not their presence, but because the seamstress did not use them to continue that dramatic fringed shawl collar effect around the back. They are awkwardly tacked on the skirt like a badly done Christmas tree, not variably spaced to give them any visual weight at the bottom, not set into a faux overskirt (one line of self fabric ruching down the ends from waist to hem would have made them settle in so much better, and they did some ruching at the ends of the sleeves) to look more like a real underskirt.

    They are just “Oh look we have 17 yards of tassels left over”, what ever shall we do with them” tacked on. Like railroad tracks.

    Those tassels were a make or break design feature and they broke it.


  37. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Adding – that dress has nothing in the back to reward a gentleman who glances back at her. after she passes It’s imbalanced between fancy front and totally unadorned back.

  38. Hearthrose says

    I wanted to add that I liked the tassels on the bertha, it’s the tassels on the skirt that I don’t like. If the bertha was as-is, and the skirt was a solid matching color, I’d be ever so much happier. Or a small print or something.

  39. It’s sort of like a tassel-monster attacked the dress. I really don’t think it’s the best look. And the sleeves are very fussy. But I do like the fabric and the cut. I don’t think I’d wear this one as is without being paid a lot of money. So, 5/10. Tassel monster!


  40. Nynke says

    oh dear. I really hope the real color of the dress is more like the last picture, because the first picture is just awful. As is the trim on the sleeves. I just don’t know where to start watching or where to stop.

    The tassels on the front remind me a bit of 18th century dresses with their visible, decorated petticoats, which is kind of neat.

    still, 5/10

  41. I know I’m late to comment but I can’t say I like anything about this dress. Circus tent meets 1970’s lampshade…? The color is too much for me too. 5/10

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