Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: party all day, party all night, 1865

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

For entry #2 in ‘Rate all the Party Dresses’, the historical version of that holiday classic, the ‘day to night dress’.  This frock would be equally at home at an afternoon reception, and an elegant evening soiree.

Last week:  an 1800s dress — and the shoes to match

A lot of you did love last weeks frock, and its shoes, but it wasn’t quite as popular as the dress it followed.  It was just a tiny bit too dull (or high waisted, or filmy) for some of you – the curse of Regency evening dresses strikes again!

The Total:  8.8 out of 10

Not that much of a curse though – still an eminently respectable rating!

This week: an 1865 Robe à transformation

This mid 1860s dress comes with both a day and evening bodice, to make best use of the huge amount of fabric required for the full skirt.

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

This dress could also be used for day events, with undersleeves and a guimpe to fill the neckline – both of fabric as luxurious and delicate as the silk of the dress, because the fabric makes it clear this is a dress for special occasions, no matter what time of day.

This style of dress, with multiple bodices was very common from the 1860s until the 1890s.  In an era where fabric was the primary cost of a dress, and where different times of day and different social occasions required different necklines and sleeve lengths, commissioning a second bodice, which requires relatively little fabric, was a small cost compared to the expense of the skirt fabric.

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

The low cut, short sleeved bodice would have been appropriate for a ball, or a very formal nighttime event.

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

For a slightly less formal evening event, or a formal afternoon event, the day bodice could be worn with the neckline left open.

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

Dress, ca. 1865, Mme Marguerite, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.69.33.11a—f

The ochre sash worn with the day dress is an interesting addition, and may have darkened significantly.  Interestingly, there appears to be an under-lining of the same ochre under the skirt.  Peeks of it are visible at the front of the dress.

The large unadorned skirt allows the two bodices to have quite different design details.  The day bodice is fairly simple, providing a frame for a set of gorgeous whitework embroidery or lace guimpe and engageantes.  The evening bodice is more elaborate, with rouleux, van dyke-esque trim, sculptural sleeves that combine pleats and puffs, and a very extravagant butt-bow, which hints at the bustle fashions to come.

Although its not always ideal in a museum garment, this dress rather charmingly shows some of the evidence of the parties it has attended.  There are a few visible marks on the skirt, among other signs of wear.

What do you think of this palest lilac and ivory confection, in both its iterations?

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.  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!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)


  1. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I would never wear something like this, and I don’t even LIKE the crinoline period … but wow … all that mid-Victorian (although this is French, so it’s probably Empress Eugenie and mid-Second Empire) exquisite excess in one dress, but it’s so well balanced and delicate.

    The details are well-worked out, with the satin binding the same width as the stripes on the skirt, that lovely braid trim, the piping with the shirred net … this was a good modiste working with an understated (for the times) low-contrast scheme and playing with the textures.

    I’ll hate myself in the morning, but it’s definitely a ten.


  2. The delicacy of the colors lifts the weight of so much fabric in the skirt, and the bodices are exquisite, with an almost origami-like impression of some of the trim.

    Like Tsu Dho Nimh above, the style is not to my personal taste, but I have to give full props for excellence.


  3. This is a striking dress. I tend to like a dress with two bodices anyway, and the combination of luxury and practicality in this one is rather delightful.

    I have a terminology question – what makes the evening bodice detail piping rather than rouleaux?


    • Oooh, you’re right! It is actually rouleaux. I thought their was also piping framing the border trim, but when I look very closely, it’s flat as well.

  4. Exquisite. The decoration, the fabric, the colors, all work together and are not too extreme. The only quibble I might raise is the velvet belt shown with the daytime version, but that isn’t too dark or too strong a contrast with the rest of the dress to change my rating. (It’s not a dress I would wear myself, but it’s perfect for the women whose fair coloring would make them ideal wearers.)

    10 out of 10.

  5. It’s magnificent. I love both bodices, but the detailing on the evening bodice is just exquisite. I definitely prefer the sleeves on the day bodice though.


  6. Karen Motylewski says

    Exquisite. Wearable several ways, and perhaps by more than one figure and age? I’d love to see the slippers and jewels that went with this (pale amethyst, pearls?).

  7. Stafford Belinda says

    I just love it. I can hear the experienced voices of mother and modiste discussing how to make the most of the opportunities to wear this dress, while the daughter is standing there dreaming of the waltzing, and the candlelit rooms, and the hope of the meeting someone who will be just right……

  8. Claire Payne says

    What’s not to love? Lovely colour palette, great versatility, wonderful balance of detail with the volume of the skirt. Thank you for sharing.

    10 out of 10 from me.

  9. I really love the dress! I can’t decide whether I like the evening bodice or the day bodice better, although the details on the evening bodice is fantastic. The whole dress is so well designed! My only quibble–if it is one–is that the colour seems almost too subtle; I’d rather a slightly bolder lilac. Could it have faded somewhat? I do love this era, and although the colour is definitely not for me I’d wear the style in a hot minute.
    9.5 out of 10.

  10. Janet van Dompseler says

    I love this dress with either bodice! My favourite time period.

  11. Never in my life could I wear that color…but that dress is exquisite. Two different bodice styles is just brilliant, even if it was a common thing in that day. I had to costume a show a number of years ago that had a double cast…and one of the main characters was played by two very differently sized young ladies. We made a Simplicity historical pattern, and made the waistline of the skirt adjustable with a drawstring…and made two bodices, one a size 8 and one a size 16, to accommodate both. Worked great, and we thought we were very clever, lol.

    10/10 for the dress and the memory it brought to mind. 😉

  12. Heather Hoffmann says

    Really beautiful and I love that the two bodices give the same skirt such an incredibly different look. The only thing I’m not sold on is the color. I would have liked to see a little more contrast between the pink (or is it lavender?) and the cream.


  13. Carol Ortery says

    You have been going above and beyond on your quest for great dresses. I think the gold taffeta at the hem of the skirt is actually a narrow binding to help stiffen the bottom edge of the skirt and give the light weight silk some substance so that it holds its shape better. I love the subtle colors of the fabric, the drape of the fabric, the embellishments. This one I give a 10.

  14. Carmen Beaudry says

    I love the style of the dress and the two bodices. What I don’t like are the colors. I think the cream is too yellow and the lilac boy bright enough. 7/10

  15. Carmen Beaudry says

    I love the style of the dress and the two bodices. What I don’t like are the colors. I think the cream is too yellow and the lilac boy bright enough. 7/10

  16. natalie says

    Agreeing with Carol Ortery: you’ve been showcasing some really interesting dresses.

    This one is lovely. I expect the colors have changed some – for instance the lace on the evening bodice has yellowed – and likely there was more contrast. The colors now remind me of 1897 or so — an “ashes of roses” and ivory dress with an apricot day belt and the ditto dress braid or binding at the bottom. Not really the fashionable colors of the period, these 🙂 Then, though, given the sophisticated and elegant cut and fabric, the dress might have been more quietly-colored than was so common to savvily match the wearer or their personal sense of style and propriety.

    A 9.5 — not a 10 because I’d have preferred if the buttons in the evening bodice were in the back: the closure makes for a less clean front and breaks the zig-zag horizontal trim. That’s a quibble, though 🙂

  17. I give this dress a 10/10. I do love the shape of the bertha on the evening bodice. It is quite different from others I have seen and echos the lines of the butt-bow nicely in the back! I am currently making a gown for an 1860’s ball and it will also eventually have two bodices. This dress has given me the idea of a square neckline for the day bodice too!

  18. Sam Sam says

    I prefer the day time bodice, I think the Ochre ribbon gives more definition to the waist which I prefer with these high waisted 1860’s dresses. I love all of the detail on the evening bodice but wish it had a bit more colour to give it some pizzazz, it’s just a little bit too pale and pasty for my taste.


      • Sam Sam says

        In relationship to the later bustle dresses that is a fairly high waist, I suppose a lot of that look was also the expansive skirts. This dress has a very short bodice in comparison to the length of the skirts though.

  19. Miriam says

    Love the details of this dress, also if I prefer round crinoline shape(earlier style). The evening bodice details are stunning.

    For me is a 10

  20. Oh blargh. I spent so much time wibbling about loving the shoes but not knowing how I felt about the dress that I missed getting last week’s in. >.<

    This one… The first thing that comes to mind is "Christmas Tree Topper". I think the bows at the back of the evening bodice have a lot to do with it, but the sheer amount of gold isn't helping. I do like the bits of pink, up close, and how very much skirt there is, even if the colour isn't doing it for me.


  21. Lauren says

    Sigh, this is so beautiful. How special to have a day bodice so delicate, or diaphanous..
    Whatever outing or event it would have been appropriate for is somewhere I would love to be! Evening events often scare me a little, but lovely daytime get-togethers are so nice

    Could this dress be from 1867? It sure looks like it to me! I have an obsession with that year in fashion, not as much because of the style but because it was Canada’s Confederation year, as well as the birth year of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the year that the first hybrid tea rose was introduced, and the year of the first performance of The Blue Danube.


  22. Jane P. says

    I am not a fan of the hoopskirt era, but I do admire this. So pretty, and so versatile!

  23. Crumpled Rag says

    What a great dress, it really shouts party with the evening bodice, but I was certainly brought up in a household where the idea of making something that would work for more than one occasion was considered ideal, so the day bodice makes the gown perfect. I love the colour and the styling of it all.


  24. I didn’t mention it before, but I thought someone might be interested in seeing a dress of the same era which has a very similar bodice treatment. The dress and owner’s portrait (wearing the dress) are held by a museum which was originally her home.



  25. Helene Illervik says

    I love this dress. I’d love to wear it, It’s one of the most beautiful mid 1800’s dresses I’ve seen.
    10/10 without a doubt!

  26. Christina Kinsey says

    Actually in Nancy Bradfield ‘s book “Costume in Detail”, she shows a couple of dresses from that period that also have raised waists. We are not talking 1800s high here, more a bit above the natural waist, which for some reason in sewing is called the high waist. Beautiful dress, bit pale for me and I would prefer the waist lower. The day version could look amazing…. Dickens Festival maybe? The details on the evening bodice are beautiful too, and I can only guess at the amount of work that went in. I only hope the dressmaker had raised sewing machine to make her task easier. Rating because of the colour and the high waist more 8.5

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