Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Puffed sleeves & pumpkin orange

A colleague and I were discussing Anne of Green Gables and her love of puffed sleeves today. It’s amazing how that episode has become such a defining feature of so many of our formative years – and often our introduction to historical fashion. In keeping with our talk, I’ve picked an 1890s dress with the puffiest of puffed sleeves for this week’s Rate the Dress, although the colour might not have been so much to Anne’s taste – at least not for long.

Last week: a 1920s number in tomato red and fuchsia with gold

Ratings for last week’s dress were all over the place – everything from 1 to 10, and every number in between (except 2, which rather disappoints me. 2 is a much more inventive rating than 1 – it says “I really don’t like this, but I have thought about exactly, exactly why). There were four times as many 10s and 1s, but also quite a lot of the in-betweens, which will explain the rating of…

The Total: 7.5 out of 10

Rather low, seeing as the single most common rating was 9, 10 was the second most common rating, and 8 was the third!

This week:  an 1890s reception gown in pumpkin orange

The puffed sleeves of this dress are, the obvious link to Anne of Green Gables, but the colour reminds me of another, slightly more obscure part of her story. Remember the episode of the pumpkin preserves in Windy Willows/Windy Poplars (depending on which country your version was published in)? Anne loves them the first time she is served them, and raves about ‘eating preserved sunshine’ – only to be served them at every house she’s invited to as school principal, and to be given jars to take home, until she is heartily sick of them.

Well, this dress is just the colour I imagine pumpkin preserves to be – and google images concurs that PP may come in as many different shades of golden orange as Augusta Auctions has given us colour options for this dress.

Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled ‘Sprague Battle Creek’, silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC

I can’t tell you exactly what colour the dress is in real life, but I can tell you a bit more about it. It is classic mid 1890s in style – the extremely large, but slightly soft leg-o-mutton sleeves are a very helpful clue for dating.

Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled ‘Sprague Battle Creek’, silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC

The silk faille paired with a soft and delicate chiffon, bright colour, and lavish beaded embellishment on the bodice identify it as a formal dress for indoor daytime wear – a reception gown.

Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled 'Sprague Battle Creek', silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC
Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled ‘Sprague Battle Creek’, silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC

The bodice decoration is very interesting. The heavy use of pearl beads provides visual impact from a distance, but it is softened and diffused by the chiffon veiling, which contrasts with the more structural elements of the dress, and hints at the Edwardian aesthetic to come.

Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled ‘Sprague Battle Creek’, silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC

The pearl beading continues on to the collar, evoking the high collared necklaces made famous by Alexandra of Denmark, arguably the most influential style icon of the late Victorian era.

Reception gown, 1895-1896, labelled ‘Sprague Battle Creek’, silk faille with silk chiffon, net, and beading, sold by August Auctions, Lot 400 November 14, 2012 NYC

Typically of 1890s fashion, the heavily ornamented bodice is paired with a fairly simple skirt – in this case a 5 panel A-line which is almost a perfect match for the Scroop Fantail skirt pattern (currently not available for sale, but about to be re-launched with an expanded size range).

What do you think of this dress? Do you love it as much as Anne loved puffed sleeves? Or like Anne liked PP: quite a lot at first, but the more you see of it, the worse it gets? Or perhaps (drawing from the same Anne book – and spoiler alert for a 90 year old work, if that’s still an issue.) it’s a Pringle dress: terrible at a quick glance, but actually quite wonderful once you get to know it.

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. Nicole B. says

    Other than the beading, which is lovely, the dress just doesn’t seem that special to me. It isn’t an outstanding dress, just competent. I don’t especially like or dislike the color or the cut, or even the sleeve volume.

  2. Lara Pimblett says

    Love it! Especially the colour and detailing my favourite era 9.5

  3. PatW says

    I’ll give it a 6. The side view is not pleasing. The beading is nice, but the chains on that high collar look like the wearer is wanting a leash. The color is okay; the back detail is nice, but not outstanding.

  4. This garment strikes me as disjointed. The color/chiffon bodice overlay seem to me to have been transferred from a totally different dress as a waste-not/want-not maneuver, but the delicacy of the “import” doesn’t really connect to the boldness of the color of the dress

    The color and shape of the dress are fine, and although I keep thinking of how I would wind up sweeping bric-a-brac from shelves by miscalculating the movement of the sleeves were I to wear such a garment, that’s strictly a “me” issue and not the garment, so I can’t deduct for that.

    7 of 10

  5. Tracy Ragland says

    I don’t care for this dress at all! First the color, which is one of my least favorite s. But style-wise, the enormity of the sleeves dwarfs the skirt. Was this worn by an extremely short woman or is it just proportion? The chiffon greys out the bodice under it. I wonder if it wasn’t added on from some other dress. The waist belt/beading is subtle and lovely. I wish that had been the only decoration.

  6. I cannot wear the monster 1890s sleeves (and I’ve tried!), and I don’t like the big ones much.

    The beading on this gown is exquisite. I like orange and gold, but as you point out it’s hard to tell which photos represent the true color of the fabric. In general, I’ll say that if the true color is one of the bright ones, it’s a bit *too* much unrelieved orange (or gold) for this gown. I also think the gown needs a sash around the waist, in a color slightly darker than the gown fabric (whatever that color is) but in the same general color family.

    Overall, the beading seems to fade into the woodwork, leaving a nice, but boring, gown. It might be a different story if the top photo in the post (showing apparently tarnished silver with pearls over pale salmon) represented the gown’s original colors.

    As it is, 6.5 out of 10.

  7. Oh I LOVE it! I mean, I think it’s bonkers, but like, elegantly bonkers. Pumpkin and cream is one of my favourite colour combinations. The chiffon really makes it, I think, especially with the little fluff at the wrists. To me, the chiffon and curved beading allow the shade to be the only really punchy element. The only thing I don’t like are the larger pearls going straight vertically on the neck–I find them a bit too hard-looking in a dress where everything else seems soft.

  8. Carmen Beaudry says

    I love everything except the chiffon overlay. 8/10

  9. Kathy Fields says

    I love the back and the pumpkin color (alas not for me) The high neck collar looks like it needs a leash.


  10. Lynne says

    I like it! The beading, pearls, and the lovely high neck beading, plus the ‘modesty’ (pearls are quite modest anyway) of the chiffon overlay – all lovely. I love the sleeves, too! Never for me – I was always a solid girl – but for a tall, slender, Anne-girl, perfect. She would not, as you say, have been in love with the colour. I like it, though.

    The time when a child tries to exert a choice in what they wear can be memorable. When I was young (*grins*) I wore what my mother chose. I was probably about seventeen before I got my way about what my mother was going to sew. Up until then, it was all gathered skirts and fitted bodices in fairly bossy prints. My dream was not puffed sleeves (just as well), but the mod look – Mum made me a beautiful shift dress/pinafore, not quite a sack dress, but close, in a rich, subdued tropical tweed, which I wore over a fine polo neck wool jersey, with smart flat heels. Short hair, with hard-won curls coming round on the cheek. Think Dinah Lee, for New Zealanders. Sort of Mary Quant for beginners. I thought I was the bee’s knees!

    The Pumpkin Preserves Dress rates 9 out of 10. At least one of those points is for the pleasure of the memories – of Anne, and of my own wardrobe dramas!

  11. Kathy Hanyok says

    I’m sure the puffed sleeves were originally more puffy. Now they look like deflated balloons. That being said, I think this is a good example of the era. Like a few others, I think the beading was imported from another gown. As I write this, my scoring is going up and down in my mind– I love Anne and beading but the color and those sleeves are too much.

  12. Lori says

    I’d prefer the dress in the taupe color that is in some pictures. I’m not a fan of the pumpkin color. The collar and beading are fantastic. Not a big fan of the sleeves. I give it a 9.

  13. That color, whether orange or gold, is one of my favorites, and as a redhead I’d wear it in a heartbeat! It is the color of a gorgeous sunset! I’m not a fan of the puffed sleeves, but I like this rendition and the lovely bodice and beading. 10/10 for me.

  14. Trish Files says

    Struggling not to hate it because of the color. For me the shape and sleeves are great, the beading is nice and the collar is excessive.


  15. Trish Files says

    Struggling not to hate it because of the color. For me the shape and sleeves are great, the beading is nice and the collar is excessive.


  16. Wow, what a chameleon dress! Is it Orange Sherbert, Sunshine Yellow, or Warm Beige? What would a social media vote say? LOL I’m leery of a garment that can’t make up its mind what color it is. I have such a sweater in my closet now that I rarely wear because just when I think it’s gray, it decides it wants to be brown. But when I put it with brown garments it stubbornly insists it’s grey. Most annoying. But it can be convenient if it’s not so contrary…blending with a range of colors instead of refusing to play nice with any. So I have to knock off a couple of points for color indecision, but, owning that it could be a good thing I will give one point back. The beading and overlay may be recycled but if it is, more power to the seamstress for finding a way to reuse something that had outlived its first life. 9/10.

    • I suspect this is just one colour, and has suffered from a very bad photography job by an auction photographer wanting to show all the details.

  17. Alexandre Boyeau says

    This dress was my first love for the period ~ 1895, I always said that I will reproduce it as soon as I find a correct silk in a store in France () and that my sister will accept to wear it! With this shape and this color I can only put 10/10 !

  18. Heather says

    Love the color… Love the sleeves… It reminds me of the yellow dress from Cromson Peak, which is definitely a plus. However, the beading is a little fussy for my taste and the overlay adds a bit of a tow tone, mismatched effect I don’t love. Overall, I like it quite a bit but it doesn’t blow me away.


  19. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I love the audacity of the color, don’t like the wimping-out of the overlay.

    Aside from the color, there’s not much to distinguish this from any other dress of the era.


  20. I love it!. I love big sleeves, and pumpkin is one of my favorite colors. You have totally distracted me from dresses I SHOULD be working on.

    I give it a 9.5 just because I’m not a fan of big pearls but maybe smaller more dainty ones would work for me better.

  21. Erin says

    I love the color and the way such delicate embellishment has been used to such a balanced overall visual effect. And of course, the sleeves, the sleeves. I hope it is really orange. I am giving it a 9.5 because the neck beading ( which I think would look lovely with a mass of hair up above, reminds me a little too much of a slightly too-snug beaded choker I once made and this just looks a tiny bit too heavy for comfort.

  22. Oh, there was most definitely a 2 on last week’s dress! Though I was the last person to comment and based on the post dates it may have slipped in just a smidge too late, but it tried to be there!

    This week’s… H’wow. Those sleeves. If I had costuming nightmares, those sleeves would haunt my dreams. They might anyway. This is one of those cases where it’s a style I don’t care much for anyway, and the particular example takes it to the extreme.

    Sleeves aside, the rest of the dress is fine. The beadwork on the collar, for me, is absolutely drool-worthy (if it was a necklace, I’d be all over it, or it would be all over me), and there’s nothing else that’s a serious crime. Orange is another thing that’s not among my favourites, but I’m not going to mark it down for the colour because even that pales in comparison to those *sleeves*.


  23. Emma Capponi says

    I kind of love it! I hope it’s more the glowy orange colours, but I can see howa taupe version would be beautiful too! I’m deducting one point for the sleeves – I know they are of their time, but they are just a little too massive for me.


  24. Anat says

    Judging by color of pearls i think the beigey photos are closest to true color of the dress since I’ve yet to see pearls that are this crayon orrange or yellow. So my guess that bright ones were enchanced for some reason. Since they describe it as gold I would say that it’s in the color of the actual gold or of piryte.
    Overall the dress is 5.5/10. It’s hard to find anything truly negative or positive about this one. It’s well made, silhouette was height of the fashionand the embellishments look nice enough. It’s nice but rather unremarkable(except for mystery of the color)

  25. Gillian Stapleton says

    I love the shape, the glorious colour, the wonderful fabric. What I don’t love so much is the chiffon overlay to the front bodice – it does indeed diffuse the effect of the beading, but masks it too in a way that looks odd to my eye, given the brilliance of the rest of the gown,
    I’ll give it an 8.

  26. dropping stitches says

    I love the beading, especially along the high neckline. I don’t care for orange, but it is a nice rich shade of the color and looks pretty on the silk, so no points removed for that. Leg of mutton sleeves are also not my favorite, but I can see that they look good here. Pretty good style, but uninspiring for me.


  27. Natalie says

    Hmmm, a toughie.

    I find the chiffon overlay with the belt rather pretty…but at least from the photos, it feels rather, well, *added*, not quite at one with the rest of the dress (however, please see below for a caveat). Does it function rather like an exterior dickey, so that it can be removed?

    The chiffon trim seems to have been composed of a premade lace piece meant for applique, mounted to a chiffon base with a stiffened belt and collar, and pearls sewn on.

    Did a little digging in the U.S. National Archives American Memory database of newspapers, looking for advertisements appearing in newspapers of the period in Battle Creek, Michigan, a decent-sized town in the period in the lower part of the state. Ann of Green Gables might well have felt at home in Michigan, with its with its gorgeous Great Lakes like northern seas, its lakeside cottages, its forests and orchards of cherries, cherries, cherries (!) and plums and even peaches, and its fields of blueberries.

    I couldn’t find anything useful in a quick search, and wonder if the dress was made by a Battle Creek dressmaker with the last name of Sprague. That might give context to the dress’ design and construction.

    Am guessing that originally the chiffon was less yellowed and more transparent, so that the visual effect would have been more diaphanous than it is now.

    For design with age effects factored in, a 7. Something that would be fun to make and probably charming to wear — very much in the doable costuming range.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY, perhaps 6 hours south of Michigan

  28. Amie Rikke says

    Love it!
    The color, the puff sleeves, the beading, the high neck, the skirt.
    I can here the swishing now as the lady walks.


  29. Rachel says

    I’m not a fan of this specific shade- it’s a bit too cheeto for my taste.

    That being said, the detailing is exquisite and I absolutely love everything else about this. Like so so so so so much!!!

    I know you hate .5 ratings, so I’m rounding down to


  30. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    After dayglo neon lime green, I find orange one of the most unrelentingly horrible colours in the spectrum (unless it’s lovely punchy marmalade or deep rich burnt orange) so this dress puts me off almost immediately. So much orange…. I prefer my oranges in food, not in garments….

    I’m going to say 2/10. Mainly for the colour, but also because the sleeves are just too ridiculously huge and flumpy and throw the proportions off, the skirt looks too short, I hate that the back of the bodice is white, like they ran out of orange fabric, the beading is just there, and sheer overlay over embroidery/beading/vibrant pattern is almost never a favourite feature of mine because why do so much detailed work/pick out a gorgeous fabric, and then cover it all up for no very clear reason with something that doesn’t even really seem to relate to what it’s veiling?

    2/10. Just for the comment about ratings.

  31. Nynke Vellinga says

    The colour is fantastic and 1890’s is one of my favourite periods, but this dress makes me wonder: if you want to make a bold statement with a bold colours and bold sleeves and fancy embroidery, then why would you obscure that with a chiffon overlay? Like you wanted bold, but not too bold. The result is a not very successfull compromise


  32. What’s interesting, I didn’t like the beading in the close-up, it just seemed too not good (yeah I know that’s a horrible explanation).
    Then I saw it in the context of the whole dress, and loved it.

    Also, those sleeves are so crazy over the top, who doesn’t love them?


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