Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1830s puffs on sleeves & skirt

So many historical costumers are sewing 1830s, and I want to be sewing 1830s, but I can’t start any new projects until my already started ones are finished, so I’m consoling myself by finding interesting Romantic-era fashions – like this week’s Rate the Dress

Last week: an 1890s dress in plum and leaf print chine

What an interesting reaction to last week’s Rate the Dress! Ratings ranging from 10-2, and everything in between (except 7). It was described as being suitable for a “surreal pseudovictorianish comical dystopia” or perfect for “a posh British lady going to Australia for the first time.” (which is interesting, because it rather reminds me of the better costumes in the generally terribly costumed 2018 ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ TV series).

And “unfortunate”…

The Total: 7 out of 10

It finally gets that 7!

This week: An 1830s evening gown

This 1830s evening gown comes in classical white, with sleeves that Anne would envy (albeit a half century early), a flourish of embroidered greenery around the hem, a perky bow in the centre of the bodice, and layers of sheer at sleeve and hem.

Evening dress, 1830s, From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland

The closer you get to the dress, the more interesting the details are: the flowers/grass heads are three dimensional, and even appear to have floating stamen things (perhaps made from feathers?).

On some sections of the skirt are also strings of faux pearls running between the feathering lines framing the join of the sheer hem overlay. On other sections they are missing, most likely lost with time.

Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland
Evening dress, 1830s From the Turun museokeskus, Finland

What do you think of this simple but complicated frock?

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.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. 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. I am conflicted about this one.

    I see no reason to quibble about the color. White is always sufficient to itself. The embroidery around the skirt is exquisite; well-executed, and perfectly evocative of wheat. And beautiful.

    On the other hand, in my opinion, the bows that accompany the embroidery give the skirt an odd frilliness that makes it look awkward, while the bodice, though well-executed, needs… some embroidery or something, to hold its own with the skirt. Maybe some touches of the green used in the leaves of the wheat at the sleeve ends and waist–something! Its very nakedness makes the sleeves look more puffy than they should, somehow.

    6.5 out of 10.

  2. Tegan says

    I’m equally conflicted about this one. There’s a lot of well-executed work done on this gown, but my thoughts keep veering to the adjective godawful. I think it’s the sheer plus the stick-out grass design. It feels unfinished to me even though it clearly isn’t, and I could see it getting caught on the slightest snag while wearing. Not to say that I couldn’t see it being someone’s exact cup of tea — it just very much wouldn’t be mine.

    Pluses! I LOVE that beaded pearl wavy line! It’s so charming and simple and perfect. It must have also added a nice weight to the gown.

    I think we are missing out on this dress without 1830s hair. With all the sticky-outy bits and delightful wackiness of the hair, I think the dress feels like an aberration. But in context, it might pull together a bit better. So, I’m sad that we only get out of context.

    Due to my conflicted thoughts and back and forth, I have to mark this dress down, for all it’s beautifully made and perfectly executed.


  3. Elaine says

    The embroidery is divine. I really dislike the sleeves – they aren’t just big, they droop and slump in my view. Seen from the side, the skirt looks saggy/baggy as well. Probably I wouldn’t think that if it weren’t for the sleeves. The whole dress looks like it’s melting and about to fall off. 4/10

  4. While I find the embroidery quite lovely as an isolated item, I like neither its scale nor placement on the dress..

    Although if I were to wear such sleeves it would be a guarantee of calamities, either sweeping bric-a-brac from nearby shelves or soiling the sleeves with random dust encounters, I recognize that they are lovely for their time so I cannot deduct.

    I agree that the bodice needs some connecting green elements, and I find the back bow just random, but not actually offensive.

    7 of 10

  5. Nannynorfolk says

    The dress looks as though it’s seen better days but then it is nearly 180 years old. Is the bodice separate or is it just coming apart?
    I really don’t like the sticky out bits of greenery but the dress is a typical 1830s especially the sleeves.
    Interesting to me as I’m transcribing the diary of a 60 year old lady at that time, although this dress must have been worn by someone young.

  6. Nicole B. says

    My first impression of this dress was “cute!” I enjoy the structure of the bodice and the proportions of the sleeves (even if the the proportions are very different than what I’m used to). The dress strikes me as sweet and youthful. Even the embroidery and frou-frous on the skirt add to, rather than detract from, that impression in my mind.

    However, I can’t figure out what is going on with the way the skirt is hanging on this mannequin. It is weirdly bunched in the back and the waistband is hanging down on one side. It also could do with more petticoats, I think, so the bows might be supported better.

    Even despite that, this gown gives me good feelings.

  7. Heather says

    I actually love this! It’s a bit odd but I can see myself wearing it (without that awful and strangely placed bow on the from of the bodice). I love the simplicity and the plainness of the white and the relatively untrimmed bodice with the green organic trim at the hem.

    8/10 (It could’ve been a 10 but that terrible front bow really ruins it for me)

  8. I think it’s absolutely enchanting! I liked it at first glance, the cream makes it really fresh and light and bouffant, and the proportions are good, and I loved the grasses as a detail, and then I saw they were actually 3D and absolutely loved that! I even rather like the bow on the bodice , because it looks like it just alighted briefly for a moment and fits in with all the lightness and airiness and bouffance.


    • Elise says

      Like you, I was utterly charmed by the 3D effects of the grass.

  9. I find it a very interesting exercise in “Finland does a typically over the top era”…
    And there are over the top elements but they are also quite restrained by the colours and proportions (the trimming); which is what makes it an interesting exercise.
    8/10 because it’s an 1830s dress I could actually picture myself wearing.

    • Incidentally, off topic to dress – this didn’t fully register the first time around, but my father would be greatly amused by the source. He noticed and was greatly amused – admittedly in Estonia, the laguage is similar – how everything had to be a keskus – “centre” – and now keeps poking fun at all the so-called centres in the world that aren’t actually central by calling them “keskus”.

  10. dropping stitches says

    This one is tricky. The fabric is lovely. The smooth, tight pleats on the top contrast nicely with the semi-sheer, poofy sleeves. Very elegant and cool. I love green and white together. This is youthful and fresh. I don’t like the front bow placement. Seems like it wouldn’t sit right once an actual bust was inside the dress. And yes…what are those floating stamen things made of? I like their color, but not their wispy grassiness. They make a very elegant gown look…prairie-like. I don’t know. I wouldn’t wear it, but it’s not bad.


  11. It’s a chilly and cloud-bedecked May here in Kentucky, but the trees and grasses are flowering: how interesting it would be if a young lady wearing this dress had just stepped out of Henry Clay’s house a mile away. She’d have looked like she had grown and flowered with the world around her. To my sense of romanticism, it’s a lovely dress, serene, restrained for the era, and beautifully made (am ignoring the mounting). The elements work together, and the front bow reflects the fan bows on the skirt. Am not much for applied jewels, and would have found tiny puffings more appropriate. Imagine that the wearer would have worn greens and blues in her hair, shoes, and wrap. 9 of 10

  12. JessieRoo says

    Soo lovely! I don’t really know what else to say, except that this is one of the dreamiest 1830’s dresses I’ve seen.

  13. Kit Lough Eltringham says

    Huge sleeves, lighter-than-air fabric, the perkiest of perky bows, and utterly adorable and thoroughly inventive applied embellishment. The bodice does perhaps seem a little clunky and ordinary compared to the light and frivolous sleeves and skirt – but I’m still absolutely charmed.

  14. Jill Corbie says

    Wow. I absolutely love it. I’m feverishly imagining accessorizing this dress, maybe with a choker or a small pendant that matches the green embroidery. Or pearls???? SO many options.

  15. Helene says

    I actually like this dress. I’m not really into the period, maybe because I can find it a bit over the top, this dress is not. I wish there had be a little bit of green on the bodice, I don’t mind the bow.
    The only negative thing I find is how the dress sits on the mannequin, if they had padded it a bit you wouldn’t have the wobbliness at the waist. Maybe they could have added some structure under the skirt to make it fall a bit better.

  16. Kathy Hanyok says

    I’m not sure. I love the bodice because I have a thing for well-executed pleats and tucks. I think the sleeves are droopy due to age – it will happen to us all. Although beautifully done, I feel the embroidery is too large and misplaced. My first thought was it looks as though the young lady had arrived through the Lily pond. 7/10

  17. Christina Kinsey says

    The dress is a delight. Definitely for someone young l would say as white or pale colours were thought suitable for the young girl. The trimming on the skirt is unusual and effective and the pearls seem also to indicate it was for someone young. (A lady of my age would be into black satin and loads of trimming)
    Allowing for the fact that the skirt may need a bit more support a 9

  18. Crumpled Rag says

    To my mind the bodice and skirt look as though they are from different outfits, which they clearly aren’t as the sleeve material has the same sheer look as the skirt. The floaty and light skirt with it’s wafty grass embroidery is a work of art, but it just doesn’t sit well with the tightly pleated bodice and the overly large bow. (I’d remove the bow, but i should at least have been a curve of small bows like a flight of birds or something to try and tie it in to the field of the skirt)


  19. Tracy Ragland says

    Hmmmmm…As much as I lovelovelove the embroidery, I dislike the dress as a whole. The bows are distracting; especially the one at center front. The overall silhouette doesn’t look like it would fit an adult.

  20. Other than my ancient nemesis the Puffed Sleeves, there isn’t really anything truly offensive here, and yet… There’s something about it that’s putting me off. I think it’s a combination of minor elements that, on their own, wouldn’t be enough for me to decry the dress, but when they’re all in one place, I just can’t get on board. The bow seems in a weird spot. The loosely-swaying fronds are definitely weird. And while there shouldn’t really be a problem with the fabric, I can’t help but see the dress equivalent of a toilet-papered house. It’s another one that’s just right-down-the-middle-meh for me, and so it gets another


  21. Sarah Rose Thorstad says

    Perhaps I am too into Lore Olympus these days, but I immediately thought “If Persephone lived in the 1830s this is what she would wear to an Olympus ball”. I love it, the exceptional detail of the 3d embroidery is just stunning. I don’t disagree with other commenters that it’s both a little too simple AND a little too much in different ways, but I still think it’s really great overall. I would love to know who owned this. I imagine the daughter or wife of a grain magnate or secretary of agriculture or something.
    9/10 for that embroidery.I now have to figure out how that was acheived lol

  22. Veronica says

    I am truly conflicted by the 1830s. It always seems like a transient time in fashion, to me, at least. The Regency styles (which I love) have deserted the scene completely, and it’s not quite at the full-skirted galore of the early 1860s, then there are those big boofy sleeves I can never entirely get behind. I like the skirt detailing – the embroidery is impressive, as others have mentioned, and I’m actually quite taken with the fan-like motifs (I thought they were shells for a few moments …). Would I wear it? In a pale blue, definitely (remember the Cinderella dress from RTD a few months back?), or a rich jewel tone.

  23. Lucy says

    I could actually enjoy those bodice-sized sleeves if the skirt was less puffy, but the combination of puffy skirt and inflated sleeves reminds me of a hot air balloon – there’d be more fabric than woman!
    Love the little folds across the bodice – they’re great for artificially improving your shoulder-to waist ratio, and the skirt embroidery is brilliant fun, but why are they on the same dress? It’d make far more sense to have decorative folding and bows at both ends, or wheat at both ends.
    Very strange fashion era in general. This one’s cute, though. 5/10.

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