Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Tea Gown Time

Well, I appear to be on a theme roll, because once again I’ve picked a dress with front view vs back view. This one is quite intentional though: it’s a tea gown with a specific over-robe effect.

Last Week: an early 1860s dress in blue floral silk

Last week’s dress was the opposite of the week before’s. A fortnight ago you liked the back view but not the front, last week you loved the front, but if you had any quibbles it was that you thought the additional back tails were awkward and misplaced.

The dress was also quite different to last weeks in that many of you absolutely loved it – somewhat to my surprise.

The Total: 8.9 out of 10

Not quite perfection, but getting there!

This week: an 1890s Liberty Tea Gown

This Liberty tea gown has all the classic elements that make a tea gown: a robe effect with an unbroken line flowing past the waist, rather decadent sleeves, and elements of exoticism and romantic historicism.

Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

It’s no surprise this tea gown has so many typical elements, because Liberty was responsible for making them ubiquitous in tea gown design. Tea gowns were the garment that made Liberty famous beyond the world of the Aesthetic movement. Historicism, exoticism, and a move away from a silhouette based on a distinct waist were all hallmarks of Aesthetic dress, and when tea gowns became fashionable on a wider scale, they carried those elements with them.

Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Liberty tea gown, ca. 1897, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

So, what do you think of this ever-so-ubiquitous tea gown?

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 love the colors in this one. And I quite like the overrobe; it has an almost Italian Renaissance feel to it.

    Unfortunately, that’s about all I do like about this ensemble! I’m not fond of the kind of tiered sleeves of the underdress (it looks drippy to me), and the lace on the forearm part of the underdress sleeves reminds me a bit too much of motheaten fabric. Together, the combination strikes me as grandiose without being beautiful, graceful, or attractive. To me it looks too much like an outfit cobbled together by a little girl out of Mommy’s clothes.

    5 out of 10.

  2. On the whole I find this quite lovely in a stately fashion. The almost Watteau look of the gown back gives a beautiful sweep to that lovely color, and the embroidery seems well chosen both in scale and design. I like the upper part of the sleeves, but my one niggle is that the lower sleeve lace material strikes me as too ornate and would “pull focus” – I would have preferred a continuation of the upper sleeve fabric.
    9 of 10

    • I don’t care for the drape of the robe part over the bust. It feels a bit stiff. The rest feels like a romantic waterfall, begging one to nibble a benedictine cucumber sandwich.


      • Denise Hansen says

        For a minute there, I thought you said nibble a Benedict Cumberbatch sandwich – lol.

        On a more serious note, the dress has a theatrical feel to. I love the colours and the sheen of the fabric but there is a lot going on with the design. But one needs a little drama at tea time! 8/10

  3. Elaine says

    I really want to like this. I love lace and embroidery. I like the colors in this dress – they would be wonderful on a person with the right coloring. But the droopy sleeves, limp dress, and the trained back don’t do it for me. The back in particular puts me in mind of a religious robe with that collar. Too many different things that don’t come together into a unified whole for me. 4/10

  4. Liana Winsauer says

    I don’t have much of an opinion on the dress, but I really like how this one is displayed – simple dress form, sleeves pinned in a human-ish posture, but not one of the ghosty faceless mannequins that may or may not be the right size/shape. I realize that part of it may be due to the loose fit of this style, and other styles might look terrible displayed this way.

    10/10 for presentation. The dress is pretty, too. 🙂

  5. OH it’s so ME!!! I don’t generally judge a gown based on whether I would wear it but I’d wear this in a minute. Also I rather love how it has a priestessy feel, like one will be presiding over an enchantment not just a tea tray.

  6. Christine F Gregory says

    I really love the whole flowy (is that a word?) aspect of this dress. To the way the selves drip, and the cape/back trail behind.


  7. Tracy Ragland says

    I love this! The underdress is luscious, especially the sleeves! And the robe’s design is regal. The only deduction is because I really don’t like orange. 9/10

  8. Christina Kinsey says

    I love the overdress, also the sleeves on the underdress too. On the whole it is beautiful, with a beautiful autumnal colour for the overdress.
    Lovely dress, under dress just rather loose for me but that’s the nature of tea gowns
    I give it a 9

  9. Melissa says

    I love everything about this other than the bunched sleeves, they would look better if they were flowing to go with the flowing back. I love the sacque back look to the overdress and that orange color is divine! 9 out of 10

  10. Carol Kuropatkin-cone says

    I love the style of the dress, the colors and the lacy part of the underdress. Not a huge fan of the “blah” fabric on the rest of the underdress though. Maybe if there was a little bling on the sleeve and neck hem as a transition it would work better for me. 8/10

  11. Valeria Kondratiev says

    I love everything about this dress, and would definitely love to wear it. I love that it has a renaissance style about it too. I give it a 10

  12. vivien dwyer says

    Don’t like the lace on the lower sleeve looks clunky 8\10

  13. kathy loomis says

    I am an ignoramus about fashion history so I was amazed to read that this dress came from 1897. I would have thought 1597??? For almost-the-20th-century this seems ridiculously old-fashioned, aristocratic-wannabe. Can’t imagine what kind of gathering this would be worn to.

    Looking at it as a costume, it’s quite sumptuous and attractive. Lucretia Borgia, maybe? Catherine di Medici? (except for the pouter-pigeon breast). The orange is lovely. The embroidery goes so well with the rich silk. The drippy lace sleeves go with quite nicely.

    But I don’t understand the back of the orange robe. If it’s supposed to float without a distinct waist, why is it fitted so tightly underneath the free-flowing back panel?? What would it look like when she sits down????


  14. Kathy Hanyok says

    You had me at Liberty! I love the over the top theatrical-ness (is that a word?) of it. And the orange is yummy. If the underdress didn’t look so much like cheesecloth, I’d adore it. 9/10

  15. This color is really doing it for me, along with the gorgeous embroidery. So much so that I had already saved this to make using my La Mode Bagatelle Artistic Reform gown pattern. Loved the close-up photos too. I would feel so elegant swanning about in this.

  16. Michelle Patton says

    The design looks like a little bit of the owner’s favorite periods were gathered together for the final piece. This was the Belle Époque period when freedom of expression flowed. Love the lace, love and the colors. I think the owner walked into a room and dazzled the occupants. I think 10.

  17. It’s very of its time, isn’t it? Those lace foresleeves are so Edwardian. Am certain it was lovely to swan about in, and for presiding over the tea table in an upper-class home, but it feels somewhat “seen that before in [insert any Pre-raphaelite painting]”. Just not that exciting and I’d not have paid the fortune it must have cost. Not sure what might make it more “oooo” for me.
    The color and hand of the undersleeves aren’t helping. Probably of chiffon, as was popular then, the ecru color and the drape haven’t worn well.
    I’d give it a 6, unfortunately.

  18. Johanna Wilmore says

    The underdress sleeves are a bit overdone for me. I dont care for them. To me, the look pretentious. The over gown does what it is supposed to do here. It camouflages the waist and buttocks. The dress itself is beautiful. Ecru and orange are not my favorite colors but it is period appropriate. I give it an 8/10.

  19. Elina Gundersen says

    One criteria I usually have for rating here is “would I wear this” and this I definitely would. Not my favorite era, but the colours, embroidery pattern and texture are perfect and the teagownyness makes it less late Victorian and more palatable for me . The upper sleeves are maybe a bit too blowzy, but I could always fix that with a few discreet stitches.

  20. Nannynorfolk says

    Love the overdress but not too keen on the sleeves. There are some much more beautiful Liberty dresses than this, but this is ok. Liberty is a fantastic shop and sells or used to sell as I haven’t been in there since the 1960s, such lovely fabrics.

  21. dropping stitches says

    Medieval drama and elegance. The lace sleeves are my favorite section. No complaints with this one.


  22. I love the overdress, the colours and embroidery are lovely. I don’t like the underdress, I don’t like the colour and the body and sleeves just don’t work for me. In fact, it kind of reminds me of someone trying to do a historical dress but ending up with a fantasy because of preconceptions about what people actually wore. I would give the overdress a 9 and the underdress a 1 so put together I give them a:


  23. I would love to wear this dress. Not perfect, but regal and elegant.

  24. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Oh my … I love it, impracticality and all. It’s just what one of the “Upstairs” ladies would wear to entertain that handsome guardsman in “Upstairs, Downstairs”. Or maybe even a royal.
    Bold color, dripping in gauzy froth, glittering embroidery: Hits all the buttons.

    The waistline is a bit odd and lumpy – maybe it was altered?


    • I wonder if the “lumpy” waistline isn’t simply the result of a non-custom manequin – a manequin that isn’t a perfect copy of the figure this was made for. This is, after all, from an auction site, not from an exhibition in a big museum that can afford customised manequins and customised conservation-grade underlayers…

  25. This is an exquisite gown. I love the line, the detail, the colour, the Pre-Raphaelite design. On a mannequin, it hangs; on a woman, it would carry the tremelo of an artist’s smock become a garment of beaded, laced beauty! I give it a 10.

  26. Andrea R. says

    I do love the Edwardian era. The bustle is slowly disappearing but the shapely silhouette is there. I adore the Arts & Crafts movement so this garment appeals to me. I’m not a fan of orange but this is color is very appropriate and the gold embroidery is delightful. The sleeves harken back to the rennaissance and the lace detail is lovely. I like the gems on the sleeves mimicking the gems from the embroidery.

    I’d say 9 out of 10.

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