Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Brilliant Blue & Ridiculously Big Skirts

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

I’m back on schedule with Rate the Dress this week, but still feeling blue – or at least that blue is the right hue for Rate the Dress!

This week we go from all the subdued evening blues of last week’s tea gown, to a brilliant blue 1860s number, with equally exciting (if quite different) sleeves. How will it fare in comparison?

Last Week: a 1910s Worth tea gown

Generally you felt that a dress by ultimate design house (albeit one in decline), purchased by a woman with all the money in the world at her disposal, should be good, and was.

There were a few small niggles though. A number of you felt the dress was less than the sum of its parts. Beautiful in details, but the details didn’t add up right, or were too much altogether.

The Total: 9.3 out of 10

Almost perfection, but not quite…

This week: an 1860s day dress in bright blue

Since I’m still in the mood for blue, and not everyone was sold on last week’s muted hues, I present a very different blue: a vivid shade in keeping with the bright hues popular in the 1860s.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

The bright colour might be one of the fashionable new aniline shades: bleu de Lyon or bleu de Paris perhaps. It might also have been dyed with indigo. Most of the early aniline blues were either lighter, or very purple. It wasn’t until the 1890s that a successful synthetic alternative to indigo was invented, and consequently indigo remained a popular and heavily utilised dye long after coal based aniline dyes had replaced many other natural alternatives.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

The dress is a very fashionable late 1860s day dress, with an enormous skirt, just beginning to have its fullness focused towards the back, anticipating the first bustle era.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

The comfortably loose (or oddly bulky, depending on your feelings about 1860s fashion) sleeves are topped with short, full puffs, their volume and width serving to balance the full skirt, and emphasise the narrow waist and dropped shoulders.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

The smooth silk of the dress allows us to see the line of stitching holding the very deep hem. The large facing helps the wide skirt to sit smoothly over its hoops, and pprovides some protection as it sweeps the ground.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

The dress primarily relies on its striking hue, and the cut of the sleeves, pleats of the skirt, and points of the bodice, for visual interest. The only other bits of ornamentation are the large buttons (probably metal), and the small ruffle of lace framing the narrow collar.

Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c
Day dress, ca. 1867, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.40.164.1a–c

What do you think? Is it beautiful, or boring?

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 color, and the silhouette. The sleeves are particularly striking. It could use an extra detail for more punch; possibly a belt with a buckle to match the buttons?

    9.5 out of 10.

    • A belt would take away from that double-pointed bodice point, though, and that’s one of the bodice details I do like (it’s unusual/fresh and maybe hints at men’s vests and makes mildly koumpounophobic me forgiving of the row of buttons because suddenly the row is broken up by not ending in a predictable point!)

      Maybe some skort trim; but at the same time I like that the skirt is untrimmed, in this era of trimmed skirts, and that it lets the colour speak for itself.
      So I don’t know…

      … well, the waistline seems to be piped in a colour matching the buttons (unless that’s the lining sitzing badly?), so maybe more of that elsewhere on the dress? Because that’s one of the details that bug me about the bodice.

  2. Because the play of light on the folds and creases of the silk almost form their own pattern I find that effect quite enough visual interest and appreciate the restraint of the delicate lace collar and modest buttons.

    The sleeve puffs do a nice job of balancing the bodice with the skirt.

    And although blue is not my color, it’s a beautiful shade for those whose complexions it suits.

    10 of 10

  3. Elaine says

    I love the color and texture of the dress. The sleeves are droopy and appear designed to represent depression. The upper back and front shoulders are extremely ill fitting, which I hope is due to the way the dress is displayed and is not indicative of how it fit the original owner. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. As always, I just hate those huge skirts that leave the person looking like a nonentity in a mass of fabric. Overall, kind of bland. 5/10

    • I have the same suspicion, but at the same time even if I imagine it more filled up, some of the things I don’t like are still present.

    • Elaine says

      I suspect the same. In any case, I didn’t deduct any points for the fit.

  4. I want to give the colour a ten, and thus I want to give the dress a ten, and if it was the skirt with a slightly different bodice, it might be a ten, but there are too many things in that bodice that I feel are not sitting right with the rest of it. The main problem for me is that the shoulders are too dropped for the fullness to be a successful counterbalance to the fullness of the skirt.
    7/10 will cover it, I guess.

    • … observing my strong reaction to it: I really do badly want to give it a ten and the fact it doesn’t quite work for me REALLY bugs me. 😀
      So maybe it’s a ten on an emotional scale, which I guess would make it an 8.5/10 on average?

  5. JessieRoo says

    This poor dress clearly needs a taller, more voluptuous wearer! I don’t love the 1860’s silhouette generally, but this dress is lovely in its simplicity and bright but not garish color. It would lovely with some black or cream lace and velvet accessories, and would go with lots of complexions and hair colors-just think how amazing this would look on a redhead!

  6. Susan Stein says

    The side view reveals the balance the sleeves give for the bodice and the skirt volume. I like the flow of the back, no bustle look. I wonder if the very dropped shoulders were meant to accentuate a long (swan) neck or make a short neck seem long. It would be wonderful to see an appropriate hairstyle. The color is knockout beautiful. Do the points look like tail feathers? 8/10

    • The sleeves work from the side, but from every other angle I keep expecting an 1830s dress with a less excessive skirt. 😀

      But I do rather like the huge skirt here. I am not usually very fond of 1860s fashions but I really like the smoothness / flow of this skirt, too – definitely also the effect of the silk fabric, and the fact it’s pleated in pretty big pleats and not gathered – it’s more in proportion to the volume of the skirt and not as twee as Victorian fashions can often get. 🙂

  7. vivien dwyer says

    Love the colour but feel the drop shoulders are a tad too extreme 8/10

  8. It would be nice to see it on a form or human that it actually fit – this form seems short waisted and too narrow through the shoulders and bust?

    I do wonder about the buttons ending so high above the bottom of the bodice; perhaps there was something else there to emphasize the points?


  9. Kathy Hanyok says

    I, too, am bothered by the fit of the bodice on the mannequin. But if I let my imagination fill it in with a taller redhead with black velvet accessories as JessieRoo suggested it is stunning. I do love the sweep of skirt and the vivid color. Just to nit pick, I think the buttons are too large. 9/10

  10. Disie says

    Beautiful colour and fabric. The fit at the shoulders and upper back does seem odd, but I’m not taking that into account because it is on a mannequin. This dress would have been made by hand in all likelihood, so extra points for that. 8/10

  11. sammy says

    As a fan of 1860s silhouettes, I adore the huge skirt and the small-waisted effect. The dropped sleeves look really nice from the front but create an unfortunate hunched effect from the back. Other than that, my only complaint would be that it is a bit plain; the color is nice but not my favorite personally.


  12. caterina says

    the mannequin is a horror, but the dress is perfect: so 10/10

  13. Jill Corbie says

    Just coming off Dickens fair workshops hi weekend, so I have 1840s-60s on the brain and this is exactly why holy shit I love this dress. The blue is gorgeous and the simplicity is just *chef’s kiss* perfect. I want to see this with one big crazy accessory like a giant hat or something.

    Definitely wish the mannequin actually fit the bodice tho.


  14. dropping stitches says

    Gorgeous color and lovely silk. I don’t care for the silhouette. Too big and the dropped shoulders make the body look slouched and hunched over. The dress looks inspired by military looks with all those buttons.


  15. Its beautiful i love French blues..the skirt is amazing and I’d love to have a go walking in it..the only thing i don’t like is the shoulders..but that was the style..they look as if they would limit movement..not that your moving alot in this gown anyway! I give it a 10 i love it!!

  16. Gillian Stapleton says

    I love the colour – clear deep blue – and wearing an 1860s skirt just makes you feel so elegant! The one thing I don’t love is the 1860s loose-fitting ‘coat’ sleeve that found its way onto dresses – not a personal favourite, but very fashionable then. I think the poor fit of the bodice is down to the display mannequin and not the dress. It gets a 9 from me!

  17. Susan says

    No one yet has commented that the sleeves are identical to those on the costume worn by Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, reluctantly nursing the wounded, even more reluctantly birthing Melanie’s baby, then frantically fleeing Atlanta via the dubious help of Rhett Butler, then worn continually (with an alteration of the sleeves for some unknown reason, removing the puffs) for at least the next third of the movie until necessity inspired her to get creative with Miss Ellen’s portieres! I read somewhere that the wardrobe department created multiple copies of that calico dress, each increasingly shabbier…something of which its ancestral splendid blue silk could never be accused.

    So…for the GWTW association, it’s a 10 for me! (I also find the royal blue silk fabric sumptuous, if not ideally displayed. Its splendid color and texture need little ornamentation).

  18. Good catch, Ceci, noticing the space between the buttons and the tent-like points on the bodice. Belts, plain and with bows or other trims, figure in lots of 1867 fashion plates…add a belt and a bow and you have a little more silhouette pop. Still, I think the dress is handsome as is.
    9 of 10

  19. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    I love it, but the VERY dropped shoulders make me feel uncomfortable looking at them. Perhaps less obviously so on a more accurately sized/fitted mannequin. And yes, I see the comments about the belt, there’s definitely a gap for one there.

    I’m going 9 for shoulders and lack of accessories.

  20. Veronica says

    So shoulders and buttons are the crux of the matter here it seems. I agree that the shoulders seem overly dropped, but I seem to have over-developed trapezius for some reason so my shoulders normally resemble a ski slope – perfect for this silhouette maybe, but the puffs seem to lack oomph. I rather like the contrast buttons, and think just two more to bring it to the waist seam would be a vast improvement.
    Because I love the colour, and the 1860s silhouette, despite the button and strange shoulders, I’m going to call this a 9.

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