Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1880s ribs, pleats, lace, and buttons

Ribbed silk with embroidered cutwork trim Materials Gift of Elsie Gray Townsend, Albany Institute, 1947.43.2ab

I missed Rate the Dress last week because I had too much on – which was not the case for the dress and spencer themselves, which you deemed almost perfectly decorated. This week I’m pushing the ‘how much can you put on a dress’ envelope – but in a surprisingly restrained way.

Last Week: an 1820s dress & spencer ensemble

A couple of you were lukewarm about the dress, but most of you loved the detailing, the pairing of blush and cream, and the wardrobe options that a dress and spencer would allow.

The Total: 9.5 out of 10

Practically perfect – the bride (if it was a bride) can feel that her dress passed the test of time

This week: an 1882-3 day dress in fawn brown

The description of this dress in my post title may make it sound like a lot. There’s pleats, on pleats, with lace trim, and overskirts, and overbodices with very interesting peplum effects, and oh-so-many buttons down the front:

Ribbed silk with embroidered cutwork trim Materials Gift of Elsie Gray Townsend, Albany Institute, 1947.43.2ab
Day dress, 1882-3, Ribbed silk with embroidered cutwork trim, Gift of Elsie Gray Townsend, Albany Institute, 1947.43.2ab

But all of this (excepting the lace) is done in one fabric, in a very restrained colour.

Day dress, 1882-3, Ribbed silk with embroidered cutwork trim, Gift of Elsie Gray Townsend, Albany Institute, 1947.43.2ab
Day dress, 1882-3, Ribbed silk with embroidered cutwork trim, Gift of Elsie Gray Townsend, Albany Institute, 1947.43.2ab

What do you think? Still too much? Or has the drab colour scheme managed to make even all that decoration dull?

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 actually really like it. The color is not my favorite and the peplum is a little weird, but the overall look is so neat and trim. The restrained color and fabric really let the pleats and little details like the pockets and collar shine. Also, for some reason, the way the arms are posed here gives the impression that it’s about to march off and give someone a piece of its mind.


  2. I really like this dress. The features are skillfully done and tastefully combined. And I like the welted pockets on the bodice portion. The only thing I don’t care for is the color. Fawn brown with cream-colored lace is sufficiently tame that it’s easy to miss the workmanship and excellent design of the dress overall. The side view is particularly graceful and elegant.

    Deducting .5 for the mousy color, I come to a rating of…

    9.5 out of 10.

  3. Claire Irvine says

    I’m not usually one for bustle dresses, as I find most of them way too fussy for my taste. This one, however, ticks pretty much all my boxes. I love the welt pockets and the collar on the bodice, and the pleated details are lovely. I’m not sold on the brown colour though, but it works nicely with the lace.

  4. vivien dwyer says

    Really love this one despite the dull colour…9.5/10

  5. Christine says

    Like others, I don’t love the color. I wonder if has it changed over time?

    I love the pleats and the overall design!

  6. Karen Shaw says

    9.5 out of 10. Only loses .5 because I would have chosen a colour a little further from beige but oh… The way the pleats and the lace fall at an angle to the hem and the minimal bustle, it manages to include so many graceful aspects without any of them overpowering the other. You would feel so elegant and refined in that dress.

  7. I love this…the color wouldn’t suit me but that’s a matter of preference. But the nondescript color is a great foil for all the details; I tried imagining it in a navy, but then it would be hard to find a lace that harmonized as nicely as the ecru with the tan. So …perhaps the color is perfect for the details. I’m gonna go with that and say 10/10. Not sure how it could be improved.

  8. J H Madison says

    Not crazy about the color, but overall I like style and complex simplicity of the dress. 9/10

  9. The colour is a wee bit off, but what gets me is the the skirt looks back to front! The way the lower lace comes down at the front and goes up at the back looks strange to my eye. Modern tastes, perhaps, but for that reason (I do love the welt pockets in the jacket) I’ll give it:


  10. Very beautiful skirt, and I like how it contrasts with the very simple bodice.
    But the front of the peplum looks really off to me. Like an afterthouht, patched on (though I don’t think it is).
    Also, that colour. Even if I think of this as a day dress, that colour couldn’t be flattering to most people. And it really brings the dress down, obscuring the beautiful details.

  11. And this is why Inlove early 1880s. Intricate but not ostentatious. And check out that pocket! I would wear this. 10/10

  12. Jules says

    Predictably, the solid colour (even dull fawn) makes it a winner in my book. I really enjoy the detailing and the contrasting scale of the pleating and over/underskirts, and I find the lace adds just the right touch. Add to that the deliciously severe (if a tad too long) overbodice with all those buttons? It makes me terribly curious to know who she was, and what about her situation or personality required an very expensive, remarkably drab dress…

  13. Elaine Smith says

    I usually dislike all Victorian dresses and most especially bustle dresses. But I like this a lot. The shape is graceful and the bustle is quite restrained. The lace offsets the severity, and I really like how the lace emphasizes the angle of the bodice and repeats it on the skirt. I seem to be in the minority on liking the color. I try to picture the dress in some other color, and can’t come up with anything that would suit the style and coordinate with lace.

    My only objection is to the very long front of the bodice, but I can’t see how that could have been avoided and still mimic the angle of the overskirt. 9/10

  14. Melissa says

    I love everything about this. Pleats are one of my favorite design elements. I really like the color and I think all the details make the dress.

  15. Kathy Hanyok says

    Like mostly everyone else, not a fan of the color. It also seems the mannequin does not fit the bodice very well. The amount of work is tremendous and I do like all the details, individually and together. 9/10

  16. Lauren Sancer says

    I really like it 9/10 for me. The only thing I don’t like about it is the color. But other than that it’s adorable.

  17. Perhaps it’s the way the arms are posed, but this word that comes to mind to describe this dress is “sensible”. It feels like a practical dress for going about one’s day in; there is ornamentation, but not so much lace that it gets in the way and is inconvenient. The brown color is, again, sensible. The entire thing sort of reminds me of Morwen from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles–and that’s very much a good thing!


  18. Palma M says

    First thing I noticed was that oddly placed but beautifully made welt pocket complete with arrowheads. Then noticed all the beautiful piping and precision of the pleats…and decided it had to be a 10…But back to those subversive pockets, Albany, New York at the end of the 19th century was a hotbed for pro- and anti-suffragists…and pockets were a sartorial flashpoint.
    Alice Duer Miller wrote the Poem “Why We Oppose Pockets for Women”
    1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
    2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
    3. Because whenever women have had pockets they have not used them.
    4. Because women are required to carry enough things as it is, without the additional burden of pockets.
    5. Because it would make dissension between husband and wife as to whose pockets were to be filled.
    6. Because it would destroy man’s chivalry toward woman, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pockets.
    7. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.
    8. Because pockets have been used by men to carry tobacco, pipes, whiskey flasks, chewing gum and compromising letters. We see no reason to suppose that women would use them more wisely.


  19. I actually like the color, and it strikes me as being for a young professional woman (with the lace giving it a little personal exuberance). All the elements are perceived as harmonious, and the line is unusually graceful for a less-than-graceful era.

    10 of 10

  20. Disie says

    It’s an absolute stunner. Fawn was a popular colour back then, and in this case the colour showcases the layering and pleating. Love the ecru lace. 10/10

  21. I love the colour and everything else about this beautifully made, elegant dress. And thank you to Palma M for the Alice Duer Miller poem, which is fascinating: pockets for all! 10/10

  22. Lyndell says

    I love the soft colour and lace – it’s all very Lady-like and yet pockets :-). My only design quibble is the squareness of the fronts where the pockets are …. everywhere else is curves

  23. dropping stitches says

    I really love it. The beige color might be boring without all that lovely, feminine lace and interesting layers and details. And that sassy hands-on-hips pose! Yes.


    • And right then of course I remember the one thing I love that has not been mentioned yet: the collar! It has a little round down-turned collar (I’m confused on collar terminology, sorry) rather than a prim standing one like most other day dresses from the era! It’s that collar that really won me over for this dress.

  24. Rosemary Regan says

    Love it… nicely subdued color scheme and lots of details to balance that.
    Question: In dresses like these, with lots and lots of buttons.. are some of those buttons merely ornamental, with only every third or fourth one doing the actual work, or is it that *all* of them have to be popped through a buttonhole individually? Of course, if you have a lady’s maid to do the work….. it wouldn’t matter.

    • Every 1880s and 90s button-front bodice I’ve inspected either had fully working buttonholes, or the buttons were completely fake, and it fastened underneath with hooks.

  25. I love all the pleats and buttons, but I’m not sold on the lace on the overskirt and peplum. I like the lace trim on the cuffs, but the rest of the lace feels like overkill with all the pleats.


  26. Helene says

    There’s nothing I don’t love about this dress.
    I’d wear it and love walking around in it.
    There’s so many details and they show up so well on this dress, I’m not an expert on any era, and I like many styles from different times, I have this feeling that a lot of the dresses I’ve seen from around this time have different prints making it hard for my eyes to really see all the details, on this subdued beauty I can really admire all the pleats, the lace, the buttons and all the other little details
    It’s a lovely, lovely dress and I really do like the colour.
    I give it 10/10

  27. Betty says

    I really like it too, 8.5/10. It’s a pretty, warm beige & not blah to me. Probably someone younger with the right coloring could carry it off. The sharp angular corners on the bottom of the jacket seem incongruent to me. Might have been better with curved edges to echo the collar. I see it as a more subdued dress for visiting, social calls.

  28. Isabella says

    I think this would look lovely with a lavender or lilac bonnet and maybe some other light violet accessories. The color is drab but the lace and the pleats make up for the boring color greatly. Overall it looks smart while still being very feminine.


  29. Beth B in Charlottesville, VA says

    The only thing that strikes me as “off” is the length of the front of the jacket that hangs down below the pockets. I think I’d like that section to be shorter.
    I love the soft color.

  30. Hope A. says

    I love this dress! Personally I don’t love the color (but that’s simply because I look like a toad if I wear it). The design of it is so feminine and elegant, while keeping a sense of unity throughout all the crazy details.

  31. Sensible; a plain fabric lets the wonderful pleats and angles shine. It possesses the right amount of trim for my own sensibilities. But this particular shade of fawn is not as versatile as other neutrals. It doesn’t pair well with most greens, reds, blues. The colonial blue linked above would coordinate. But the value doesn’t offer enough comtrast. Maybe an eggplant purple would pair well, but I’m not sure. This would do for the lady whom wanted to be first rate, but turn no heads.


  32. Camilla Flint says

    Even before I read the comments, I was imagining it being worn by a woman newspaper editor or something of that sort. It’s obviously feminine, made for someone with a very feminine figure, but the pockets, square fronts on the overskirt, and the collar (not to mention the color scheme) give it masculine touch. To me the dress is saying that professionalism can be a feminine trait.

  33. Crystalyn Holomon says

    A very proper and practical dress for the times. The color won’t show the dirt and dust as much. And the lace gives a much needed touch of elegance to keep the dress from being dull. I would rate it an 8- I’m overwheknee with the buttons.

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