Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Red roses & rosettes

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

I’d intended this week’s pick for Christmas week, but it felt so right for this week you’re getting it early. I guess I’ll have to find something different and fun for next week!

Last Week: a blue velvet robe de style by Poiret

There was much discussion about last week’s dress and whether it was back to front on the mannequin, with most people leaning towards a high likelyhood that it was indeed on backwards.

So, the dress was backwards, and the ratings were divided: if I broke the high scores and low scores in half at 6, We’d have two ratings: one of 9, and one of 4. But since I do a mean rating….

The Total: 7.7 out of 10

Sometimes the mean does not reflect the mode!

This week: a natural form era in red silk with rosettes and roses

Last week’s dress was all about simplicity and innovation. This week’s dress is anything but simple:

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

It is, however, from another era that was all about experimentation and invention. The late 1870s were a transitional period in fashion, moving from the slope of the first bustle era, through the slimmer line of the natural form era, and on to the more abrupt shelf of the second bustle era. Transitional periods are always marked by experimentation as styles find their way to the next main ‘look’

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

The 1870s were also an era of experimentation because of all the technological advances of the 19th century, and the ways in which travel exposed designers to works from around the world.

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

The result was outfits like this: explosions of pleating, fringing, beading, braid, bows, chenille and crimping, rosettes and ruffles, swags and sashes.

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

In an age of ‘more is more’, this dress has gone for it all. Plain silk satin in ruby and champagne. Brocaded silk with champagne roses on a ruby ground. Stripes of beaded, braid, and chenille starbursts. Pleating on pleating on pleating, with ruffles on top of it all. Dangling chenille tassels with bead tips falling from ribbon rosettes which finish the beaded stripes and frame the skirt pleating and buttoned bodice. And, to finish it all off, a truly enormous asymmetrical bow.

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

It’s a lot.

And it’s possible that the woman who bought the dress herself felt that it might occasionally be too much, because the ensemble includes a second, much plainer, day or reception bodice. The skirt and bodice we see here were both made in France by a high end label – the plainer bodice was made by a New York stores dressmaking department. This suggests the owner bought the first two while abroad, along with extra fabric (a not uncommon practice – even Worth sold extra fabric to clients), and had the simpler bodice made at home.

Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c
Ensemble, 1879, French, silk, glass beads, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.51.23.1a–c

Sometimes a lot is what you want though. So, for a late 1870s daytime occasion that called for going all out, what do you make of this dress? Does it tickle your sartorial fancy?

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. Jamie says

    Honestly? I love it. It tries to be splendid and over-the-top, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s saved from looking tacky by the strict color-coordination. I want to reserve my top points, however, for things on the “I want to make it now” level of delight, so this one’s going to get;


  2. Elaine says

    When I saw the piece of the bodice in the top image, I thought I was going to love this. Then I saw the rest. Usually I like diagonal stripes, but the ones on the sleeves just look wrong to me. And the way the skirt juts out on each side of the waist is very awkward. There’s just too much of everything for my taste. It could have been lovely if the designer had just picked 2 or 3 things. I think the collar and matching trim on the bodice front are beautiful. The diagonal stripes, rows of pleats on the skirt, and ruffles on ruffles are unnecessary. 5/10

  3. Red and gold is always an attractive combination. I like the smaller bustle of the transition period, and the gold rosettes, seen close-up, are lovely.

    Unfortunately, the way the rosettes are combined and packed onto this dress causes it to lose points in my estimation. And what are all those gold leaves doing there?

    In short, as far as the decoration goes there is way too much going on with this dress. It ends up generating almost a whorehouse vibe; too loud and festive to be truly beautiful.

    6.5 out of 10.

  4. I love most of this dress. The red and gold pair together so well and those rosettes are amazing! I only wish the back of the bodice was as decorative as the front (or at least had a single rosette!) and asymmetry just isn’t my thing. It is an amazingly festive holiday dress though, and if I lived in the 1800s and could actually pull off a red dress with my red hair, I’d wear it!


  5. Goodness. This dress kind of reminds me of a big slice of really rich flourless chocolate cake– it’s too much of a good thing! The color is stunning, and I love the way the champagne lightens up the ruby without being jarring. I like the stripes as trim, and I like the flowers, but I wish the dress had been trimmed only with one or the other. They don’t clash, per se, but it’s back to the chocolate cake metaphor. There’s so much going on that I’m overwhelmed. I’m also not a fan of how one only sees the stripes from the front and only sees the flowers from the back.


  6. Not only do I find the accumulation of ornamentation overwhelming, but it also looks like it would be painful to wear. I do like the color, but the totality of the design makes me feel under attack. I will, however, give it points for enthusiasm.
    7 of 10

  7. Mrs C says

    Well you know that if my living room were a dress, it would be something like this! And I love the practicality of having a simpler day bodice, I hope it balances that skirt ok though. Because it is such a tight colour scheme, and relies on textures, I love all the details. If it had been a more contrasting colour scheme it would be a hot mess. Also, I feel that red and purple in particular can handle a fair bit of blinging up.
    Because if I was at an occasion and this dress walked in one someone else, I would immediately wish it were on me. That’s a very personal reaction, but this dress pulls at my heart strings!

  8. nofixedstars says

    it’s not a particularly subtle dress, certainly… however, seen by gas-lights or candles, it may have looked merely richly textured rather than over the top? although it doesn’t call to me as some dresses do, i can see it looking very pretty at the opera or an evening reception in its day. it has almost what its contemporaries might have called “an oriental richness” to it, especially with the combination of the brocade, the beading, and those rosettes with dangling tassels. it sort of grows on me the more i look at it; i find myself wondering about the woman who chose and wore it. i do hope she had a gold and garnet tiara to go with it.

    i’ll give it 7 out of 10.

  9. It’s just a tad too much, but quite tastefully so – I don’t know which elsements I’d remove or change, and posdibly if I saw it on the right person the rating would be even higher… The one I actually give it mostly reflects my feeling that the dress carries with it a high possibility of overwhelming the wearer.
    It would probably be worn with white lace peeking out at the neck and sleeves, wouldn’t it? I can’t decide if that makes it better or even more of a “too much”.

  10. Disien says

    I absolutely love the colours – that rich deep red and the champagne are gorgeous. The back view is stunning. While the embellishments are exquisitely done there’s just too much of them. If the front had been more like the back, with about 90% less of the embroidery, this would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, it looks like it fell off a Christmas Tree! 5/10

  11. Sue H says

    I love this dress from a distance. Love the colors, the brocaded red silk, the overall impression. Close up, I don’t like the way the rosettes are made. I don’t like the chenille and lace. If they were made another way?……
    I’m in for 7/10

  12. Well. I looked and looked, and looked again at this dress, and tried to imagine the woman who first wore it, and decided that she had a new New York town house with a grand Tudor-Jacobean dining room and a Japanese nook. When she stood in her dining room and looked at you, she evoked a Tudor noblewoman. When she posed, mostly turned away from you, in her nook, the folds of her gown reminded you of the rumples of a kimono on a kneeling lady in a Japanese block print.

    It’s almost as if she said “I must have the front of this model and the back of that one” and the couturiere wisely put them together in a cohesive color scheme to please her and make the sale. Had a single theme governed the dress, I’d have liked it better. As it is, the construction is lovely, but the effect is disparate.

    So sorry, but 5 of 10

  13. Kathy hanyok says

    It looks uncomfortable. I do like the floral fabric, just not tucked into the bodice the way it is. The rosettes or rondelles remind me of fuzzy spiders and I would want to take it off immediately. I can, however, admire the tenacity of the workmanship. 6

  14. Christine says

    It feels like it should be overdone but it works for me.


  15. I was curious, so looked up the other bodice online. It is SO plain that I found it hard to imagine it working with the skirt – the contrast is so great that it would give the impression that the intended trimming had somehow fallen off the bodice and landed on the skirt.

    For me there is an element of “Go big or go home” about this dress; a skirt that elaborate needs an equally elaborate bodice to balance it. However although the elements work well together, there’s a bit too much going on for me to really like it.


  16. Anita Joy says

    Wow! Encapsulates the season of Christmas perfectly.
    I would wear it in a heartbeat.


  17. Debbie Farthing says

    I love the richness and the variety of trims and dressmaking techniques. I like the assymetrical bustle but the tucking on the other side seems a little clumsy though.

  18. JessieRoo says

    All I can find to critique about this is that there could be a better balance of trim and floral fabric from front to back, and that the hips jut out rather awkwardly. The colors are lovely on their own and together, and the perfect match of the fabric and trim colors makes it look richly textured where imperfect matching would make it horribly garish and messy. I can’t help rating partly on how much I’d like to have my own perfectly fitted version of a dress, and I’d very much like to have this dress!!

  19. Susan Martin says

    the colors are rich, and while I adore all the flounces and intricate detail, it is almost a bit too much for me. So.

  20. Marina says

    Love, love, love this dress. I think the lady you wore this felt totally a la mode. Even with the simpler bodice. In an age where clothes had to last a lot longer, and they certainly didn’t have as much as we do today, this dress would be a hit. This person was definitely fashion forward. It may not appeal to modern tastes and but it was perfect for the day and age.

  21. Erika says

    I was thinking ‘what could I take off of this dress to make it better?’, but then I realized the ‘too-muchness’ of it is what makes it special. I would however had made the back portion of the skirt symmetrical- because it does seem like two completely different design ideas/skirts mashed together. 7/10

    • That was pretty much my own reaction – it seems like surely something should be taken away but really nothing can be, it’s all part of the dress’s character. 🙂

      • Ellen says

        I can see removing the middle flounce on the front. This would elongate that panel, and give some negative space for breathing, while not disturbing the harmony of the rest of the pieces (since there is still the bottom flounce, gold would still be represented).

  22. Ellen Najpauer says

    I don’t usually comment, but I wanted to say that I love this dress. Probably a bit difficult to wear, but color and workmanship are incredible. 9/10

  23. Elizabeth Harber says

    What a lovely dress – so much work! I especially enjoy the way the accent fabric is distributed around the dress. I might edit out the pleated trim on the skirt front and keep it only on the hem area. 9.5/10

  24. Malin says

    I really like it! It is too much in terms of decoration, really, but somehow it works. The colous are wonderful and the colour scheme just subtle enough. I love the slightly simpler back view. 9/10.

  25. Johanne says

    This dress made me clap my hands for its sheer joy of color beyond the perfection of its construction. It lifts the spirits. I’d wear it in a NY minute.


    • Clicked through to see the plainer bodice, and definitely like the fancy one better.

  26. I love the colour, it looks so sumptuous and rich. Ruffles and rosettes aren’t really my thing but then if your going to have them you might as well go for it, I like how unapologetically extra it is.
    I’m also not too sure that the back and front of the dress work together.

  27. Roseann says

    Love love love love..my name is rose and this dress just sings to me..i love the rich colors and all the swag!!!!

  28. Too much going on. Love all the individual decorations, love the colour scheme, but it needs at least 50% of the decorations removed.
    Simplifying the skirt – closing the skirt instead of messing around with coordinating petticoats, and removing most of the skirt rosettes – would be a good start.
    Great colour scheme though!

  29. Claire Irvine says

    I don’t usually like bustle era dresses, but for some reason I adore this one. The only things I would change would be to simplify the drapery of the back skirt and get rid of the weird tassel things. Other than that, I would actually wear this dress.


  30. Nicole B. says

    Drop. Dead. Gorgeous. Unfortunately, the poor girl probably couldn’t draw breath enough to speak while wearing it. 😉

  31. dropping stitches says

    So so much going on in this one. It’s hard for me to zero in on any one element. I love the color and the fabric so much. The 3/4 length sleeves are not my favorite, nor are the rosettes with the dangly bits. Otherwise, I love it.


  32. ElOmbu says

    I’m trying to separate out my personal feelings about the too muchness (very negative) and whether this dress actually works as a too-much dress (kinda?). Frankly, I think the whole thing looks like it should be flattened, and made into a Christmas tree skirt. (Is that too mean?) I really dislike the asymmetrical bustle–and I love asymmetry–but the very symmetrical front just screams for a tidier back. I’ll be kind, because of all the work that went into it and because I just love the color. 7/10

  33. Ivana says

    Fabric, colour, all the extras 🙂
    Musing on was it planned ( shopping , whilst traveling) or emergency shopping for “important invitation “ or sudden change of “status”..

  34. Margaret Bernstein says

    10 out of 10…..I am making a copy of this dress currently…. do you have any images of the “simpler day bodice” for it. I was going to make a fancier evening bodice for balls but the day one would be nice too. I guess I love overdone and too much in my favorite colors. It just makes me happy when i see it

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