Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Bustle Era Border Print

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/107809

Last week’s Rate the Dress was an evening dress for an event that didn’t usually call for evening wear. This week’s Rate the Dress is a morning dress for…well, presumably exactly what a morning dress was usually worn for.

Last Week: a 1920s evening-dress as wedding-dress 

Last week’s wedding dress may have been a very unconventional choice, but it was a successful one! Almost everyone loved it, with the few slightly lower scores (it’s a good dress when 8 is the low score!) coming from people who just don’t like the 20s, and couldn’t quite get behind the corsage.

The Total: 9.6 out of 10

Resounding approval for the brides pick!

This week: a first-bustle-era morning dress in border-print cotton

This week I present an 1870s morning dress in a striking border-print cotton with trompe l’oeil ruffle effect.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

In the 1870s a morning (not to be confused with mourning!) dress was an informal dress, usually made in less dressy fabrics, such as cotton. A morning dress was worn at home in the earlier part of the day, before changing for the more formal events of the afternoon, such as visiting, attending events, or shopping.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

Morning dresses were less deshabille than dressing gowns (also worn in the morning) and were considered tidy and formal enough for women to receive visitors who showed up before the prescribed visiting hours (even unknown visitors of the opposite gender) in.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

For less well-off women, who had to do their own tidying and chores in the morning, morning dresses were meant to be practical affairs: simple frocks in washable cotton with small prints on darker grounds, which would hide small marks and stains.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

This morning dress clearly came from the wardrobe of a woman of leisure, with maids to press all her ruffles, and a to-do list totally devoid of anything likely to stain or spot her, unless it was a cup of tea or ink from her morning correspondence.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

The fabric is exceptional, and has been used lavishly, and with much care and planning.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

Note that it’s been painstakingly pieced along the bottom edge of the overskirt, and on the back ‘sash’ pieces, to provide a simpler border with only the trompe l’oeil ruffle.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

The Metropolitan Museum of Art seems to have gone very light on the pressing and de-creasing aspects of this dress, possibly because the fabric appears to be a polished cotton, which creases easily and doesn’t always react so well to un-creasing methods (especially after 130 years).

As always, please don’t rate the dress on the museum’s presentation.

Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b
Morning Dress, 1870s, American, cotton, Gift of Mrs. Phillip H. Gray, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.105.18a, b

What do you think? Would you bounce out of bed at the thought of wearing this? Or are you not-a-morning-person when it comes to this dress?

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 com

27 Comments

  1. Kate says

    I’m a sucker for border prints, white/light based florals, and this era, so this is just perfection. The only thing that would make it better is a lower neckline
    9.5/10

  2. vivien dwyer says

    Mixed feelings here…a trifle impractical for a morning dress but quite light and Summery for wearing on hot days. A little too heavy on the decoration for the lightness of the print.
    7/10

  3. I am intrigued with the pattern on the fabric. I have never seen a piece with that kind of pattern. 10/10 because it is so unique!

  4. Melissa says

    Ugh, I don’t like this at all. The fabric colors/combos are just ugly IMHO. 3/10.

  5. I like the floral part of the print well enough, but the rest of the dress looks too much (to me) like an attempt to take a simple design and fancy it up with the trompe l’oeil. Except the printed ruffle doesn’t look good, to me. It’s too dark to go with the rest of the print, and the darkness makes it look flat and kills the ruffle illusion. (Also, the dark gray of the “ruffle” doesn’t harmonize with the pinks and reds and aquas of the floral print.)

    The dress design is simple and might be more charming without the “ruffle” element. And without all that gray killing the charm of the floral print. The bodice, with its plain stand collar and the faux zig-zag of the “ruffle” suffer most.

    6.5 out of 10

  6. Christine says

    I Love how the fabric was cut to use the printed ruffle as a ribbon.

    9/10

  7. Emily says

    This whole combination feels like a Beatrix potter illustration to me. So charming in the details! 9/10

  8. Crumpled Rag says

    The principle of a ruffle is to my mind, to provide texture, so the idea of a flat ruffle is a bit daft. The choice of colour in this dress is also unflattering to the print, which is light and delicate and ideal for a morning dress. They should have skipped the whole ruffle idea, or put the border fabric with a more grey/blue colour where the two would have complimented each other.
    4/10

  9. Hmmm. It’s a fun dress and would be nice and fluffy to wear on a hot day, but at points the proportions seem to be off. For example, the use of the tromp l’oeil ruffle at the neckline: it’s a tad heavy and would have worked better with just a bar of gray-blue. The ruffles down the front might have worked better if they weren’t meeting in the center, but had a bit of plain space between them. Then too, the tromp l’oeil ruffle is facing the wrong way: so that if it were real, it would dangle towards the wrist. The use of the ruffle on the belt makes no visual sense: two bars of gray-blue on white would have worked better. However, the piecing on the oversight is inspired, as it lightens the skirt.

    I haven’t a problem with the gray contrasting with the colors: morning dress prints in this period could be really, really busy — a wrapping dress with something like 6 colors, plus appliques, comes to mind, that I saw in antique shop some years ago. It was a mad print.

    Am giving it a 7 for effort, and still, it would be fun to wear!

    Thanks for finding such an interesting dress.

  10. This is too much for me! I agree with those that feel the dark ribbon is too much of a contrast to the lightness elsewhere. I also feel that the triple layer on the skirt make the dress look like it belonged to a giantess! It puts the proportions of the skirt way off, to my eye, and the bustle at the back is unbalanced too.

    Overly complicated design for the fabric and overly complicated shape for a day dress:

    3/10

  11. I love the basic fabric, but have to agree with those who find the faux-ruffle print offputting. To me it gives an impression of heaviness at odds with the delicacy of the main fabric, and there’s just so much of it. Perhaps if the width of the “ruffle” were narrower and of a lighter color it would appeal to me more.

    7 of 10

  12. Elaine says

    I really dislike the faux ruffle – to me it looks cheap. This is a pity since it clearly was not a cheap dress. The contrast with the flowered material looks very heavy-handed. 3/10

  13. Emma says

    I like the idea of contrasting the red/pink flowers with the blue border but I’m not sure the dress really manages it.
    7/10

  14. Anna says

    I love it, although the thing that stands out to me are the corners of the overskirt in the front – I think they would look better rounded rather than pointed.

    9/10

  15. Matthias Iris says

    I have to agree with what other comments have said about the printed border ruffle looking heavy, flat, and cheap– I find it costumey and generally not to my liking. I also initially wasn’t big fanof the silhouette (I generally don’t really like heavily bustled dresses) but the longer I looked at it the more I started to like it. Ignoring the border, I do find the rest of the print to be pleasant and summery and it is a nice dress! But that BORDER. I have to give it a 6/10 for that.

  16. nofixedstars says

    i really felt that the use of the ruffle print was incredibly well-thought-out and well-executed. it seems rather clever, almost witty… the print itself is very attractive and overall the dress looks appealing and ornamental without being too fussy or overdone. there is a light-hearted,—almost sly or wry—quality to the dress as a whole; it’s like the frock equivalent of a wink and a nod, a visual “see what i did there?”

    i bet the designer/maker of this piece could make a formidable pair of curtains…and quite possibly beat you at parlour games consistently.

    9/10 for overall charm and execution…

  17. Nannynorfolk says

    I don’t like this at all especially the grey ruffles, shame as the print is quite pretty.
    3/10

  18. Valerie says

    Too much use of the border faux ruffle. Removing half of it would improve the lines of this dress. I particularly don’t like it at the waist, neckline and sleeves. The overall design of the dress is nice, including the drape and detail on the back. 7/10

  19. Julia says

    I don’t love the colours and I find the dress a bit washed out looking. I’m also not a huge fan of rose print fabric in general and this tiny print in particular. I wish the bigger rose sprays had been used as the all over pattern instead.
    That said the printed ruffle is really neat. I’ve never seen that before and it’s very clever.
    I also love all the work that went into this dress. I like that they used the border of the fabric to trim the dress. It seems appropriate for a morning dress to keep it simple. Pair it with a light lace shawl and it would be very sweet.
    I can picture a dark haired victorian lady languishing around the house in this until she has been restored by a bit of breakfast. Then on to that pile of letters needing to be answered! 8/10

  20. I think this dress is incredibly witty! And having never seen a trompe l’oeil print used on a dress from this time period, I find looking at these photos a totally mind-expanding experience. I’m giving this a solid 10.

  21. Malin says

    So light and fluffy and what a pretty back! 8,5/10.

  22. dropping stitches says

    I like the light floral fabric. It’s crisp and fresh. The trim, though detailed, reminds me of snakeskin. I think it looks mismatched. The layered, bustled skirt is fantastic, but the bodice is far less impressive. Too blah. This dress is just okay.

    6/10

  23. The ruffle print is really throwing me. I generally really like border prints, but this one is messing with my head.
    I’d also say the multiple tiers of the skirt work against the dress for me.

    6/10

  24. Yay first time rating a dress!

    If I were getting dressed in the 1870s, I’d like to think I’d be cheeky and choose a trompe l’oeil ruffle as opposed to a real one- I see it as an intellectual choice and maybe better for a small person who could be overwhelmed by all those ruffles if they were real. The cut and silhouette are beautiful 1870s- sleeves are a bit wide, but that’s ok.
    However, I can’t help but see 1990s duvet cover when I look at the overall print/color combo. That is definitely a modern interpretation, but I didn’t like the sickly sweet colors in the 1990s, and I can’t imagine I’d have liked them any more in the 1870s.

    7/10.

  25. I have the overwhelming impression that this is a dress made out of duvet covers… which it most likely isn’t, but it’s hard to shake that feeling for contemporary me.
    And I have similar complaints about it as others do. The skirts are quite neat. The bodice is rather clumsy.
    Still, it’s a rather fun lightweight dress.
    7/10

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