Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Here Comes the Bride (ca. 1880)

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

If last week’s patterned fabric wasn’t to your taste, never fear, there is no print to worry about this week! Or, for that matter, colour, because this week’s Rate the Dress looks at an all-white wedding dress.

Last Week: a Française in chine silk

Not everyone was a fan of the fabric, and the compere front didn’t win any awards, but the overall response to the française was very positive. 18th century prettiness and pattern matching are always popular!

The Total: 8.7 out of 10

A definite improvement on the last few weeks.  

This week:  a ca. 1880 wedding dress

We don’t know the name of the bride who wore this week’s wedding dress, but we can assume she was a woman of some means (or, at least came from a wealthy family).

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord
Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

The dress is impeccably made, beautifully fitted, very fashionable, and totally impractical. White wedding dresses had gone from fashionable, but by no means required, to practically mandatory for wealthy brides following Queen Victoria’s choice of a white wedding dress almost 50 years earlier. Even in the 1880s less well-off (and some extremely well-off) brides opted for wedding dresses in more practical hues.

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord
Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

The dress displays many typical features of the transition between the first and second bustle era: a long smoothly fitted bodice, showing off the new longer corsets and higher bustline of the 1880s.

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord
Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

The skirt features a slim overskirt gathered up at the centre front, meeting the lavish train with a cascade of ruffles at the sides.

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

The skirt is anchored by two rows of pleating at the hem, arranged in clusters of five knife pleats interspersed with plain areas.

Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord
Wedding dress, Silk faille, silk satin, cotton lace (machine), silk and cotton lining, ca. 1880, Musee McCord

The bodice features large front buttons, and a rectangle of fringed pleating framing either a false neckline, or a guimpe which can be removed to turn the dress into a lower necked reception gown.

What do you think? Is this your idea of an elegant wedding dress for its era?

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


  1. Although I can never see a garment from this era without getting a feeling of claustrophobia from the strictures of the skirt, as a piece of art, this is lovely. The silk faille looks like it would be the idea fabric for the structural elements with the added benefit of a soft sheen. The only feature I definitely do not care for is that guimpe(?) creating an alternate neckline. To me it creates the impression of a fur lei, a decidedly random element in an otherwise well-designed whole.
    9 of 10

  2. The silk and trimmings give this dress an aura of restrained luxury.

    It happens that the narrow-skirted gowns of 1880 and the few years after form a silhouette I have never really liked–especially when made with a long train. That being said, the restraint shown in the ornamentation goes a long way to winning me over–though the “rectangle of fringed pleating” (which looks almost like fur or feathers to me!) doesn’t strike me as adding anything to the dress. Lace or ribbon would have been better, in my opinion.

    Removing the train and eliminated the fringed pleating would, in my opinion, take this dress up to a 9. Rating the dress as it actually is, I give it…

    7.5 out of 10.

  3. nofixedstars says

    hmmmm…i feel i should like this dress more than i actually do. i like parts of it greatly, and it does have a sort of air of elegant restraint to it. yet somehow, it underwhelms me. i feel ambivalent about it, except for the neckline with its false front or guimpe and bow-knot thingy plunked down bang in the middle of the bust… i have a strong reaction to that; the neckline is dog’s dinner to me. i do very much like the shade of white—that candle-glow ivory is lovely, and would appear beautiful and flattering to anyone under any type of light. the lace at neck and wrists looks beautiful; i wish i could zoom in on it to see it more closely. how to rate it, when i feel such ambivalence? 6/10, 8/10? how badly do i hate the front bit?!

    ugh. i’ll split the difference…let’s go with:


  4. Heather M says

    In general I like it. It screams May Welland marrying Newland Archer.

    For the fashion/times it’s perfect. 9/10 only because I can’t see it without the guimpe and get the whole effect.

  5. Buttercup says

    I find this dress a bit blah. It has lots of ideas but they seem to be all over the place making the overall effect a bit random. It also looks really uncomfortable and a bit claustrophobic to me. 5/10.

  6. Susan says

    I adore this. The subtle contrasts of the satin with the faille, the restrained elegance of the trim, the shape, the length of the train (enough to make a statement without being a nuisance), the fact that it can be reused as another type of dress – everything except the pulled up center of the apron. 9/10

  7. Emma says

    I should like this better than I do. I love tone on tone decoration and fitted bodices. I also like restrained decoration. I just don’t though! The decoration, although quite restrained also feels kind of all over the place. As though someone just added decoration randomly without thinking about whether it actually went with the rest.


  8. vivien dwyer says

    I find this a bit hard…no softness anywhere except at the neck. I feel I should like this but I don’t. Tightly wrapped mummy comes to mind. On the other hand I can see its merits so I’ll give it a 7/10

  9. Pal K says

    I can handle the neck thing even though I don’t like it
    I can see the original wearer liking how it made her feel “fancy”
    I love the structure, the workmanship, and I LOVE the pleating at the bottom of the skirt
    I hate the ruched overskirt
    It would have been lovely hanging down straight (there are vertical pleats coming from the waist just visible)
    The center front ruching is discordant and “messy
    Pity-it could have been in the nine to ten range

  10. I also am not a fan of the overskirt. The craftsmanship is amazing and I love the details. Very obviously made for a bride of means. Even though I do not care for the overskirt, I will give it a 10/10 because I admire the quality of the gown.

  11. PepperReed says

    As a ‘dress’ dress, I’m not a fan of the color; as a wedding dress, I think this is absolutely beautiful. Just classic style for this era; I wish we could see the train better tho’. I’m also not a fan of the neckline, altho your info on the ‘guimpe’ is helpful in understanding why it’s created that way.

    I just wish it was a vibrant hue!


  12. Veronica says

    I like this more than I anticipated. I’m always a fan of solid, smooth colours, and structured bodices I now consider tasteful. I like that it’s not overly trim-heavy; I would, like others, prefer a plain/no overskirt. The neckline is a bit odd but guimpe makes sense.
    PS: is anybody else adoring the costumes from all the Shows Must Go On musicals? Historical accuracy (sometimes) aside, it’s always nice to see clothing move rather than just on a dress form!

  13. Patti says

    For the later Victorian Era and the love of Victoria’s daughters and daughter in law Princess Alexandria, I see where this dress was inspired from. Very covered, sophisticated and matronly. Not a dress for summer months unless a fainting couch was nearby. Impeccably made, hard to imagine a comfortable fit.

    6 out of 10

  14. Maureen says

    I’m struggling to manage my own opinions about weddings with what I know about the period–all coming to a head in this dress! The construction is lovely, it’s obviously designed fashionably for the period and looks wonderfully flattering–though I don’t love the length and gathering of the overskirt. I think the guimpe, if it is a guimpe, is one of my favorite elements. This dress is a walking Edith Wharton novel. I just wish it was a little less restrained! Maybe it’s all my time in India getting to me, but I’d love to see a bride revel in the big day a little more, especially when money is apparently no object. I’m not against the white, but maybe a subtly patterned weave or a more creative use of trim would make this dress feel a little more invitation cardstock, and a little less printer paper.

  15. Crumpled Rag says

    It’s strange to me to that such an expensive-looking dress would be made from completely plain fabric. I wonder if the bride intended for it to be dyed after the wedding? I love the whole shape and the fastidious construction, I like others would like to see a better picture of the back and train. I like the guimpe for decorous daywear and the option of removing it later.

  16. Cirina says

    Well, the trim on the false neckline reminds me of dust bunnies or catepillars. Ew.
    The lace collar is not to my taste either and the ruched front of the overskirt strikes me as a hasty job.
    Otherwise, this dress shows admirable restraint and not the usual 1880′ “radnom mismatch of fabrics and trim, because more is more”.


  17. Kathy Hanyok says

    I quite love this gown. The stacked pleats on the hem are grand, much better than straight pleats would have been. Not so much the fuzzy trim on the bodice, although the lace collar is beautiful. Wish we could see the back. 8/10

  18. Lilli says

    I love this dress. It is so unfussy for the era. It is elegant as opposed to frivolous. I also have to confess I love it because it has solved a problem I have been having trying to decide on how I am going to approach making my first Natural Form gown. If I made this up in the gold and cream fabrics I have I think I would be very happy with the result. 10/10

  19. dropping stitches says

    I do like this one, and I appreciate the details and the fine work that went into its construction. The overskirt, while beautifully sewn, confuses me. The train and the overskirt are frilly and full, while the straight/slim ‘rest’ of the skirt and the vertical lines of the hem are more modern. I don’t think they quite ‘go,’ though I like each as a separate element. I love the buttoned corset. I think the bride just said “Add as many details as possible. Price is no object!” And the dressmaker went for it!


  20. Brigitte says

    The skirt is my favorite part of this dress. I love the cascade of ruffles, very in style at that time. I’m having mixed feelings about the corset. It seems too thick and heavy and claustrophobic. In my opinion if the corset would’ve been more simpler without the design it has on the chest area the dress would look even better. Overall I hope the bride felt beautiful wearing it.

  21. Natalie Ferguson says

    Gee, this dress ticks most of the popular trim types boxes, doesn’t it? Am surprised that it all didn’t go over the top, but the restrained amount of trim keeps things under the top rather than over it. Really do like the fringing at the square neckline, but if it was used there it ought to be used elsewhere, too. Perhaps it is in the back, but I doubt it. Still, it adds a softness that the hard

    What troubles me is the that because so many different types of trim were used, there is little design consistency in the dress. That, in my opinion, is what keeps it from being a great dress rather than a very nice one.

    8 of 10

  22. Claire Irvine says

    I adore elements of this dress, and I hate others. I love the piping, I hate the pleated overskirt. I love the neckline and cuff lace, I hate the jaggedness of the hem trim.
    I’m intrigued by the shaping of the bodice, the combination of the darts and the waist seam?

    Overall, 7.5/10

  23. Rateadress says

    I like this moment in fashion and this dress has some tough competition from elegant haute couture dresses of that era. This one looks upmarket to me but it‘s playing a very safe game. It‘s definitely smart in a bon ton-kinda way, but it doesn’t have any extravagant or original elements, which again makes sense for a wedding dress. I like the ivory color. By the way, I have noticed how in historical movies the female costumes usually jump from big crinoline silhouettes ca 1860 to natural line dresses ca 1880 like this one, as if the 1869-1876 years never existed…just saying. Anyways, I like this dress but I think there are more amazing dresses of this time. So I give it: 8/10

  24. Hannah says

    I wish we could see the back! It’s pretty- as others have commented it shows more restraint than some of the 1880s more-is-better monstrosities.

    Something about the gathering of the overskirt bothers me. I don’t mind the concept at all but the execution looks… a bit un-graceful. Also I’ve never been a huge fan of the stiff pleating that edges the hems of so many 1880s gowns, but it certainly contributes to the modishness of this one.

    Overall I like it, but it doesn’t make me swoon.


  25. Romulo says

    This has nothing to do with this but Im trying to find out what is the casual frocks or le frac coats that Marie Antoinette considered casual dress code at the Trianon.theres a frock coat and a justacorps but neither are casual it’s not a banyan .there’s not that many pieces to men’s wear in 18th century.theres the embroidered ornate coats for state occasions and more plain coats but the plain frock coats are still acceptable at court.its more curiosity.i hate when something is mentioned like it’s so obvious and it’s totally not at all.

  26. Julia says

    I should love this dress. This is one of my favourite eras after all, but it just doesn’t inspire me in the least. Maybe it’s the lack of colour? It is a nice dress but unfortunately the lack of enthusiasm I feel for it makes me give it a lower rating than it could have.

  27. chaik Amanda says

    Too late to be added to the tally, but sweetly pretty.

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