Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: White dresses with blue satin sashes

Dress, cotton with blue silk sash and bow, French, ca. 1860, KSUM 1983.1.2071 a-h.

I’m late again with Rate the Dress, but this time for happier reasons: I’ve been working on a couple of projects that I’m finding very fulfilling and engaging, and taking time to do things just for me. So I played Scrabble with Mr D instead of writing a blog post last week! (I won. He says using words like ‘bast’, ‘bodkin’, and ‘mercer’ is unfair and shouldn’t be allowed)

Last Fortnight: late Victorian marquisette madness

Some of you loved last week’s dress for its bold statement, unusual fabric, and elegant silhouette. Others liked it, but found it a bit headache inducing. And some just hated everything about it: very bold fabric and an 1890s cut aren’t generally popular here on Rate the Dress.

Thank you to Daniel for all the extra information on last week’s dress: where it ended up, and the dodgy alterations.

The Total: 7.5 out of 10

This is the rating that came up most often with this dress, and for once the mode was the mean.

(although some of you rated on things that were presentation or condition, which isn’t really supposed to be counted! If I discount those it goes up to 7.9 out of 10…).

This week: a ca. 1860 ballgown in white cotton with blue silk trimmings

I’ve repeated the ‘all one fabric with touches of blue’ theme of the previous dress, albeit in a much more restful fabric, since some of you found the marquisette to be a little too much.  

Dress ca. 1860, Kent State University Museum
Dress, cotton with blue silk sash and bow, French, ca. 1860,
Kent State University Museum 1983.1.2071 a-h.

This ca 1860 ball gown features the classic combination of a white dress with blue sash and bows: the vivid hue of the silk, and its sheen, adding contrast to the matte white of the sheer dress.

Although the fabrics and patterns are much more subdued than in the last Rate the Dress, there’s a lot going on in this dress: three tiers of ruffles round the skirt hem, another at just the right length for the wearer to fiddle with it, further ruffles on the sleeves, a lush lace-trimmed berthe, a heavily gathered faux chemise with ribbon drawstring, and all those bows!

Dress, cotton with blue silk sash and bow, French, ca. 1860, KSUM 1983.1.2071 a-h.
Dress, cotton with blue silk sash and bow, French, ca. 1860,
Kent State University Museum 1983.1.2071 a-h.

Triple bows on the berthe, double bows with long hanging tails on the sleeves, and a truly enormous bow on the back (click through the captions to the catalogue record to see it).

Like the alternate version of last week’s dress, I’m not entirely convinced this dress hasn’t been altered – and I’m very dubious about the authenticity the hat that goes with it.

But we aren’t rating the hat, and we are rating the dress as it is!

So what do you think?

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. persha says

    Love the lace, and the gathering detail around the neckline. The sheer fabric makes it look so light and fresh, despite it presumably being worn over half a dozen petticoats. I picture Meg March from ‘Little Women’ in this, feeling “plain and shabby” at the Moffat’s ball compared to the other girls who are all gussied up and not realising how pretty she looks 🙂


  2. Johanna says

    This is a dream of a dress for anyone who’s ever been five years old and dreamt of being a princess in a fairytale. The remarkable thing is that it still looking good, even if I’ve outgrown the princess dreams a bit. It’s just so cute and elegant, I can imagine it being worn by a debutante or other very young unmarried woman. It’s a two in a row for me, despite them being so different cut.


  3. Roseberriesmaybe says

    Very sweet and very dainty, the exact dress that comes to mind when you think of the Civil War era. 8/10

  4. It’s very sweet. I find that having all those construction details in a single fabric really doesn’t pull my eyes in a thousand directions. Instead, I see a fluffy confection of a dress and some pretty blue ribbon (although the quadruple bows are a little much, I think). I imagine it would make the woman in it look like a gift. It’s not entirely to my taste, but I do think it accomplishes what I guess its goal is–to look frilly, sweet, pretty, and delicate. Also, I’m living in a heatwave and that’s a dress that doesn’t look unbearable to wear!

  5. Nannynorfolk says

    This reminds me of Degas painting although they were much later. Although not to my taste I imagine a young lady wearing it at the time would have felt fabulous. At least it would have been cooler than a lot of dresses then. The blue really goes well except I really don’t like the bows, but then I’m not a frilly bow gal.

  6. Sweet, simple. I don’t care for the triple-pile-up of blue bows on the center of the chest (wouldn’t one substantial-sized bow be sufficient?) and it’s very much not my type of gown, but there’s nothing objectionable here.

    8 out of 10

  7. My first reaction to the full view was “Disney princess!” (and not in a snarky way). Definitely a youthful style.
    The lace on the berthe is lovely, but I would prefer slightly fewer bows.
    9 of 10

  8. Susan says

    “Girls in white dresses, with blue satin sashes…”

    This had to have been the inspiration for that lyric! I think this dress could easily be one of “my favorite things”, for a young lady just attending her first summer ball. It barely veers away from being an overly sweet confection, but on the right wearer – delightful. The white would have been brighter originally, but its present soft ivory shade is inoffensive.

    After Princess Beatrice’s spectacular vintage heirloom wedding dress, the very idea of such a dress comes close to being quite trendy once again.


  9. nofixedstars says

    it could be so much worse, in theory…but to my eye this is fussy, uninspired, and unappealing. quite possibly the ‘disney princess’ vibe which to others is a positive, or at least neutral, thing is colouring my strongly negative reaction to it. the dress looks young, to the point of the jejune, and that isn’t helping me like it. all i can think of is a meringue…bland, overly sweet, and artificially coloured. the very lack of anything horrible about it should ensure that i rate it fair to middling, but somehow its blandness is more off-putting than helpful. in fact, i have a strong antipathy to this frock which is inexplicable except by the two associations it evokes for me: the disney thing, and a sickly sort of lily-white southern belle thing.

    i know it’s going to strike some as daft, but the highest i can go on this is 2/10.

  10. Cirina says

    I like it. The skirt could use little bit of blue ribbon, too.

  11. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    I love blue and white. This is fresh and bouncy and I love the shade of blue chosen which is a refreshingly deeper shade than you might expect, but not too dark.

    I’ve seen so many white dresses with coloured contrast accents that they need to be really drop dead stand out stunning to get the full 10. I wish the skirt had blue details on it. If it did I would definitely rate it a bit higher than 7.5 out of 10.

  12. I can imagine a young Queen Victoria wearing this. I really like everything about this dress~ 10/10!!!

    • She would actually have been over 40, and the mother to EIGHT children, when this dress was made! But her two eldest daughters (20 and 17 in 1860, respectively) definitely wore frocks like this – in fact Winterhalter painted Princess Alice in a nearly identical white dress, sans the blue bows.

  13. Emma says

    I think it’s quite pretty. I don’t find it exceptional but also I find nothing to object to (except the bows, I really don’t like them!)


  14. Kathy Hanyok says

    Are you sure this isn’t Scarlet’s dress for the barbeque? It’s pretty, but generic. Nothing really stands out to make it exceptional. I do like the berthe because it’s lace trimmed. I like lace. 7/10

  15. Marjo Wheat says

    I think it’s lovely in every way. The bodice is fussy, but it is a ball gown, so this is appropriate. A dreamy dress!

  16. Christina Kinsey says

    I like the dress , it reminds me of the gowns in one of those beautiful Winterhalter paintings of the Empress Eugenie, where the women there are all in these light , delicate dresses. Its something of a miracle this has survived in such good condition because of the delicate fabric.
    I give it a 9.5 only because some of the bows are a bit much

  17. Christine gregory says

    It is like a scrumptious cupcake. I want it despite it being entirely impractical.


  18. I really like the combination of white with a bit of blue, especially in Edwardian dresses where the blue is in the sash like this. I do always wonder about the practicality of crinolines though (having never worn one myself – only farthingales) and I think I’d prefer this dress if it had a smaller, 1840s skirt – the sheer quantity of plain white fabric is perhaps a bit much. I think the frills and the bertha on the bodice help to balance that out, though. Overall I think it works rather well for its time.

  19. India says

    It’s the perfect dress for the Victorian, feminine ideal – young, pretty, demure and absolutely incapable of doing anything for herself. Dora Copperfield to the life. I can appreciate so much about the dress. The blue is the perfect shade against the white, the flounces stop exactly on the right side of over doing it and I do like the bodice. It’s just that I can’t get past the vision of a coy debutante all dressed up and ready for presentation on the marriage market. I know I’m being harsh but I Just can’t shake my 21st century prejudices so a reluctant (because, after all, it is pretty) 5.

  20. Malin says

    A perfect princess dress! So light and fluffy and delicate with just a little colour to liven it up. I’m not normally a bow person but it works here. Love it! 10/10.

  21. Gillian Stapleton says

    Oh my goodness. If I was 20 again, I would be desperate to make and wear this dress; it looks so beautiful and delicate – and so much fun. I love blue and white too, and the bows are the most perfect cherry-on-the-top.

  22. Emma Louise says

    It’s very sweet, so sweet as to induce toothache! I clicked through the other images on the museum website, and the back bow is so, SO big. (on a side not: that hat is definitely a very suspect addition.) It’s really got a fairy tale, princess look to it. Childhood me would have adored it, but adult me is less keen.

  23. Charlotte Mueller says

    How beautiful and demure! The sash is a little overwhelming in the back, so 9.5/10.

  24. Vivien Dwyer says

    Definitely Meg from little women. Love it 9/10

  25. Frances Dorrestein says

    I completely adore it. Every frill and bow is perfect. The simplicity of the cotton Muslin offsets all the fuss, and I think it is absolutely gorgeous. The only issue is, I see it as only a very young person’s dress. So fresh and lovely.
    Not that I am stale or anything!!


  26. TracyW says

    I love butt bows, and this is an astonishing one!

    I hear what some of you are saying about the predictability of white with blue accents, but isn’t there simmering to be did for taking a hackneyed trope and pulling it off well?

    Solid 9
    Only because the back bow is a wee tad out of scale.

  27. PepperReed says


    On the upside, it’s a nice ‘simple’ looking, light and cool dress for the Summer. The hue and touches of blue add to the coolness. I agree that the hat is not correct.

    A half point of for each: I’m NOT a fan of this era, but the dress is a great example of it. That middle ruffle cutting across the expanse of skirt is maddening. And ‘The Largest Butt Bow of the Century’ Award goes to…

  28. One assumes it was for a young wearer, especially with the higher than usual neckline? Pretty, sweet indeed and surprisingly simple, with only a few lines of frills on the skirt. Could have been very OTT.

  29. casey says

    I love the shape of the skirt but find the bodice and the frills all too girly girl and icky-sweet. I especially hate that shade of blue. Perhaps appropriate for a 15 or 16 year old.
    6 / 10

  30. Elaine says

    Pretty, nice colors. Exceptionally sweet white dresses for the 18 and under crowd were a dime a dozen, though. Nothing offensive but nothing special either. So I scored right in the middle: 5/10

  31. Veronica says

    White and blue, perfect, and I love the layering – just the right effect I think, not too heavy. Imagine this as a first ballgown!
    PS: our bubble Scrabble involved words like “intron” (genetics term) and “cranial” and “mantua” (just for the historical costumer in me), and on a very agreeable triple word, “enjoyed”.

  32. Lucy says

    Pretty! Fun! Imagine the way the skirt layers would fly out when you twirled!
    Extremely frilly, but between the neckline and the colour I’m guessing it’s a teenager’s dress, so that’s fair.

  33. 7 Made for a very young person perhaps. Love blue and white, but this needs a little more blue. Do not like the large bow at the back at all. It is really out of scale.

  34. rateadress says

    It reminds me on dresses in Winterhalter portraits: white ball gowns with some coloured bows or sashes. Tissot also featured this colour scheme in some of his paintings, but since he painted them one or two decades later the cut of the dresses was obviously a different one. I think there is nothing wrong with it; the lace could look more expensive though. Also I’d probably like it more if the draping of the bertha ( muslin?) was a little more generous and the ruffles of the sleeves a little more lavish. 8/10

Comments are closed.