Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1860s golden yellow moire

Welcome to all the new readers! Last week’s Rate the Dress must have been shared somewhere, because there was a flood of new commenters.

I’m down in Christchurch this week, doing research and visiting Lynne (who you’ll recognise as a frequent commenter on Rate the Dress posts). It’s been a hectic few weeks of wrapping up school terms, and I’m tired, and was feeling quite uninspired about this week’s Rate the Dress. Nothing I could think of seemed perfect.

So I pulled out all the options, and read out their basic description to Lynne. Purple floral 1880s? Rust on rust 1876? Black & white striped 1869? Yellow with rosettes 1867-8?

Lynne picked the last one, on the premise that it’s spring here, and we’re enjoying a beautiful vase of daffodils, and I went for a walk in the daffodil woods in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens today. She was concerned about the rosettes though: rosettes are so often pinked, and her mothers aversion to unfinished edges has remained.

She need not worry about unfinished edges, these rosettes are nicely finished. They may still be…concerning though. And they yellow isn’t really spring-y and daffodil-y. But if you don’t like the frock you must blame me and not her!

Last Week: an 1890s petal pink reception dress

The ratings for last week’s dress came in two distinct groups: total 10/10 fans, and people who were distinctly meh about it, and rated it 5/10. The first group was decidedly dominant, and combined with the smattering of other respectably high scores, the total has come in at a rather impressive…

The Total: 9 out of 10

Yet again it’s a few decimal points down on the week before.

This week: gold yellow moire with black lace

After giving you a dress last week that required a bit of imagination to repair defects in the dressing and presentation, I’m afraid I’ve done the same thing again this week.

Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b
Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b

Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art is usually quite good in its photographs, this one is a bit lacklustre. The mannequin is too short in the torso. It’s also too slim everywhere but the waist: the original wearer must have been possessed a beautifully junoesque figure, and this dress would benefit from a great deal of padding in the bust and upper torso.

Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b
Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b

The sleeves also need a bit of oomph. The dress would have been worn with engageantes, which would have added a little fullness and structure to the lower sleeves, and possible with sleeve supports in the upper sleeves as well.

Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b
Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b

On top of all that the dress isn’t in perfect condition. It’s trimmed with some rather delicate lace, which has perished in places. When you rate this dress, please try to imagine it on a mannequin that fits it properly, with the right supports, and with the lace and other bits intact.

Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b
Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b

As to the rest of the dress, well, that’s what Rate the Dress is about! I can see this one evoking some rather interesting reactions. The rosettes are, indeed, rather nicely finished, but they are…distinctive.

Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b
Dress, 1867—68, American, silk, Gift of Mrs. Jennie F. Potter, 1946,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.46.96a, b

I’m guessing that the ratings are going to go one of two ways. Either you are either going to find the rosettes fun and whimsical: the design decision of an assured woman with a sense of humour and a good dash of chutzpah, or you’re going to think the whole thing is hideously clownish.

Am I right?

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. Sara McDermott says

    Ah, that golden yellow! The delicate black lace! The… rosettes like the pompoms on a Pierrot costume. The bulky double collar. Sigh.
    Mostly, I still love it.


  2. Count me on the clownish side. The rosettes truly repelled me, mainly because I find the scale way to large, as if someone had attached a graduated series of pies to the skirt. I do like the color, although I find the black lace a harsh contrast (but I can’t imagine a color that would suit me).

    I like the pointed line of the basque over the bustle, although I generally find the gigantic bustle skirts of the era overwhelming and spend more time wondering how a woman managed to navigate through doorways.

    7 of 10

    • I actually think the rosettes could have done with a more pronounced graduation of size to make that aspect of the design idea clearer – until I read your comment, I didn’t realise they were meant to be graduated…

  3. Elaine says

    Yes, Leimomi, you are right as far as I’m concerned. Long before I reached your comment about some raters thinking it was clownish, I was thinking the rosettes remind me of bobbles on a clown outfit. Possibly the original owner was a self-confident woman with a sense of humor, but I’m rating the dress, not the wearer. So I’m sorry, but 4/10.

  4. nofixedstars says

    hmmm. this one is puzzling. parts of it i like very much, and parts of it have me fence-sitting. first, the things i like: love the colour, love the fabric, love the black lace accents. love the bodice and the sleeves. love the buttons, too. i’m torn about the rosettes…they are nicely made and attractive enough in themselves. but the placement in a row down the centre front of the skirt is not engaging to me. i would have preferred them to be more numerous and placed around the hem, perhaps. or ideally, just one at the back waist, and *maybe* a smaller one on the bodice like a corsage. that would have been grand. as it is…they are distracting, and yes, unfortunately reminiscent of monsieur pierrot. if they were removed, i’d give it a 9/10, (only docking a point for the big bustle which is not my personal favourite style.)

    as it stands, my rating: 7/10

  5. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    The color is great, the moire subtle and interesting, the lace was probably lovely when new … the unfortunate fit to the plastic lady is not the dress’s fault.

    But the rosettes are overscaled and do not look related to anything in the rest of the dress. Just stuck on the front of the skirt for no apparent reason.


  6. Kathy Hanyok says

    I love the color, since I’m currently making a ‘ 20s robe de style in the same. I do like the points over the bustle. But the rosettes -no. 7/10

  7. This was not one of my favorites. I think it is because of the placement of the rosettes and how it is worn on the mannequin. I also am not excited about the watermarked fabric. It looks to me like water damage. I am sorry to give this one 7.

  8. dropping stitches says

    The rosettes push me into clown territory. This is a costume. I don’t care for the colors or the big showy rosettes. Too much. It reminds me so much of Mother Ginger from the Nutcracker ballet. She strolls out in a huge colorful skirt, and many many children come dancing out from underneath. I can’t get that image out of my head when I see this dress.


  9. I adore its crazy everything. Gold and black, what’s not to swoon over! I love the rosettes, they give it a commedia de l’arte vibe. I do wish they had as you say made a better job of the bodice supporting but they got that big old bustle butt right.

  10. Giant jewelled buttons! (Maybe topaz?) That’s what the contentious rosettes look like to me.
    The dress really needs a woman (or mannequin) who can fill it out, as you say, but I see it as a big and bold and dramatic ensemble. I think I’d like something a little less dainty by way of lace trimming, though – this isn’t a wallflower’s dress. And what a glorious colour!

  11. Yes, this dress definitely needs engageantes, but it would be lovely with the right one.

    I think that the yellow of this dress is beautiful–it’s one of the best yellows I’ve seen. The fabric is perfect–even with the super-large design motif. On the other hand, I don’t like the black lace used to trim the dress–it seems inadequate to the task somehow. And I’d like to remove the huge black-lace-trimmed rosettes down the skirt front. They seem ugly and odd to me. That’s sad, because is *is* a gown for a woman who’s larger than life in more ways than the physical. The cut of the dress is perfect for that but the trim in my opinion is not.

    6.5 out of 10.

  12. My first impressions were brutal; the little preview shot, for some reason, made me think of a picture of the backside of a bumblebee that has been making its way around my corner of Facebook. Why? I have no idea. But I immediately thought of that when I saw the pic. Then, when I saw the full front…well, the rosettes immediately brought Bozo the Clown to mind. I actually felt rather bad about that, until I read ‘…or you’re going to think the whole thing is hideously clownish.’ Ok, then, I’m not way out in left field on this. Looking for positives…I think it would have been a great dress for a comedic supporting actress in a romping Victorian farce, if there even is such a thing…putting the humor in it to good use. It would require the wearer to have a particular complexion to not be overwhelmed by the sea of gold, but with the right complexion it must’ve been quite dramatic in its day…with un-perished lace, and, um, properly filled out structure. 7/10, for the glory that was…on the right person at the right event.

  13. Claire Payne says

    Last week I loved the dress despite it not being my usual ‘cup of tea.’ This week I’m not keen on the dress despite so many elements being the sort if style and colour I love. My first thought was “crikey!” so where to begin? I love golden/mustard/ochre shades but this one has a dullness about it which rather puts me off. The black details balance well but aren’t to my taste. As for that bustle, I repeat, “crikey!” Sorry, but I just can’t warm to this one.

    3 out of 10

  14. Gillian Stapleton says

    I love the golden silk and the strong contrast with the black trim, but I’m not a huge fan of the rosettes. True, when seen with the rest of the dress, they don’t look offensive, but I think they have a ‘heavy’ feel in comparison with the delicacy of the lace.


  15. I ADORE this! I do think the rosettes are a little clown-ish, and I would rather the skirt be a glorious uninterrupted stretch of rich golden-yellow. But on the whole, I really like it.

    Leimomi (or anyone else), how is the pattern on moire made? This looks somehow larger scale than the moires that I see in stores now. I like it more. I guess I associate small scale moire with horrible polyester skirt suits, but this looks like water stains on an old map–it adds character!


    • Gillian Stapleton says

      Moire can be made with a technique called calendering (passing and compressing the folded fabric between heated rollers), or by passing the fabric through engraved copper rollers to produce the ‘watermark’ pattern. Calendering isn’t permanent – I remember buying a length of vintage moire from a closing down sale years ago, and washing it before use. When it emerged from its bath, it was back to being just plain taffeta!

  16. D Thomas-Wilton says

    Right era for me historically, but!!. Wrong color , too heavy looking, the rosettes yech. I usually like black lace, however even it looks wrong on this. I tried really hard to imagine new and fresh but no. So only 4/10.

  17. kathy in KY says

    clownish for me.
    take off the rosettes, and maybe tone down the sleeves a little (one band instead of two??) and I can see merit to the color and silhouette. But as presented, 7.0.

  18. Emma Louise says

    I am rather fond of the gold with the 1860’s skirt, it looks like you can sweep about the room imperiously! Sadly I don’t think you can hold up that imperious look with the clown like rosettes, which is a shame.

  19. Penny says

    This dress must have glowed under candle, gas, or oil light with the delicate black lace softening the whole effect! I like the rosettes but wonder how they would have looked around/above the skirt hem instead of down the center, but that could be my modern sensibilities talking :-). I love the back of the bodice. I think elliptical hoops were still in vogue but I didn’t remember bustles that large before 1870?

  20. Those rosettes do draw the eye, don’t they? This is quite the 1868 dress: high contrast coloration, complicated sleeves with a leaning toward the Renaissance, back emphasis…

    If only the designer had gone for scalloping the bottom of the skirt and placing the rosettes near the scallops, as some trims were handled then, the rosettes might have worked better. Or putting them on sleeves and near the waist. Both options would have been fashionable. Perhaps the designer thought, “well, those trim spots are already popular, how about down the front?” forgetting about the Commedia dell’Arte characters. Le sigh: a fabulously chic dress gone hand-over-the-mouth laughable.
    Still 7 of 10 for otherwise fabulosity.

  21. Oh dear. The rosettes remind me terrible of a Pierot costume, the trim (and especially that collar!) is clunky and the moire looks like an accident rather than actual moire.

    2/10, and that’s generous.

  22. I agree on the bad fit. It was my first objection too. Can they not just use the mannequin as a base and pad it according to the cut of the dress? It‘s not a mass-produced T-shirt in „size L“ for Walmart. I don‘t know where this dress was purchased, but I’d vaguely categorize it as something like „couture“. Even if it was bought „from the rag“ in a department store there must have been some tailoring involved. Tailoring is adjusting to the wearer and not the other way around. That’s the point of tailoring. Anyways, so I try to ignore this and imagine It being worn by someone this dress was made for. First of all: those bows look to me like the kind of decoration I’d expect on a birthday present, so I‘d get rid of them. However the dress needs „something“. The silk looks grand and expensive and I like it. The yellow/ black-contrast works and this could be emphasized even more: I think, that much bolder, more graphic blocks of the darkest black would communicate beautifully with the yellow. I imagine them as thick, graphic lines of velvet along the edges between the lace and the moire. Probably also along the hem of the skirt to balance it. Black lace is beautiful and the jacket could easily take more of it. With that I don’t mean more „places“. Cuffs, collar, peplum is fine for me, but more layers. Show it off more. I vaguely remember a photograph of the princess Pauline von Metternich wearing a big scarf made of very fine black lace. And the way it was draped on top of her crinoline skirt looked really nice. I think , this would look good on this dress too. But for this Ensemble I’d rather imagine it as a fixed part of the skirt. More like a tunic, but not draped up at the back like for an 1870s bustle dress ( This photo of Pauline von Metternich is probably somewhere on google). At last some kind of additional embellishment might be needed. But only one that is beautiful in itself. No whimsical clowny-thing. If it isn‘t beautiful, I’d rather just leave it bare. It would need some experimenting. Maybe yellow, red or white roses with some more black velvet.

    • Padding out a mannequin to properly fit a garment can take hours. Even the Met has time and money constraints, and it’s clear that they went for ‘photograph all of the collection to a reasonable standard’, rather than ‘photograph 50% (or less) of the collection to the ideal standard’ – which would have had the same time/work cost. As a researcher, I really appreciate being able to see all the garments, so I definitely won’t criticise them for that choice.

  23. Not a fan of the rosettes. I don’t really think they look clownish, but they don’t fit with the rest of the gown, except for the colour. I feel like the dress was for a woman who felt that the gown was a bit boring and wanted to spice it up, and she just slapped the big rosettes on it without really thinking it through. The skirt is so plain, if it had had some more trim the rosettes could have worked, but now they just stick out like a sore thumb (thumbs?). The rest is pretty fine though.


  24. Jules says

    Interesting. The colour is magnificent, the moire very striking, the fabric overall has a very rich feel, with a not-unappealing textural contrast with the delicacy of the lace (not to mention the boldness of the colour contrast). It is clearly a dress meant for a woman with the physical structure and presence to pull off a rather loud garment, but the rosettes give me pause. Were they intended to distract from an unfortunate set of facial features? I appreciate that they are graduated, and the textural contrast that that second shade of silk adds is very pleasing, but they’re a very quick addition to a fairly sumptuous garment, and I find myself wondering why they were chosen. I’d love to see it with engageants–would they have been white or black (or gold…)? The rest of the sleeve I find very pleasing.


  25. Heather says

    I love yellow… But this frock just isn’t doing it for me. Something about the proportions of the sleeves is rather off, and I’m not sure it would be fixed by better display. The line of rosettes down the front of the skirt fails to inspire me as well. I think this dress could be quite improved by changing the sleeves and rosettes (size? placement? I’m not quite sure), but as it is

  26. Disien says

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Love the colours and the trimming. Six or so years ago, Trelise Cooper (and others) used this type of trimming in their designs – I had a gorgeous Cooper label top in grey, trimmed in a similar manner in two types of black lace. And another top with rosettes on it.


  27. Susan Booker says

    Clock faces. Not rosettes, not pies, but clock faces marching down the front of the skirt, each one telling a different time.

    And not adding even a minute (see what I did there?) bit of charm to the overall impression.

    I love the sumptuous gold color and richness of the fabric. Black lace is okay as an accent, though I do agree with another commenter who suggested black velvet piping instead.

    And I agree with almost everyone: get rid of those rosettes/pies/clock faces! They are not needed and detract rather than add to this dress.

    Minus the clocks, it would have been at least an 8. with them, it’s a 6.5, sadly.

  28. Crumpled Rag says

    I’m not a fan of yellow fabric normally, but I actually really like this. The rosettes on the skirt are a bit odd, as they seem to me to have lost their centres. I wonder if they should have been like the ones on the back of the bodice, that appear to have a small black something as a centre, which makes them much prettier.
    Overall 7/10

  29. Most of the dress is quite pleasant, but I can’t get past the ghastly clown-costume rosettes. 3/10.

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