Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Good Morning in the mid 1830s

Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987

I’ve got a real soft spot for 1830s day dresses. I like how romantic they are, and how ridiculous they are. Most of all, I like the fabric. It was such an inventive period in textile design, with new technology contributing to a profusion of interesting experimental textiles. Today’s dress features one of those fabrics: a cotton print with geometric and floral patterns in fawn and green.

Last Week: a late 1910s dress with very modern embroidery  

Ratings on last week’s dress started with rave reviews, and gradually slid down the scale, so that the last batch of ratings were pretty mediocre. There’s some interesting psychology there.

Those who loved it liked the experimentation and modernity, and could imagine family members wearing it. Those who weren’t so impressed found it awkward and uninteresting.

The Total: 8.6 out of 10

Exactly the same as last week! Although, unlike last week there was actually one rating for 8.5

This week: an 1830s morning dress of printed cotton

This week’s Rate the Dress was rather a random choice: I had an idea for something quite different, but went through my ‘Rate the Dress’ possibilities album it instantly caught my eye:

Morning Dress, 1834-1836, National Gallery of Victoria
Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987

I’m not sure exactly why, but I like the juxtaposition between this week’s dress, and last week’s. Both garments are from eras when fashion was undergoing a huge change, and when there was a lot of experimentation, both in silhouette, and materials.

Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987
Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987

There’s a great contrast between the silhouette of this dress and the 1910s embroidered frock. The latter so sleek and simple, the former so full and romantic, all puffs and gathers.

Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987
Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987

And yet, in the way both play with geometry and lines, and use a fairly restrained palette for impact, there are similarities as well.

Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987
Morning Dress, England, 1834-1836, cotton, National Gallery of Victoria, CT13-1987

This week’s dress is slightly less formal than last weeks: it’s a morning dress, for wearing earlier in the day, to less formal events. You’d put it on to look nice while receiving visitors, to go visiting yourself, or for running simple errands or doing your shopping. It would be worn with a pelerine, fichu, or chemisette with large falling collar. It might be paired with a shawl if it was cold enough, and would need a bonnet if you were going outside.

Here’s a similar, but slightly more formal and fashionable, morning dress for visiting:

etching National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1926  Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Morning Visiting Dress 1830-1840 hand-coloured etching National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1926 Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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. I like it! As you say, it’s full and romantic, all puffs and gathers, but the simplicity of the palette – and the whole garment being of one fabric, no lace or frills or bits and bobs – prevent it being OTT.
    My one criticism is that the pattern is a shade frenetic close-up, though pleasant to the eye from a bit more of a distance.

    • Ellen says

      I’m not even a huge fan of 1830s sleeve puffery and that double puff won my heart. Think of the kind of sleeve support you’d have to rig up, though! So many arm pillows…

      8/10 for the puffies

  2. I LOVE this dress! The sleeves, the colors. But most of all that there is no pattern matching on the bodice. I think we often get too hung up on this. This is a good dress.

  3. Claire Payne says

    Certainly a frock for flouncing about in! I see what you mean about the fabric. It isn’t to my taste but I can appreciate it. My eyes are drawn to the front seam where I feel some better pattern matching would have helped. My points are for the flounciness of it.

    6 out of 10

  4. Kathy Hanyok says

    I think this is a gem! A sweet marshmallow of a gown. A back view would have been nice (because I’d like to copy it) but I think the mounting of the display is spot on. 9/10

  5. Lynne says

    I do like the shape. I find this style pleasing, too. And the puffed sleeves.

    I’m not feeling the love for the colours, though, keen though I usually am on greens and golds. It manages to be busy and dull at the same time. I wish someone had had a good think about matching stripes on the seams on the front, and I’d probably have chosen a pattern line for the waist band rather than going for a ‘between the lines’ strip. If I’d made that front, I would probably have shuddered and put a strip of the darker pattern down the middle, covering the join.

    7 out of 10

  6. JH Madison says

    I like it! I love the overall shape of the dress. I like the sleeves. The print is kinda “off kilter” when you look at it too long and it reminds me of some stuff from the 1960s! The un-matching on the front bothers me, but hey, I didn’t have to make the dress (and my sewing skills are nil!) so, I can’t complain. 8/10

  7. I like the sleeves on this one–a different twist on the large puffy creations that typically appear on 1830’s dresses. And the print is very pretty, close up. But when I look at the dress as a whole, the result is “meh” again. The yellow and green tend to look washed out. This is also a dress that would benefit from the right accessories–a fashionable bonnet to strengthen the green note of the print, a harmonizing belt and pair of boots, a lacy shawl.

    Without any of those things, 7 out of 10.

  8. JessieRoo says

    I love 1830’s fashion! This is a very respectable, middle of the road kind of dress. I like the soft puffiness of the sleeves and the skirt has a nice ratio of fullness to length; I’ve always liked the slightly shorter skirts of that decade! On the other hand, while the fabric is interesting up close, I don’t care for it as a whole dress and the maker could have taken greater care cutting the front bodice for symmetry. So it’s not my favorite, but I can appreciate its good points.

  9. This one hit the 1830s jackpot for me…
    The double puff sleeves etc.
    But what sent it over the top is the period print
    It wouldn’t be chosen today but is spot on for a favorite fashionable dress for the time period

  10. Johanna says

    I like it. Even if it’s full on romantic, it’s still pretty restrained. I would probably like it less with contemporary accessories and hairstyling, but the dress in itself is really cute. I also like that the pattern on the center front isn’t perfectly matched. So often as a costumer you try to go for perfect pattern matching, and it’s nice to see that it wasn’t always like that back in the days.

    Overall I think it’s a solid 8. I like it, but it’s not something that makes me want to start planning a copy of it.


  11. I got this one quite uninspiring, aside from the sleeves which I really dislike.


  12. Theresa says

    I think it’s really quite lovely. The lack of pattern matching on the bodice is a bit jarring to my modern eye, but I like that. It’s reminder that our ideas of how to use fabric, is just that. It’s not really as obvious as some places that I’ve seen.
    I like that this is an ordinary dress, not a fancy one.

    I give it an 8 out of 10.

  13. I actually like the subtlety of the colorway – very restful. I’m not fond of the sleeves, though. I recognize that they balance out the width of the skirt rather nicely, but I can’t help but think of how I would spend too much time sweeping bric-a-brac to the floor and gathering stains from miscalculating their proximity to liquids.

    8.5 of `10

  14. nofixedstars says

    the prints on fabric of the day can be sort of weird, and this is no exception. i don’t love the angular geometric shapes intermixed with the organic florals, but i have seen ‘worse’. i like the colours very well, and i have fairly recently developed a great fondness for the romantic into early victorian frocks, with their mad sleeve puffs and voluminous skirts and often interesting trimmings… this is fairly restrained, as one might expect of a morning dress, unlike the evening wear. i like it just fine, and would probably wear it with dark green lace kid boots, a bonnet with gold and green ribbon, and jade ear-bobs, all in period styles.

    one point is coming off because i am fussy about pattern matching, and that bodice/waist does bug me a bit, and one for the print which i wouldn’t personally select. otherwise, no complaints.

    rating: 8/10

  15. Elaine says

    I’m in the anti-sleeve camp. They look like something for the Michelin tire man. I don’t care for the lack of matching in the front, either. The fabric is nice enough, but not exciting. I like the skirt. 6/10

  16. Heather says

    Love it! The print is just too cute and the silhouette is lovely. It’s a very cheerful dress.


  17. Marguerite says

    I love the simplicity and shape of the dress. I also don’t mind the color and the print. The way the pattern was placed, however, is a wee bit off. Someone told me once if you match too closely in a busy pattern you can look like a couch which is true. I think it is good it was not matched exactly, the pattern placement could have been better. Overall I do enjoy the dress. 8 out of 10.

  18. I started off not liking 1830s dresses, but the more I look at them, the more I like them. I love the dual-puff sleeve, and the pattern interests me.
    10/10, nothing I would do differently.

  19. Emma Louise says

    I often find 1830s dresses are charming in a sort of romantic, silly way, not really my style but I can admire them. There is something lovely about the giant double puff sleeves, and they also nicely balance the big skirt. I find the lack of pattern matching here doesn’t bother me too much, and it could always be hidden by one of those 1830s statement belts anyway. The pattern is odd, and not my favourite example of the era, but the pastel tones keep it soft.

  20. ..IAwww…I like it. If I could transport my 1979 home ec class back to the 1830s, this looks like the kind of things we would make. Often sugary sweet colors, fabric choices a bit weird sometimes, and definitely not the most sophisticated use of pattern placement or matching. But didn’t we think we were cute in our finished outfits! Hopefully whoever wore this dress thought the same. 7

  21. I have mixed feelings about the fabric; combination of sharp diamonds with what looks to me like sprigs of plant matter looks a little jarring to me. That being said, I actually like the way the fabric looks with this particular silhouette. The complexity of the fabric’s pattern seems to play nicely with the simplicity of the dress’s cut. The sleeves add a unique touch that keeps the dress from being overly simple in its silhouette. I like the dress as it is in the photos–with contemporary accessories, I’d probably like it a bit less, but that’s because generally 1830s fashion just aren’t my cup of tea.


  22. Susan says

    I actually like this more than I thought I would. I love the shape; it’s a lot more balanced than it might have been, & the sleeves aren’t the same old style you see in this period. The colors are not my favorite, but they all work with each other. The real point of irritation is the way the front does not look matched up; but that may be a fault of the pattern of the fabric, & not any incompetence on the part of the maker


  23. Kathleen Gillies says

    I love it. It is a pleasant, inoffensive dress that is worn by the sister, cousin or best friend of the heroine. I love the simplicity of the skirt, the ripe, soft puffy sleeves and despite it being shown naked, without it’s accessories (clearly this is not a dress that is worn all alone without accessories), I can see it receiving visitors for tea while doing needlework, composing poetry, or reading devotionals/sneaking a romance novel. I loved the dress from last week too–what won me was the embroidery and cutwork.

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