Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Victorian Cherries

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection

I wanted to present something nice and cozy for those of you in cold climates for this week’s Rate the Dress. Turns out the dress I chose is cotton, not wool, so it’s not quite as warm as I’d planned, though it certainly covers everything. Instead, it’s rather seasonal for us here in New Zealand, and you’ll see why shortly!

Last Week: a wedding dress in soft green from 1850

A very nice, if not completely ecstatic, reaction to last weeks dress. Many of you felt the wrapped thread buttons weren’t quite the right shade – but excused that on the likelihood the dress fabric had faded, and once matched them better. You weren’t quite so ready to excuse the sleeve trim, which you found oddly unfinished in comparison to the crisp pleating of the dress.

The Total: 8.4 out of 10

A rating to please everyone, but not to make people cry from the sheer beauty of the dress as it came down the aisle!

This week: an 1880s dress with embroidered cherries.

This early 1880s dress, in ivory cotton with embroidered cherries, is quite interesting.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection.jpg
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

It’s unusually severe in its shape and trim, with no ornamentation but the deep pleated hem, and the bands of wool embroidery.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

The colour, simplicity of the dress, overall aesthetic and single patch pocket on the right hip suggest that this was a day dress for wearing around the home.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

It might have been worn with a collar, but the curators state that there is no evidence that it ever had any other trim.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

The extremely fitted shape of the dress is achieved through a centre front seam and double princess darts up the front, and double princess seams up the back. The dress opens up the back with 13 large mother-of-pearl buttons, preserving the unbroken lines of the front.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

The dress is made from the most interesting fabric: a heavy moss crepe weave which the John Bright collection identifies as cotton. It’s appears to be very similar to what we would now call barkcloth.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

The embroidery is done in wool, in shades of red, orange, green and rust. We’ve looked at other ca 1880 dresses decorated with vining embroidery motifs, like this one, on navy satin, and this one by Vignon. It was clearly a popular decorative idea at the time.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

While the overall theme of the trim is the same, this week’s dress is striking in a number of ways. The use of white fabric. The simplicity of the embroidery, with large, rustic stitches. The severity of the cut.

Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons, John Bright Collection
Dress, Circa 1880, Cotton embroidered with wool; mother of pearl buttons,
John Bright Collection

What do you think? Do you like this quirky take on natural-form era fashion?

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.

39 Comments

  1. nofixedstars says

    i think it is utterly charming. it’s understated quality appeals to me, especially compared to the ornamentation standards of its time… the embroidery is very pleasing, and i particularly like the shading of the leaves, and love that the pocket is embroidered. i like the row of long tuck/pleat treatment at the lower skirt, which would give movement and interest yet lacks the fussiness of big ruffles. as a whole, the dress has qualities which remind me of the aesthetic or arts and crafts movement, although it is by no means a ‘reform’ or ‘historic’ dress in shape. i also love the cream colour with the warm hues of the embroidered accents, and the subtle crepe-like texture of the fabric. i even like the buttons down the back. worn with a simple lace tucker at throat and wrists, and a cherry-colour ribbon in the hair, it would have been an understated but very feminine and lovely dress. i’d wear it in a heartbeat myself, even though it is not from one of my favourite fashion periods. it will be interesting to see how others rate it…it may be one of those love it or loathe it frocks. solid love from me!

    rating: 10/10

  2. The embroidery against the creamy white is quite lovely, and I also appreciate the simplicity of the lines. My only hesitation is placement of the skirt embroidery band – my eyes want to see it just above the hemline, but my brain recognizes that it wouldn’t work with the pleated portion (which is lovely by itself).

    9 of 10

  3. Vicki Jane says

    Lovely but what pain to button up. I love the clean lines and the simple embroidery. And maybe she wore a lovely shawl with it? After her very obliging husband buttoned her up.

    9/10

      • Lynne says

        Which, by the way, would not indicate huge wealth. Even fairly modest households would have a maid. This was a time when, unless you had a family who could keep you at home waiting for Mr Socially Acceptable, young girls, thirteen or so, went to work in other people’s houses. My own great grandmother was a nursery maid.

  4. Theresa says

    This is a wonderfully well thought out design. When a garment is so plain, the stitching and fit really stand out.
    The cherries add just enough color at the right places. I love this dress.

    10\10

  5. The colour marries so perfectly with the simplicity of the pattern, and who doesn’t love cherries? I love the texture of the cloth and the details of embroidery and buttons complement it beautifully. The pleats add a bit of movement and life to what could have been a very staid dress, and even though they’re positioned at a height that is not my favourite, I see the value they add. Gorgeous dress.
    9

  6. Tracy Ragland says

    I’m not a fan. In fact, my initial impression was that of a straitjacket (sorry to everyone who loves the dress)!

    3/10

  7. I would bet it was worn with a cherry red shawl. That would bring red up around the face, and balance the frieze of pleats and stitching across the lower part. Plus a demonstrative shawl would preclude the need for a collar.

  8. PepperReed says

    Beautiful in it’s simplicity and a great ‘figure’; the pleats and embroidery are lovely details. The white isn’t the greatest but that’s a minor concession.

    9.5/10

  9. Pamlin says

    I’m finding it fascinating, but can’t help but wonder if it was paired with a complimentary (and more frou) jacket or waist.

    Whomever wore it definitely had a specific eye for clothing, which I appreciate.

    8/10

  10. Linda Olson says

    I love the concept – the plain white with the embroidery and simple buttons. I would happily wear an interpretation of this with a modern sillouette, a looser neckline, and the buttons down the front. I give this a 9 and would bet any woman walking into the room in this dress would command attention.

  11. I really like this…the plain dress is a canvas for the detail and colour of the embroidery work. I do wish that the embroidery had been on the collar too, to add some symmetry, break up the expanse of white and bring some colour around the face.

    8.5/10

  12. The silhouette is elegant, the embroidery well-done and charming. But part of me thinks there should have been a bit more of the embroidery. Around the neckline, perhaps? On the stand collar? Or perhaps a self-fabric sash with the same embroidery would have served. (By the way, I don’t think this dress had a detachable collar; the small stand collar is quite sufficient in my opinion.)

    As it is, the bodice is so plain as to look unfinished, given the lovely embroidery on the pocket and skirt.

    6.5 out of 10.

  13. Carmen Beaudry says

    I love this, and would like to wear it. Love the embroidery, and the way the lack of other trimming emphasizes the cut.

    10/10

  14. I love this so much! What a clever way to stand out, too – simplicity and beauty among the frou frou. 10

  15. Elaine says

    The smoothly fitted lines of the dress and the embroidery are impressive. But I don’t think the embroidery is enough to carry the dress. Surely there must have been something more to accessorize this. A shawl, a collar, a sash or something, as others have remarked. As it is, I would agree with Tracy that it reminds me of a slightly fancy straitjacket.

  16. JessieRoo says

    There’s something simple and matter of fact about the whole dress, and the combo of relatively crude embroidery, rough looking fabric, and shorter length have me wondering if the original owner was inspired by the rational or aesthetic dress movements. I don’t know, but I like it in spite of its straightjacketiness and high collar, which does make me itch just to look at. If it’s not one of my great favorites, it’s still a nice dress that looks like the perfect thing for one of those sunshiny yet still chilly fall days when one just wants to be outdoors all day.

    7/10

  17. Michelle says

    I think it is charming and sweet. As a modern woman, I wouldn’t appreciate needing someone else to button me up, but the lovely lines of it on the front are grand. It’s a 9 for me.

  18. I think it’s lovely. Simple but beautifully made and fitted.

    10/10

  19. Lisa Trahan says

    This is so elegant in it’s simplicity. The large scale and almost rusticity of the embroidery go so well with the wool and keep it from being super “fancy”. With a red pendant necklace and perhaps a red shawl the whole effect would be stunning!

  20. Elena says

    That’s a nice dress indeed.

    I agree that the top looks a bit bare, but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t worn with some kind of accessory like a collar, or maybe a shawl.

    Also, it may be cotton, but it looks somewhat warm, not enough to get out in the snow, of course, but probably enough to be snug while indoor in a not-so-heated victorian house? Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking from my currently freezing self 😀 The idea to post something warm was appreciated 🙂

    As for the buttons, when I saw how large they were my first thought was “oh, nice, something that can be worn without help” (compared to the tens of tiny buttons that other dresses have): maybe the dress is too rigid and it isn’t really feasible, but I usually button up myself my shirtwaists and it only requires a modicum of flexibility and some training — and there is always the well trained husband to help for that single button in the middle of the back that is especially hard to reach.

    9/10

  21. Lisa A says

    While supervising the household work of the day, I’d feel capable, cozy, and cheerful wearing this dress. And if a friend came over, I’d love to put a coral brooch on that plain neckline. Like a few other posters, I’m a tiny bit bothered by that severe horizontal line and it’s placement on the skirt, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm too much. 9/10.

  22. Debbie says

    Love this, until the pleated bottom. While I tend to love pleats, this just seemed out of place here. Other than that it is beautiful. 9/10

  23. Shaylene says

    I love this dress for its simplicity. Embroidery enhances in such a subtle way

  24. Kathy Hanyok says

    The lines of this gown are elegant and the naivity of the trim make a charming contrast. I am a sucker for pleats but the vertically challenged among us, like myself, would seem to be standing in a hole. I love the buttons up the back and agree that a cherry red shawl would be the perfect accessory. 9/10

  25. Mariana says

    I would love to see this dress with accessories, but as it is, the severity is not to my taste. I could like a very severe dress in a dark neutral color, but somehow the off-white doesn’t appeal to me.
    4/10

  26. Gillian Stapleton says

    That is a a fascinating dress, beautifully cut and constructed, and with a singular austere loveliness. All the better to show off the surprise – that colourful and cheerful embroidery!
    10/10

  27. Fizza says

    I really do like this. It’s a refreshing change amongst all the frills and furbelows of the late 19th century. 10/10

  28. apricots says

    I love this! The white fabric’s texture adds interest and the combination of the embroidery and pleating at the hem is perfection.

    10/10

  29. Silver says

    I do love and appreciate it as an artefact but the single pocket seems ‘clunky’ in contrast to the otherwise flawless symmetry of the dress, and the straight band of fabric on which the cherries on the skirt are embroidered bothers me a lot. I feel that if this band had been made in a gently curving shape (either dipping lower at front and back, arching up at the sides – or the opposite way?) it would carry the design far better and add grace to the severity. A regretful 6 out of 10 – with kudos for the cuffs and the seaming in particular – for a dress which seems poised to scold the observer.

  30. I love this for its combination of elegant simplicity and splashes of bright colour, but I am intrigued by the embroidery on the pocket. The ‘bough’ from which the cherries hang is in two parts, whereas it seems to be a continuous band everywhere else on the dress. It’s almost as though this was done as a practice piece, but then the embroiderer decided that they didn’t want to waste all that work, so fashioned it into a pocket.

    Despite this, 10/10

  31. I’m giving it a seven—I like the cut, but the utter lack of adornment on the bodice section makes it seem unbalanced. The lines are beautiful, though, and the trim, where it does occur, charms me!

  32. Emma Louise says

    I’m rather fond of it. It has a sort of simple, rustic charm. Having looked at the other examples of vine embroidery, I definitely prefer this one to the fussier examples. I see it as (relatively) comfy and warm house dress you can wear while sat sewing or knitting and still feel cute.
    9/10

  33. Cirina says

    I find the embroidery bit immature, otherwise nice home dress.
    7

  34. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    It needs accessories. At the very least, it definitely needs a bonnet with a nice red ribbon bow under the chin so that the top of the dress doesn’t look as incomplete. I love the silhouette and I think the embroidery is charming and delightful. It reminds me a bit of a tennis dress from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, collections, from a few years later than this dress.

    I’m going with 9/10.

  35. Sarah H. says

    I absolutely love it! It’s the first dress from this era that is plain enough for me (I don’t like ruffles or ruching, and I love embroidery) and I love the fabric a LOT (I don’t like silk–I know!) If I could magically acquire one (or a pattern for one), I want it in blue! 8.5

  36. How neat and tidy and interesting! This dress easily could be worn marketing as well as in the home, or for working in the garden. Its severity would be well covered by a pinner apron.

    Wondering if perhaps it had a tiny should-grazing cape at first that could be worn if wanted. Edged with with the embroidery, the cape would pull the trim together and provide a welcome bit of movement.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY

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