Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: scalloped ruffle sleeves

Dress, American, mid-19th century, Silk taffeta, cotton twill lining, plush velvet buttons, silk ribbon trim, whalebone, Gift of Miss Eleanor E. Barry, MFA Boston, 53.2222a-b

This week on Rate the Dress we’re looking at a ca. 1860 plaid day dress.  Just like last week’s 1780s francaise it combines a very classic silhouette of its era with a few interesting design elements.

Last Week:  a 1770-80 française in green striped silk

Oooh, you did like last week’s dress…   The lowest rating was an 8, and the only complaints people had was that the stripes were a little cucumber-y.

In an amazing bit of synchronisity to the melon comments, a friend just learned about the Hawai’ian ae-ae banana, and sent me a photo of a stalk in just these colours.

The Total: 9.8 out of 10

That is really almost perfect!

This week: a ca. 1860 dress in stripey plaid

This day dress is an excellent example of its time.  It shows fashion just moving from the round crinoline of the 1850s into the elliptical hoop silhouette that would dominate the 1860s.

It’s a dress in two parts, with a seperate bodice and skirt.  The bodice features front buttons, a small standing collar, dropped shoulders framed with narrow piping, and wide sleeves featuring four rows of ruffled tiers with very shallow scalloped edges.

There’s the tiniest suggestion of the dipped V bodice of the 1850 at the waist, but a sash or belt would give the completely straight waist of the 1860s.

The plaid pattern, with its heavy diagonal stripe, makes the shape of the pattern pieces extremely clear: you can see the angles of the skirt gores, the dropped shoulders, and the double darts of the bodice.

The dress would have been worn with a collar, and engageantes (under sleeves).

What do you think?  Is this a good example of ca. 1860?  Nicely decorative without veering into frilly silliness?

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. Penny says

    I like the dress, but I’m not loving the trim on the sleeves. I assume it’s been done to help the ruffles stand out amidst the plaid fabric. But it just looks weird to my eye. I think a plainer trim might have been nicer. 6/10

  2. Elizabeth says

    I think it’s gorgeous and would be very striking when worn. The plaid isn’t my favorite, but I’ll give the dress an 8.5.

  3. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    I love that we’re looking at a 1860 dress with flounced, tiered sleeves and a plain skirt. That’s quite an inversion of the flounced skirt trope.

    But that’s about the only thing I love about it. Otherwise it’s all very nice to the point of being kind of bland and just there. There’s nothing I don’t like about it, but apart from the concept of the sleeves, there isn’t much that I love either. A modest, moderate dress has to have a modest, moderate ranking.

    Has to be 6.5 out of 10.

  4. Frances Dorrestein says

    I love this one 9/10. I love the shape, colour and relative simplicity. It is an elegant everyday dress.the plaid is really pretty and I am a green blue girl.

  5. Christina Kinsey says

    its a pretty dress,a good example , I think of what I would call a good everyday dress or maybe even a Sunday dress, simple ,but with intrest in the sleeves. I do enjoy dramatic styles, but a simple , pretty dress like this is lovely to see too, it has a charm of its own. I wonder if it was a wardrobe staple, a put it on and know you will be well dressed kind of frock ?
    Its a 9

  6. Vivien Dwyer says

    It’s nice but not really special to my mind. I can’t really fault it but it doesn’t inspire either..,

  7. I really like the simplicity of this dress. It allows the fabric to stand out. It would be interesting to see with under sleeves and a little collar. Although it does not need accessories it would be interesting to see what the original owner might have worn with it. I give it a 9.5.

  8. nofixedstars says

    it is a good example of its time, which is not amongst my personal favourites. i am fond of plaid, and of shades of green, though, so it gets some love for those aspects. as you observed, the nature of plaid means that angles of construction stand out clearly, and in this case, i am not sure that’s a benefit. as much as i love a good plaid fabric, i wonder if this dress would be more visually appealing in a solid or small-scale print that would not have the same effect. but that may be a quibble particular to me; i am rarely pleased by graphic fabrics highlighting construction lines. there are exceptions, but this is not one of them. i wish i could see better the trim on the sleeve ruffles…i think i like it, despite its oddness placed against the plaid.

    overall, taking one thing with another, i rather like it. but i would not dream about it at night.

    rating: 7/10

  9. JessieRoo says

    It’s a smart, stylish dress whose maker did not give into the fashionable excess of either decade. The skirt has a lovely fullness without being ridiculously enormous or awkwardly angular and I appreciate the use of trim on the sleeve flounces to break up the plaid; a solid trim might look nice and stand out more, but I like how this one is subtle enough that it doesn’t demand to be plastered over the whole expanse of the dress for balance. The fabric itself is a nice, bold, graphic, and complex plaid that manages to be very pretty and not at all garish because of the limited color palette. It’s not exactly to my own tastes in clothes, but it’s nonetheless a very smart dress.

  10. Very much like the color and scale of the plaid, and like how the angles play against each other as an instance of simple style allowing pattern to play.
    9 of 10

  11. Kathy Hanyok says

    It is a nice, fairly simple dress. The uncluttered lines showcase the maker’s excellent pattern matching. I think maybe the trim has not aged as well as the dress color and that is why it doesn’t quite match. A lace collar, engagements, and maybe a lacy apron would keep it from looking too much like a picnic cloth. 7/10

  12. I like the shades of green in this one, and the ruffled sleeves are kind of nice. What I don’t like is the plaid itself. Though there were certainly plaid formal dresses in this era, something about the type of plaid here kind of kills the pretty, fancy dress vibe of this gown stone cold dead, in my opinion. (It needs accessories like a belt–probably in black, and the collar and engageantes Leimomi mentions in her introduction.

    7 out of 10

  13. I’m not crazy about it. It’s very busy in the pattern and the sleeves are very like pagoda sleeves which were a feature of dresses from the 1850s.

    6 out of 10

  14. I am surprised by how much I like this. The plaid isn’t overpowering, I think the sleeve ruffles work well and I really like the bodice. I wouldn’t wear it, but 8/10.

  15. Claire Irvine says

    I like the colours and the skirt fullness. I also like the ruffles as well, which is unusual for me. I do wish the trim on the sleeve ruffles was echoed in the skirt some way though.

  16. Lylassandra says

    Oof. This dress reminds me of when you computer would break in the early 90s and you’d get a horrible green-gray-black square pattern on the screen. The plaid is so busy I’m really struggling with it, and the bit where they couldn’t quite match at the front skirt seam is killing me. I do like the sleeves; they’re ebullient, and the diagonal suddenly makes the plaid work for me. The trim probably looked great at the time, and breaks up the busy-ness nicely. The bodice inspires me not at all, however, and the buttons do nothing but vanish. Overall the impression I get is just of the plaid telling me that something very expensive just broke and my 8bit dragon-eating-flowers game is over.

    I will add points to adjust for the ravages of age and presentation, but that still leaves me with 5/10.

  17. Hmm. Neither overdone nor entirely bland, and it’s very easy to see in one of the plush and horsehair and floral-carpeted rooms of the day. Rather elegant in that milieu.

    The Hmmm business comes with the sleeves. The combination of the overlapping “scales” and the green and black palette reminds me of an insect. Can you see a shadowed room, the camera languidly focused on the figure, but when she turns towards us she has the head and hands of a beetle, or worse, a praying mantis? Aughh!

    Still, would be a good candidate to riff from for a costume.

  18. I dislike the colour scheme, especially in small busy plaid.
    The small busy plaid is swearing at the frilly sleeves.

  19. Mariana says

    I like it, but don’t love it. I think the plaid would be more pleasing to my eye in a slightly earlier cut skirt, where it’s full and gathered across the front, rather than being so smooth across the front that the plaid is so perfectly, evenly horizontal. I do really like the bias tiered sleeves, though–very interesting.

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