Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Late Victorian Velvet

Dress in two parts, 1896, silk, lace and passementerie, 10592:001-002 Centraal Museum Utrecht

This post is late because I booked my schedule to the limit without giving myself any space for emergencies and things going wrong – which meant of course there were, and they did!  It’s also late because my browser freezes every time I visit the Centraal Museum’s website, which is rather annoying when you’re trying to Rate a Dress from that site.

Last Week: An 1810s dress of pink roll-printed cotton, with lots of frills

Comments on last week’s dress focused on how frilly and pink and youthful it was – and how much it reminded some of you of a nightgown!  For some people that wasn’t an issue, or even made the dress more charming.  For others….not so much.

The Total: 7.6 out of 10

Looking like a nightgown was a little too much for some of you, and the rating definitely reflects that.

This week: a mid 1890s dress in red silk faille and silk velvet

A number of the comments on last week’s dress focused on how girlish it was.  I feel confident in saying that week’s dress is definitely not a debutant frock.

The deep red shades and heavy fabrics are definitely one for a mature woman who was not afraid to make a statement.

I picked this dress for Rate the Dress almost entirely based on the front bodice decoration.  The rest of the dress is very nice and typical of its time (although I feel that the bustle its been staged with is too large – a common fault with the Centraal Museum’s costume staging), but the frayed fringing is interesting.  And interesting is what makes Rate the Dress fun.

The dress has many elements of 18th century historicism: the deep, square neckline; a petticoat and stomacher effect front; and the length of the sleeves and lace engageantes.   The frayed fringing is a nod to 18th century pinked trim, with a Victorian twist.

The last time I showed a dress with frayed fringing the trim was not particularly popular.  Will this dress receive a different reception?

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. JessieRoo says

    I love cherries, so it’s hard not to like a dress in shades of sweet and sour cherry! I’m not 100% convinced by the fluffy trim; it is interesting and I think it has a place on some garment, but I’m not sure it is quite the right thing for this one. I think it’s something about the abrupt transition from the black lace running up each side of the skirt front to the fluffy trim that’s not quite working for me. If the lace continue up the bodice so it peeked out from under the fluff it might tie things together a bit better. The only other things I don’t really care for is the color of the trim on the edge of the frill that crosses the front neckline and too big bustle. Without such a bulky bustle, the skirt would probably have a more graceful swoosh where it flows out into the train, and I think I might replace that frill with a piece of cream colored lace to tone done the extra-ness of the whole dress.

    • HelenG says

      At first glance I liked it a lot and then I didn’t like it. I thought it looked like someone had raided the upholstery fabric shop and sewed up a dress. After a third look I liked it again especially if it was worn with a magnificent black silk hat and a black ebony cane. This dress makes an impact and anyone wearing it would feel very pleased with themselves. 9/10

  2. Johanna says

    This would be the perfect costume to use in a Gothic vampire drama or action film. I definitely like all the drama of the dress. I also love the use of the frayed fringe, it would have been too much if it was everywhere, but around the neck it’s just really good. I want to save my 10s for a perfect dress, and even if I love this dress it’s not my absolute favorite, I think it’s the paler red colour that’s taking it away from perfect.


  3. nofixedstars says

    i like red and i love velvet. i am mad about a good passementerie trim. i actually like the fringey trim just fine on this dress, too. not sure it relates well to the passementerie, but that’s not a deal-breaker. the dress is pretty free of anything over the top in terms of excessive ruffles or draping, etc. and yet…somehow it does not evoke my love.

    for some reason, it feels almost theatrical. a dress for a victorian tragedienne’s stage role, or a vampire’s victim in a film. it feels a little tawdry, a bit cliche? i’m struggling here. and honestly, i think all of that is less the fault of the dress itself and more of a fault in my view as a person in 2021, with all the media saturation that brings, looking at a dress from 1896. probably in its day it was simply a smart, attention getting velvet frock that was in style but not remarkable in any way. and as is so often the case, it would have looked more appealing perhaps by gaslight/candlelight, or even just the thing on a nice wintry day. i would like to see it displayed with a smaller bustle, per your commentary, and also with black lace rather than the cream under-sleeves.

    rating: 7/10

  4. Emma Louise says

    I find it really theatrical and scary. If the wearer could own such a look then it would definitely have an impact! Adding a black cane that the wearer could threaten people with would really finish the look.

  5. Dell says

    I bet you had to wealthy to buy this dress. Not crazy about the trim. I give it 8/10

  6. Not at all appealing to me, except for the main fabric. On the whole it’s just too costumey, and its elements are disjointed. My first reaction to the fluffy trim was that someone had gone on a Muppet hunt.

    6 of 10

  7. Cirina says

    It looks like a dress for some evil queen, for example in Snow White. Very dramatic, I like it.
    Only thing that does not sit well with me is the trim on the bottom part of the decollete, it spoils the line.

  8. Lucy says

    I love the colours and fabric combinations, but I’m dubious about the furry trim.
    And the bright colour would work so much better with less enormous sleeves (sorry, entire mid-1890s)
    Femme Santa Claus!

  9. It is quite bright and… dramatic. I do like the open skirt though, and the lace on the sleeves. What I don’t like is, actually, the color. It could at least be a slightly toned down color. The fussy trim around the neckline, is… interesting.

  10. I love the color. I love the silhouette. I even love the little train, and I’m not normally fond of trains on gowns.

    But to me the trim–all of the trims–read as excessive and cheap-looking. The otherwise nice bows at the waist with deeply fringed ends, the rick-rack-y looking black lace, the furry-looking fringe everywhere else–I find just horrible. And the velvet and silk color/texture contrast of the gown as a whole doesn’t work for me, either.

    4 out of 10.

  11. I think the dress is suffering from red’s inability to be photographed. Its tomatoey colour in the photo, with the plain and velvet fabrics showing up as quite different, would actually be very much all the same colour and a richer cherry/raspberry wine colour.
    I love it. I am imagining it with the fringe a wee bit less discoloured and I’d rock this in a heartbeat!

  12. Vivien Dwyer says

    Can’t say I love this really but not bad either….7/10

  13. Amelia says


    I’d wear it happily and like it rather a lot, except the sleeves are a bit too full at the armpit, so I’d be concerned over the velvet, and the train is about a foot longer than I think suits the rest of the dress, assuming it was on an appropriate sized bustle.

  14. Penny says

    I love the red velvet sleeves, the lace, the black lace trim. But that frayed trim… No, not for me. It looks like someone has skinned a particularly disreputable muppet. 6/10

  15. I’m not a big fan of 1890s style in general, but when I set that aside there’s something appealingly dramatic about this dress. It feels like something a Doctor Who villain would wear! Even the bits that aren’t entirely to my taste (the fluffy fringe, the sleeves) make me feel like I would enjoy talking to the person who wore this.


  16. Charlotte Mueller says

    After looking at this dress several times, and reading over the other comments, I can finally put my finger on what elements bother me. The fringe is fine, as are the sleeves, the white engageantes, and color. I absolutely adore the bows at the waist. My issue comes with the eighteenth century historicism. While the square neckline is quite nice, the stomacher completely falls flat for me. The trim along the front opening of the petticoat is also a miss. These two elements look like a HalloweenTown 18th costume. Most likely the people of the time did not suffer from the same proliferation of lackluster “historical” garments and the dress was seen as a stylish historical nod.

  17. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    It’s interesting, this one. Having the effect of plush/pile fabric being the undergarment to a solid (and lighter-weight appearing) silk overdress makes this visually jarring, because usually it’s “plush/fur on top, solid under” – so that’s an interesting effect. It’s an opulent dress too.

    I don’t know that I LIKE it though. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, I just kind of feel like it’s there, like some kind of upholstered piece of furniture (a common critique of late Victorian fashion), so I guess it’s a 7.5 out of 10

  18. Carol Ferris says

    I’m sure it was considered very elegant in it’s day. And it seems that the more trim and contrast you could use, the better. That doesn’t necessarily work for me.
    I think the velvet is too heavy as the contrast fabric. The ivory lace in the neckline and sleeves is fine, but seems to get lost with the “fur” on the bodice. Too many different trims; the black trim carried throughout the dress would have been sufficient to allow the ivory lace to shine a bit more. And it certainly doesn’t need the stomacher or bustle. I give it a 4 out of 10.

Comments are closed.