Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Bustle Era Historicism

Life’s been a little hectic for me lately, and unfortunately blogging hasn’t been a top priority.  I can’t promise I’ll be able to get back to a regular schedule right away, but the worst of the stresses have been lifted.  Hopefully life, and blogging, will be a little more stable in the near future.

The last Rate the Dress I posted was so practical and timeless that a number of you mentioned that you’d happily wear it today.  This week’s dress is very of its time, although it heavily references another era, and would definitely make most modern activities a little tricky!

Last Week:  a 1910s day dress with touches of colour

The day dress was very popular.  At worst you found it dignified but not particularly interesting, at best you were wildly in love with it and wanted; to wear it everyday/recreate it/a pattern of it.

The only real criticism it received was for the collar and collar colour (say that three times fast!).  You weren’t convinced by the shape, or the mix of hues.

The Total: 8.9 out of 10

Not quite as fabulous as the banyan, but an impressive rating nonetheless.

This week: an 1870s dress with 18th century inspiration:

Since the last Rate the Dress was practical and wearable, here’s one that’s just a little bit frivolous.

Dress in two parts, 1886, silk, Nicholson and Wordley of Camden Town, London Fashion Museum Bath

Dress in two parts, 1886, silk, Nicholson and Wordley of Camden Town, London Fashion Museum Bath

Historicism was wildly fashionable in the late 19th century.  Couturiers like Worth borrowed liberally from a whole range of eras: Elizabethan ruffs, Renaissance slashing, and 18th century engageantes all make appearances in Victorian dress.

This week’s dress is based on the 18th century, with the aforementioned engageante inspired sleeves, a laced stomacher effect front, and a neckline that references the low square necklines of the Georgian era, and the crossover lace fichu seen in some portraits (like this one of Marie Kunigunde of Saxony, and this one of Madame Sophie of France, and this one of Mary Little, Lady Carr).

Dress in two parts, 1886, silk, Nicholson and Wordley of Camden Town, London Fashion Museum Bath

Dress in two parts, 1886, silk, Nicholson and Wordley of Camden Town, London, Fashion Museum Bath

It also has an aproned overskirt that resembles the picked up aprons seen in 18th century pastoralist art and portraits (like this one of Mary, Countess of Howe), and a bustled skirt that hints at Georgian picked-up skirts.

Despite all this, I don’t think it’s a costume: simply a very fanciful dress.  Compared to other fancy dress of the era it’s too subdued, and there are too many other examples of equally fanciful historicism inspired garments.

What do you think?  Does this example of 1880s historybounding-meets-everyday-Disney-princess make your heart happy?

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. Were I to judge it on wearability, it would be a hard pass. I can never imagine myself in a bustle without imagining domestic disasters.
    But judging it as a work of art, it’s exquisite. Once again, the restraint of a single color allows the various folds and ruffles to shine. I can easily see it worn by a model for Renoir.
    10 of 10

  2. JessieRoo says

    I think it’s dreamy. It has just the right amount of frills coupled with crisp pleats and fabrics that work together, so though it’s fluffy and femme, it’s not too over the top. Sometimes 19th century historicism just does not work because it mashes wildly different silhouettes together, but the 18th century-inspired front bodice shaping and stomacher work well here. The silhouettes of both eras are similar enough that they don’t fight each other. My one criticism is that I am not in love with the hi/low neckline. Either could work, but combined it’s kind of awkward.

  3. 10/10 This is a very lovely dress I can imagine somebody posing for a painting in this.
    P.S. Welcome back! You’re right the dress posting has been missed. I to understand being very very busy in life. I have a weekly storytelling page I do for my nieces and nephews, but the last several months I have not been able to do it because life just got in the way. Thank you so much for all of your postings and looking forward to your next one.

  4. I usually don’t care for 19th century takes on earlier eras, but this dress appeals to me. Maybe because it does a good job of melding 18th century decorative motifs (ruffles) with 19th century ones, or maybe because the cream and pink color scheme is attractive. Anyway, I like it.

    9 out of 10.

  5. Buttercup says

    I like it but don’t love it. I find the whole neckline thing to be quite claustrophobic and far too busy. Everything else about the dress is fine. 8/10

  6. It’s so pretty! I am reading Lady Sherlock books right now and I can see Charlotte choosing this dress, but with brighter colours!!!

  7. nofixedstars says

    hmmm. it looks to me like the maker of this gown melded the historical elements with the contemporary style less successfully than might have been done. the laced bodice and fichu-esque ornament at the front are well enough, but i find the side view unappealing. it’s a confection of a dress in terms of colour scheme and ruffly-lace-y embellishment, but not one i personally care to bite into…

    rating: 5/10

  8. Penny says

    I love the draping of the back bustle. And I love the colours. But the faux stomacher and open front isn’t doing it for me. The neckline also looks like a cleavage window from some of the worst comic book costumes. 6/10

  9. AnnaKarenibaHerself says

    It looks a little off, but that could be easily fixed. First: there is too much beige. That apron-like overskirt would have to go. It still wouldn’t look like an 18th- century-costume without the overskirt because the silhouette is clearly 1880s and although this type of overskirt-draping is very common over bustle-skirts, there are also 1880s dresses without it. Also the beige Part at the back of the skirt needs to be replaced by the pink one. The skirt still has a bit of lace and a bit of pattern and so an all pink skirt wouldn’t be too simple. Now the top: the hem of the bodice is too loose. It looks sloppy and ill-fitted. It needs to fit the corset like a glove. And it needs some kind of finish at the bottom hem. I‘d just use that beige lace that has been used for the neckline and the cuffs, just because it needs something and I wouldn’t want to introduce another trimming. From an 1885 perspective this would take the fancy-dress-vibe away as well, since putting lace trimming at the bottom hem of a bodice is definitely not 18th century. I‘d use the lace in a playful and confident way here. And at last: it needs something contrasting and fresh: white camellias, in full bloom, lushly sized. I‘d put them literally in some kind of little glas-tube filled with water und put it right into this pink stomacher. And of course that dress looked brand new in 1885. Keep that in mind. The result: I admit, more fit for a courtesan than a „lady“. Quite demi-monde. A little overdressed for a trip to the countryside: but pretty and kind of fun. So I see potential in it and give it a 7.

  10. Comic book cleavage! Yes, that’s exactly what it reminds me of, thank you.
    Other than that, though, I agree with the comments saying this is doing the blending of historical and contemporary elements really well. The fact the colours, textures and patterns don’t seem to fight each other nor the style also helps a lot. It has that sweet, definitely artificial pastoral look to it, but it also isn’t too saccharine the way that look can often end up being; just right.
    8/10, mostly two points down for the comic book cleavage because UGH. 😀

    • P.S. I find myself surprisingly willing to potentially wear this confection, and that’s saying a lot from a self-proclaimed anti-cupcake girl. I think that has a lot to do with the crisp 1880s drapery and the fact the underskirt is striped like that. But definitely on the condition that it has a different neckline. 😉

    • P.P.S. The stripes: It’s because for me they fit the pastoral / skirt-and-apron scheme; rural / “folk costume” skirts all over Europe would often be striped, and often it might be a slightly more complicated, further-patterned stripe. So that type of fabric pattern makes perfect sense to me in this context, actually far more than something like a romantic floral would. Well done, whoever made that fabric choice.

  11. Emma Louise says

    It’s ok but I don’t love it. I’m definetly not a fan of the neckline and I kept looking at it trying to work out why, I think it’s the mix of the low straight opening and the sloping shoulders that make it look like there is a huge elongated space between bust and shoulders. Apart from that I like the rest of it, the pink stripes are sweet but not too sweet and the lace trim is well placed.

  12. India says

    From the front it’s all Dresden shepherdess romanticism while from the side it’s a massive fabric shelf. If you turned round suddenly you could send anyone standing next to you flying and the momentum probably wouldn’t do much for your balance either. From which you will gather that it’s not really working for me. But parts of it are lovely and for that reason alone, I’ll give it a 5.

  13. I really like the shape of the front overskirt, and the pleats on the side. The neckline is very strange but I like the rest of the bodice, with its lovely fitted sleeves and pointy fake-stomacher thing.
    The colour scheme is rather bland, but I don’t hate it. I’m imagining the lace used to be whiter and frothier looking instead of the very off-white colour it is now.


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