Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1890s jet, velvet, lace and historicism

Image showing the front view of the bodice of an 1890s reception gown with sheer white sleeves gathered into 7 rows of puffs, a lace jabot, wine red satin bodice, and heavily beaded darkest red velvet skirt, collar and sleeves

This week’s 1890s Rate the Dress is inspired by last weeks, in that it feels like it was made for someone with very much the same taste – albeit at a different time in their life.

It’s extravagant, and over-the-top, and oh-so-Victorian (by which I mean it’s channelling at least four other timeperiods and using five different kinds of trim or fabric manipulation).  Will you like it?

Last week:  a tiered and feathered New Zealand wedding dress from 1920

I’m not surprised that last week’s dress was a bit of a marmite option (and since it’s NZ, it definitely has to be marmite, not vegemite!).  I actually thought that less people would like it than did.  So I’m quite tickled that so many people were taken with its wacky, quirky, charm, and willingness to try all the things on one dress!

I definitely anticipated the two things that were least popular: the appliqued flowers tucked under the sheer over-layer, and the ostrich feathers.  Marmite indeed!

The Total: 8.0 out of 10

Neat and tidy, if not overwhelmingly popular.

This week: a historically inspired 1890s reception gown

I feel like this week’s dress is the gown that last week’s bride’s 60-something great-grandmother might have worn in 1890 if she had the exact same dress taste as her future great-grandaughter.  Will her taste inspire a better rating?

Like last week’s dress this reception gown has a distinctly whimsical air.  It both enthusiastically embraces the latest fashion trends, and pushes the boundaries of the current mode.

This reception gown is also not afraid of grand gestures, or embellishment.  Note the detachable collar, lavishly beaded with jet.  The standing medici collar with dagged edges.  The sheer silk mameluke sleeves, with their six rows of puffs caught by velvet banding.  The lace cuffs.  The velvet oversleeves.

Dress, 1890, American, silk and linen, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009 Gift of Mrs. Roland A. Goodman 1964 2009.300.874a-b

Dress, 1890, American, silk and linen, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009 Gift of Mrs. Roland A. Goodman 1964 2009.300.874a-b

It borrows lavishly from different historical periods.  The standing Medici collar is early 17th century.  The falling jabot from the end of that century, or the early 18th century.  The sleeves are 15th century seen through the eyes of the 1820s, and reinterpreted for the 1890s.  The large under-collar hints at 1780s redingotes.

It’s a smorgasbord of costume history, mashed together and re-assembled in high late-Victorian taste.

The only element that shows restraint is the colour scheme: wine red satin for the bodice, paired with velvet of such dark red it almost reads as black.  Ivory lace and sleeves and jet beading provide matte light and shiny dark counterpoints.

What do you think of this 1890s dress?  Sure, it’s over the top – but that’s very of its era.  Would it be a fabulous and memorable outfit for a woman who wanted to make an impact?  Or noted for all the wrong reasons?

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. Cirina says

    It’s over the top, but wonderfully so.
    I like almost everything and I want it desperately, only two things throw me off:
    – The dark red satin in the front. If there has to be satin, I would like it to be glossy and black, as to reflect the jet beads. This strikes me as a repair or something like that.
    – The collar on the pelerine. The splits just don’t do it for me, and I would like more definition on the front tips of the standing collar, now its just splendidly beaded mass.

  2. Elaine says

    I can’t think of a Rate the Dress that I have disliked as much as this one – or even close. I like the beadwork down the front of the skirt, but that’s it. It looks like a dress for the Evil Queen of the Universe. 1/10

  3. nofixedstars says

    reception dresses were meant to impress, and this one clearly was not likely to be overlooked. i suppose it does, to our modern media-saturated eyes, ineluctably summon up visions of vampire ladies, but that’s not necessarily a strike against it in my books.

    dark crimson silk and velvet, jet beading, a fun high collar and puffy sleeves inspired (presumably) by italian renaissance art…i rather like it all. the only thing i do not like is the lace jabot, which is just wrong for this dress. but it’s readily removable…and perhaps necessary to conceal those awkward bite marks on the neck?

    queen of the crypt, or dame of the drawing room—either way, i like it for its period.

    rating: 8/10

  4. I love how Elaine put it above. “a dress for the Evil Queen of the Universe,” except for me that’s a plus. It looks like a dress a vampire might wear, it exudes so much drama. I’d probably hate the sleeves if I actually had to wear it, buuuut since I don’t they look fantastic.

  5. I love its dramatic impact. The only element that bothers me is the lower sleeves, which strike me as too “fluffy” for the severity of the rest – my brain can’t bring them into coherence.

    9 of 10

  6. I feel that this gown contains three different types of decorative detail:
    * The frothy white sleeves, held in with black bands in a vaguely Renaissance style;
    * The black panels decorated with sparkling jet beads.
    * The draped, dark red satin and velvet of the body of the gown.

    And the lace jabot comes out of left field, somehow.

    Any one of these decorative types could be the theme of a fantastic dress. Combined as they are here, I think they fight each other too much.

    5 out of 10

  7. Oh dear, I quite love this, but I’m very much… extra in my tastes for Victorian clothing. I enjoy that it’s essentially a Victorian style throwback, I’m very fond of later period throwbacks to the Victorian era, so something about that just moves me, and makes the Victorian era feel more accessible and familiar, that they were also capable of paying tribute to the fashions of previous periods. I’m also an absolute sucker for anything with jet.

    I do admit this looks rather like an Evil Disney Villainess dress, I could see this draped on Maleficent easily, which may sound silly, but I believe it’s the collar and coloring lol.

    All in all, I find this definitely makes a statement, and it’s one I could see myself wearing as an eccentric older lady (honestly even today because why not). 8/10 for me.

    (Also I must say, I just found this blog last night and I must say, it’s so delightful! I appreciate your attention to detail and the chance to not only look upon but also engage in discussion about these beautiful and enthralling pieces of history. I’m looking very forward to going through more posts!)

    • Christina Kinsey says

      Another eccentric older lady here , I am looking at the dress and thinking that’s definitely my idea of age appropriate. I have to imagine the colour (2am here and my phone is on bedtime setting ) but it must look amazing . The historical mash up does work , my only quibble is with the neck . The fussy lace is a bit too much for me , I would prefer it without and just let the collar frame the face
      Apart from that , love it 9.5

  8. Alissa says

    Oh. Oh dear. No.

    But then I scroll down to the skirt and I think how gorgeous that black beading on crimson velvet would look at a candlelight Christmas gathering. But then I go back to the cream puffs sticking out of the lady’s shoulders, and the awkwardness of the bodice proportions. It has to be a

  9. Violet says

    What a lovely dress, perfect for a Christmas event! I am enthralled by the rich color and luxurious velvet! This dress tried a lot of things together that I probably wouldn’t attempt myself but somehow it turned out oh-so beautiful! The beaded shoulder cape feature with its 16th century throwback collar is an elegant and sumptuous touch.

    10 out of 10

  10. HelenG says

    This dress fits the description of clothing as armour. I’m sure it would be worn by a woman of substance who pleases herself and doesn’t seek approval from anyone. There is a lot to admire in the design of this dress. 10/10

  11. There’s a LOT going on with this dress, which I don’t usually mind, especially with Victorian. But I think the elements that don’t speak to me are the collars (either one) and the sleeves.
    8 out of 10

  12. Grant Philpott says

    This is a phenomenally theatrical dress and I love everything about it. Having worked in the film industry, I can imagine a leading actress in this and the director having a field day capturing her power. 20/10

  13. Lisa A says

    I honestly don’t know whether I love or detest this dress. It sort of leaves me speechless–and since I’m guessing that that was the intended effect, I’d give it a 10.

  14. I love the velvet and beading, and the back view with the capelet is spectacular, but the middle section of the bodice is so out of place. It looks awkward and twisty and wrinkly.
    I can’t decide how I feel about the sleeves.

    but it could be a 10 with just a few changes! If it were a simple coat or dolman with just the velvet and beading it would be perfect.

  15. This is a dress that cries out, ‘Do not ignore your grandmother! She still holds the purse-strings!’ Perfect for that wedding you suggest.

    I love that it has a bit of so many things, brought together by the rich wine shades. The beadwork down the front is amazing, and the velvet in the train. I’m taking a point off for the crazy removeable collar thing as it seems a bit heavy. Just too much. And yet without it the dress has not quite enough.

    9 out of 10

  16. I love this, it’s rich and unique. It’s great how the bias work contrasts the linear impact of the beadwork and bands on the sleeves. Some grand houses of the period feel almost maze like. This garment has that quality.

  17. Janine says

    I love it 10/10
    It is so much going on on this dress, that you never get boring looking at it. It is dramatic and romantic.

  18. Crumpled Rag says

    Wow – I love this dress, mash up of styles and all. 10/10

  19. AnnaKareninaHerself says

    This dress is so complex, it takes a while to comprehend the way it’s constructed. This gives it a certain allure: the fact that it’s not easy to replicate and even if you can manage, you need a budget for that.
    So the effect of this Ensemble on the majority of the Western population around 1895 must have been impressive, signaling „out-of-reach-sophisticated“ and „out-of-reach expensive“; but what about the lucky few who could easily afford all extravagances they fancy? What might have been the judgement in the high society salons of the grand world, where this was probably supposed to be worn?What would the Countess Greffulhe have thought?
    For that crowd it wouldn’t have been a big deal to have silk and velvet in one outfit. Silk and velvet inspired at best a nonchalant: „Why not? It looks better…“Or instead there might have been an unimpressed: „But why? It looks worse“.
    I tend to go with the latter statement here. I don’t think, it needs the silky drapery. Instead I‘d prefer it as a princess-line-dress with vertical seams running all the way down from the horizontal seam above the bust to the ground. I guess, in this case the back would have Princess-seams as well, creating as much fullness in the back of the skirt and the train as possible, maybe with extra panels inserted.
    With no horizontal seams to interfere the jet embroidery would extend to the horizontal seam above the bust and run down seamlessly seamlessly up all the way to the hem: No interruptions, velvet everywhere, simple, yet expensive.
    Moving on to the white silk mameluke sleeves: They make perfect sense to me, when I look at the back view, but they strike me as too much at the front. I‘d keep them though, in respect for the personal taste of the wearer. After all she has to be happy with her dress. BUT, I‘d elongate the velvet upper sleeves to a classic and practical 3/4 length, revealing 2 puffs as the cuffs, as opposed to 4. A formidable, mature lady can make classic and practical choices from time to time, because she doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Anyways I think it generally works the way it is: 7/10

  20. Kathy Hanyok says

    A perfect example of being dressed by committee. No one could agree which historical era to copy, or even what fabric to use. Each member did it’s own thing, and with time a constraint they mashed it all together. But I like it, componently, if that’s a word. I could do without the puffy sleeves and the dagged collar, but I love the beading and the swoop of satin at the waist. 8/10

  21. Byzant says

    Piratey perfect. I love everything about it aside from the upper under sleeve puffs which look a bit shoved on.


  22. R Pesso says

    I totally love it

    It is an intentional design. I believe it was specifically designed for theme evenings, historic to their times/ the time it was conceptualised …in the eyes of contemporary easthetic’s/ modern “Cruella’s” lol, man that dress would fit in so well with today’s gothic/ steampunk following – borrowing from medieval, across the renaissance, and into high Victorian

  23. R Pesso says

    8 ~ 9/10 for concept, daringness, 1890’s “avant garde” “non-conventionalism”, radicalist lol

    { I say that about all historic clothing, it’s all awesome! all relevant lol }

    Bring on more, we want more! All historic attire is fab fab fab!!!

    [ why are there so few dedicated garment museums/ textile galleries in the world ‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️ ]

  24. It is very much not something that I would wear myself, but I think it accomplishes what it sets out to do! I like the relatively restrained colour palette. The only thing I would change is the collar–that part is just too much for my taste. I imagine that the person who wore it felt FABULOUS!


  25. Anne M says

    I like portions of this dress, but it is _less_ than the sum of its parts. The slits in the top sleeves seem awkwardly placed, and the dags in the standing collar do not work well in the heavy velvet. I’m not sure about the jabot, but it does serve to balance the undersleeves (which I do like). The small ruffle on the bottom of the train is a nice touch. The part I think is the strangest, however, is the way the placement of the beading on the skirt looks, at first glance, like a fancy apron. Even given the time period, this could have done with less excess and more cohesion.

  26. I think you nailed it
    Same person/sensibility-different era
    I also thought that even more than the 1890s, I could see that dress in anyone of the good quirky period dramas or dramedies today
    Ignoring the necklace which is discolored and disheveled
    I started with a 9 but after thinking through the usefulness and appropriateness of the dress and its fancifulness in both the 1890s and 2020s, I decided to up it to

  27. Emma Louise says

    It’s very dramatic and domineering, it demands that I should like it and so I shall!

  28. I love this dress so much. It’s over the top restrained by maturity. 10/10!

  29. Well!

    This unredoubtable gown undoubtedly stirred comment at the evening reception to which it was may have been worn. The jet would have sparkled wonderfully, and the Renaissance effects blended in easily among the popular Renaissance details in the surrounding furniture and architecture. Add a high top-knot coiffure and you have the haughty effect from top to toe.

    It works, except for the upper arm velvet “armor”, a case in which the designer evidently was attempting to blend the fluffy sleeves in with the bodice. Had they taken a cue from the 1810s, they might simply have let the sleeves be quite different from the rest of the gown. Had the jabot used more of the sleeve fabric it would have tied in enough.

    Anyhow, this was a dress for a society matron out to impress, and I expect it did.

    Do I care for it? Well, the lines, yes. The profusion of trims over the elements, not so much. I’d have edited it.

    8 of 10

  30. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    That dress should be in a Disney movie, or a Ghibli one, on the wealthy eccentric old lady who either commits great deeds or evil ones. It has all the tropes mashed into one.


  31. I love it! There’s a splendid amount going on in this single dress and I adore the fact that it draws from at least four different time periods–and then the sheer variety of materials!

    I prefer the appearance of the upper sleeves from the back, as the front view of the sleeves seems too…solid, perhaps? I almost wish that the velvet portion of the upper sleeves was rotated slightly towards the front of the body so that there was a bit more of the puffed sleeves visible from the front.

    I do have mixed feelings about the mid-torso section in satin. I find the contrast between the upper body and sleeves in velvet and then the skirt again in velvet a bit jarring *and yet* the draping effect of the satin absolutely provides the illusion of a smaller waist (plus it introduces yet another texture). Velvet likely would not have had quite the same effect.

    For the variety of materials and time periods, and the rock-solid confidence to rock that awesome collar, I rate this:


  32. I wanted to love this dress. I love the individual parts of it the building, the the sleeves the wine colored velvet in the back parts of it are beautiful. But together for me they just don’t work. Seven out of 10

  33. PepperReed says

    I love this dress (that collar! the gorgeous color! the embroidery on Velvet!) — EXCEPT the white sleeve portion. I like the shape and arrangement, and fabric, but the color is just jarring vs providing dramatic contrast.

    I can 100% see a young Violet Crawley wearing this with a hauteur and dry quip and leave any beaus crawling. If the sleeves were sheer black or soft plum color this would be close to a ten, but as is only a 6 — those sleeves make a cartoon out of a diva.

  34. I love it! I imagine it as the dress of an immortal vampire who has kept the little elements of fashion from past eras that she likes and combined them into her wardrobe, but with style and flair and a totally goth colour scheme. 10/10

  35. Elizabeth says

    I’m here for the evil vampire queen look. The back view alone with the train and collar would be a 10/10, but the satin bodice and ascot in front take it down a notch overall.

    Would wear. 9/10.

  36. What a fabulous dress! There’s so much going on, but I love Victorian-does-“insert previous era here” reproduction and reinterpretation. It’s so fun to pick out all of the previous dress history inspirations the wearer had.
    As a lover and wearer of vintage fashion, I like to think of those who lived before us who also loved and wore “vintage” looks.

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