Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: pink 1840s ruffles & embroidery

Image shows a piece of carnation pink silk embroidered with flowers

Quite a number of commentators of last week’s dress felt that it was the perfect garment for an evil queen – or perhaps a particularly splendid and imposing fairy godmother.  This week I’ve picked a pink silk frock for her victim/godchild (or perhaps this is a Discworld-esque Witches Abroad situation, where the ingenue is both?).

It’s pink, it’s frilly, it’s got a big skirt.  Is it the perfect dress for feeling like a pretty pretty princess, ca. 1845, in?

Last week:  a historically inspired 1890s reception gown

My goal with Rate the Dress is always to be interesting and informative – and I definitely succeeded with at least one of those last week!  If there’s one thing last week’s dress was not, it was boring.  Not every dress can inspired “Oh. Oh dear. No.” as one comment, and “Oh my word, YES.” as the very next one.

The Total: 8.7 out of 10

A phenomenally good rating for a dress that rated only 1 with at least one rater!  The ratings might have been all over the place, but the wearer of last week’s can at least be sure that she was memorable!

This week: an pinked, pink, embroidered 1840s dress

This 1840s dress is made up in vivid carnation pink silk.  This bright hue was achievable with plant based dyes, and was fashionable from at least as far back as the Middle Ages.  Carnations (members of the dianthus family, also known as pinks) are actually where the colour gets its name: it’s first used as a colour name in the early 17th century.

Image shows an 1840s evening dress in carnation pink with a full skirt.

Evening dress, 1840s, Historic Deerfield Museum

The dress also features decorations based on another form of ‘pink’.  Zig-zagged and scalloped cutwork is called pinking.   It combines a Medieval word meaning to punch or prick, with ‘pink’: just like the frilled petals of the dianthus family which also named the colour. These days we use the word in this form in ‘pinking shears’.

The elaborately cutwork edges of the embroidered flounces of this dress were almost certainly inspired by ‘pinked’ 18th century trimmings.  Late 1840s historicism may be more subtle than its late Victorian counterpart, but it influenced fashion all the same!

The frills on these dress could be left raw, or might have been finished with satin-stitch edging.

Image shows a piece of carnation pink silk embroidered with flowers

Evening dress, 1840s, Historic Deerfield Museum

The whole dress is lavishly decorated with satin stitch flowers.  They wind around the waist, frame the top of the upper flounce, and are scattered along both flounces.  I’d love to see the back side of the embroidery.  Is it hand done, or does it take advantage of new advances in embroidery machines?  1920s dresses certainly feature similar embroidery done by machine, but I’m not sure if it was possible this early.

Image shows an 1840s evening dress in carnation pink with a full skirt.

Evening dress, 1840s, Historic Deerfield Museum

I’d also like to see the dress displayed on a slightly taller mannequin.  1840s evening dresses weren’t often trained, and this one should sit just off the floor, with a delicate pair of flat-toed slippers peeping out from under the hem.

Although it’s always hard to tell, the proportions of this dress suggest a rather tall wearer.  It makes me think of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was 5’8″ or 5’9″, and only a few years to0 young to have worn this.

What do you think?  Is this pink frock perfect for a young heroine?  Pretty and youthful without being too sweet and fussy?  Or does she need a knight in shining sartorial armour to sweep in and rescue her from a dress disaster?

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. I give it a 10. I love the color, my favorite. The embroidery is excellent and the large tiered skirt is perfect. The dip at the waistline adds special interest. Not having long sleeves is a plus – makes a wonderful statement. The lower neckline and the added shawl/collar with it’s shape and the tucked fabric is gorgeous.

  2. nofixedstars says

    eh, not a big fan of pink generally. but i think this is a pretty dress, largely because it lets the colour speak without throwing a lot of other decor into the mix. it has ruffles and embroidery, but they are self fabric and tone-on-tone, so overall it is very subtle apart from the vivid hue. and while i might not choose it myself, i do think it a nice frock for its time, and completely suited to a rosy-cheeked young lady anticipating a happy evening of dance and perhaps flirtation.

    rating: 7/10

  3. It’s nice, but the pink is too bright for me. The embroidery is lovely though.

  4. I like that all of the trimming, ruffles and embroidery are the same shade of pink. It keeps the dress visually interesting and detailed without becoming too busy as so many gowns are wont to do. Not my favourite shade of pink, personally, but very pretty!

  5. The embroidery is exquisite! The lines are graceful, and personally, I find the shade of pink beautifully intense, and the tone-on-tone application of the elements just right.
    10 of 10

  6. What an instructive change from last week’s gown! The designer of last week’s dress mixed multiple elements in color and texture. This week’s designer used multiple trim elements too, but kept them all shiny and all the same color, for a very different effect, girlish to my modern eye. Would an 1840s eye have read “ingenue” too?

    Anyhow, the design is pleasant and I imagine originally the skirt would have fluffed prettily, playing off well against the tailored bodice, and the folds of the berthe are echoed in the band on the skirt, while the skirt embroidery is echoed in the bodice. The color is wonderful.

    It’s well bred, let us say, but it doesn’t hold the eye, at least mine. Even fluffed I’d have found other treatments more arresting. Make the berthe line echo the dress skirt line, and pink the lower berthe edge. Include the embroidery in the berthe: if you are going to pay for it, place it high, where it can be admired. Forgo the buttons. Then it’s more of a unified composition in my mind.

    7 of 10

  7. Buttercup says

    Hmmm.. the colour is fine but this dress reminds me of a crushed paper bag. I like the bodice but I can’t get my head past the crushed paper bag effect. 5/10

  8. Well, I wouldn’t be seen dead in it, not liking pink, but that isn’t the point: for what it is, it’s charming. Just the dress for a sweet young thing who wants to be pretty in pink, with enough embellishment to not be boring, but not so much that she looks like the sort of forward girl who angles to be the centre of attention.
    I feel sure the original wearer would have enlivened the neckline with a little posy of flowers, too. Tiny pink rosebuds, perhaps?
    (And I take my hat off to whoever did all that satin stitch – assuming they weren’t a machine.)

  9. It feels like I am damning it with faint praise..
    It’s pretty
    That’s it, pretty
    Nothing wrong with pretty and there is a lot here to inspire wearable garments today but …

  10. Alissa says

    While I was scrolling I got about halfway down the first picture and I thought it was a dress from the 1950s–at this point I had only seen up to the first flounce. I think I like the idea of THAT dress better than this dress. It is beautifully made, I can only imagine the skill it took to make. However, (and I say this often, I know!) the proportions seem off, the first flounce should hang longer over the second one. Also, the simple elegance of the pleating doesn’t seem to go with the princess skirt.
    I don’t mind the pink! I think the color is charming.

  11. Definitely a dress for a heroine. I love the colour, and the elegant collar. I love the embroider, especially around the waist. The fullness of the skirt is lovely too. I’m not 100% convinced about the pinked ruffles, but I guess with a dress this pink you have to have ruffles. 9/10

  12. Adore it. This shade of pink I don’t think of as sweet and innocent -it is quite bold. I am living for the tone on tone embroidery and the pinked flounces just take this dress into a whole new level of fabulous to my eye. That and the top line being wavy not straight, it’s just so much more considered than the usual, admittedly gorgeous, layered flounce skirt.
    I just love it. when I see a dress like this I want to embroider things. I feel inspired.

  13. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    My least liked era, and my favorite technique.
    As an example of the era, it’s excellent – the pleated neckline, the tiered, decorated skirt. The restrained monochrome embroidery keeps it from going into the early Victorian gaudiness.

    Just what a wealthy merchant’s daughter needs for dining with parents and guests – it quietly says “I’m rich and have good taste, marry me.”


  14. Cirina says

    If there was not the embroidery at the waist of the bodice, I would say that the skirt and the bodice belong to two different dresses.
    The cool, smooth elegance of the tucks and simplicity of the bodice does not balance the lush, embroidered, scalloped and tiered skirt. Maybe a pinked embroidery edge at the sleeves would do it?
    I love the skirt and I love the bodice, and the color is wonderfull, but as it stands,

  15. ELAINE says

    I really like the elegant tucked top of the dress and the shape of the skirt. The embroidery is lovely and the single color keeps it from looking too fussy. But the pinking ruins it for me. It makes me think the ruffles were nibbled by rats. 6/10

  16. Lisa A says

    I find it lovely in every way, including the unusual hue of pink, but feel it lacks some little fillip or finishing touch to set it off, or add a small note of contrast or focus. As another poster noted, perhaps the wearer would add that touch–a nosegay, piece of jewelry, or something. But not knowing whether that was so, I’ll refrain from the highest mark and give it a 9.

  17. Anne M says

    Much of this dress is lovely. The bold pink is very interesting, definitely not a “sweet dainty pastel.” I did not like the pinking on the lower tiers, especially as compared to the smoother lines elsewhere. The embroidery would have looked more unified if it was all the same shade. Something gold would look nice along the top edge, unless that was planned to be done via a necklace.

  18. I don’t usually like 1840s gowns, flounces, or the colour pink, but this took my breath away. The embroidery shines beautifully in the light and adds much-needed detail to the monochrome skirts. It’s bold and elegant, feminine but not frumpy. My one complaint is that the pinked edges look a little tatty, rather than purposefully cut out, but even this would be improved with a touch of ironing.

  19. The embroidery is well-done, be it handmade or otherwise. Though this shade of pink is not for me, it is a beautiful one. I also like the many-tucked bertha; much nicer than the normal lace. It’s hard to judge the effect of the pinking because the dress badly needs steaming, but I’m not inclined to blame that on the dress.

    That said, only the color makes a strong statement about this dress; some of the details that impress the most, like the embroidery, might be hard to see in a candlelit ballroom. For that reason, I can’t quite give it a 10.

    9 out of 10

  20. Elizabeth says

    I love this dress. The embroidery, flounces, pinking, pleating – it all works for me. There’s a lot going on but it feels harmonious to me. I wish I could see it unwrinkled, in motion, on a person. I love the color too, but I my eyes would like some kind of break from it, maybe in accessories.


  21. I, in fact, love this. I’ve just gotten over my adolescent aversion to pink, and now I can fully embrace the frills and the color!

  22. AnnaKareninaHerself says

    I really like 1840s ball gowns. They are elegant and never too much. Some of the most gorgeous film costumes I’ve seen were the Toilettes Piero Tosi designed for Isabelle Huppert in the (…rather long and boring) 1981 film „the lady of the Camilias“ by Bolignini, which shows 1840s splendor in its finest.
    My problem with 1840s womenswear in general are normally the sloping shoulders in high-necked dresses, because I find them unrealistic, unless a women consciously presses down her shoulders all day long in order to fit the measurements of the dress. But this problem is avoided in evening dresses (and even some 1840s day dresses) by revealing the shoulders.
    Now the dress: the color is a rather unusual pink, which I appreciate. I‘d rather expect this intense shade of pink on an Indian Sari than on a regular early Victorian ball gown. For a women with the right complexion it’s an amazing color. I see the young Sophia Loren knocking it out of the part in this gown (or probably film costume in this case).
    Knowing what the 1840s considered to be refined, there really aren’t many options available to alter this dress.
    So I would keep it mostly as it is. Adjusting it to my personal taste, I‘d probably have 3 flounces instead of 2, evenly dividing the skirt into 3 sections. But really, it’s also ok like this. The flower stitching is really beautiful and I appreciate the detailed quality of the flounces as a whole. The simplicity of the bodice is flattering, I think. 8.5/10

  23. Long time lurker, first time voter,
    I am usually not a pink fan, never haver been, however, this shade is almost salmon, which means it is less affronting to the eyes. I love the silhouette, however I think the sleeve look a bit awkward, I think they would be improved if they were puffed. I also wish the skirt hem was cutwork, the petticoat hem showing underneath at the bottom looks a bit wonky. Other than that I’m in love with it’s simplicity. 7/10

  24. I’d wear that. One point taken off for the Bertha not matching the skirt – I think more floral embroidery would work better.
    Why do so many people have such strong philosophical opinions on bright pink? It’s a colour.

  25. Emma Louise says

    I love the solid pink colour and the embroidery. I like the point on the bertha matching the point on the waistline, but I keep flip-flopping on how well the bertha & skirt go together. I keep asking myself if the crisp lines on the bertha pair well with the pinking, and I’m not sure.

  26. I really like the color, but then I like the brights. I also love the monochrome embroidery. It adds and doesn’t subtract. I just wish there was a bit more at the bodice, maybe at the top of the bertha? It feels like the upper body didn’t really integrate any of the fabulous embroidery from the skirt or rest of the bodice. 8/10

  27. Violet says

    Too much pink, but very lovely construction. I would like to see it in a less extreme shade with some contrasting embroidery.


  28. Gillian Stapleton says

    Oh I like this. So much that I’m contemplating making my own version, raspberry pink shade and all. What an exquisite gown.

  29. Well if we’re going discworld I could see this as something Magrat would wear with the wrong under garments and somehow make look wilted. Make it white nd add some beading and maybe even her wedding dress.
    And that Granny would use to compare her to a soggy lettuce leaf with all that texturedtrim (paraphrased rather than direct quote)

    Not something I would wear but it’s beautifully done 10/10

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