Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: early 1860s formal foliage in bronze

Evening dress, 1860–62, American, silk, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2009.300.2976,

It’s cold and winter-y and rainy here in NZ, and I planned to find something deliciously floral and summery and light to show you for this week’s Rate the Dress, but somehow my inspiration lists and boards just did not supply.  Instead this week’s pick is dark and lush and winter-y.

Perhaps that will appeal to those of you suffering with hot weather?  You can dream of a time cool enough to wear it…

Last weeks (ish) rating:  an 1890s tea gown in the aesthetic style

Most of you liked last week’s dress, but few of you loved it.  It was just…nice.  But not amazing.

The Total: 7.9 out of 10

Nice.  Not amazing.

This week: an early 1860s formal gown in brocaded silk.

The museum listing for this gown describes it as an evening dress, but, despite the lush brocaded fabric, I think it’s actually a formal afternoon dress.  The high neck and long sleeves are more consistent with daywear than evening wear in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

The fabric is definitely the centerpiece of this gown: a visually striking black on bronze weave, which has been carefully cut to mirror the pattern placement across the back and front of the dress.

In addition to the fabric, I thought this dress was an interesting Rate the Dress choice for the sleeves.

The slim trumpets with deep ruffles below the elbow are less commonly seen than the wider pagoda sleeve, and rather remind me of the ruffle sleeves that were recently fashionable today.

This would have been worn with a little lace collar, and embroidered lawn undersleeves.

What do you think?  Is this better than just nice?

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. Christina kinsey says

    Beautiful, l feel it is more an afternoon or reception dress too. That would account for the high neck , unless the wearer was an elderly woman who preferred the extra coverage . Either way it has an elegant simplicity and the style let’s the fabric do the talking
    I think , for me , I prefer the pointed waist lines of the 1840s as the raised waist of the 1860s just doesn’t look quite right with this shape of skirt , to me
    So basically a 9 for me

    • Oh. Good point about the waistline – I mean, I’m not entirely sure I agree here actualy, I rather like the understatedness of this silhouette with this fabric so definitely not one of the extra pointy 1840s ones – but on the whole, yeah, I think that might be why 1860s dresses just don’t speak to me, they often feel rather truncated, too much like a toilet paper doll or something. Not this one. 🙂
      What I like here is that the skirt isn’t super-big like it could get later on in the 1860s. It would be too much in this fabric.
      Probably also 9/10 from me.

  2. Penny says

    I agree it looks more like formal day-wear than an evening dress. I love the fabric, and the teeny tiny cartridge pleats and those piped seams. I initially thought the bodice was a bit plain, but then you mentioned wearing it with a lace collar. With a lovely lace collar (and possibly a sash or belt) this would be stunning. I actually quite like those sleeves too, and can imagine them with lace trimmed undersleeves. 9/10

  3. Sue Cottle says

    Beautiful, I love it, definitely a 9. I love the black on bronze, the floral pattern and the sleeves – they’re both elegant, and slightly understated. I agree it is more likely a day dress, with that high neckline, than an evening gown.

  4. Lynne says

    Way better than nice! The simple shape and the balanced cutting makes the best of this stunning fabric.

    10 out of 10.

  5. Sara McDermott says

    Oh, that’s a stunner! I love the autumn coloring and the uncluttered lines. I think the bodice would benefit from a more pointed or defined waistline, or really good buttons – faceted jet or cut steel for glitter, but not too much flash.

    I want to stare into that multi-layered brocade for hours. How many punch cards would a jacquard loom have needed to execute this?

    • Sara McDermott says

      Oh gads, I forgot to rate – 9/10

  6. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Oh my – the pattern matching on the bodice, the piping, the pleating … and the bronze glowing under that black scrollwork! With the silk rustling as I walk.

    Just the dress for dining “en famille”. Or to be the maiden aunt,

    I don’t see how it closes in center front, but I would add faceted jet buttons.


  7. Kathy Hanyok says

    I’m not feeling it. Maybe because it is summery hot here. The fabric is lush and beautiful, the execution is flawless, …but.7/10

  8. Louisa says

    I am crazy about this dress! The fabric is mesmerizing and the simple silhouette feels timeless. 10/10

  9. Nancy says

    This is not one of my favorite eras, so I’m afraid that colors my opinion of the dress. I love how carefully the pattern was placed on the back of the bodice but overall the bodice is too plain for my taste (although the addition of a lace collar would help). The gathered sleeves are a nice break from the usual pagoda sleeves though. I suppose I give it a 7.

  10. It’s lovely! I agree that a pointed waistline would be lovely with this particular fabric and gown but alas, it was no longer fashionable by the time this dress was made. The right lace collar and lawn under sleeves would certainly complete the dress. I do wonder if the skirt support garments (petticoats, mid-sized hoop, etc.) used here are quite full enough for the cut of the skirt. The folds of the skirt as it is displayed look just a hair too deep to me.


  11. I love it! I’m not a big fan of pagoda sleeves, so the slightly narrower shape is really a nice change. The fabric and pattern layout is also beautiful. I agree with some other commenters that an addition of jet buttons would be the icing on the cake.

  12. Leigh says

    Is that a little skull on top of the butterfly/moth on the lower back of the back of the bodice? I can also see it on the back of the skirt just right of center.

  13. Emma Louise says

    I love the fabric, with the warm bronze glow behind the black scrollwork. With the right accessories to finish the look it would be stunning.

  14. nofixedstars says

    i think it’s very pretty! i would wear it happily, it’s not a ‘shout-y’ dress, but it looks distinctive and elegant. i would like to see it with black lace accessories and dark carnelian jewellery, and with bronze chrysanthemums in the hair.

  15. nofixedstars says

    i think it’s very pretty! i would wear it happily, it’s not a ‘shout-y’ dress, but it looks distinctive and elegant. i would like to see it with black lace accessories and dark carnelian jewellery, and with bronze chrysanthemums in the hair.

    rating: 9/10

  16. Steph says

    The fabric and style are perfect together.
    And I love that it would be absolutely wearable as contemporary dress today, maybe shortened a tad and without petticoats to de-puff the skirt a little.

  17. Anne M says

    Quietly elegant. Beautiful fabric, skilled sewing, both likely quite expensive, but in a subdued way. The sleeve bottoms seem just a tad wide.

  18. I love the silhouette of the dress–the tight bodice and the shaped sleeves. But I don’t like the pattern of the fabric for some reason, though the colors are fine with me.

    7 out of 10.

  19. Veronica says

    At first I thought it was a bit dark, but then I kept finding more things to like about it. The pattern matching definitely added a couple of points!

  20. Lucia says

    It’s lovely. It looks very mature and I love the cut. The fabric is not quite to my taste, though. I don’t hate it, it seems a bit dark. The pattern is beautiful, it’s merely the colors. Still, I would happily wear this dress!

  21. Katie says

    It’s a cold morning here in paraparaumu and everything about this appeals to me with the weather we’re having. 8/10

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