For the most part, I make my own clothes. For the most part, I don’t wear original vintage clothes. For the most part, I don’t like synthetic fibres. And for the most part, I’m not particularly interested in post 1960s fashions.
But, most of all, I’m a creature of contradictions and am not adverse to breaking all my rules.
Meet my original vintage, very 1970s, totally synthetic, covered it enormous orange flowers, and yet somehow still gorgeous and me and wonderful to wear, ‘Fairytale’ dress:
Isn’t it fabulous? Can’t you just imagine a 1970’s fairytale book featuring Rapunzel wearing this exact frock? Possibly a feminist re-write of fairytales where Rapunzel rescues herself. (Hands up: Who else’s favourite children’s book was The Paper Bag Princess?)
I found the dress at an op-shop for $6, and though all my normal impulses said “Are you crazy?” I had to buy it. And it’s fantastic! It’s the very best expression of ’70s fashion: incredibly flattering, incredibly comfortable, and made from some incredibly variety of dead dino that feels like you are wearing spun air and floats around you like a cloud of butterflies.
While you are admiring the dress, can we take a moment to talk about how awesome my husband is? When I put this on and said “Hey, let’s go for a drive and a photoshoot’ he didn’t say (as you would expect) “What on earth are you wearing and NO, there is no way I will ever be seen in public with you in that.”
Possibly he’s just so used to the weird stuff I want photographed that this seems positively normal to him.
Also, while I bounced around the Sir Truby King house and gardens and skipped and frolicked and gamboled (Honestly. All of those. Sometimes at the same time.) he just waited patiently for me to stand still long enough to actually get a photo instead of telling me how weird I am.
If this is a fairytale, he’s definitely the hero – even if all he needs to do is wield the camera while I use the Frying Pan of Doom (hands up, who else get’s that reference? Hint, it’s NOT Disney) to rescue myself!
Now I just need a real-life event that I can get away with wearing this dress to…
And also, a photoshoot where I actually wield the Frying Pan of Doom. I wonder if the Wellington Airport would kick me out if I showed up in this dress with a cast iron frying pan and started posing next to Smaug?
I really wanted to post something today, but wasn’t sure what. When in doubt, what could be better than costume deliciousness?
Two months ago (has it been two months already!) I shared with you the first piece of Karen’s gift.
If anything, I love this piece even more, though it’s hard to pick between two such glorious items!
This velvet dress dates from the mid 20s, and bears a label with the name Mrs Marina Downing, 22 East Sixty-Fifth St, New York. Presumably Mrs Downing was the dressmaker.
The dress is primarily in petrol blue silk velvet (be still my heart!) with flashes of cerise pink silk satin around the neck and in the hip trim.
There is simple metallic embroidery around the neck, down the left side, and around the hem. It’s just another touch of detail and handiwork on the frock, and lends a nice shock of coarseness and permanency to a garment that could otherwise look too sweet and delicate. It’s like an amuse bouche for the dress.
The dropped waist is highlighted with a wide beaded band with little ribbonwork pansies
There is also another bunch of ribbon flowers sewn to the skirt, but the workmanship is very inferior, and the placement quite random, so I suspect it was a later addition to hide a spot or hole (which you can possibly see in the twist of the stem)
The asymmetry of the dress is further highlighted with rows of piping down the proper left side, with the same subtle metallic embroidery that highlights the neckline and the layers of hem.
The dress fastening is hidden under the left-side piping. You unhook the shoulder:
And open up the side, revealing the lining of ivory silk tissue and silk crepe de chine, and the support layers of silk net:
A wide band of silk petersham (with the dressmakers label) fastens around the hips, supporting the weight of the skirt. It’s covered by the lining, fastening with domes (snaps).
Then the hip swag wraps over it all, and fastens with more domes, further disguising the closure from the outside.
It’s a classic example of the subtle, hidden closures that were used high-end clothes in the first quarter of the 20th century, before zip fastenings became common.
The whole dress just makes my heart happy, both from an aesthetic viewpoint, and from a dressmaker and historian viewpoint. Such exquisite workmanship! So many well-thought out details! And those colours!
Over a year ago I received an email out of the blue from a blog reader who had a small collection of 20s & 30s clothes that she thought I might like.
Would I ever! That lovely lady was Karen, and the day her box arrived was like all my birthdays coming at once (only without any additional wrinkles or grey hairs): silks and velvets and beading and lace.
The contents were a treasure trove of amazing pieces, in all my favourite colours and techniques. I photographed them right away, and have been meaning to share them with you ever since, but I’ve just been continually too busy this year.
I finally got all the photos sorted for one of my favourite items (who am I kidding, they are ALL my favourite items!) and was going to show it to you to coincide with the HSF Yellow challenge, and then internet in Vanuatu was too expensive to upload them.
So, a little late, but no less deliciously gorgeous, I present this 1930s/40s silk negligée in butter yellow.
(is negligée the right thing to call it? I mean, you can’t quite call something like this a nightgown, but I always think of a negligée as opening up the front)
The really interesting thing about this is that it is entirely hand-sewn, but it’s not homemade. It bears the label of ‘Léron / Fifth Ave. New York’
This (along with the silk) indicates that it would have been an extremely expensive and luxurious item in its time – practically couture (and true couture is still hugely handsewn). Once sewing machines became common, handsewing became a status symbol. L.M. Montgomery stories have a number of mentions of baby clothes or wedding trousseaus with ‘every stitch by hand.’
The stitching is beautifully done – fine, even and perfect. From the tiny piped bands that control the gathers of the bodice…
…And the perfectly even binding and minute gathers…
…To the pinstitching attaching the chiffon bodice to the skirt…
And finally, to the the tiny rolled hem…
…The sewing is clearly the work of a consummate needlewoman.
I suspect that the negligée may very well have belonged to a bride. There is something about the colours and cut that is very youthful and innocent. Other than her honeymoon or in a Disney fairytale where she’s bouncing out of bed to throw open the shutters and sing while birds perch on her outstretched hands, I can’t imagine when a girl would wear this!
Today you could easily wear this as an evening dress, or even a wedding dress, and with a slip underneath, few people would realise that it was originally little more than a slip itself!
And so turns fashion!
Thank you a million times to Karen for giving me this amazing piece to study and share. It brings me a little happiness and sunshine every time I think of it: the lovely yellow, and that long ago seamstress, making her living with perfect stitches.
If you want to see a few more pieces of vintage beautifulness in my collection, check out my posts on Elise’s gift, Theresa’s 1915 dress, and Lynne’s quilted petticoat.
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