Of the textiles Elise gave me, I’ve shown you a very exotic assuit tunic, and a very sweet but commercial wrap. This week, let’s look at something a bit between the two – a homemade evening gown of gorgeous devore velvet in cobalt blue.
The dress is a beautiful, but absolutely typical, example of a middle-class semi-formal dress.
This wasn’t a society woman’s frock by any means: it’s the kind of dress made by a home dressmaker from a pattern that almost certainly included a ‘day’ and ‘evening’ version with the only notable difference being the length of the skirt.
So, not unusual or exciting in that sense, but actually more exciting because it is such a typical example: it really gives such a perfect picture of what most women were wearing to simple evening events in the second half of the 30s. And it’s beautiful. The devore velvet (probably rayon) is just swoon-worthy, and the cut is simple but effective.
The dress consists of a bodice joined to a basic bias-cut four-gore skirt at a high inverted ‘V’ waist. It would have been worn with a matching slip, perhaps in a slightly contrasting colour to highlight the devore velvet.
The dress fastens with a side-zip (these became more and more common throughout the 1930s, especially on cheaper garments)
Even though there isn’t a seam at the traditional waist, there is a self-fabric belt to highlight the waist and help hide the zip.
At some point the belt of this dress has been crudely tacked on to the dress partway around, making the dress hang funny (the belts too heavy) and warp. I’ll probably remove the tacking stitches and store the belt separately.
How much to restore/alter/conserve vintage garments is one of those things that I (and pretty much every costume and textile historian and conservator) wrestle with constantly. You don’t want to damage the garment further, or obliterate the telltale signs of the textile’s life-story. In this case I’m pretty comfortable with undoing the work – the stitching and weight of the belt are damaging the dress. And the belt buckle has been stitched off-centre
While the belt alterations aren’t flattering or well done, the bodice itself is beautifully cut, and very flattering. The bust is softly gathered to the high inverted ‘V’, and tucks around the neckline create additional fullness and a clever semi-collar.
The dress has mid-length puffed sleeves that accentuate the broad-sholdered silhouette fashionable at the end of the 30s. The sleeves also have a slight bit of shaping and gathering at the bottom to further give them shape and interest.
There are also additional tucks at the top of the sleeves with create more width and shaping. Very clever!
White the cut of the dress is quite clever and sophisticated (which indicates to me that a pattern was used – someday I’ll have a really good search on the Vintage Pattern Wiki and see if I can find it), the construction is quite basic, and almost clunky in places.
The inside seams are quite wide and have been left unfinished.
The wide seams tell me that the seamstress was worried about fitting, and left extra width just in case she needed to let the skirt out. She was also worried about fabric usage though: you can see how the skirt fabric is used right up to the selvedges.
The hem of the skirt is a hand-stitched rolled hem. It’s nicely done, but not by an expert hand-sewer by any means.
The dress has a little damage beyond that caused by the odd fix job on the belt. The fabric is beginning to disintegrate in places, so the dress is too fragile to wear for anything more than a very careful photoshoot.
It’s a pity that the dress is so fragile. It’s exactly my size, and I do love it so. It’s just such a lovely garment, and tells such a lovely story.