Sunday, 6 February 2011

Focus on: Black velvet 1940's dress

This is the first of a series of entries looking in detail at some of my favourite vintage dresses


I completely love this dress; when I wear it, I don't want to take it off! Unfortunately there aren't many opportunities to wear such a glamourous dress in our modern world...

I bought this from a friend last year. It had belonged to her grandmother, and she prefered that it go to a good home (knowing my obsession with vintage!) than be sold to some stranger.

I'm always very wary of buying vintage from friends, because it creates something of a conflict of interest: I would never want to rip off a friend by paying less than it's worth, but sometimes those not familiar with the vintage world over-value their dresses, or are mistaken about the age etc. This can be very awkward indeed!

In this case it was too beautiful a dress to pass up the chance, and having been her grandmothers, had good provenance for age. I offered what I thought was a reasonable price, and afterward I made a point of looking for similar items in good vintage shops to check the price they were asking for, to reassure myself I had made the right offer (which I was chuffed to find I had).

The up-side to buying from friends (or people connected to the original owner of the dress) is that you can get lots of information about its history and the character of its original owner. I talked to my friends mother about the dress and her mother in law. It ws lovely to get a feel for her personality, and also the gem that mother was always irritated by her mother-in-law always banging on about how great her personal dressmaker was! This told a lot about the dress in itself - dressmaker made to the grandmothers specific measurements, as many dresses were in that era, rather than home made or a specific brand.

Examination of the dress bears out that the boasting was well justified, because it is beautifully made - machine stitching with hand finishing, and the quality of manufacture combined with clearly having been looked after lovingly over the years means it's in very good condition.

It is I think the loveliest velvet I have ever come across - so soft and silky! I'm not 100% certain, but I think it may be silk velvet, very rare and expensive these days.

The details are lovely - a high neck with a rigid 'V' neckline that has kept it's shape well over these years due to this rigid interlining:



I also take delight in these perfectly formed pointed ends to the sleeves, held tightly to the wrist with a small popper;



The effect of the two together is somewhat vampish I think!

Another interesting feature is the zip fastening in the side of the garment. You will often hear people say that zips didn't come into use in dresses until after WW2, but this isn't entirely true. From my research, zippers started to be used in dresses in the 1930's, but then as rationing restrictions hit during the war, became less used, only to come back into use in a far more widespread fashion after the war. At this point most zippers were placed in the side seam, as with this dress, and it was in the 1950s that the usual placing moved to the centre back.

In the case of this dress, the zip is skillfully inserted so that the dress cinches in beautifully at the waist, creating a wonderful sillouettes, and is well disguised.



The presence of the zip left me with something of a conundrum with dateing. It would be easy to assume that the presence of the zip means that it's post war, and yet... The whole style of the dress is more reminiscent of the early forties, down to the bias cut of the skirt that is reminiscent of late thirties cut. I may be wrong, but apart from the zipper, every instinct tells me that it's early 1940s (clothes rationing came in in 1941, so probably before that). And if this glamorous lady was happy to pay for a good quality dressmaker and high quality fabric, it seems reasonable that she was willing to pay for a good quality zipper as well?

The one single 'bad' thing about this dress I can think of is that, being tall, it only comes to my ankle, and I suspect that on it's original owner, it may have been a more glamorous floor length. But other than that it fits so perfectly it could almost have been made for me. Vintage karma indeed. Now I just need to find some more glamorous occasions to wear it for!

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