An Inside Look at Vintage Dior Strapless Gowns from the 1950s
See how Christian Dior constructed a mid-20th century bodice.
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In the Study Collection of boned garments at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City, there is a group of Dior strapless garments from midcentury. While there are similarities among these garments, they varied in their methods of construction.
A gown with an inner corselet
This sketch of a Dior gown shows the splendor of the design.
The reality, however, is a little sad.
This gown looked as if it had begun life well but ended up being badly altered and handed down.
This once fabluous dress has information for us. With the back unfastened, it is clear to see the cotton bobbinette corselet structure from the inside. Other elements of the dress are sewn to the corselet.
Dior famously said, “Without foundations, there can be no fashion.”
This interior demonstrates what he meant. The corselet is a princess-line bodice, which has more seams, thus more opportunities, to fine-tune its fit.
Note the boning, the strong hook-and-eye closure, the W-shaped underwire, which extends across the bodice front. This underwire is special, and I’ve only seen it in Dior foundations. Also note what are referred to as Hollywood darts-horizontal darts that run between the bust apexes, to give shaping that holds the bodice against the sternum.
Dior extended the boning over the bust. To people who say never to do this, my response is, if Dior did it, it’s good enough for me.
The edges of the corselet are stayed with satin ribbon sewn by machine. The hooks and eyes are sewn in by hand, and a layer of bobbinette was inserted to cushion the skin so the hooks wouldn’t dig into the wearer’s back. The casings for the boning are sewn by machine.
Here’s a close-up of some of the hand sewing that attaches the bodice section to the corselet. You can see the center-front portion of the underwire as well.
A bobbinette corselet from 1956
Dior sometimes made undergarments that were independent of the dress. This is one such garment from Autumn-Winter 1956.
This is the same kind of cotton bobbinette corselet, complete with the W-shaped underwire supporting the shaped cups and hooks and eyes to close the back. A silk slip hangs from the bottom edge of this corselet.
A cocktail dress from 1961
The bodice of this strapless cocktail dress features black chiffon over nude chiffon, the skirt is pleated silk crepe, with a yoke of black silk satin. There’s a bow on the side.
This detail shows the finely pleated silk. Also noteworthy is the fine hand stitching that attaches the yoke to the pleating.
In this view of the dress’s back, you can see the bobbinette corselet within.
With the back open, it is clear that there are fewer bones in this corselet than in the others, and the W-shaped underwire is absent. The boning casings are sewn by machine.
There are bust pads, but it is unclear whether they were original to the gown or were added later. You can clearly see the Hollywood darts in this dress.
Spring/Summer 1961. Now you know what the well-dressed gal was wearing.
As is typical in a dress of this sort, the other parts of the dress are sewn to the corselet. In this instance, they are attached by hand and some of the stitching has come loose over time.
In the couture, they used the sewing machine for strength. The placket that mounts the hooks is stitched with many rows of machine sewing.
This piece is a masterful combination of machine and hand sewing.
Have you ever constructed a complex bodice with an inner corselet or other foundation?