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Conversational Threads

Vintage Dress Details

jatman | Posted in Photo Gallery on

OMG!  That is one of the most beautiful dresses I have ever seen.  Thank you for sharing the details with us.  50 cents?  Wow, what a bargain!



  1. GailAnn | | #1

    Doesn't that nail a target to the wall for seamstresses to aim toward???

    I know that is the callibre of seamstress, I long to be.  Thank you for sharing.  Gail

  2. Josefly | | #2

    What a beautiful dress, with some lovely, striking details. The embroidery extending outward from the buttons and along the hem, and the french knots along the edges of the back opening, the timeless style. I'm often struck by how "modern" things from that era look.

    What fabric was used - it appears to be a silk crepe? Is the waistband pleated? Is there a tuck on the inside of the dress along the hem, used to shorten the dress? I wasn't sure what I was seeing in some of the great close-ups.

    Thanks so much for finding and posting the photos for us.

    Ed. to add: On going back to look at the full-view photo, I see that there was a double-sided ruffle sewn onto the hem of the under-skirt. That must be what I was seeing when I thought there was a "tuck" at the hem. What wonderful, loving attention to detail is evident in that dress.

    Edited 1/25/2009 11:17 am ET by Josefly

    1. GailAnn | | #4

      "Loving attention to detail"....................priceless!  Gail

      1. Josefly | | #7

        A little corny, eh? I just imagined someone putting all those hours into the embroidery, the french knots, the hand-stitching of the layers together, and dreaming about how pretty it was going to look when finished.

        1. GailAnn | | #11

          Not corny at all! 

          I am very "put off" by quick and easy, fast and furious. 

          The way we spend our moments, reveals a great deal more about our selves, than the way we spend our money.

          Loving takes time.

          Loving requires attention.

          Not an original thought, but "God is in the details," rings absolutely true for me.


          1. MaryinColorado | | #12

            Lovely sentiments, gifts from the heart are more precious than gold.

          2. User avater
            JunkQueen | | #14

            Yeah ---- what you said......

          3. Josefly | | #15

            Very nicely said.I keep going back and looking at the photographs. I suppose women spent that kind of time working on things for their trousseaux. Or their dressmakers did. I wonder how many times that beautiful gown was worn. And by whom - Teaf5 said her daughter wore a girls' size 10 at the time she wore the dress. It seems to me a sophisticated dress for an adult, or at least an older teen. What do you think? Did young girls dress that formally for teas?

          4. Teaf5 | | #16

            I doubt the dress was made for a young girl; my DD modeled it at age 12 because she was just the right size for it at that time, and I had always wanted to see what it looked like on a real person. 

            However, DD was already 5'6" or so--probably at least half a foot taller than the original owner, so I imagine that it was a full-length gown.  (She can still fit it, but now she's 5'11", so it would look really silly!)

            Unfortunately, I don't know the provenance of the garment, but I can ask my sister if she remembers any details from the seller who let it go.

          5. Ceeayche | | #29

            Purduemom had it right:  EXQUISITE.

            There are so many ideas wonderfully executed, from the embroidery to the tucking to construction, to the play on the colors. 

          6. GailAnn | | #21

            Once upon a time the great state of Missouri asked me to reproduce a certain dress they called a "Polinaise".  I was given the original dress and the makings of a new dress for a particular adult (significantly larger) woman.

            The Polinaise was completely underlined and to my eye, very, very small.  Yet when examined from the inside, it was obvious where the dress had been originally sewn.  Then let out to accomodate a pregnancy.  Then taken in again (but not quite as much) and that process seemed to have been repeated at least twice more.

            It had been made in the 1870's, but, even so, didn't seem overly fragile.  Gail

          7. Josefly | | #26

            Lucky you, to have the chance to look closely at that dress. How did your reproduction go?

          8. GailAnn | | #27

            Oh, fine, I did lots of 1870's clothing for State Historical Sites.   Hoop skirts had been replaced by bustles by the 1870's.  Even relatively well to do ladies did much of their own housework, childcare, and cooking after the War Between the States.  Dresses were more useful and less showy.  Even relatively poor ladies would wear a chimese, corsett, 5-7 petticoats and crotch-less pantalets under thier dresses (all the better to back into an outhouse with, my dear) and, of course aprons, over their dresses.  A lot of sewing was needed.  Gail

          9. Sancin | | #28

            There is actually a lot of research 'out there' reasoning why people are larger today, especially since WWII. Nutrition is better (in utero, especially) and there is more movement of people around the world, mixing gene structure up more. There was an increase in CSections after the war when Asian women had babies via great big lumber jack American men. Think about it. How far did our direct family ancestors move from their original communities and who did they marry? Even when women came across the continent in covered wagons, they probably came with men from their original or similar communities and their offspring, for several generations would not think of marrying 'someone' different.

          10. User avater
            artfulenterprises | | #23

            Of course, there is no way to know for sure, but thought I'd share a bit of lore re: vintage clothes. My mom has been a collector of "costume" all her life. One of the several prizes in her collection was a small group of "everyday" garments and lovely sheer lawn (a type of delicate cotton much like voile) "garden party" ensembles that were handed down from a dear friend, G'ma Mittie Hawkins. (She came to California in a covered wagon to begin her married life at about age 15 circa 1894.) Her dresses (skirts and tops really) were so tiny they have rarely even been tried on since they became a part of mom's collection. I believe women (or rather people in general) were much smaller then than they are today, which, while being a wildly speculative generalization, is still pretty much supported by the history of costume. Certainly there were exceptions. Just thinking out loud ladies....
            The dress in the photos is absolutely a tour de force of dressmaking. Fabulous!

          11. Josefly | | #25

            Thank you for your thoughts on the size differences. I am 3-4 inches taller than my mother was, and my daughter is 4 inches taller than I am. Even an inch in height makes a lot of difference in proportional measurements of waist, hips, bust, etc. So I'm not surprised at the idea that women in general, men, too, I think, are getting taller and larger with each generation. Still, I was shocked at how small that dress was.

        2. User avater
          JunkQueen | | #13

          No, not a bit corny. Wonderfully descriptive of the process.

  3. User avater
    JunkQueen | | #3

    Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I would love to see more of that dress and the detail. Would this not be a fine example for Threads to feature and examine? Have you considered writing an article and including a lot of pictures? I can only aspire to work of this caliber.

    Thank you for posting the pictures.

  4. Lilith1951 | | #5

    Thanks for taking the time to take the photos and describe in such detail for us.  What a treasure you have! 

  5. MaryinColorado | | #6

    WOW!!!  Thanks so much for sharing your photos and descriptions of this lovely tea gown. 

  6. Josefly | | #8

    More wonderful photos. Thanks for the added description. I can't exactly imagine how the bodice could open in center back and the skirt in left back. Are you saying that the skirt and bodice were separate?

    1. Teaf5 | | #18

      Maybe I can explain a little better: 

      The bodice opens down the center back; the skirts are attached to the bottom of the waistband but are offset by about 4".  So, when open, the back left bodice has a 4" gap beneath the waistband, and the back right bodice has a 9" extension of waistband/skirt/overskirt at the bottom of it. 

      The bodice fastens with a 1/2" overlap in the center back, secured by hook/eyes every three inches, down to the waistband.

      At that point, the skirt is a wrap closure, with right side overlapping the left, first closing the gap at the waistband and then the gap at the left back side seam, and then finally securing the overskirt/waistband at the left front.  There are two sets of hook/eyes securing the waistband to itself at the center back, at the left back, and at the left front, just above where the overskirt panel ends.

      If this is still confusing, please forgive me.  Each time I look at it, I'm further amazed by its complexity!  Although it is a sheer, delicate piece, it's remarkably demure--there are interior loops to hold a separate underslip, and all except for the center front skirt is covered with two or three layers of fabric.  The fastenings are hidden but secure, and the wearer would definitely have needed help to fasten and un-fasten it.

      Whoever made the gown must have either been familiar with this style or had detailed drawings and a sequence for construction; yet while it is complicated to explain, it is elegantly simple and clever and was probably a dream to wear!

      1. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #19

        Such an exquisite gown and a lovely treasure. Thank you for sharing such a lovely antique and such detailed pictures. It is so seldom we get the opportunity to investigate the inside construction of these wonderful garments. Bless you for giving us the chance! Cathy

      2. Josefly | | #20

        Wow, that is a very clear explanation, for which I thank you. The dress is remarkable. It did look demure - I hope I didn't imply that it was inappropriate for your daughter to wear it - it looked lovely on her. I just meant that the style looks more mature - the large buttons and large-scale embroidery, etc. Yet I thought that a girls' size 10 was tiny for an adult to wear, even a century ago, when women were no doubt smaller.I second the suggestion that you offer an article to Threads - your photos and description are beautiful.

  7. Ocrafty1 | | #9

    Thank you so much for the pix.  This is the stuff I love to look at for hours and hours.  All of the detail and the handwork that someone put into this dress...it boggles the mind. Have you considered trying to reproduce it?  I have one that I plan to do, sometime in the future...


  8. User avater
    JunkQueen | | #10

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Wonderful description and the pictures were breathtaking. I love the embroidery and other scrumptious details.

  9. User avater
    purduemom | | #17

    Exquisite!  There is something awe-inspiring about this type of vintage gown. I too, could get lost in examining the construction and embellishment details.  It is fun, isn't it, to imagine the circumstances surrounding the creation of such a beautiful piece of clothing.  Thank you for sharing this priceless gown.

  10. frygga | | #22

    >>>>the silk tea gown my sister bought for 50 cents back in the 1970s or 1980s.

    This was when I got into vintage. I left grad school and returned to California in 1979 and couldn't find full-time work. It was a difficult period economically for everyone. So I couldn't afford clothes and a friend who was into vintage introduced me to that. I'm small and the 30s and 40s dresses worked well for me. I just used a brooch to pin a dress more tightly if it was too big. I could dress interestingly in a way I never could afford to do with new clothing.

    And that was when you could get an OK 40s dress for ten dollars, even five, and that in a vintage specialty shop. Then the vintage trend took off and---no more!

    You mentioned how tiny the dress you posted is. I noticed that in those days *especially* with the very oldest dresses, the 20s and Edwardian-period items. I wondered if it were because they'd shrunk---but I don't think so because they were tiny all over. You're right, they'd be like a girl's size 10 or 12. Were some adult women then really that small? Why? Are we talking nutritional deficiency? It could be, as after WWII Japanese got taller when they switched to a higher-protein diet, but I never thought of wealthy people of the early 20th century being protein-deprived.

    1. Teaf5 | | #24

      Yes, they really were that small! A visit to any historical landmark will show doorways, bedsteads, and chairs that are tiny compared to our modern bodies but which we can see from photographs were proportional to the people who used them.

      There are still a lot of women who are that tiny; the average height of adult women in the U.S. is still only about 5'4", so there are an equal number of women taller and shorter than that.  Better diets and health account for a lot of the increase, but genetic shifts caused by taller women choosing even taller mates may also be a factor.

      A girl's size 10 is roughly equivalent to a miss or junior size 4; thus, the dress still fits my daughter as an adult, but would be another four or five inches shorter on her now.  I agree with the poster who said that it was a mature style; the quality of the fabrics, embellishments, and design suggest that it must have been expensive and for formal wear.

    2. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #30

      Artfulenterprise and Teaf are both correct in their suppositions. Better genetics and food have a lot to do with us growing larger in each successive generation. There are a couple of other factors as well. Children are valued now. In past eras, they were not as valued. Prenatal care and nutrition is better. We have fewer babies. We take better care of and feed fewer children in our families, for the most part. We also as women do not work the same labour intensive jobs that we did, in the home, remember the stories of women dropping their babies, then just continuing on with their work? Neither are we corseted for our whole life, so there is no restriction on the blood flow to a developing fetus. Remember, pregnancy was a condition to be hidden, at all costs, for as long as possible. The smallness of garments is also due to the corseting of bodies. Even during the 20's, women would wrap their bosoms, and bodies tightly to reduce their curves for the androgynous, boyish look. Now we let it all "hang loose" for the most part. Our babies are bigger, healthier at birth, and thrive. So they grow, bigger and healthy, as the coveted treasures they are now deemed to be. Cathy

  11. Gloriasews | | #31

    Wow - what a dress!  Thanks so much for sharing!  Great pics of the details!


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