Wednesday 18 September 2013

History of Fashion - The Original Prom Dress

This is my chance to share our vast collection of historical clothing and accessories that have been hoarded away at the studio. A few months ago we looked at the stunning seed beaded collar from the 1920s in a crisp powder white here and today I'm sharing the dress that started it all.

I bid for this American prom dress in my second year at uni and spent forever waiting for it to arrive in the post. Eventually a battered cardboard box arrived at the door and the old familiar musty smell wafted up my nose as I ripped open the box.
This smell is the vintage collectors Joy perfume, it's a first clue that the item you're looking at is the real deal from being packed away in the back of a wardrobe or suitcase in a damp garage or shed for far too many years. Its the smell of neglect, treasure and an imagined story.

So, to the dress. Its baby pink and white lace, the tulle is thin and scratchy, the lining is basic but it's an all American, middle of the road prom dress. Probably early 1960s with a skin pinching metal zipper fastening the side seam and a printed taffeta label reading 'An Original By Phyllis DANCE TIME'. 

I imagined Phyllis was a small town sewing entrepreneur making prom dresses for the high school girls from her side street store. Most likely Phyllis was a man with a factory downtown and a lot of ladies sewing these exact dresses.

The pink and white combination is the ultimate in debutant femininity with the pretty round flowers of the machine made lace and all those crimped ruffles are dream like prettiness. Slipper satin ribbon, the kind you can't buy anymore, is threaded through an embroidered slatted trim making a stripe design to the highlighted sections of the dress.

The overall design and proportioning is perfect to compliment the features of this petite figure. Ego boosting ruffles over the bust, a tightly nipped in bodice and waist, smooth hips and all the fullness falling from the top of the thigh.

Underneath there would have been a strapless bralet, a girdle, stockings and hopefully a whole load of underskirts to plump out this tiered skirt. The proper foundations to make this dress something special.

The whole outer froth of tulle and lace is built upon a rayon taffeta base with a full skirt and sweetheart bodice. Inside bones are exposed and the jagged edge of the pinking sheer has finished off the facing.
It sounds like a nightmare but this is dress production on a budget before overlockers (sergers) made it to the mainstream and its honest. You can see what what and why make it more bulky than needed?
The finest parts of this dress are the very slim straps and neatest of turned hems with closely spaced stitches.

This is the dress that inspired my first prom dress, it's developed over the years with a beautiful silk dress base, covered and fully lined and with a beautifully soft tulle. The principles of this original prom dress formed a wealth of construction knowledge to learn from as can each and every garment you see.

Now I wonder what the story is behind this dress. The waist is tiny but that's all we can know about the American girl who wore the pink and white prom dress. Was she prom queen, did she have a date, who chose this dress?