Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing was published in 1952, and it was a wonderful time for evening gowns. Christian Dior’s New Look was unveiled in 1947, and by the early 50s the silhouette was well established, with its full skirts, tiny waists, and structured bodices.
|Waspie "corset" from the V&A collection|
The New Look silhouette relied upon a corseted waist, so it’s a happy coincidence that I just made my first underbust corset. My corset is very similar to the waspies of the late 40s and early 50s, actually. It’s narrow, encircling the waist and leaving the hips and bust free. (Of course, a true New Look devotee would take this opportunity to add hip padding and bust padding to increase hourglass proportions; I think I’ll stick with what I’ve got in those areas.)
Evening gowns provided even more opportunity to use obscene amounts of fabric than day dresses and suits. At least, it must have seemed obscene in those early post-war years. It’s no wonder that the New Look was protested by some: after years of rations and “Make Do and Mend,” skirts that ventured below the knee seemed extravagant. Fabrics were milled in narrower widths in those days, so it’s not unusual to see an evening dress call for ten yards or more of fabric.
I read an interesting statement in the book Theatre de la Mode: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture that's stuck with me ever since. The author wrote of the marvels of seeing a fresh couture exhibit in a recently war-torn continent: "Today, freed from such preoccupations, are we even capable of being sufficiently amazed?" Likewise, I don’t think we can manage to be suitably impressed by the wonder (and perhaps anger) these huge evening gowns would have instilled in someone of the time period. (Interesting side story: I told Jeff about about the above quote, and he replied, "I don't really think we're sufficiently amazed by anything anymore." How true!)
The pattern for the Evening Dress featured in VoNBBS actually came out a bit earlier than the book. It was originally released in 1949, and I think the styling betrays its late 40s origins. Which I think explains why there’s something relatively restrained about this dress. The skirt could be much fuller than it is. But perhaps that's because this is from the very early days of the New Look, when designers were still testing the waters with the idea of excess and volume.
The pattern was reissued in a new envelope for the publication of VoNBBS. The illustration style certainly changed, didn’t it?
The model pictured has raven (Elizabeth Taylor-esque even) hair and bright red lips. The line quality of the art is different: less restrained, I think. And of course the brilliant pink screams femininity.
Well, that's your Evening Dress installment of the day. I'll be back tomorrow with my adventures in muslin-ing the VoNBBS dress!