Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
1930s. Red and pink ombre chiffon one-piece bias-cut sleeveless evening gown with a high waistline, opening at the side, with fabric flowers at the neckline and a floor-length skirt with a small train.
The gown is made with one layer of one sheer chiffon dyed to blend from red to pink over its length. It does not currently have a lining or underdress but would have been worn over an opaque layer. The bodice has four pieces: two front panels cut rising from the side seams to a point at center front level with the middle of the bust, and two back panels with a center-back seam and a slightly high waistline. The two front panels are draped across the bust from the gathered shoulder straps, just barely meeting at the base of a deep V-shaped neckline that is 20.3 cm / 8 in. on each side, and each is gathered to the waist seam directly beneath the bust. The back panels drape loosely between the shoulder straps in back, making a 69.2 cm / 27.25 in. long U-shaped neckline from shoulder seam to shoulder seam that is lower than the front V. The extra fabric in back is controlled with an inverted box pleat at the waist seam. Both the front and back panels are quite full, with approximately 20.3 cm / 8 in. of fabric gathered down to 5.1 cm / 2 in. to create the shoulder straps; the shoulder seam is sewn on a diagonal on both sides. The bodice has a loose drape and its side seams are 15.2 cm / 6 in. long.
The skirt has three main pieces and added godets at the side seams, and unlike the bodice is fitted smoothly to the waist seam. The front is one panel cut on the straight grain to meet the bodice hem with a high peak at the top, 25.4 cm /10 in. long from each side seam to the center, and measuring 118.1 cm / 46.5 in. long from the peak to the hem. At the hem the front panel is cut away on both sides, leaving only 17.8 cm / 7 in. of fabric, but large triangular bias-cut godets are added in for extra fullness and flow. These are each 83.8 cm / 33 in. wide at the hem and reach into the skirt to the knees. The back of the skirt has two panels cut with their center-back edges on the straight grain. As with the front panels, large triangular bias-cut knee-high godets are added at the side seams; while the godets from the front and back line up with each other at their tips, the back godets extend deeper into their panels and are also wider, measuring 99.1 cm / 39 in. at the hem. At their top edge, the back panels are wider than the 29.2 cm / 11.5 in. available along the back-waist seam. They are sewn to the waist from the sides until they meet at center, whereupon the excess fabric is left on the exterior of the dress and a 68.6 cm / 27 in. long center-back skirt seam is placed — from the outside — so as to create a fitted skirt from hips to knees. The rest of the skirt length is left open as a slit to the hem. The excess fabric at the waist on each side is then folded back on itself, again to the exterior of the skirt, hiding the center-back seam in the folds. The top edges are stitched down just beneath the waist seam, and from there, the fabric releases into a cascade that forms a small draping train. The overall length of the skirt at center back is 124.5 cm / 49 in., and the panels are each 137.2 cm / 54 in. wide at the hem, not including the godets. At the side seams joining the front and its godets to the back and its godets, the skirt is 108 cm / 42.5 in. long, and the seam curves along the shape of the waist and hips before flaring into the skirt. Five red and two pink fabric flowers are attached to the base of the V neckline at center front. There is a 22.9 cm / 9 in. long opening at the left side seam, halfway into the bodice and halfway into the skirt, with six snaps and one hook at the waist.
There are irregularities in the measurements and the quality of the stitching that indicate this is a homemade garment. Machine-sewn.
Bust: 91.4 cm / 36 in.
Waist: 62.2 cm / 24.5 in.
Hem: 657.9 cm / 259 in.
Length (overall, front): 132.1 cm / 52 in.
Length (overall, back): 163.8 cm / 64.5 in.
Gift of Betsey Vannah, UNH 1939.
Betsey Vannah was an active and involved student during her years at the University of New Hampshire. As a freshman she was chosen to play Peter Pan in a 1936 May Day Pageant production of the play, for which she was described by the Portsmouth Herald as an “unusual undergraduate dancer and acrobatic star.” By the end of her second year she was selected as “Miss 1938” for the coming year, and was then also crowned the Sophomore Hop Queen. She was on the yearbook staff as the Women’s Photographic Editor, a member of Women’s Student Government, Pan Hellenic Council, Big Sister Committee, Winter Carnival Committee, and Junior Prom Committee. She was treasurer of her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, secretary of the Economics Club, Vice President of the Women’s Executive Committee, and president of Mortar Board, an honorary society for college seniors, as well as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honorary scholastic society. There is no way to know for certain when she wore this gown, but it certainly would have suited a “Miss 1938” or a Sophomore Hop Queen.
University of New Hampshire Library
Astrida Schaeffer, photographer/curator
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
Dresses, Evening gowns, 1930s, Durham, New Hampshire, United States, One-piece dresses, Ombre, Chiffon, Sheer, Red (color), Pink (color), Bias-cut, Sleeveless, High waistline, Floor-length skirt, Fitted skirt, Side-opening, Shoulder straps, Flowers, V-shaped neckline, Godet, Trains (costume components), Inverted box pleat, Snaps, Hooks, Homemade, Machine-sewn, Vannah (donor)