Costume; Clothing; Main garments; Dresses
Silk satin, silk chiffon, silk organdy, netting with beads, metal lace, paste jewels, and bugle beads
1921-1925. Gray silk satin one-piece calf-length sheath dress with overlays of gray silk chiffon, netted silver beads, and gold (or tarnished silver) lace, elbow-length gray chiffon kimono-style sleeves, and gray silk chiffon panels draped over the shoulders, trimmed with paste jeweled shoulder straps and silvered bugle bead tassels.
While this Art Deco dress has simple rectilinear lines, it is in fact quite complex. Its construction involves five different fabrics and multiple layers, some of which cross between one layer to the next, and it is an unauthorized copy (complete with a counterfeit Worth label) of gowns by Jean-Charles Worth, head designer for the Parisian haute couture Maison Worth in the 1920s and 1930s. Jean-Charles was the grandson of founder Charles Frederick Worth and oversaw the firm’s simplification of line as tastes changed during the early decades of the 20th century. The main elements of this dress are hallmarks of his 1921-1925 collections for afternoon, tea, and evening gowns: it has a low, squared neckline in front and in back; a bodice that wraps around the body beneath the arms; a columnar skirt that floats over the body rather than conforming to it; and wide bands of metallic lace — now gold, but possibly tarnished silver — anchoring a soft silk chiffon to the full length of the back before allowing it to both trail on the floor in back and flow over the shoulders to the front as a drape.
The foundation layer of the dress is a gray silk satin with a high-waisted bodice wrapping around the body beneath the arms, having one rectangular panel in front, one in back, and one at each side, shaped only by one short dart at center back to bring the fabric in a little at the small of the back. Two layers of cream organdy add shoulder straps to this, and are covered by a yoke of smoky gray silk chiffon which provides the scyes for the gray chiffon elbow-length kimono sleeves. A 16.5 cm / 6.5 in. wide rectangle of lace covers the entire bodice. The tubular skirt is made with one panel 66 cm / 26 in. wide at the waist seam, wrapping around the body from the front to the sides of the back, where a 26.7 cm / 10.5 in. wide second panel is added in from the right side seam to the left back side below the shoulder strap, an asymmetry necessary for the concealed off-center opening of the dress. At the hem the skirt is only 49.5 cm / 19.5 in. wider than at the waist seam. It is decorated with an overlay of chiffon behind a net with silver beads; at the top and opening this chiffon is sewn to the net, but at the hem it is sewn to the satin. The net layer has a lace band at the hem along with a doubled strip of the chiffon.
In back, beneath each shoulder strap, more lace is added vertically from the top of the shoulder to the hem, securing a narrow panel of chiffon across the back reaching to the base of the neck, and one 223.5 cm / 88 in. long panel of chiffon over each arm. The dress opening is hidden by the edge of the lace at the left back, where three different layers of hooks and snaps close the slit extending from the bodice into the skirt, one for the satin, one for the chiffon and net, and one for the lace and chiffon drape, a total of seventeen hooks and thirteen snaps.
The dress is further accented with 29.2 cm / 11.5 in. long paste jeweled trim sewn onto the shoulder straps beginning at the top of the bodice lace, which are finished with 50.8 cm / 20 in. long tassels of silvered glass bugle beads which dangle down the front of the dress. Professionally-made counterfeit. Machine-sewn and hand-sewn.
Bust: 91.4 cm / 36 in.
Waist: 92.7 cm / 36.5 in.
Sleeve: 52.1 cm / 20.5 in.
Hem: 142.2 cm / 56 in.
Length (overall): 129.5 cm / 51 in.
Gift of Janet and Robert Varney
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, 1921-1925, One-piece dresses, Sheath dresses, Art Deco, Counterfeit, House of Worth, Haute couture, Calf-length, Elbow-length sleeves, Kimono sleeves, Low neckline, Square neckline, High-waisted, Columnar skirt, Silk satin, Silk chiffon, Gray (color), Organdy, Cream (color), Netted beads, Silver (color), Gold (color), Lace, Paste jeweled trim, Bugle beads, Silvered beads, Tassels, Darts, Hooks and snaps, Professionally made, Machine-sewn, Hand-sewn, Varney (donor)