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Two dresses - dating help

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Fashion - Ask Questions Get Answers' started by plousia, Jul 9, 2023.

  1. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Pre-1920s I think? After that, I'm lost. It's in amazing condition if it is that old, just a couple of seam sections that need resewing and a few small fabric snags.

    It slips over the head. The only closures are snaps at the top of the centre front bodice panel, one on one side and two on the other, to get it over your head and then hold the panel in place. Also two snaps at each of the sleeve cuffs. The material is a type of crepe.

    I can take modelled pictures if needed. It's a modern size large to extra large. Also can take pics of interior construction if needed.

    Appears I can't edit the thread title - I originally posted another dress but after googling the maker name realized it's modern.

    Thanks in advance!

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2023
  2. Lovely floral detail.

    Plousia, my initial reaction was a late '30s to '40s dinner dress, based on the distinctive shoulder and sleeve header cut and seaming, and the fabric looks like it might be a matelasse, which was popular for nicer dresses at that time. Being a bigger size requires a longer body (shoulder to waist) to encase a bigger bust so these dresses are often mistaken for '20s as that long body can look similar to a drop waist. Home made garments can be quite idiosyncratic too, so that might be throwing you off a little with date.

    I have some questions for you:
    • are there shoulder pads or sleeve headers?
    • any signs of a side opening that's been removed or belt loops?
    • are the pleats in the skirt permanent or do they crush out?
    The first two questions will help position it in the '30s, '40s or '50s. If the skirt is permanently pleated, it positions it as post-war due to the necessity for synthetic fabrics. But I think (due to those shoulders) it's likely circa 1940 - in which case I'd expect either sleeve headers, shoulder pads or indications they have been removed.

  3. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Wow fascinating! I love this forum, I am learning so much. I thought pre-1920s, not 20s, it is not a drop waist. 40s never occurred to me. You all are so knowledgeable.

    The one thing that did make me think it might be later is what you suggest, I think the fabric is synthetic. I am not sure how to tell if the pleats are permanent, but I am inclined to say they are.

    No shoulder pads. I confess to ignorance of sleeve headers. The shoulders are definitely somewhat "puffy" and gathered, which shows more when worn. I've attached photos of the inside of the upper sleeve.

    No sign of a previous side opening. No belt loops.

    Photos are of outside and inside of shoulder, front panel unsnapped, sleeve cuff unsnapped, inside of hem, and inside of waistband (which has elastic, as can be seen in the photo).

    Attached Files:

  4. Ah, it has an elastic waist: that explains why there aren't any openings.

    As you say, it's home made. Skilled, but amateur construction consistent with post-war. Along with the conservative style, high neckline and loose style I suggest this dress is post war, 1947 to mid 1950s.

    The pleated fabric inside the top of the sleeve (second photo in your last comment), where it joins the shoulder is a 'sleeve header', a pre-cursor to the '40s shoulder pads but older women liked the styles and kept them going in dresses well into the '50s.

    plousia likes this.
  5. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Very interesting, thank you! I definitely would not have thought 40s much less 50s. Much appreciate your expert eye.
  6. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    If I may dare to ask one more question about this dress. The front has two vertical pleated panels that are attached on the vertical side toward the centre and on the top and bottom at the shoulder and waistline, but free on the other vertical side toward the sleeves. The attached photo has one pulled away from the bodice to show what I mean. Is there a name for that feature?

    Attached Files:

  7. dollsntrolls

    dollsntrolls VFG Member

    This dress also has a very 80s feel. That shoulder shape combined with the sleeve shape, and then the elastic in the waist really looks 1980s to me. And, the 80s borrowed A LOT from the 1940s. I would test the fabric to know if it is synthetic, as that could place it later. I have had some wonderful dresses from the 70s and 80s with accordion perma-pleats, learn from me and do not steam!
  8. Thanks plousia, it's only my opinion based on the available information, however, and others will likely have different ideas. And you, as the holder of the garment are privy to more information too.

    I'm not aware of a particular name for that feature but can suggest that its inclusion, along with the pleated and elasticated skirt, suggest it was made by someone with an eye for adapting to size differences. I hope that helps.

    Last thing on the elastic waist: by checking the stitching you can determine if it's original, it could mean that the dress is even more modern (if original) or if added, was worn by a different wearer and adapted later. Sadie is right about elasticated waists: they came in during the '70s and were very popular in the '80s.

  9. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    80s! Now that's a leap in time. I can say it does not feel 80s at all to me, though I certainly see what you're saying with the design elements. Thank you for the steaming warning!

    As mentioned up the thread, I thought the fabric was synthetic and a burn test appears to have confirmed this. Weren't there synthetic fabrics in the 40s though? I know there were in the 50s at least.

    The elastic appears to be original. Were elastic waists not used at all prior to the 70s/80s? My area of interest of late has been more 50s dresses, and I don't think I've ever seen a 50s dress with an elastic waist, though not sure if they didn't exist at all.

    One more piece of data I just noticed: the hem appears to have been taken up at some point. There are two lines of thread that don't match the original thread colour (or the fabric colour). Thus the hem tape must not be original, either.

    It does make sense to me, a search for 1940s dinner dresses brought up several which fit into the general style and colour. And what you said about matelassé is perfect, I guess that's exactly what it is with the crepe texture and the little raised rosebud and leaves pattern.

    But now we've made a potential time leap into the 80s! It seems unlikely to me but that's why I'm asking the experts :)
  10. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    According to this very interesting blog post, there is evidence for elastic waistbands in the 1920s: https://witness2fashion.wordpress.com/tag/elastic-in-1920s-twenties-clothing-dresses-garments.

    Also, after further examination, I'm less certain the hem was shortened, as there is also a line of stitching around the pleats at the top of the waistband in one of the same colours as the hem, unless the top of the waistband was also redone (or reinforced?) at the same time. That one would have been done after the elastic, as it trespasses over the elastic in one spot.
  11. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    The vertical fabric on bodices is a flange. You described it well as: "... two vertical pleated panels that are attached on the vertical side toward the centre and on the top and bottom at the shoulder and waistline, but free on the other vertical side toward the sleeves."
    plousia likes this.
  12. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Wonderful, thank you!
  13. dollsntrolls

    dollsntrolls VFG Member

    Also, this looks homemade. Ziz zag stitch machines were not available to home sewers until 1947. That may be another indication that this is later, and had all of the influence of earlier eras. Flange bodice being Edwardian in style.

    Also, synthetic fabrics came on the market throughout the 20th century. A burn test may help to decipher which synthetic this could be, if it is, and then you could find the patent for that material.
  14. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Agreed it is homemade, and it is interesting that you say this style is Edwardian, because I think that is what made me think it was pre-1920s. But a burn test definitely seemed to confirm a synthetic. It burned easily, I think had a sweetish chemical smell (but the whole dress has that smell, which I thought was from cleaning?), left a hard black bead that does not crumble, no ash.

    Could it be that it was made for an older woman who liked earlier styles? It is a very large size, 48" bust and up to 40" waist stretched.
  15. dollsntrolls

    dollsntrolls VFG Member

    Honestly, that burn test and the fixed pleats really point to late 70s-80s. I have had so many polyester/nylon/acrylic dresses that borrow so many elements from the past! I think the prairie look (Edwardian and earlier influence) and the boss secretary (40s-50s influence) look came back so strong in the early 80s, after a hearty 1776/1976 Bicentennial that got people sewing again. Also, those fixed knife pleats - so disco! There is something about the 30s/40s shoulder that goes into a wider sleeve that cuffs narrow with 2 snaps that is so typical of a nice 80s dress! I don't even think this was necessarily made for an older women! Everyone wore the demure buttoned-up sexy in the 80s. I usually tag them as "Sexy Secretary" - in and of themselves, they are not sexy, but you add shredded fishnets and Doc Martens, and you basically have Cyndi Lauper.
  16. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    Fascinating, is there any way to tell for sure? Everything about this feels older than 80s to me. I am planning to sell it so want to make sure I represent it accurately.
  17. dollsntrolls

    dollsntrolls VFG Member

    I think the fiber content can definitely give you a jumping off point for that type of synthetic. We have a terrific burn test chart in the resource section - it even lists the aroma, as well as the type and look of the ash. As I had pointed out earlier - zig zag stitch was not available on a home sewing machines until 1947 - that is the type of stitch on the elastic waistband. That is also a fairly narrow elastic in the waistband, so that is another item to research. There are clues everywhere, but you could also research patterns. You could test thread. Also, look through magazines or style books. You get better at dissecting fashion, the more you do it. But, if this piece doesn't drive you to want to research, find one that does. It's nerdy good fun!
  18. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    LOL yes I'm finding that out, though it seems like it's more puzzling than it appears at first. The burn test chart is what I was looking for earlier and couldn't find. From that chart, the closest match seems to be vinyon, which I'd never heard of. "Burns briefly and melts, odor of sweet chemicals, hard black irregular bead." Apparently "The first polyvinyl chloride fiber was invented in Germany in 1931. It was one of the earliest fibers among synthetic fibers. The first U.S. commercial vinyon fiber was produced in 1939 by FMC Corporation, Fiber Division (formerly American Viscose)." So it could fit into a 1940s timeframe.

    I don't have ready access to magazines or style books, but searching on gem.app respectively for "1940s dinner dress" and "1980s does 1940s", the first search turned up more (to my eye) similar examples to this dress. The 80s, well, personally any time the 80s "does" anything, to me, it still looks distinctively 80s. Didn't see much that was close, but a few things with some of the same elements.

    Anyway my gut feeling is earlier, but, now I'm feeling really hesitant to list it because I don't want to misrepresent it. LOL and I thought getting into selling vintage clothes would be easy :D
  19. dollsntrolls

    dollsntrolls VFG Member

    I think the more honest you are, the less simple it is just to sell something. Also, homemade is very, very tricky. You can work with all of the modern fabrics and convenient machines of the modern age, but have all of history as your muse! It is fun, though. Sometimes I just hold on to a piece for a while, so I can look at it with fresh eyes later on, and forget the preconceived notions I had the last time I looked at it. That is what I would do with this one, put it aside and come back later. Also, if you are able to try it on and imagine how you would style it, that helps (but, mostly helps if you have a good feel for a number of different eras). Clothes are fun and a constant source of inspiration!
    plousia likes this.
  20. plousia

    plousia Registered Guest

    I am compulsively honest, LOL. I certainly can put it aside and come back later, but the problem is my own ignorance! I did just go off on an elastic waistband rabbit trail and found many examples of elastic waists from the 1940s, some in listed garments and some in patterns. A lot of them seem to be shorts, slips, or men's or boys' underwear, but I did find one dress. The mystery continues....

    I did try it on before buying and was even more convinced it was antique/vintage, but if it might help someone else, I can try to get some photos of it being worn to post here.

    My husband thinks I'm crazy....
    dollsntrolls likes this.

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