The Right to Bare Arms

Here’s that Adele Simpson I was bragging about earlier.  After examining it closely, I’m just amazed at the quality of the construction.  No, it is not couture, just near the top of the line ready-to-wear, with lots of hand finishing and a simply fantastic fabric.

I love how the 1950s designers worked with the problem of bare arms.  Then, much more so than today, bare arms were not always appropriate.  Most churches and workplaces frowned upon them, even in the dead of summer.  The solution was a little bolero jacket that matched the dress, and that could be removed after work for a nice dinner out.

I’m to the point in my life that I like a short sleeve.  The problem is how to have a short sleeve without it looking fussy and dowdy.  In the 50s, the sleeve length above was just right, but to today’s eyes, it looks a bit long and full.  Maybe that is because we have had so many years of tank tops and 3/4 length sleeves and not much between.  Lately I’ve been noticing more cap sleeves and very short sleeves that are very flattering.  I hope the trend continues!

I think Simpson’s reputation as a designer has suffered from the fact that she worked until she was an old woman.  Most of  Simpson’s work that comes up for sale is from this late period of her career, the 1980s, and they are decidedly conservative, and often quite matronly.  For years I did not understand why the fashion history books bothered to talk about her, but then I ran across a cocktail dress from the 50s and I instantly saw the charm of  Ms. Simpson.  Since then I’ve seen more of her work from the 40s and 50s, and I can say that her place in fashion history is well deserved.

This dress set is, as I said, very high quality, and in its day, would have been quite expensive.   But those were the days when women expected to have fewer clothes than we do today, and were willing to spend more to have a dress that fit properly and was well made from fine materials.  A plus: this frock has a built-in petticoat, with just the right amount of fullness.

It’s so nice finding an ensemble in this condition which is complete. So often the jacket is long lost, as is the matching belt.  To a person who wanted to wear this, it might be a bit too matchy-matchy, but to a collector, it’s perfection.


Filed under Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

8 responses to “The Right to Bare Arms

  1. What a lovely dress! I adore the fact that it has a matching jacket, because even in this day and age where bare arms are allowed in many more places, the AIR CONDITIONING makes it painful to have bare arms when working inside for too long. I keep a collection of cardigans handy, but wouldn’t it be lovely to have a matching jacket for an outfit. Sigh. I do also agree with you about a cap sleeve, it can be such a flattering thing. Great find!


  2. Lucky you to find this! It is a great outfit, and the condition is amazing (how often do you see a 50’s belt in this condition?). Thanks for giving us a really good look at it this week and I’m ready to see any other dresses by her that you may have!


  3. i couldn’t tell the bolero jacket apart and thought it’s another dress. what a wonderful score.


  4. It’s adorable! So fresh and springy/summery, and I love the fabric.

    I think you’re right about Adele Simpson, and it is that she kept designing for so long. But her work from the 60s on back was excellent.

    P.S. Jacketed sets like this also work very well for people who want to cover upper arm tats for one reasons or another.


  5. That is really cute. I’m making a 50s style outfit for a party over the weekend and found your blog. Hi!


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