1920s Deco Dress with Sports Motif

When I first caught sight of this dress on Instagram, I knew I had to have it.  With the applique sporting motif, it was just the sort of thing that I’m always looking for.

The seller described the dress (skirt and over-blouse, actually) as being from the 1930s.  I was really puzzled as to why she put that date on the set as it just looks so late 1920s to me.

Then I noticed that one of the photos showed a side zipper.  Still, I was convinced that it was from the 1920s.  I mean, look at that orange color!  Look at the shape of the over-blouse!  So despite some condition problems and that pesky zipper, I decided to purchase it anyway.  It was just too perfect to pass up.

The back view of the set actually looks more like it could be from the early 30s.  The half belt is pretty much at the normal waistline.  And note that the skirt is too long for the 1920s.

Another oddity is the skirt.  If this were from the Twenties, you’d expect for it to be an under-dress, sort of like a slip and skirt combination.  But this is a real skirt with a waistband.   It was time to get serious about figuring out this one.

I turned the blouse inside out to examine the seam stitching.  What I found was three distinctly different stitching patterns, evidence that the set had been altered twice.  Here you can see the tiny original stitching along with some later stitches with a longer length.

I then turned my attention to the zipper.  As I suspected, the zipper had the larger stitches, meaning that it was added at a later date.

The back of the blouse has shaping darts at the waist.  These too are later additions, as is the half belt.

The skirt also shows extensive signs of alteration.  My pen is pointing to the original seam, while you can see a newer one to the left.

For the skirt opening, the seam was simply split and the hooks and eyes were used for the closures.  This photo really says a lot.  For such a meticulously made garment, there is no way this waistline sewing was original to it.

This is such a well made dress, that the original owner  must have paid quite a bit for it.  I can see why she didn’t want to give it up just because hemlines dropped and the silhouette became more streamlined.  Cutting off the bodice of the underdress and adding a waistband could have lengthened the skirt considerably (about five inches, it appears.  Look at the photo of the set and note how the pleat opens about five inches below the hem of the top.  You would expect the pleat to open at the hem.)  Adding darts and the half belt to the blouse would have given it a more fitted and fashionable look.

I often leave altered garments in their found state.  In this case, to restore it I’d have to construct a new bodice for the underdress, so for the present time I’m going to leave it as it is.  I will most likely remove the zipper and the half belt.  I haven’t decided about the darts, as they may leave the fabric weakened.


In my post yesterday I forgot to show the side seams of the blouse.  In the crease you can faintly see the new stitching.  Look nearer the edge of the fabric and you can see the old stitching holes.  The sides were taken in about 3/4 inch on each side.


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

40 responses to “1920s Deco Dress with Sports Motif

  1. Diana Coleman

    This meticulous investigation gives me great admiration for what you do, Lizzie.


  2. This is absolutly fabulous!


  3. Great detective work on a terrific dress. Were all the black and white motifs applique? I love them! Couldn’t quite decide if they were part of a border print on the skirt. I’ve been collecting pictures of that popular twenties color combination of orange (or cadmium red-orange) and black — it just wasn’t associated with Halloween yet. (To be fair, this looks coral to me…) Oh, those deco black & white silhouettes! I’m so glad the original owner loved this enough to keep it mostly intact.


  4. How fascinating, Lizzie. I love your detective work and your tenaciousness!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisa

    What an amazing piece! I’m so glad it found its way to you, Lizzie.


  6. I would like to say I am amazed by your detective work….and your tenaciousness and I am glad the dress found you…but all this has already been said. Ditto.
    How about doing all of us a favor and seeing pictures of YOU in some of these vintage clothes now and then. I am going to try and go to Metroling the 4th of April….please wear something vintage just in case I am lucky enough to run into you.


  7. You are indeed the Sherlock of the vintage world. No further words required! 😉


  8. Hello that I spectacular . Is the appliqué done by hand and what stitch is used ?


  9. Oh! What a stunning dress! Even with her plastic surgery she’s a winner! xxx


  10. Amanda

    Wonderful as usual Lizzie. When are you going to open a museum?


  11. Loved seeing it inside and out! When are you doing a book, Lizzie?


  12. You are a fashion archeologist! I love the evidence here of a make do and mend mentality. As you say, someone loved this outfit so much that she was willing to do considerable work to keep it going. I wonder what other kinds of alterations people did to make the switch from the twenties to the thirties.
    I vote for both a book and a museum.


    • I’ve seen dresses with bands sewn on the bottom of the hem to make them longer. And forming a waistline, either with a seam or with a belt would work. I’ve also seen late 1920s dresses that were taken in at the side seams, and snaps added to allow the dress to slip over the head.


  13. Christina

    Even though the skirt has been altered the length is good for the Twenties decade when the variation in skirt length was longer at times. It may have had a bodice attached but maybe not and could also have been constructed with side fastenings. Patterns from the period show this. The half belt. Hmm… Could that have been cut from the hem of the tunic blouse? The proportion of the blouse looks a tad short to me. The applique figures are the stars of this piece. Beautiful movement depicted in pieces of cloth.


  14. It is possible that the over-blouse has been shortened. Actually it is likely, as I just removed part of the hem and it does show evidence of having been cut. That might explain part of the weirdness of the pleats breaking so far below the top, but I’m convinced that the skirt waistband is not original to the skirt. I can see where the seam was split to form the opening. The half belt either came from the bottom of the over blouse or from the top of the slip/skirt.

    It really is all about the appliques.


  15. What a gorgeous dress and a terrific explanation of your detective work. The sports appliques are charming. Thanks for a wonderful post..


  16. Lizzie, I’ll toss in one other option for you to justify the alterations: it may have been altered so it could be used as a costume. The crude waistband looks typical of the work I have found in authentic garments that were altered a decade or two later for stage or film. Working as a costumer here in LA I saw it now and then, especially in garments that are so visually dynamic like this great outfit with it’s awesome applique.


  17. That’s a wonderful find! So great to have all that story and many hands have passed over it and it still survives. Enjoy!


  18. Fantastic investigation! And fundamentally a beautiful garment, despite the alterations.


  19. Christina

    I concur with Jen O that this garment could have been used as a costume. Jen makes a very good point about this piece being visually dynamic – on camera or on stage. Being in the same business I have also seen this kind of alteration.


  20. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Jen’s idea that the alterations might have been for a theatrical production. I’ve never worked in a costume shop, but I’ve seen a lot of garments that have been modified by them. The blouse was definitely not altered by a costumer, but it is possible that some of the work on the skirt, especially that nutty waistband, was.

    As I pointed out, there were three different stitching patterns, and three different colors of thread used. It is possible that the skirt was altered at a later time than the blouse. Still, that blouse would have been hard to remove in a hurry. I’m just glad that a zipper was not inserted up the back!

    At any rate, I have decided that I will restore the blouse to its original appearance, as far as it it possible. I took out some of the stitching and a gentle pressing helped eliminate the stitch holes. Stay tuned for the results.


  21. Ruth Singer

    I’ve just found instructions for exactly this type of appliqué in an old French magazine. Will be trying it out soon!


  22. I have a brown silk crepe one-piece dress that was obviously (when you get to examining it) altered from its late-’20s origins to a very early ’30s look. The hem was let down several inches, and the belt was repositioned (and, I think, shortened) to the natural waist. Mine has a lot more, and more elaborate, pleats in the skirt than yours, but they start in about the same place.

    It must have been so frustrating, after years of alterable changes in fashion (raising hems, streamlining sillhouette) to be faced with the utter sea change that was the ’30s. In just a year or two, everything in your wardrobe was pretty much unwearable!


  23. Pingback: 1920s Deco Dress with Sports Motif, Part 2 | The Vintage Traveler

  24. Pingback: Tennis, Anyone? | Stuff I Love

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.