Silk Mystery Outfit UPDATED

One of the most fun things about collecting old clothing is examining a garment to try and reveal its secrets.  It’s rare that I know anything at all about a piece that I buy unless I just happen to get it from the original owner or her family.  Even when you ask vintage sellers about the background of an item, it’s hard to get any information at all.  They either don’t know or they are reluctant to reveal their own buying secrets.

I found the above two-piece dress at a vintage show in Charlotte several months ago.   At first I spotted the wrap top, and inquired about it.  That’s when the seller told me there was a matching skirt.

When she produced it I was surprised to see that the waist was gathered with elastic.  I was certain that the top was from the 1950s, but while not completely unheard of, most gathered skirts in the 50s did not incorporate elastic.  I was puzzled but not put off, as the selling price was so reasonable,that even if it did turn out to be from the 1980s (which seemed possible at the time) I’d not be out much.  Besides, it was a great novelty print.

I hung the set up just so I could look at it, and after a month or so I decided it was time to get serious.  The blouse wraps and ties at the side.  The way the bodice is gathers into the side is very Claire McCardell.

The sleeves are three-quarters length, and are finished with these nifty pointed cuffs.

Under the arm is a triangular shaped gusset, a typical 1950s sleeve treatment.

The seams are about one-half inch, and are pinked.  This looks to me to be commercially made, though there are no labels.

All the signs in the blouse point to a 1950s manufacture, so why is it that one little element – the gathered waist – was making me doubt that?

Another odd thing about the skirt is the fringed hem.

A tarantella is an Italian folk dance that supposedly would cure one of the poison of a tarantula spider.   That looks like Mount Vesuvius in the background.

So, am I looking at this through 1950s glasses, trying to justify my purchase of a 1980s dress.  Or am I right, and it is a 1950s curiosity?


I wanted to add two close-ups of the print so it can be seen that the printing is quite good.  The picture part is actually only one and a half inches high.

Here is a view of the stitching of the elastic channels.   Interestingly, the sewing machine was threaded with white on one side and black on the other.  The sides of the skirt are also stitched in these too colors.  I am positive that this is the original waist treatment.  In fact, the only trace of alterations I can detect at all in the set is the addition of a snap closure at the front of the blouse.

I’m convinced that the dress is late 1950s.  Thanks to all of you who helped talk me through this!


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

28 responses to “Silk Mystery Outfit UPDATED

  1. Interesting mystery – I can’t wait to hear what you discover!


  2. I can’t help you with dating this, but if I had to guess, I would say it is 1950s. I love the fringed hem and sash, by the way – it’s so much more effective than just being hemmed. What a great two-piece dress – will you wear it?


  3. ladanu

    I think 1950s. Certainly the print is that era (fantastic by the way). Elastic gathering just makes me think of sheering which was fairly common on bodices. I have never seen a gusset which was not 1950s or 60s. The high neckline is so 50s. If this were 80s I think that neckline would be much lower, those sleeves would not have that nifty cuff, they just didn’t go in for that level of detail.


  4. QueensGirl

    Do you think the skirt could have been altered from it’s original state? Perhaps removed the original waistband and added the elasticized one?


  5. Surely 80s would be overlocked (served)? I am thinking home made, or maybe altered to make it a bit more comfortable for the wearer.


  6. I don’t recall 80s garments having pinked seams and gussets. However, if the armscye’s really big, it could 80s.
    It’s definitely a McCardell-style wrap with the bias-cut bodice and side gathers, but her designs usually don’t have gussets, and usually the sleeves are kimono and not sewn in. The fabric’s a little fancy for her designs, too.
    I have a similar two-piece sewing pattern by Vera Maxwell from that era (without the collar), but I don’t know if the skirt has the elastic waist. Tina Leser used to use “ethnic”-themed fabric as well.
    Or could it be Italian?


  7. It’s hard to tell, but does that skirt look a little short for the 50s? Since the fringed hem is clearly original, perhaps the skirt was shortened at the waist as hems rose in the early 60s? I love these mysteries you share!


  8. Carrie

    Another vote for 50s, based on the print and the wrap top. But the elastic waist and fringed hem certainly do seem anachronistic! It’s a great set…


  9. The pinked seams had me thinking earlier than 80s – I also was going to suggest as another reader here did that maybe the skirt was altered later (as one of your great posts showed me can happen to dresses!). I’m always a sucker for a cute 2-piece – can’t wait to see what you find out!


  10. I am amazed at the many interesting points you look for when you purchase something, Lizzie….You have put a new and facinating light on collecting vintage(for me). Who knew collecting vintage could be so much fun.???


  11. Christina

    The fabric looks like a border print from the late 1950’s and I feel that the matching 2 piece is not manufactured. Elastic waistbands were pretty common. As a dressmaker you could buy basic rubber waistbands for covering. The printing is excellent, really top notch so hmm… maybe Italian and Como for the fabric production?


  12. What a wonderful set–especially the blouse! The fact that the waist is not just elastic but smocked would have me leaning towards 50s, too. If this were an 80s set, I’d think in most cases the waistband would just be flat elastic. (That along with all you’ve said about the blouse.) You will have to model that blouse some time!


  13. If and when I do were it, I’ll be sure to take a photo.


  14. I really appreciate everyone’s input. I’m pretty sure it is late 50s, and today I’ll be giving it another good examination and will post a few more photos.


  15. Lizzie,I had a Mexican tourist skirt that was definitely 1950s, and it was also elastic waisted, so that’s not dealbreaker to me. With the Italian scene, this could be tourist intended as well.


  16. And just to add to the confusion, I’m going to say 1970’s. 🙂

    Here is a picture of Diane Von Furstenberg wearing her iconic wrap dress – which I think this was trying to mimic without being a dress so you could mix it up if you wanted to.

    Notice the 3/4 sleeves, the wrap top, and the collar – all elements in the top you have. This would also make the elastic make a lot more sense as it was common to have rows of elastic in the 1970’s in skirts and in dresses.

    The above is a pattern from the 1970’s showing the wrap dress as separates.


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