I had been thinking about middy dresses ever since I found a book on the National Park Seminary for Girls. In the book the teenage girls are all wearing what was an unofficial uniform for girls at many private schools. One thing that I was interested in was that even though the photos in the book were printed in black and white, I could tell that the dresses were of various colors.
Most of the vintage middies that are found are white, but I have seen them in yellow, orange and navy. Vintage ads and catalogs point out that various colors were available.
This ad from a 1922 Lombard catalog lists this middy dress in French blue, old blue, lavender, green, pink and tan.
Shortly after posting about the National Park Seminary, I spotted a fantastic lavender middy dress in the etsy shop Vintage Runway. I just happened to know that the owner of this shop, Suzanne, was located fairly close to me. After a few emails back and forth, I arranged to meet Suzanne and get the dress.
At this point I’ve got to say how much fun it is to meet up with other people who love vintage clothing and fashion history. Suzanne and I sat and chatted as if we’d known one another for years.
Today I finally had a chance to spend some time looking at the dress and its construction. I had told Suzanne that it looked like it was professionally manufactured even though it had no label, but after a closer examination I’m sure this was made by an accomplished seamstress.
One big clue that this dress was home sewn was the presence of many hand sewn details, such as you see in these buttonholes.
The nautical-inspired patches look to be manufactured, but a fancy hand stitch was used to attach them. It was possible to buy the patches and the white middy braid.
This ad is from a 1927 Charles Williams mail order catalog.
The arrow stitching at the corners of the pockets was also embroidered by hand.
Still, the quality of the work is such that the dress does not have that dreaded “homemade” look. This was a sewer who knew what she was doing.
Fortunately, I know the name of the original owner of this dress. She was Blanche Nechanicky, who was born in 1907. If she first wore the dress when she was fifteen, the year would have been 1922. If you look at the ad from 1922 and compare it to my dress, you can see that my dress is considerably shorter than the dress in the catalog.
That makes sense, because after 1922 skirt lengths got shorter. In an attempt to keep in style, it appears that Blanche shortened the skirt by taking a tuck in the underdress.
There is another line of stitching holes which might show an earlier alteration. It’s interesting that Blanche did not make the skirt shorter at the hem. Skirt lengths were in flux in the early 1920s and she wisely chose not to cut it shorter. Besides, skirts have not always been shortened at the hem, but rather, at the waist.
It is possible that Blanche herself made this dress, though she would have been an exceptional seamstress to be a teenager. Luckily, Suzanne was able to share a bit about her.
Blanche was reared by her Czechoslovakian immigrant grandparents after her mother died when Blanche was two. From her grandmother she learned sewing, crocheting, embroidery, and tatting. After high school she attended Iowa State University where she majored in Textiles and Clothing.
Blanche went on to have a long career in home economics. For much of her career she worked for the New York State Education Department as the State Supervisor of Trade and Industrial Education for Girls and Women. At other times she taught sewing, both to school girls and to adults in various sewing programs. She never married, but traveled extensively.
It is a real treat knowing so much about Blanche. So much of the clothing I’ve collected has long ago become separated from the history. My thanks to Suzanne for sharing Blanche’s story.