1920s Embroidered and Smocked Frock

Any vintage seller who has been in the business more than a few years will tell you that vintage clothing is subject to fads.  One year vintage wearers want 1950s full-skirted dresses, and the next they might move on to 1970s disco attire.  If the comments on Instagram can be believed, one of the hottest items right now is the “ethnic-inspired” smocked and embroidered dress from the 1920s.

This type dress fits in well with the 1920s fascination with the exotic, something I’ve written about in the past. While there were sewing patterns for the dresses, they were also made abroad. I’ve seen them with labels from Czechoslovakia and the Philippines.

To be honest, I’ve never been able to determine exactly when these dresses were made, but the general consensus seems to be from the mid 1920s and into the early 1930s.  If you look at the placement of the waistline on my dress above, you can see that it’s not exactly the stereotypical 1920s silhouette, as the bodice is shorter than expected.

I spent a pleasurable morning looking through 1920s magazines, and the closest I found was this illustration for a 1926 Vogue sewing pattern.  Witness2Fashion posted several examples, also from 1926.  Fashion illustrations did tend to exaggerate the silhouette somewhat, but even so, my example has a longer skirt as well as the short bodice.  By the late 1920s the waistline was inching upward, and the hemline downward.

Another hint that my dress is later 20s or even 1930 is the little bit of shaping in the waist. There is even an opening in the side to allow for easier dressing.

Quite unbelievably, I found this dress at my local Goodwill bins.  It’s not in perfect condition, but the design of the dress lessens the impact of the problems.  Here you can see that some of the red threads have come loose at the neck. That was a very easy fix.

Not so easy to deal with was a small rip on the upper back. To stabilize the tear, I encased it in organdy and then basted the three layers together. While the tear makes the dress unwearable, it would not detract from the garment if it were to be displayed.

You can see some staining in this photo, which a few gentle handwashings removed.  I also had to do a bit of smock repair.

One of favorite things about this dress is how the dots vary in size, and how the pattern of them on the skirt is the reverse or that of the bodice.  And all the dots are hand embroidered.

Today we think of smocked dresses as being just for little girls.  What a shame!


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

23 responses to “1920s Embroidered and Smocked Frock

  1. OMG. My heart skipped a beat over the beauty of that dress. I would wear that today!!!
    I adore smocking. I dressed my daughter in smocked dresses until she was about ten years old. And I know she will do the same when she has a daughter but it is so rare to see smocking like that on an adult dress. It’s absolutely stunning!


  2. This smocked dress is a real charmer,Liz. It is just plain sweet.


  3. MY grandmother “hand smocked” and loved doing it. She would do it for gifts for christening gowns and also I have photos of my mother with blouses with smocking (circa 1940’s) waistlines of skirts. Her wedding dress was smocked across bodice to shoulder -grey wool flannel with pearls . I think it was 70’s – oversized off shoulder blouses and skirts and wide legged pants with smocking were popular. Machine smocking is very obvious-to the trained fashion eye- and as I remember ‘rougher0 to the touch? This 20’s dress is a real “treasure” as you already know! Beautiful!


  4. I’m with Catherine — I’d absolutely wear that dress. A lovely style, and not at all infantile, despite the popularity of smocking on little girls’ dresses. What a great find.


  5. Christina

    Interesting dress. Peasant style smocking meets Art Deco could very well be late 1920’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Absolutely wonderful. I would wear that, too. Interestingly, I just saw some items in Max Mara Weekend with red embroidery on white.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, what a find!! I would wear it too!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mary

    Great dress. Wasn’t smocking originally used on shirts for rural workers before Kate Greenway made illustrations of little girls in the late 19th century?


  9. That’s an amazing find for Goodwill! (The kind of thing that keeps you coming back when you’re ready to give up.)

    I was able to wear a skirt from one of our recent buys out yesterday . . . thanks to its forgiving, comfortable smocked waist.


  10. More Lizzie Wizardry! I remember smocked shirts from the sixties. Most of the ones in California came from Mexico.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Gorgeous! And the precision and meticulousness of those hand embroidered dots just slays me…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My cousin gave me one that belonged to her grandmother. She said it was made during WWII, but it reminds me so much of yours! I’d love to share photos of it with you, but, um….I can’t figure out how :-/


  13. I thought you might like to see photos of my smocked frock. My cousin gave it to me for my daughter – said it belonged to her paternal grandmother. She said it was made during WW II, but it looks so much like yours!



  14. Wow! I love this dress! And you can see the “exotic” influences for sure!


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