The dress above was part of the auction purchase I’ve written about previously. In this case, the dress (and little cape, which I’ll show in a moment) were exactly as described and as shown. I wanted this set because, while not strictly a sporting ensemble, the dress is very much in line with the sportswear aesthetic of the era. Take off the stenciled decoration, add a belt, and you have a typical tennis dress of the early 1930s.
In analyzing this dress and capelet, I first consulted the 1934 Butterick sewing pattern book in my possession. I love vintage fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but in order to see great representations of design details on clothing for the mass market, sewing pattern books cannot be equaled.
Let’s start with the back of the dress. In the early 1930s, the back became an area of fashion interest. It might have been due to the increase in sunbathing and tanning, or maybe the exposed back was making up for the more covered legs. At any rate, an exposed back was in favor on everything from swimwear to evening dresses. Tennis dresses were no exception. Look carefully at my dress to see the deep, squared-off neckline, similar to view B in the catalog illustration.
As impractical as it may seem, a long row of back buttons was also commonly seen in my 1934 catalog. The view above combines the buttons with a deep V-shaped back neckline.
My dress does not actually button. The wonderful old bakelite buttons are sewn over snap fasteners. I’ll tell why I think the maker chose this method later.
It’s the little matching cape that really gives this ensemble an early 1930s look. These capelets are everywhere in my catalog.
The red piping is a great touch.
The shape of the collar tends to give it a bit of a sailor look, which was another popular design theme in the early 1930s.
You might have noticed that my dress has princess seaming, in which the front is formed by three pieces, with the seaming forming the shape of the bust and the waist. At first I didn’t see any evidence of this design feature, but then one appeared.
I am thinking that my dress must had originally had a matching belt, though the placement of the back buttons does not make allowances for one. But essentially all the dresses in this catalog have a belt at the natural waist.
The stenciling is an interesting feature. The maker might have been inspired by Art Deco motifs, or even the Arts and Crafts movement or the Wiener Werkstätte.
This set was made by a competent dressmaker, but I must say that button holes were not her strong suit. Maybe that’s why the back closes with snaps rather than with buttons.
I hope you can see how beautiful the linen material is. The set is a bit darker than my photos show, giving the piece a lovely handcrafted feel.