Tag Archives: Adrian

The Dress that Launched a Thousand Sleeves

Lovers of old movies and followers of fashion history will recognize the image above as Joan Crawford in the famous dress from Letty Lynton, from 1932. The clothes were designed by the designer at M-G-M, Gilbert Adrian. So much has been written about this dress (with one of the best analyses coming from friend Susan at Witness2Fashion) that I really don’t have much new to say about it. But while looking through my 1934 Butterick pattern catalog I could not help but notice how influential were the sleeves on this dress.

Throughout the late 1920s and into the 30s, fashionable hips were impossibly slim. One way to give the illusion of leaner hips is to widen the shoulders. That’s what Adrian did with these spectacular ruffled sleeves. It didn’t take women long to realize the trick that worked for Crawford might do them some good as well.  Clothing manufacturers rushed copies of the dress into production, and it was a huge hit.

Two years later, the ruffled sleeve was a standard in women’s clothing. While most women would not wear the over-the-top version from the movie, ruffled sleeves were available from very full to barely there.  Even sleeves that were cut relatively straight often had a pleat at the top of the sleeve cap that gave a fluttery effect.

Even though there were all sorts of ruffled sleeves, the one thing all the dresses has in common were the very straight, very slim skirt.

The bateau neckline and the extensions over the shoulders tend to further elongate the shoulders.

Here are ruffles in a slightly more tailored look.

As much as people love fashion and looking stylish, it’s doubtful that most women across America could have pulled off a full-blown Lynton look. Most of the actual dresses from this era that I’ve seen have ruffles more like the dress pictured above. In fact, this look is quite commonly found on the vintage market.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sewing

Adrian Firebird Dress, 1940s

Don’t get too excited for me, because this is not my dress.  It is in the shop of Guermantes Vintage.  This is a fantastic dress, but it gets even better because there is also a great story attached.

It all started when Guermantes Vintage posted photos of the dress on Instagram.  Jan always has the most incredible stuff, and so she has over 33,000 followers who stay tuned to see what her latest find happens to be.  A day or so ago, one of the persons tuning in was @jupeculotte, who is fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank.  Guermantes posted the photo above, which @jupeculotte recognized as an Adrian dress she has examined in the collection of the Smithsonian.  What makes this so fantastic is that Guermantes’s dress is missing its label, and so she did not know until Caroline commented on the photo that she actually had an Adrian dress.

Caroline then sent to Germantes the documentation on the dress she had photographed at the Smithsonian.  Above you can see the photo of the Smithsonian’s dress, along with the card from the museum catalog.  No doubt that this is the same model dress.

What is really interesting is that another person, Melissa of @meloovintage had this dress years ago, and it too was missing the label.   Could it be that the labels were sewn in a spot that was uncomfortable for the wearer?  Maybe the apprentice sewing in the labels did a poor job and they came loose and were lost?

And this is why I love Instagram.

With all the unpleasantness one encounters on the internet, it’s wonderful knowing that the fashion history and the vintage people seem to be in it for all the right reasons.  Sharing knowledge in this way helps educate us all

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Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Viewpoint