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!