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Embroidered Day Dress

This quaint silk crepe de chine 1920s day dress reminds me so much of spring - the navy reminds of me of dark, rainy days, while the beautiful bright cross-stitch embroidery a beacon of color - much like many spring flowers after a long winter.

Upon first inspection, this dress may seem pretty self-explanatory in its style and period, but after some in-depth and slow analysis, there's certainly more to tell. That's the thing about object-based research - you have to physically slow yourself down to take in the little nuances that can be easily overlooked.

One of the really neat things about this fabric is the pebbly appearance the silk takes on - it's perfect for a swishy or drapey feminine look. Unfortunately, photographs don't do the fabric justice. And although this dress is cut in the style of the day - a tubular, boxy silhouette - this swish and some minimal tailoring add femininity, conforming it to the style, but not making grand fashion statements in its difference.

Of course, there are other bits of femininity, but first, let's briefly talk about the 1920s silhouette.

In the late 1910s and into the 1920s, the idea of what constituted beauty drastically changed, moving away from the structured, corseted figures of the previous century and into a more "free" and boyish look. While the style was to wear no underpinnings at all and encouraged the freedom of movement, some women of the 1920s were far from being anti-corset. In many cases, especially for more mature women with larger bustlines and curvier hips, the undergarments just changed to encourage the curveless style silhouette.

Much like the Youthquake dresses of the 1960s were a reaction to Dior's New Look silhouette of the 1950s, the boxy dresses and flat physique of the 1920s was a reaction to the structured looks from the decades previously.

From c.1925, April's dress of the month has a lot of great qualities that adhere to the silhouette, but offer bits of femininity, like I mentioned earlier. Basically, these are added so it's not a complete shapeless potato bag.

The first one is obvious: the cross-stitch embroidery framing the V-neck collar, and outlining the pockets.

Utilizing a running cross-stitch pattern where possible, the cross-stitch is just as beautiful on the reverse, as it is on the front. The embroiderer was an expert - knowing just how to economize thread, but not compromising on the details. Cross-stitch and embroidery were two items that constituted a lady - maybe not so much in the 1920s, but certainly prior to 1900 - any woman who was a lady (aka didn't have to work) knew how to embroider. It's just what you did to pass the time.

The outline of the pockets especially shows the running stitch style of the cross-stitch. These pockets, while completely functional, could only hold a few folded dollars and some change. They aren't deep, but could certainly work in a pinch, and besides, what girl doesn't love pockets on a dress? Unfortunately, the right proper pocket does have some damage to the corner seams - illustrating that they were used in some form or another. You can see the hole at the far corner, plus the loose seams at the opposite edge.

The second feminine touch to this dress is the V running from the shoulders to the natural waist, made from a contrasting ecru chine. This V elongated the body, drawing the eye away from the fact that the dress was basically sack-shaped. Additionally, on the front of the dress, the maker utilized a drop waist to highlight another bit of femininity - a scalloped design with box pleats falling to the hem.

While there are a number of feminine elements, the wide double collar adds a touch of masculinity, but draws the eye to the neckline, which had 9 buttons. Unfortunately, all of the buttons have been lost, either to time or repurposed on another dress. I'm guessing they would have been larger toggle buttons, with the top four unbuttoned. The thread changes at the fifth hook, suggesting that they weren't supposed to be seen. A thrifty way to save some of your best thread for another project!

This dress was much loved. If the staining to the back of the ecru collar isn't enough to justify this, then the darning at both elbows should be a testament to its overall wear.

Instead of doing a very intentional darn at the elbows, the darner used a piece of remaining crepe to attached into the inside of the elbow, creating a patch, but then darning at the hole. Both elbows have this same treatment, and it looks like the darner wasn't as experienced as they would like to have been - while the patch held, the tears in the fabric is still visible, showing the patch underneath. To learn more about darning, check out this post.

Holes at the arms have also been sewn together with a different color thread than the dresses original construction, highlighting that they had ripped and been fixed at some point - perhaps even multiple times.

This brings its construction into discussion: made from several pieces of crepe de chine fabric, the dress is relatively simple in construction, with some added flair. The back of the dress is one piece, whereas the front is made of two pieces.The sleeves are rounded tubes with a single seam running at the inside of the arm. The back of the dress is a single panel, and the front is as well, until you reach the drop waist. The scallop waistline separates the flat lines of the dress with the box pleats.

In the October 1925 issue of the Delineater, a monthly magazine published by the Butterick pattern company, two dresses of similar construction were highlighted (Butterick pattern 6349 & 6344 - October 1925), but with some slight differences. Sears & Roebuck also had a similar pattern in its 1926 catalog.

I'm guessing from the measurements of the dress that this was made for a teenager or a young woman of small stature. This is also where the small tweaks add to the femininity as well - the bust measurements are 36 inches while the hips are 38 inches. To drape correctly the young woman would probably need hips smaller than 36 inches wide. The pintucks at the shoulder also add some definition, getting the garment to drape correctly, without compromising fashion.

I suspect, based on the dress' construction, paired with the economizing techniques of the button threads, the lack of lining, and the patches at the elbows, that the wearer (or her mother) was the seamstress. It's not rough, like many handmade dresses can be, but it's got imperfections that probably wouldn't be there if a professional seamstress had made this dress. I think the patches at the elbows is the main identifying factor, but the seams at the scallop waist also highlight that it was handmade. This can be seen at the height of the center most scallop especially.

Overall, I wish I could wear this dress myself! It's such a fun flirty dress, and despite the boxy construction, it probably flattered the wearer since she was the ideal body type for this style dress.

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