A Century of Dazzling Party Dresses

I’m in the process of selecting prom dresses with my daughters, and this year’s prom has a 1920s theme. So when I heard about this post, it sparked interest as well as nostalgia for me. It’s an interview with fashion historian Jacqueline WayneGuite of The Hourglass Files. She tells us about the rise of special-occasion dresses in the 20th century, and how they changed through each decade.

Not only are the rhinestones and fabrics cheaper today, but the literal foundation of the garment is of much lower quality. Unless you’re buying expensive formalwear, you don’t see corsetry built into a dress anymore. The collection I currently work with has some cheap 1950s dresses, things you would’ve bought at an inexpensive department store, but they all have built-in boning, because there was still this notion that the foundation had to be good.

Nowadays, designers make up a lot through stretch fabrics, instead of better tailoring or putting in boning or a petersham, which was like a waistband that was put inside a dress to attach the bodice to your waist. Most strapless dresses in the 1950s were boned and had petershams, meaning they weren’t being held up at the bust—it was the woman’s waist and her hips that held up the dress. Your foundation would be much lower, and there was no need to hike up the dress.

I think that’s the bane of every wedding photographer’s existence: You have these beautiful dresses that the bride and bridesmaids are constantly hiking up because they’re attached with cheap stretch fabric, so they keep falling off. These dresses hug the breasts, and that’s not a very good foundation for a garment.

Read the entire interview, accompanied by great fashion photos, at Collectors Weekly.

(Image source: Shorpy)


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