Your Weekend Wow!

Evening dress, Jacques Doucet, circa 1910. Silk satin and chiffon, beads, faux pearls, and rhinestones. ‘Pouter pigeon’ bodice creating ‘S’ shape. Via Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, Tokyo.

Evening dress, Jacques Doucet, circa 1910. Silk satin and chiffon, beads, faux pearls, and rhinestones. 'Pouter pigeon' bodice creating 'S' shape. Via Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum, Tokyo.

This dress fascinates me. It is one of the earliest extant garments I’ve seen that is a visual bridge from “old school” Edwardian into “hiding just around the corner” Art Deco.

Early Art Deco (1911-1929) brought a series of radical changes to women’s fashions. “Between 1911 and 1919, dress forms moved to a narrow, relaxed, almost semi-fitted silhouette reminiscent of the Directoire and Empire period. Although many women continued the habit of wearing corsets, the tubular clothing silhouette no longer required it. Hemlines also began to climb from ankle length in 1910 (right) to mid-calf by 1919 (left)– and all the way up to the knee by 1925. The waistline essentially disappeared. Before 1919, it was high, just below the bustline; by 1920 it had settled at the hips.” (char.txa.cornell.edu)

This gown retains the overall shape which, by 1910, had become a norm: raised waistline, long hemline, a sheer overskirt over a slightly more full underskirt and a somewhat loose-fitting bodice.

But the beading and embellishment on the front bodice lets you know Deco is ready to come knocking, as does the print on the sheer overdress. I love the lace panel of what we’d call “Celtic knots” running down the center back…more strong geometry that ties in well with, yet does not copy, the geometric print on the overdress.

And I adore the clever harness-like quality of the beading piece: the upper piece extends to run along the neckline until it closes at the center back, while the lower piece extends to form a belt which also meets to close at the center back. It creates visual continuity as it flows over the bodice and round the torso, and would probably have flattered just about any woman who wore it.

In addition, the cut of the sleeves foreshadows the next Orientalism fad, which is also on its way.

If only the underdress wasn’t so…taupey. I think it’d be a knockout if had been made of a soft cream instead.

A Little Q and A: This is the part where I know just enough to ask the questions, but not enough to know the answers.

Although the museum curator’s description calls it “pouter pigeon” style, that had pretty much left the scene by 1910. Between 1906 and 1909 the fashionable silhouette changed. Poiret introduced the “Directoire” style, which favored a straight line. As of 1907/08 corsets were no longer worn to re-shape the waist or bend the posture. (Of course, as the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey shows us, the new fashions were directed toward the young and older women tended to (but not always did) stay with the artificial silhouettes with which they’d grown “comfortable” – a relative term, after all.)

When I look at the second photo down on the left (the reader’s left, that is) it looks as if the dress was displayed on an S-bend mannequin. See how far forward the shoulders are in relation to the hips? Not very erect at all.

So…has the style been mis-identified and incorrectly displayed? Or are my thoughts concluding this is forward-looking fashion beyond the S-bend total rubbish?

I have so many questions and I can’t believe I’m the only one who runs into seeming contradictions like these. I think it might just be time to start a new “regular feature” series of posts.

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