June 19, 2012

For Tanit-Isis

If you read her blog, even occasionally, you may know that Tanit-Isis doesn't need any encouragement to go on with her 'project drop waist'. This is a valiant search to create a flattering option for full skirted dresses on a body which (she tells us) doesn't look good in a garment with a seam at (and therefore a full skirt sprouting from) the waist. 
It just so happens to be that several of the patterns she considers for this treatment are vintage ones... And by hearing 'full skirted dress', we immediately think 50's anyway, don't we? 

And it just so happens to be that my (alarmingly growing) collection of vintage fashion and sewing magazines has shown me ample proof of that very style being in fashion in the mid-1950's...
I'll show you some of the options offered by sewing magazine Marion here (most of the fashion magazines are either bound into books or too large to fit under the scanner and it's too dark for picture of things in books. If you'd like I'll show some from those later).

This one, from July 1954 is the earliest one I could find tonight. It's more like a waistlength bodice with a yoked skirt attached to it but it's definately going in the drop-waist direction.

By 1955, the look had definately gained in popularity and this cocktaildress, with the lowest waistline of them all, proves the point. This is, quite clearly, a real drop-waist design.

This one is my favorite. It appeared on the cover of the Januari 1956 issue of Marion. It almost looks like those are princess seams opening into pleats, but there really is a horizontal seam there. I know, because it's on the pattern sheet (though unfortunately, in their size 40. The blue dress I made was a size 36...)

The same magazine also offers this, somewhat less appealing, dress in size 38. It does show another fairly common feature (of which I thought I had seen a great example in Marion, but I can't find it now): a decoration of that dropped waist seam with a strip of fabric. It's usually done in the dress fabric, but can be used to great effect when combined with stripes.
Somehow this picture always makes me think of Mad Men's Peggy...

Generally, the dropped waist was seen as a youthfull look, so it's no surprise to see it offered in the teenager section in December of 1956.

There is another design in the same issue which had a dropped waistline but is definately not intended for teenagers. It is also the only example I've found in Marion where the the lengthened bodice is not teamed with a pleated or gathered skirt. I think this dress is so sophisticated with it's sleek skirt. At the back, the bodice actually continues in a free-hanging panel which is what you see peeking from the back of skirt (and could be mistaken for a deep pleat).

There are other clever designs in which the long line of the bodice is really incorporated into the whole look, like this one in which the space between the darts gets a different kind skirt.

This is a look which appears fairly often: it's not a single bodice which reaches till about 10 cm below the waist, it's a waist-piece with a gather bust-piece on top and a pleated skirt on the bottom. Designs like this are, unlike 'real' drop waist ones, often shown worn with waist belts and they are, also unlike some of the other ones, always closely fitted.

Finally, these short wedding dresses (a length described as 'foot-free') are the only examples I've found in which the seam between bodice and skirt is shaped. The one on the left is just a waistlength bodice with a slight dip at center front, the other two are a bit more serious, with the middle one once more showing a waist-piece design.

I hope you all enjoy this little voyage through the fashions of our mothers or grandmothers. As said, I can show you examples from mid-1950's RTW as well, if you'd like.
As it turns out, the 50's were not just about huge skirts from the waist...


  1. that was definitely a lot of fun to read. I hadn't given much thought to whether this silhouette would be flattering or if I would wear it but I think I could pull it off, if styled in the right way!

  2. I don't know if you are aware but white text on a black background is very hard to read for most peope who don't have 20/20 vision. I wear varifocals and your blog "swims" in my vision. I put up with it because I really enjoy your posts, but you might get more readers if you used the more usual (and easy to read) black on white.

  3. oh, thank you! Those are lovely---I think my favourite is the one where the princess seams look as if the're opening into the pleats. I have one actual fifties pattern with the yoke-below-waist feature that I will get to one of these days, too (when I have time to grade it up...)