March 16, 2013

Fabulous frocks

I'm glad I didn't end up making plans to meet any of you at the fabric market tomorrow... The cold I had a week ago has returned with a vengeance. I am dressed and walking around but that's about it. I don't think I would have made charming company and I prefer not to infect anyone if I can avoid it...

Obviously, this type of cold slows down activities such as sewing and blogging. I may be home more than I would be otherwise but I have preciously little energy to spare. On those good days earlier in the week, I managed to finish the stretch velvet dress, but I won't take pictures until I'm a bit more... eh... model-ready.

Today, I thought I'd share a splendid fashion article from the vintage magazines I'm currently reading: Libelle from the second half of 1949.
I thought it would be nice to try and translate the original text.

Bad Habits

Because of the war, we have automatically become much more nonchalant with regard to clothing. One of the many bad habits, which seems difficult to get rid of, is not dressing up if we go out at night. Of course, that's very easy and maybe it's even a reason why we would, tired from a day's hard work, sooner be inclined to go out anyway, but it still is a pity. Everything is so much more festive if we dress up for it. However, one of the great enemies of formal evening attire is "the man".
It even happens a lot that he will set an ultimatum: "No evening dress, or I won't come". Of course, he can hardly object to the minimum of a dark suit, but if he has to put on a tuxedo or tails, he seems to be faced with an impossible task and usually turns to sabotage. Obviously, a woman can't put on a formal evening dress if her knight shows up in a regular suit, which is why small evening attire, the so-called cocktail dress or the dressy suit, is used more and more for all kinds of festive events. This season, Lady Fashion has paid special attention to specifically summery evening dress. Next to the usual variaties of silk, of which taffeta and ottoman are the most prominent at the moment, she has worked a lot with cotton and linen this time. The preference, currently lavished on the so-called cocktaildress, which is a happy medium between formal evening wear and a normal pretty dress, fits in well with the economy required today because it can be used for so many occasions. 
The skirt is a bit longer than the current standard of 32 cm from the ground and, in many cases, it has an uneven hem. Despite the cheap material, these fancy dresses of cotton or linen are not a way to save money, especially not because they are decorated way above their humble station with fine embroidery, beading, sequins, gold- and silver thread and sometimes even with strass. 
Back in the days when it used to be the general habit to dress up or concerts or the theatre or for evening time visits, people cared more for such outings. The only way to really make those pretty formal dresses, which one has to buy for special occasions anyway, worth their cost, is to wear them, like we used to, to diners out, to the theatre, a concert or a dance evening.

I told you those fashion editors of old were strict, didn't I? The demise of formal dressing would be a pet peeve at the various lady's magazines for at least a decade. 
In this case, the somewhat sour and preachy article is illustrated with fabulous designer cocktail dresses.

Very simple dresses made from cotton or linen are often richly decorated with strass, sequins, embroidery in gold or silver and beading. (Christian Dior)
A cotton shirt dress with a shawl collar decorated with this baroque foliage pattern which is at least partially made up of beads or sequins. The skirt doesn't even look 'longer than 32 cm off the ground'. It's absolutely lovely, I wish they would have told the reader what the colour of the was.

A dressy silk suit is equally well suited for a walk on a summer's day as it is to wear to the theatre. (New York Dress Institute)
It's a great suit. The jacket seems pretty standard for the era but the skirt, straight at the front with a full flare at the back could be pretty spectacular.

Such a silk dress would be appropriate for the theatre, the concert hall but also for dining out or for a dance evening. (Jacques Fath-Dorvyne)
I don't know about the dancing... narrow skirts don't seem ideal for that purpose but I don't know what the fashionable dances of the late 1940's were... but it is a great dress with that skirt drape which turns into a peplum.

This shirt dress of grey-blue linen is richly decorated with small disks of gold leather and... cork. (Pierre Balmain)
Another richly decorated shirt dress. Of all the dresses on this page, this one speaks to me least. Maybe it's because the scarf hides half the bodice or because the busy background doesn't show it off to its full well. It may even be because the padded shoulders and moderately flared skirt give it a slightly dated silhouette among these obviously post-New Look beauties. 

A cocktail dress of black silk taffeta, the champagne-coloured upper bodice of which has been richly embroidered. (Nina Ricci) 
Sigh... another fabulous dress. This one has most of the volume of the skirt at center front and of course, a very flattering placement of light and dart material.

What I like about Libelle, Beatrijs and Margriet is how they tend to illustrate their articles about general trends in fashion with wonderful Paris couture designs. 
Photographed at the time they were made, alongside their contemporaries, styled and worn by the lady-like models of the day, these dresses tell a different story from the yellowed pages of these old magazines than they would, displayed in full colour on white or transparant dummies in today's museums... Less detailed maybe, but more evocative.


  1. Thank you for such an interesting post! All of the dresses are so beautiful, but I love the translated article -- what great insight into the world at that time. Those editors would absolutely cringe if they saw what people are wearing now! I hope you feel better soon.

  2. Thanks for sharing! Love this article!

    I own some late 40s/early 50s magazines (Libelle/Beatrijs) too! I love reading the articles. I really like the writing style it's so different compared to nowadays articles in magazines.

  3. I am in love with these beautiful magazines of the 40s and 50s, all the glamor that off .... was really glamorous people these days ... if they could see how the girls wear today ....