1940s Detail-rich Day Dress

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The 1940s was a decade of ornately disguised simplicity, as evidenced by this near-perfect Kay Allison dress and the time period surrounding it.

According the Smithsonian Institute, war production in the 1940s took priority when it came to fibers such as cotton and wool, which led to the popularity of rayon, the material showcased here.

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This darling day dress holds a special place in my wardrobe as my (historically) oldest piece. Its deep midnight blue is adorned with a number of intricate details: decorative seaming on the wrap bodice, ornamental buttons, and the sweetest velvet ribbon—meant to be tied in a bow at the collar.

The collar itself boasts completely intact lace-like bead work, deserving of applause for a dress that is well over 60 years old.

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The astounding number of details on the dress’s bodice contrast nicely with the sleek, practical nature of the skirt. The length and simple A-line shape of the skirt are another result of government regulations, specifically 1942’s regulation L-85, which restricted usage of fabrics and certain fashion features.

Because of this and the number of details on the dress, I would assume it was manufactured after WWII but before 1950. Regulations for things such as cuff details and zippers had likely been lifted when the dress was made, but it still shared the overall length and shape of war-time pieces.

When I made this purchase (through Instagram, a process worth explaining in a later post), there were no additional accessories that went with it, but I quickly realized the dress had belt loops.

I thought this was interesting because of the amount of details on the bust and wondered how busy it would look with a belt. I ended up incorporating a simple brown leather belt that had come with a modern dress I had recently purchased.

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Though I have no real way of knowing whether the belt is anything at all like what was originally paired with the dress (wouldn’t it be something if it had matched the velvet ribbon?), I believe it went with the overall style rather well. It served another purpose by cinching in the waist to a nice shape, as I was concerned the garment otherwise appeared too large on me.

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The mechanical features of the dress—a snap closure on the wrap bodice and a side zipper—are both in very good shape. Overall, the dress is in remarkable condition and was obviously well cared for. There is only a small moth hole in the left sleeve and a slight unstitching of one side of the collar. But as I am prone to do with vintage pieces, I pay it little mind.

For me, part of the experience of buying and wearing vintage is embracing the very flaws that one would completely avoid in a new article of clothing. Small tears, alterations, discolorations, even (sometimes) a particular smell—they all add to the mystery and character of a piece. I tend to think of a garment as happy to be worn, seeing another day in the sun.

Of course, finding an utterly flawless piece is always an accomplishment, but so also is finding one with a story. To imagine who may have worn this dress—and even if she herself had played a part in the war effort—is a fascinating picture.

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