1970s Stunning Paisley Starlet

Has there every been a wilder, more dreamy dress than this? Those were exactly my thoughts when I ran my hands over its silky fabric as it hung from its antique store rack.

It’s bold; it’s shiny. It’s not me at all, and yet, somehow, it absolutely is. In all its chaos, it quietly echoes a restrained elegance.

The jewel tones are something that I was immediately drawn to. Not only are the rich reds and teals and deep blacks decadent (not to mention that delightful cream color), but the way each color reflects light? Divine. There is somewhat of a shimmery threading to the dress, too, a delicate gold woven through the patterns. It’s a beautiful contrast to the silver threaded spots that dance throughout the dress, almost giving off the impression of tiny mirrors.

Which leads me to wonder where this dress–and the person who once wore it–may have felt most at home. A disco? It feels a bit more formal than that, I suppose. A dinner party guest? Perhaps. One of the things most intriguing about vintage is the idea that a piece may have meant one or many things to a person over their lifetime with it.

It’s part of what makes me feel so very connected to the pasts of these dresses in my own wearing them. There are dresses I wear frequently that have over the years become heavily rotated items in my wardrobe. There are pieces that I’ve bought for special occasions and some (like this one) that I’ve not yet had the pleasure of wearing out at all.

I don’t believe that any one collector’s motivations are exactly the same as another’s, whether that’s clothing or stamps, books or records. Functionality (or “fit”), aesthetic, rarity–all are possible factors in the hunt and an item’s eventual place in a collection. But I think that at its best, it’s much more than that. It’s not about idolizing a possession, but rather seeking clarity, connection to people or to history. It’s an opportunity to appreciate craftsmanship, inspiration, and humanity.

We create because we feel connected to something greater than ourselves, and I believe collecting is not entirely different from that.

On that note of creation, I’d like to return to the idea of this dress’s personal function. Without tags and as the dress is a bit thin–the inside hems even somewhat unfinished looking–I am lead to believe there’s a good chance this dress was handmade. To me, this means it could have fulfilled any and all desires the person had in mind when creating their handiwork.

Proportionately the dress is a bit odd on my frame. Its slightly larger waist, full bust, shortish sleeves, and yet generous length could be another indication of a tailor-made piece. A large quasi-waistband sits high on one’s middle at about five inches in thickness. This section of fabric then meets up with the surplice-style wrap bodice and a classic v-neckline. At the back, a simple black zipper remains perfectly hidden, and the dress is finally secured with a metal clasp.

Another reason I suspect it could be one of a kind is that in my searching, I’ve not come across anything else like it. You can find hints of what might have been inspirations for this dress–paisley motifs, metallic threading, rich colors–but nothing that combines all those things in the structure this one does.

I date it as being from the ’70s because while maxi dresses of this style might have made their debut in the 1960s, the darker, more earthy tones feel more reminiscent of the 1970s’ sultry color palette. There’s even a chance that it could be from the 80s, but I’m much more apt to say that it is anywhere from the mid- to late-70s.

I hope someday to really give this dress the outing it so deserves, and perhaps, misses. There may be no end in sight to this gown’s light-chasing, dream-hopping days.

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