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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1970s Does 1940s Glamour

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One thing that can be said about fashion is that it’s cyclical: styles often are inspired by previous decades, and when they are, the results are timeless.

Take for example this 1970s Miss Elliette California gown. With its glamorous lines and elegant cut, it flows similarly to styles belonging to Hollywood starlets of the 1940s.

Pictured here in images republished by Marie Claire are Bette Davis (left, 1943) and Claudette Colbert (right, 1942).

Designs similar to these actresses’ looks could easily have been of inspiration to designer Elliette Ellis, who, according to the Vintage Fashion Guild, favored feminine looks and began her company in 1952.

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Like the subject of my previous post, this dress was also a first for me in that it was the first vintage piece I purchased online. This is unlike other formal dresses in my collection, which all have been sourced by way of thrift and antique stores.

This Miss Elliette, however, (a label with which I was completely unfamiliar at the time), called to me and seemingly ensured red carpet-readiness if ever I needed such styling.

Besides exuding glamour, some of the label’s most simple and recognizable characteristics come together in this piece. Pleats, chiffon, and equally matched elements of both grace and whimsy are all present.

The gown is periwinkle in color, with an icy glow in its poly-satin bodice and sleeves.

The skirt—a somewhat lighter hue due to its airy material—is composed of a chiffon overlay, detached from the skirt’s lining and done in accordion pleats. This gives the dress motion and allows the slightly ruffled hem to swirl about the wearer’s feet when walking.

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The dress has a very liquid-like quality and lacks any harsh or heavy construction. The relatively high zipper in the back coupled with shoulder ruching creates a narrow space for the lower neckline.

The waist sits above the natural line, but it’s difficult to call it an empire waist, which would traditionally come just under the bust. In this case, the sash that separates the rest of the bodice from the skirt begins there, a few inches below the edge of the neckline. From the center, however, it flows downward and out towards the hips.

Part-way up the zipper at the sash-like section are two sets of hook-and-eye closures. They are, in my experience, impossible to clasp on one’s own, but leaving them undone seems unnoticeable and creates no issues.

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Not a single flaw can be found in this dress except for a very small hole hidden somewhere in the top layer of fabric. The label, of course, is still intact, as are care instructions, which seem to be rather difficult to come across with vintage pieces.

As shown by the popularity of similar styles from decades past, a design such as this is classic and utterly timeless. While I’ve yet to don it to an event, I have confidence that when I do, it will call back to days past while at the same time looking refreshingly “in.”

Has calling things “in” cycled back into being cool yet?

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1960s Nautical Mod

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One of my most loved and frequently rotated vintage dresses was the first non-formal piece to enter my collection. I snagged it from my local thrift store for a whopping $4 in the chill of fall last year, eager to wear it in the warmer months.

With its incredible fit, adorable details, and fantastic construction, it’s changed the way I think about wearing vintage in an every-day setting.

This “mod” nautical-inspired piece dates to the 1960s. Without much information on the Lois Young Dallas label, it’s difficult to say for sure, but I would place this in the early to mid-60s, based on trends of the decade.

My guess is that the material is a sort of poly-cotton blend, as it has some stretch and is thick but rather breathable. It features a mock neck, darted bust, and nipped-in waist. The dress also hits just above the knee, a comfortable length for someone like myself with a bit of height (an added benefit of vintage and a post for another day).

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The stripes of the dress’s top are matched with a more subtle pattern in the skirt, one composed of tiny diamond shapes. The colors are vibrant but not flashy or overwhelming: the off white complements the bright red, even blending with it in the skirt to create an almost coral color.

The skirt itself is an interesting feature of the dress, with a wrap-like pleat over the left thigh. This adds a three-dimensional aspect to the garment, as do the three anchor-embossed (non-functional) buttons down the pleat.

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The dress showcases both youth and class: an interesting and appealing combination that has, in a way, set a precedent for many of my future finds.

My closet is now home to a number of vintage dresses that feature personality-filled details, quirky patterns, and, above all, uniqueness. From polka dots and accent bows, to pointed collars and frilly hems, my casual vintage pieces have given way to refined yet subtly playful looks.

For a dress that is likely at least 50 years old, this one is in rather remarkable, even pristine, condition, boasting unflawed fabric and a perfect zipper and hook-and-eye closure. The one repair I’ve had to make to the dress–an easy fix–was the re-stitching of two separated seams at the underarm. (Who doesn’t love a good tree climb?)

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While it may be slightly constricting—mostly in the shoulders, hence the ripped seam—this doesn’t take away from away from the fact that it’s an incredibly wearable piece. While it obviously looks to be in its element when surrounded by water, it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in the classroom or in a relaxed office environment either. 

This is precisely how such a remarkable $4 find took vintage to new heights for me. Gone were (and are) they days when garments of decades past were restricted to old photos and television shows. Vintage pieces, even those with a theme such as this dress, no longer seemed costume-y or out of reach.

Instead, vintage–beginning with this dress of course–became inviting, calling attention to detail and individuality. They now are pieces that have become incorporated into my “modern” wardrobe confidently and happily and with a beautiful fit.

Accessible, joyful pieces will never go out of style, and to me, this dress is proof of that.

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