ART DECO COCKTAIL & EVENING WEAR
Fashions in women's evening wear in the thirties were fun and feminine, with delicate colours and soft fabrics to flatter the curvaceous form.
During the 1920s, fashion designers went to great lengths to disguise women's more obvious attributes. Evening dresses tended to be cut along very straight lines and bosoms were flattened at all cost. Many women, with fuller figures, had to bandage their wayward chests to fit the boyish fashion of the day. But the frenetic gaiety of the roaring 1920s gave way to a graver mood in the depressed 1930s. And, as times got harder, so women's clothes became softer, as if to compensate.
Picture at right shows Christina Aguilera waxwork at Madame
Clothes drooped downwards along with the economy. Hair got longer, hat brims descended over one eye, necklines were draped in monastic cowls, shoulders sloped with soft capes, and skirts flopped limply in unpressed pleats.
Women's styles became quieter, even wistful, and had a maturity not seen for a long time. While flappers had been girlish, or even boyish, the feminine form was now back in fashion. Waistlines found their way back from hip level to their more natural place. Bosoms were no longer flattened or disguised, and skirts were generally longer.
There was a strong demarcation line between day and evening wear. Daytime was for practical concerns and sensible clothes. Evening' were for fun - often in the form of cocktail parties or nightclubbing, which were all the rage among those who could afford both of them. Evening dresses were gorgeously impractical, and hemlines dropped dramatically to emphasize this.
Black and powdery pastel shades were common evening colours. Pinky beiges, peach, eau-de-nil, greens, greys and soft blues enhanced the soft lines. Fabrics were chosen for their ability to drape, droop and flop; silk chiffon, crepe de chine and soft, shiny satin were just the thing. And, to add texture, chiffon was often embossed with silk velvet. Later in the decade, as war clouds loomed and the economic outlook got gloomier still, less exotic fabrics such as soft wools, cottons and even broadcloth were used for evening dresses.
Where designers in the 1920s were preoccupied with legs, those of the 1930s shifted attention to the rear. Backs and buttocks became fashionably erotic. The extremely influential costume designer Adrian was Hollywood's darling. He created wonderfully sinuous evening dresses for stars such as Ginger Rogers
(left) and Joan Crawford; these tended to be backless and made of satins and silks that clung to the backside like a second skin. Couturiers such as Worth and Molyneux also emphasized backs and hips.
Women's evening clothes in the 1930s were glamorous and slinky, cut from fabrics that looked good and felt wonderful to the touch. 'Languorous' is perhaps the word that best sums them up - they were a pleasure to wear and a delight to look at.
FASHION COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Attention to detail and a good knowledge of the subject are always assets for anyone considering making a collection of clothes. It pays to pore over books and magazines as well as collections in museums before you even consider reaching for your cheque book.
Textile auctions and specialist shops are the most likely sources of good-quality evening and cocktail wear. Some antiques markets may have good clothes stalls, but they tend to concentrate on accessories.
It was expected that fashionable women would change their clothes several times a day. Updating a complete wardrobe every year was e pensive, so many women altered old clothes to match the new fashions. When hemlines dropped on evening dresses, enterprising women simply added trimmings to them. What appears at first glance to be a 1930s gown may in fact be a 1920s makeover. Look carefully, especially at the seams, for signs of alteration or repair.
As houses could be very chilly in winter, it was quite usual for capes, long sleeved jackets and boleros to be included in the design of an evening gown. Make sure that the gown and jacket actually do belong together by checking the labels.
Look for signs of fraying or straining at the seams. Check buttons, clips and other decorative details to see that they are intact and original, as they can be difficult to replace - but it may still be possible to find original sets if you search long and hard.
Make sure that there are no perspiration stains or other unsightly marks on the fabric. Cleaning, like repairs, is best left to experts; taking an expensive old garment down to the local dry cleaners is unwise. Likewise, old garments may be damaged by poor care. Ideally, they should be stored flat, away from strong light, heat or damp, in boxes, using dye- and acid-free tissue paper.