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Object: Evening dress

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Title Evening dress
Production Unknown, mid to late 1920s, France
Materials chiffon, sequins
Classification dresses
Dimensions Overall: 970mm (Height) x 500mm (Width) x 0mm (Depth)
Credit line Gift of A M Ollivier, 1997
Registration number GH005702

As it swayed back and forth, the beads and sequins in this dress would have caught the light and glittered in a delightful way. The contrast in materials is mesmerising – fragile, delicate, and supple silk is weighed down by hard, sparkling glass beads.

This evening dress imitates the elaborately beaded and fringed dance dresses that were in vogue during the mid-to-late 1920s. This was a time when popular, energetic dances required a short skirt to show the dancer’s legs. A heavily beaded dress would swing to the dancer’s rhythm, catching the light that bounced off its shiny surfaces in all directions.

Such dresses were made by skilled seamstresses and embroideresses who laboured many hours in the construction and decoration of ornate fabrics and garments. Bead embroidery was either sewn directly onto the fabric, or applied as ready-made trimmings, such as tassels, fringes. The beading on dresses such as this one was generally done before the garment was made up, on fabric stretched over a frame in a factory.

‘The one feature that prevails this season, beyond a doubt, is the straight line…All is freedom, grace and charm. Crepes, chiffons and all other light materials that help to idealise the form divine are used for these frocks… At the moment much depends on detail. Such trifles as shoulder straps of gold beads, girdles composed of jet and silver mingled with embroidery, deep fringes of crystal beads or strips of fur, frills of lace, and suggestions of the cloudiest tulle – all have an artistic mission. All help to achieve that touch of distinction which is so alluring’ (Ladies’ Mirror, 1 July 1922).

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