Object of the Day

Black Beaded Chiffon Dress, 1926


This sleeveless chiffon dress has a low scoop neckline featuring an intricate design of rhinestones and cut-glass bugle beads.  The same trim outlines the elongated waistline and fans upward on the bodice in an art deco butterfly design.

Detail of the butterfly beading design

We’ve been watching the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in anticipation of the movie’s release, which was just pushed back to Summer 2013.  In the movie, costume designer, Catherine Martin, takes a few liberties to modernize the flamboyant style of the 1920s.  How do you think this dress from our collection compares to the black sequined gown featured in the trailer?

Click on the 1920s tag below to see other objects from this decade on our blog

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Object of the Day

Tan, Coral & Orange Print Chiffon Beaded Dress, 1920s

This dress typifies 1920s style from the height of the decade. Although this dress may not be considered short by today’s standards, hemlines rose sharply in the 1920s arriving between mid-calf to just below the knee.  Shorter dresses showed off a woman’s legs.

During these transformative years, women opted for a new silhouette in stark contrast to previous styles.  This dress shows the columnar silhouette marked by a low waistline at the hips.  The weight of the dress hangs loosely from the shoulders. In this dress, the hips are defined by the vertical bronze beadwork and pink triangles.  Beading became especially popular in the second half of the 1920s.

Detail of the beadwork and textile print

Fabrics in the 1920s became lighter weight with more women choosing silks and chiffons.  The pattern designs became more vibrant and elaborate. This brightly colored geometric print draws influence from the art deco movement.

Designer Spotlight

LUCIEN LELONG, Grey-Blue Chiffon and Silk Wedding Dress, 1946

Mrs. Kay Boutin wore this long grey-blue chiffon wedding dress with full-gauged skirt, wide scoop neckline and chiffon bow for her wedding to Major Paul Boutin on May 29, 1946 in Paris, France.  Paul Boutin was a Major in the US Army and Mrs. Kay Boutin  was an Army Librarian with the special services. The Bride wore a white orchid in her hair, carried a bouquet of white orchids and wore long white kid gloves. The dress was made by Lucien Lelong, and this particular one was one of his designs post WWII.

This is the original Bill of Sale for the Delong wedding dress purchased on May 27, 1946, days before the wedding.

Lucien Lelong (October 11, 1889 – May 11, 1958) was a French couturier who was prominent from the 1920s to the 1940s.  He is most remembered for his heroic diplomatic efforts to sustain Parisian couture during World War II. He was elected as president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in 1937, which would prove to be his greatest challenge and contribution to fashion.

As president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, it was his job to negotiate with the occupying German regime. The Nazis wanted to move Paris fashion to Berlin by any means, including violence. On July 20, 1940 five Nazi officers arrived at the headquarters of the Chambre Syndicale on an ‘inspection’; five days later they broke into the building and requisitioned the archive and seize all of the  documents pertaining to the French export trade.

Lucien Lelong

Under the plan of the Nazis, Paris ateliers would be moved to Germany or Austria, where they would train a new generation of German dressmakers. The designers would also be moved. Within a generation, the Nazis expected, couture would be German, not French. Lelong pointed out that the plan was unworkable. The skills, he explained, were unteachable, that you could not transfer them, and it took decades to reach the necessary levels of craftsmanship.

This iconic photo of Lisa in a Lucien Lelong gown swinging precariously off the Eiffel Tower, was taken by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue 1939

By 1941 the Germans had issued textile ration cards to every design house. It was obvious that compliance with these regulations would spell the end of Paris couture. Lelong, through difficult negotiations, obtained exemptions for 12 houses. Lelong said, “Unfortunately the Germans noticed at the end of six months that 92 houses were operating, which led to more discussions. Finally we succeeded in keeping 60.” Madame Grés and Balenciaga both exceeded their yardage requirements one season and were ordered to close for two weeks. Banding together in a show of unity and force, the remaining houses finished the two collections so they could be shown on time.

Natalie Paley (Mrs. Lucien Lelong from 1927-1937) wearing a black sequined evening gown by Lelong, photo by Man Ray, 1934

Lelong is credited with saving over 12,000 workers from deportation into German war industries. Over the period of four years, 14 official conferences had been held with the Germans, at four of them the Germans had announced that la couture was to be entirely suppressed, and each time the French avoided catastrophe.

Lucien Lelong evening gown design illustrated by Rene Gruau, 1947

 Lelong employed many talented young designers and gave them the opportunity to grow professionally. Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy, and Jean Schlumberger were all employed by Lelong at one time or another.

Lelong retired in 1948 and died a decade later near Biarritz. He showed a total of 110 collections during his career, and though closed his couture business, he continued a fragrance business which he had started in the 1924 and is still in existence today.

Object of the Day

Pearl Gray Chiffon and Beaded Gown, 1969

Worn By Ima Mae Smith

Ima Mae Smith was born in Jack County and later moved to Ralls, Texas. She attended Texas Technological College in Lubbock, Texas where she met Preston Smith. They were married in 1935 and settled in Lubbock.  Her husband, Preston Smith served as a State Representative for six years, a State Senator for six years, the Lieutenant Governor for six years, and Governor of Texas for four years starting in 1969.

This gown was worn for the inaugural ball in 1969. It is made with pearl gray chiffon and is empire styled featuring a jeweled covered bodice with crystal tulip beads, iridescent sequins and looped crystal beaded fringe.  Helen Rose, who won several awards including two Academy Awards for best costume design, and made famous wedding dresses such as ones for Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, was the designer of this dress.

Photo Courtesy of Texas State Library & Archives Commission

Ima Mae Smith’s community work included the Methodist Hospital Auxiliary, the Women’s Organization of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, the Lubbock Country Club, Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority Alumnae, and the St. John’s United Methodist Church. She was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award from Texas Tech University.

Object of the Day

Emerald Green Chiffon Gown, 1966

Worn by Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson wore this dress to a state dinner for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India on her state visit, on March 28, 1966.  President Johnson held a state dinner for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the year she assumed the office her father had held for 17 years.

The gown is made from emerald green chiffon with the top beaded with green sequins and tiny beads. The gown has a simple round neckline, sleeveless and zips up the back. The dress was donated with a matching chiffon shawl.

Associated Press photo, White House Historical Association, March 28, 1966

Mollie Parnis, who designed many dresses worn by First Ladies from Mamie Eisenhower to Betty Ford, designed this dress. Lady Bird Johnson and Mollie Parnis became close friends during her time as First Lady, Parnis designed Johnson several gowns providing her with her signature look.

Associated Press photo, White House Historical Association, March 28, 1966