This vintage dress came from the home of an impressively hard-working farm family. I was lucky to come into a large collection of dresses that were made by hand or factory, heavily worn, mended, and re-made over a long span of time. I am offering some of them in my Etsy vintage shop but want to keep a record of them here. They are just the way I found them, laundered but with none of my own embellishment or repair. They are too brilliant as-is!
This dress started as a button-front nightgown, but its inventive owner restyled it into a strapless one-piece dress that drapes beautifully. With a make-do aesthetic, they created subtly capped straps with a low-cut sweetheart neckline (a bit like a Queen Anne meets JLo). This bodice meets a high waistline with a flowing drape detail in the center, so that the fabric gathers down the front and hugs the hips despite the a-line, almost-tent style long skirt. A gore has been added to the front where the button-front used to be, and some buttonholes remain.
The straps and bodice are hand stitched with pinkish-red floss-like thread on both sides that look like gashes, and the weight of the dress has created claw-like tears. Parts of the neckline are embellished (and reinforced) with couching of gauzy fabric and huge white thread. The plunging front and back are held together with a contrasting blue thread and a bit more red for good measure. The long, open sides have also been reinforced with hand-stitching and binding. A lovely example of what one of my embroidery teachers called Frankenstitching.
The fabric is a nylon or poly-cotton and soft with a hint of shine. The hem is raw, with small slits in front and back. Random discolorations hide in the folds, and tiny stains (or what I prefer to call eco-print) dot the very bottom in the back. Small holes and tatters punctuate. As you'll see, relative to my future listings, this fabric is in good shape! Perhaps most interesting are two eye-size holes that look to have been intentionally cut into the back middle of the skirt.
Due to its construction with open sides and stretchy fabric, this dress will fit a huge range of sizes.
Length (from top of shoulder to hem: 49"
Bust: open (the bodice measures 12" but this does not account for open sides)
Measurements are taken flat, so double where appropriate (bust, waist, and hips).
This dress is the first listing in what I have named the Janet Collection, after Janet Leigh. The dresses in this group look wonderful layered, as in the last photo. With the range of fabrics, they could have been made and worn from the 1950s through the 70s.
I'm awestruck at the creativity and resourcefulness that went into this dress design, and how necessity sparked Southern Gothic glamour. Today, this piece can go straight from the bed to club and back.
I hope you see the beauty in it that I do.
These "rag-and-bone" dresses are works of textile art, historical artifacts, and can also be viewed as folk and outsider art. I offer these pieces in full recognition of the hard lives that created them. The stitching and wear are a map of material culture, remnants of a lifeway in the U.S. South. With wear, the clothes will continue to tear, and hopefully survive. They can also be treasured as collectibles, perhaps in remembrance of a society in need of mending.