1920s · Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Dress history · Entertainment · Fashion · Heritage · Historical consciousness · history · Interwar · Leisure · Lifestyle · Local History · Local Studies · Memory · Modernism · Place making · sense of place · Women's history

A little black ball dress

A little black dress at the hospital ball

This little black dress dating from the 1920s is an attractive item from the Camden Museum dress collection.

Camden Museum Mrs Wilsons black dress mid-1920s IW 2019
Mrs Wilson’s black dress from the mid-1920s on exhibition at the Camden Museum (IWillis 2019)

 

The 1920s was a period of cultural change after the First World War destroyed the old European orders and women discovered a new sense of freedom.

The 1920s were part of the age of modernity with jazz, the bob, and the flapper. It was a time of modern industrial design, movies and consumerism. Being ‘chic’ was made popular in Anita Loos book Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925).

Modernity expressed itself in Camden with the wireless, telephone, telegraph, motor car, newspapers, railway, refrigeration, electricity, electric light, gas, sewerage, reticulated water. All these developments came down the Great South Road (in 1923, the Hume Highway) on the way to Melbourne.

Everyone went to the movies and watch the world presented to them on the screen. Hollywood and fashion marketing gained attention and The Clamour Daze blogger says that

The rise of consumerism promoted the ideals of fulfillment and freedom.

Camden Museum Mrs Wilsons black dress beading on shoulder mid-1920s IW 2019
Mrs Wilson’s black dress showing the hand-sewn beading on the shoulder. The dress dates from the mid-1920s and is on exhibition at the Camden Museum (I Willis 2019)

 

The provenance of the little black dress

The little black dress illustrates the fashion style of the time and was owned by Mrs Mary Wilson, the maternal grandmother of the donor, Mrs Winifred Stuckey. Mrs Stuckey was the daughter of the Camden Methodist minister, and married into the Stuckey family of bakers. The Stuckey brothers ran a bakery in Argyle Street Camden for many years. Their story has been told  in Frank Stuckey’s Our daily bread: the story of Stuckey Bros, bakers and pastrycooks of Camden, NSW, 1912-1960. (1968)

 

The little black dress is a cocktail outfit and dates from the mid-to-late 1920s and drew its inspiration from the styles of the period including the chemis and flapper designs.

The Clamour Daze blogger says of the chemise dress style:

Costume Chemise Dress 1920s
1920’s fashion – Evolution of the 1920’s Chemise Dress

First appearing as an outerwear item in 1916 from designers such as Jeanne Lanvin , Callot Seours and Coco Chanel. By 1920, the chemise or shift dress, was to become the dominant line for day and evening wear. The dress hung from shoulder to just below the knee. Waists dropped to the hips. Back in the 1910’s, loose belts had often been worn over middy blouses and chemise dresses. It is quite possible the drop waist evolved from that style.

 

Mrs Wilson’s little black dress is black georgette with black glass or jet hand-beading on the front and back.

Georgette (from crêpe Georgette) is a sheer, lightweight, dull-finished crêpe fabric named after the early 20th century French dressmaker Georgette de la Plante. Originally made from silk, Georgette is made with highly twisted yarns. (Wikipedia)

The Vintage Dancer blog says that:

Solid colors were preferred over prints for most of the 20s. A solid color showed off beads, embroidery and ribbon decorations better than patterns.  

The Clamour Daze blogger says:

Costume Little Black Dress 1920
Little Black Dress by Coco Chanel

Published in Vogue on October 1st 1926 and immediately dubbed the ‘Ford Dress’ by Vogues editor – a suggestion that it would become as popular as the Ford car. Its flattering silhouette suited just about any shape of a woman and it heralded a new Parisian ‘economy style’ or ‘poverty de luxe‘ as Chanel herself described it; an expensive interpretation of a simple design made of modest materials.

 

Mrs Wilson’s dress has a rosette on the left hip and a sash from the lower hip on one side. There are hand-made tucks with machine stitching and the dress is cut on the bias.

 

The 1926 Camden District Hospital Ball

The Camden Museum’s little black dress was the type of fashion Camden women wore to the biggest social event of the year in 1926 – the Camden District Hospital Ball  attended by 750 people and held at the Camden AH&I Hall. It is fortunate for today’s budding fashion historians that the local press described the dress worn by every woman at the ball.

Camden AH&I Hall 1997 JKooyman Camden Images
Camden AH&I Hall in 1997 Photographer JKooyman (Camden Images)

 

Popular dresses at the ball included those made of georgette, velvet, satin, crepe-de-chene, moracain and mousseline. Colours varied from peach, to white, apricot and black with many featuring beading.

Those listed that were similar to the Camden Museum’s little black dress included one worn by Mrs RC Stuckey described as beaded morocain. Mrs S Rae wore a black crepe-de-chene dress with silver trimmings, while Miss D Holz wore a black morocain dress that was heavily beaded. Miss L Hemmens wore a dress of black chemille georgette while Miss Gladys Rae wore a black georgette dress with bead trimming and Miss Willmington wore a black georgette outfit.

So was the Camden Museum’s little black dress worn at the 1926 Camden District Hospital Ball?  No-one will really know but it exciting to speculate about it.

Check out the Camden Museum’s little black dress upstairs in the entertainment display section or on Instagram in the outfit of the day https://www.instagram.com/p/ByMGiF3BYfk/.

 

Things to note about Mrs Wilson’s little black dress

There is a tear on one cape sleeve. The dress may have been lengthened as the hem has been added. The dress was donated to the Camden Museum in 2003 donated by Mrs Winifred Stuckey.

Source: Object Record Camden Museum

Advertisements