Let’s start here: with this evening ensemble designed by Elsa Shiaparelli at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My first thought about this was something along the lines of the following: “The dress has a lovely shape. What’s the abstract embellishment on the bolero?”
Well, look carefully at the Bolero picture. It’s decorated with gymnasts!
Here’s the back of the dress without the bolero over it. Such lovely lines. In the picture on the right, you can also see the texture of the dress fabric. It’s difficult to discern what it is. Looks to me like it might be a jacquard or watermarked fabric. Do you have other ideas about what the fabric is?
This next bolero was designed by Balenciaga in the 1940s. Its style is much more traditional than Schiaparelli’s gymnast bolero. The beading and other trimming on this Balenciaga bolero is exquisite!
The Oxford English Dictionary includes these quotes regarding boleros in the definition. They are good context for the style and use of boleros in women’s clothing during the mid-20th century.
1941 ‘R. West’ Black Lamb I. 407 The boleros the women wore over their white linen blouses.
1968 J. Ironside Fashion Alphabet 35 Bolero, a short jacket reaching to the waist, worn open over a blouse‥sleeved or sleeveless‥worn by Spanish dancers and bullfighters.
I’m including this final bolero just for fun. I can envision it with a slinky black bias-cut 1930s evening gown with a low cut back… It even has a matching belt! This bolero strongly reminds me of the style of Ginger Roger’s dresses in her videos with Fred Astaire. I’ve also included just a few fun pictures of Ginger’s fabulous dresses below so you can see her general style. Beautiful!