In the words of journalist Heywood Broun, “The Jazz Age was wicked and monstrous and silly. Unfortunately, I had a good time.” I don’t know about wicked or monstrous, but I certainly had a silly and good time recently at the Greater Boston Vintage Society’s White Lightning Ball.
I wore my 1924 robe de style from last summer, updated with new dramatic trimmings that suit the dress much better than the last iteration. It’s such a fun, unusual, and distinctive style to wear. I fielded quite a few questions about the style and happily encouraged people who knew things about it such as that it looked like Lanvin. For my hair, I didn’t have time to attempt waves, so I aimed for a romantic style that was less time consuming, inspired by these: no waves worn with a robe de style, a romantic bun (on the right), and long hair pinned up. Also, this set of drawings shows a large hair comb worn with a robe de style which reminded me that I haven’t worn mine in a long time.
My accessories include: my vintage celluloid hair comb; silver drop earrings with peachy faux stones, which don’t often match things, so it was nice to wear them since they don’t get worn often; and a recent purchase from American Duchess, black Seaburys! (Never fear, there’s a whole post coming about the Seaburys, but for now we’re focusing on the event and the clothes.)
This event is held at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in what was the Anderson family’s carriage house in the early 20th century. It is a large building with multiple levels used for stabling horses as well as storing carriages and cars. The upper floor of the carriage house housed an exhibit of motorcycles during the event, if you’re wondering about the background. Downstairs was the collection of Anderson family cars from the 1900s and 1910s. They were very fun to look at and so tempting to sit in… I know it wouldn’t be good for the cars… And there were security cameras… so I had to content myself with looking at them and dreaming of reproductions that we could ride in.
My other silly accessory was a candy cigarette. It does rather add to the 20s look, but of course I don’t smoke, so there was rather a lot of me flipping it around in my hand trying to figure out how to hold it and not look ridiculous. I didn’t ever try eating it, so I can’t report how it tasted, but I was pleased that it lasted almost until the end of the night when I dropped it for the second time and it broke in half. Until then it was going strong and gave me something to do with my hands in pictures, which is always a good thing.
Mostly I stood around and talked to friends, hatched dreamy plans for how to sit in the cars, and took pictures, but we did go out on the dance floor a few times for some Charleston. Too bad nobody got pictures of that!
This was the third year of the event, I believe, but only the first year I had been free to attend. It was fun, and nice to attend an event that I wasn’t helping to run.
#1: Because like many dresses from the first few decades of the 20th century, the method of closure is cleverly hidden, rather complicated, and definitely secretive–you really can’t tell how the dress goes on just looking at it once it’s all hooked up. (Right? Can you figure it out before I show you later in the post?)
#2: The beaded panel on the front might look familiar if you’ve been reading my blog for a few years. It is actually the sleeve (turned upside down) from a 1980s evening gown that I remade into a sleeveless 1925 evening gown.
#3: I made this dress with a train because I had enough fabric, it’s elegant, and I don’t get to have many dresses with trains because I’m usually dancing in them. However, I do plan to dance in this dress, so I included a secret hidden button under the decorative knot at the back and a loop on the center back skirt seam so that the skirt can hook up (bustling, essentially) to be a uniform length all around so I can dance unhindered!
I paired this new dress with my American Duchess Astoria shoes, because they are super comfy and made sense color-wise with my other accessories: plain white stockings, a super long strand of faux pearls, lovely clear/white dangle earrings I’ve had for at least ten years, and two matching metallic silver wrapped hair pins I think my mother gave me also a number of years ago. Underneath is my 1913 chemise and corset.
I’ve had all the fabrics in the stash for at least three to seven years. The underskirt was leftover from a former project never fully pictured here on the blog–an 1890s 2 part dress taken directly from an extant bodice with an extrapolated skirt (the skirt was worn by a friend in Newport in 2012–there are pictures toward the bottom of this past post, and I forgot that the ensemble I’m wearing in that post also uses this same fabric as trim). I had purchased way more fabric than I needed and had more than enough for the new project, so I guess I’ll be using it on another something someday. The matching chiffon and charmeuse I’d purchased with the intention of making a 1910s evening dress back in 2012, but ran out of time that year.
When I was first seriously thinking of making this dress, I thought I had enough fabric to do something like this dress, but I hit a snag when I realized I only had about ½ yd of the charmeuse and that the beaded sleeve I was hoping to incorporate into the dress was entirely unsuited for the shape of the beaded bit on the inspiration dress. I decided to make a dress like my original inspiration someday, but to go back to the beginning for the current dress and rethink what the dress might look like. I would up with something I am quite happy with that is drawn from a variety of inspirational dresses on my 1909-1914 evening gown Pinterest board with this as the most obvious inspiration.
Just the facts:
Fabric: One beaded silk sleeve from a 1980s evening dress that I deconstructed two years ago to make a 1925 evening dress, about ¼ yd of plain weave cotton for the base, less than ¼ yd of silk charmeuse, about 2 yds of silk chiffon, and 3-4 yds of lightweight silk faille for the underskirt.
Pattern: Created by me, loosely starting with the pattern for the bodice of my 1912 burgundy and gold evening gown and referencing skirt shapes in Janet Arnold for inspiration.
Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, and two pre-made tassels.
How historically accurate is it?: It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time. It uses accurate materials and accurate techniques. 95%.
Hours to complete: More than I kept count of.
First worn: In September 2015.
Total cost: Technically this is a stash project because all of the things I used have been in my stash for years, except the tassels, which I bought within the last year knowing this project was high on the to do list. If I had to guess at the cost of the materials it was probably $50-$60 dollars.
The dress was sewn with a mixture of machine and hand sewing. Most of the assembly of the bodice and skirt pieces while they were separate was done by machine, as was the hemming of all the chiffon and faille (though the hem edge of the chiffon is actually the selvedge). The hand sewing came in when I went to mount all of the pieces together. I started with the under bodice and kept adding layers and figuring things out as I went. The closures are also hand sewn.
Incidentally, I’m not really sure what color to call this dress. I’ve been calling the colors orchid and mauve, but I’m not really sure those are the best color names. The chiffon and charmeuse are a shade of pinky/purple that’s hard to put a finger on and the contrast faille is more grey than anything when it’s by itself, though it really takes on a pinky/purple cast when paired with these other fabrics. Does any really perfect color name come to your mind? If it does I’d be happy to know what it is!
As I mentioned, the closure for this dress is quite complicated and as I knew I was going to include it in the sewing secrets challenge we took pictures specifically of the closures to document how it works. If I tried to explain only with words I’m sure there would be confusion, so I think the pictures will clarify things. We’ll start hooked up and unhook as we go.
Overall, I’m super pleased with this dress. It’s very comfortable, has lots of fabric in the skirt so is easy to dance in, and is a nice transitional style between the full skirts and pigeon breasts of the years around 1908 and the much slimmer, longer lines of the years around 1912. Plus, it has a train!
Here’s a comparison of the dress with the train down and then with it looped up. Luckily, these pictures were taken before dancing. Turns out that while I was dancing a very fast waltz, either my or my partner’s foot caught the hem of the dress and caused the loop to break, so I’ll have to repair it more sturdily for the next wearing. Ah well, that’s why they make safety pins!
I was quite pleased with how my hair turned out, so I had to make sure to get a reasonable close-up. Some of the curls are natural and some are made nice and smooth with a curling iron. The key is to put the hair up in a lot of different sections–and I mean a lot!
I call this dress the “Dowager Countess” gown because the shape of it reminds me of what Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey often wears to dinner parties. Look at the bodices on these dresses: this dress, this dress, and this dress are all examples of a similar style–one that the Dowager Countess wears often! And why wouldn’t I want to be reminded of Maggie Smith when I think of this dress? Her snarky comments are highlights of Downton Abbey! (Incidentally, one of my friends wore the just-emerging-in-the-1910s style of pants in the ballroom to this ball–gasp!–and we took some posed snarky pictures. Head over to her blog, Plaid Petticoats, to take a look at her scandalous outfit. When you get to the bottom you’ll find the snarky pictures. You might even find that you think I’m there twice, because I was wearing this new 1910 dress and I loaned my 1912 evening gown from 2012 to a friend who happens to be being snarky with me.)
Perhaps you remember this late 1920s green dress, which I made and first posted about in 2012? When it was first completed, I was in the midst of creating lots of new things for Newport Vintage Dance Week and was grateful that it had made it to a wearable state. I hadn’t quite solved the issue of keeping one side bunched up, so for the first wearing I used the bronze sequined flower pin you see in the picture below.
The slippery silk of the dress caused the pin to move around and shift while I was wearing the dress. I also didn’t love that it did nothing to break up the smooth lines of the back side of the dress.
Last year, I had a reason to wear the dress again and I came up with a new design idea, based on this image from 1929. I loved the simple lines of the green dress on the right (and it happened to be the right color!) and the sash with a huge bow. It took me another year to get proper pictures of the new look and document it here, but I’m really pleased with the pictures, so I guess it was worth the wait!
I used my remaining fabric to create a separate sash for my dress. It’s separate so I didn’t have to deal with adding closures to the dress–it still slips on over my head; however, because the silk is slippery and the bow side of the sash wanted to slide down, I did safety pin both the bow side and the opposite side of the sash to the dress to keep it in place.
I think the 20s silhouette grows in my estimation the more I wear it. It’s sort of odd at first, but can be quite elegant sometimes! I’m very pleased with how the sash and bow break up the dress and add extra oomph to the hem.
It’s been over a month now, but back in July I attended a Ragtime ball that proved to be great fun. I wore my tried-and-true 1912 burgundy and gold evening gown (while it’s nice to have new things, it’s also nice to pull beautiful things out of the closet, too!). Despite wearing a dress I’ve worn before, I tried a new style with my hair, including a repurposed (and therefore new-feeling) accessory.
I was inspired by hairstyles like these from the early 1910s. There are more examples on my Hair: 1900-1920 Pinterest board as well, if you’re interested. What I took away from these images was the use of a headband of some sort, the rather large airy shape, and the defined waves and curls.
Of course, I decided to try this out the afternoon of the event so I hadn’t thought ahead in terms of what to use for a headband. After casting around a bit I thought of a bead necklace I’d purchased a few years ago that ties with a ribbon. Why not use that as a headband? In addition to the bead-necklace-as-headband, I wore my Downton Abbey Collection earrings, which are quite lovely and matched my dress very well in color and style.
And here is the dancing in action! People were very well dressed and enthusastic at this event and really seemed to have a good time. For most dances there was hardly anyone sitting out! That’s great, especially when the crowd is a mix of ages.
Only one week after I attended the 1920s Lawn Party, I was immersed in the 1920s again, this time at a Prohibition Ball in Chelmsford, MA. I would guess the attendance at maybe 40-50 people total, though I’m not sure we were ever all in the ballroom at the same time. It was a nice, social group of people and I saw everyone meeting and greeting new people, dancing with a variety of people, and generally being social and having a good time with everyone around. It was also nice to see some of the new people we had met at the 1920s Lawn Party at the ball. The venue, the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, was a lovely place I’d never seen before.
I tried a new style with my hair! I did my now usual 20s thing, where I gel the front sections and use a fine tooth comb to create waves in front while my hair is wet. Then I secure it to my head and let it dry. Usually, I’ve taken the back and put it in a tight bun at the base of my head (like when I’ve worn my not-quite-sailor dress). The idea in doing that is that it makes my hair close to my head and thus, maybe, more bob-like (I know, I’m kidding myself, it does not actually look like a bob!). This time however, I did something totally different with the back. It seems counter-intuitive, so be prepared… I took my curly hair, and curled it with a curling iron. Yup. Actually, the curling iron eliminates all my usual frizz (that alone is amazing!), but it also creates nice, even, wide curls. I was in a super hurry to get my hair done, so I just did some rather messy curling iron curls then pinned them up in a mass at the back and added my jeweled/feather clip. I love the defined curly mass (different than my normal frizzy, curly mass)! I’m excited to try out curling ironed styles for other events, too!
The other cool thing about the feather/jeweled clip is that from the front I have a small halo of feathers showing. I like that it is visible from the front and packs a big punch in the back! Success!
I did mention that this was all for a ball, right? And the ball did include dancing! In addition to normal couple dancing, and large group Charelstons (you can dance the Charleston in a circle like you used to dance in high school!), there were also a lot of mixer-type dances, where participants changed partners, or danced with unknown partners…
There was also a slightly unplanned performance of our five lady Charleston (the same one we performed at the Great Gatsby in May). People really enjoyed it, and it’s always a pleasure to dance a Charleston to the song Egyptian Ella. The Great Gatsby performance post includes a video you can listen to that has the song we performed to, if you’re curious. It’s a fun song!
And of course, there was silly-ness. That’s to be expected when I’m around.
I had the added bonus of my parents being available to experience, in person, their first vintage dance event. They’ve seen thousands of pictures but have never been able to attend. It was fun to share the experience with them and to Charleston with them! I sure had fun, I hope that you’ve had fun reading about it!
I had the opportunity to attend a 1920s Lawn Party at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, MA, the day right after I participated in the George’s Island Vintage Dance Performance. Luckily, the weather wasn’t so hot. In fact, when we first arrived we were thinking sweaters would have been nice, given the sea breeze, but that thought didn’t last for long as the day heated up.
The lawn party was hosted by Boston Swing Central and included live music by the Baby Soda Jazz Band. The music was lovely and the venue was lovely, as you’ll soon see, but I have to say that I wished for more 20s dancing and less swing… of course, that’s because I’m biased towards older styles of dancing, but I did feel that the event had a vague “I’m not sure what decade I’m in” feel to it rather than strictly as 20s as I had hoped. Ah well, we made our own fun 20s atmosphere.
I never did like reading The Great Gatsby and I didn’t enjoy the movie much either (especially all the modern music! I don’t think it worked!), but it was still fun to be there with my friends having a good time and looking great.
The stage was a fun place to take pictures, and you know we always like to take lots of pictures of ourselves!
We performed a one-step, a tango, a foxtrot, and two Charlestons! One Charleston was a silly silent-video-like story of a girl trying to teach a guy how to Charleston and ending with the two of them plus an extra five ladies doing Charleston-in-a-line. (You can see some pictures of Charleston in a line from last year when we went to Newport.) The other Charleston was five ladies facing the audience and doing various Charleston things in a row.
The best pictures I have are from the five lady Charleston. We danced to the song Egyptian Ella, which you can hear in this video (there is a 30 second-ish introduction first). Our version was a little faster but this gives you the idea. I strongly recommend that you listen to the song while you look at these pictures: it makes them to come to life! (The lyrics are pretty amusing, too!)
We’ve got more Jazz Age things coming up soon, so there will be more opportunities to Charleston! In addition to some performances, there will also be a Prohibition Ball in Chelmsford, MA in July. If you’re in the area you should consider coming! If you’re not in the area, I’m sure I’ll have lots of pictures and you can live vicariously through them. Maybe you’ll also be super inspired and go find people in your area to Charleston with!
Since there will be more Charleston-ing in my life, I’ll have to learn more Charleston steps! Lauren, at American Duchess, posted some great Charleston videos awhile back. Some of them include some steps I just might have to learn and dance… who knows, maybe some of them will make it into our next performance, too! In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the pictures.