Photograph by Seeberger of evening dress by Jean Dessès
Paris about 1953
Labels are an obvious starting point but they can be remarkably difficult to find on vintage couture pieces. These labels did not necessarily appear in the inside neck of the garment as most labels tend to today.
Photograph of a Coronation collection evening dress by John Cavanagh, with the silk designed by Oliver Messel for Sekers, London, 1953 spring/summer
If you see a piece that looks good but does not bear an obvious label, turn the garment inside out and examine its side seams, hems, even under the arms. Remember that labels, especially in the 1950s, can be concealed under yards of petticoats and tulle netting, so don’t be afraid to root around a bit.
Couture labels usually bear the designer’s name and possibly a couture number. Such numbers can either be printed or handwritten in ink, and the customer’s handwritten name occasionally appears as well. A piece that is beautifully hand sewn, both inside and out, can often indicate something of couture origin, so look for careful, even rows of tiny stitches around button holes, collars, cuffs, and linings. Vintage pieces with intricate beading and/or embroidery, either couture or otherwise, make a good investment because the sheer detail and artistry of this handiwork would be virtually impossible to reproduce today in anything but the most extravagantly expensive creations. Designer John Galliano has tried to revive the lost art of spectacular decoration in some of his fin de siécle couture creations.
Most people imagine that vintage couture clothing can only be found in the finest specialist shops and auction houses in cities like New York or Paris, but this is not strictly true. Fine couture pieces, possibly cast-offs given to maids or cooks, can surface in the most unlikely places -anywhere from jumble sales in Dallas, Texas to street fairs in tiny Provencal villages, so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for these vintage gems.
Couture can be a joy to wear, especially if you know an expert seamstress who can alter a garment to for you. Some collectors disapprove of alterations but the choice must be yours. “To wear or not to wear?” That is the question. Frustratingly, many women removed designer labels before wearing the clothes. Dior’s habit of dating his pieces is particularly satisfying for the historical minded. Much of his costume jewelry from the 1940s and 1950s is dated as well. The best pieces feature beads and trims that were sewn on individually while cheaper garments were decorated by strips or rows of ready-made, prefabricated embroideries or bead work.
Did I born in to a wrong time, did I?