Black Rayon Crepe Evening Dress

Historic Clothing Collection Highlight

Feb 3, 2020
Allison Lauricella

Written by Dr. Charity Armstead

Black Rayon Crepe Evening Dress, c. 1932-1933

 In the 1930s, a noticeable shift in power occurred in the fashion world: Hollywood became an arbiter of style, taking a share of power from the French fashion houses that for years had been the authorities on women’s fashion. The man credited with this seismic shift was Gilbert Adrian. In 1932, Adrian designed a striking dress for the movie Letty Lynton, starring Joan Crawford. This dress was a huge hit; it was copied and sold in department stores, and its large ruffled sleeves rippled into many other designs.

The ruffled statement sleeves on this bias-cut rayon crepe dress are directly inspired by Adrian’s famous Letty Lynton dress. Although somewhat toned down, perhaps to appeal more to the average woman, this dress showcases several hallmarks of 1930s fashion: statement sleeves, the bias cut and innovative seaming.  Throughout the 1930s, sleeves were the focal point of most clothing. This dress emphasizes the sleeves through color contrast and texture; the ivory sleeves are highlighted against the stark black of the gown, and the ivory lace is repeated along the hemline to unify the design. A long, lean silhouette was desirable, so most evening dresses of the 1930s (including this one) were cut on the bias of the fabric (diagonally), allowing the dress to cling to the shape of the body. Finally, innovative seaming was a major design feature in many evening dresses of the period. Although the cut of this dress is rather simple, leaving the viewer’s attention on the sleeves, the darts on this dress are folded to the outside rather than the inside, making them a design feature as well as a shaping device.

Although we do not know the person to whom this dress originally belonged – it was donated to us by Ms. Bete Todd Wages Advani, a vintage clothing collector- it nonetheless gives us a fascinating snapshot into the influence of Hollywood on the clothing styles of the era.

 Gift of Bete Todd Wages Advani
Brenau University Historic Clothing Collection