Friday, July 29, 2016

Don Loper: Inside a 1950's Cocktail Dress



Don Loper's dresses are popular 1950's styles with vintage collectors. They come in a wide range of silhouettes and textiles, so there's quite a variety to choose from. Looking inside a 50s cocktail dress can show so many great vintage sewing details.  This one is a gem, made from silk taffeta, hand draped and constructed with couture and hand techniques.  Clearly this gown was a custom order, made to fit the lucky lady who could afford it. Handwork, skilled draping, and couture techniques make this dress unique.  While it may appear to be conservative and plain, it's quite the opposite.

 Loper led a varied life and seems to have been a fashion wild card: a self promoting genius with a hat full of tricks, all aimed at the pot of gold in Hollywood. When he opened his salon in the late 1940's, he had already been a dancer, actor, costumer and several other talents.  It's interesting to take a closer look at one of his earlier pieces, rich with the elegance that he worked so hard to promote.


Closer views of the bodice and the back show the dramatic back neckline pleating as it starts on the wide shoulder and converges in a low "V" at center back. The front has a raised midriff seam and darts are all cut in one with unpressed pleats in the bustline.  The entire front bodice is cut in one piece, can you see how?


Inside the bodice, the true construction details emerge, and it's easier to see how the dress design was created.


The back interior as seen along the zipper. It's interesting to find that the zipper has been cut to size for an exact fit.  Cross stitching has been used extensively to flatten and hold the layers in place.


The final view below shows the open hem, with the details of flat lining clearly visible. The exact hem fold has been notched to reduce bulk at that edge.


TECHNICAL DETAILS
--Fabric: silk taffeta in deep purple floral
--Bodice: lined in silk with self facing at neckline and armholes
--Skirt: interfaced (flat lined) in silk organza
--Zipper: hand-picked metal zipper, sewn down inside to the lining
--Couture construction methods used throughout this dress
--Flat Lining or Inter-Lining was used to back the taffeta, edges are trimmed with pinking shears or folded back and edge stitched

STYLE
--Front: bodice is all one piece artfully draped to create bust pleats and midriff panel, tiny piping at pleats and waistline
--Back: “V” pleating is shaped in a floating panel from the shoulders, inside there is a waistline grosgrain ribbon ‘stay’
--Skirt: front has a smooth box pleat and a hip tuck in side seam
--Skirt: back has deep box pleats and is fuller than the front
--Hem: this dress was found with hem released, showing the original length

Dress measurements:
Waist= 29.5” / 75

Bodice Measurements
Back = 17.5” / 44.5 across at bustline level (about 1” below armhole at side seam)
Front = 20” / 51, with front bustline pleating ‘flat’, if spread, there are about 2” – 3” more, or 23” max for front

Bodice length: measure from the center of shoulder, over bust to waistline (shoulder seamline is slightly to the back)
Length = 16.5” / 42
Side seam = 8.75” / 22

Skirt length: waistline to hemmed edge
Front = 31.5” / 80

To original hem fold = 28” / 71

If you are interested in seeing more of his designs, I have another Don Loper post here where I share a wonderful green silk jacket.

I hope this inside view has helped you to see the quality and design skills utilized in creating this gown.  Clearly Mr. Loper must have had an incredible staff to help him produce such a piece.

 This gown is currently listed for sale on Etsy.

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