Patou’s Evening Gowns for Short and Tall, 1936

According to this article in The Woman’s Home Companion, January, 1936, couturier Jean Patou suggested that, rather than dressing to look taller (if you’re short) or more petite (if you’re tall), women should choose designs that take advantage of their size.

Woman's Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

Woman’s Home Companion, Jan. 1936. Designs and Advice from Patou

As reported by Marjorie Howard, “Paris Fashion Correspondent,” here is Jean Patou’s advice for penny-wise shopping in the Depression.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 top for tall and little text

Patou’s Advice for Tall Women

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou evening gowns, Jan. 1936. WHC. The tall woman is on the left.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text ctr tall woman

Patou’s Advice for Short Women

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

Patou for the short woman, Jan. 1936. WHC.

WHC 1936 jan p 57 patou 500 for tall and little text btm Little woman

I’ve broken the illustration up so the details are more visible:

Parou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

Patou design for a tall woman (left) and for a short woman (right.) Jan., 1936.

These are both complex designs. What a shame that we can’t see color:  the belt in “dark turquoise leather.” The gown on the left, of  “antelope crepe — mat with a suede finish” has a back drape “because the long lines [of a tall figure] can afford it.” Anyone wishing to copy the bodice on the right, with silver lame bands that almost seem to be woven over and under, will find the stripes helpful in determining straight of grain and bias. That assumes a careful drawing, of course. “The top is made of line stripes in interlaced bands….” The text says that capes or sling drape designs in back are not suitable for short women, but some kind of dark lining (of a cape of drape?) seems to be visible under the model’s arm.

To tell the truth, I can’t be sure from this drawing exactly what is happening with the skirt on the left:

Patou, 1936.

Skirt details of two gowns by Patou, 1936.

The illustration by Clark Fay seems to show a side slit. The text says the train ends in two points, but as drawn, it looks like a recipe for a broken neck! do the tucks in the hip bands continue into the skirt on both side? Is it symmetrical? It’s definitely glamorous. The short woman on the right has a strange hemline “cut into uneven points.” The chevron accenting the center front seam is slenderizing; how nice that the two woman are not equally slim, but proportionate to their heights. By the standards of 1930’s fashion illustrations, the woman on the left is downright voluptuous.

Although Patou was known for his influential sportswear in the 1920’s, this gown, made of tulle covered with pink sequins, is a Patou from the early 1930’s, in the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930's in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Jean Patou, sequinned evening gown, early 1930’s in collection of Victoria and Albert Museum.

It has a “cape or sling drapery” in back, and a contrasting belt, like the 1936 “little woman’s” gown illustrated in the Delineator.  Jean Patou died in 1936, but the House of Patou — and “Joy” perfume — continued.

Incidentally, around 1936-37, several couturiers began using zippers in fitted dresses. Zippers — finally light enough to be used with delicate fabrics — began to take the place of snap closings, making possible form-fitting gowns that didn’t gape open between the snaps. Zippers appeared in sportswear earlier than in Couture. Butterick pattern #2365, in December 1928, called for zippers at the neckline and pockets. It tied in with an ad for Talon. Madeleine Vionnet used a zipper in a blouse/step-in (what we would call a bodysuit) in 1929, and the design was copied by Butterick. Click here for a post about it, with pictures.  Robert Friedel’s book Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty mentions couture in the late 1930’s, but only briefly.

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2 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Exhibitions & Museums, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

2 responses to “Patou’s Evening Gowns for Short and Tall, 1936

  1. Thought provoking on several levels. You do have to wonder how accurate those illustrations are. And thanks for the tip on the zipper book!

    • Yes, the question of whether the sketch artist actually drew from the garment — as sometimes happened, according to Hawes in Fashion Is Spinach — or not (as often happened, also according to Hawes) — is the reason everything needs to be cross referenced for serious research. I heard about the zipper book from an excellent review of Zipper by The Vintage Traveler athttps://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/currently-reading-zipper-an-exploration-in-novelty/ and https://thevintagetraveler.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/zippers-part-ii/ (lots of illustrations on zippers in purses and sportswear.)

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