I checked out two library books about fashion last month:
Each was fascinating in its own way, and both offered insights into the way high fashion was merchandised.
As always, I looked through the illustrations first.
This illustration is from Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty. In case you have been thinking about modern dress sizes, (Size Zero?) and wondering why the size tags in vintage dresses no longer make sense…. Read this composite card for Ford model Iris Bianchi, circa 1957.
She was too short to be a high fashion model by today’s standards — only five foot seven and a half.
But she made up for that by having a 21 inch waist.
[In 1958, my best friend was 5′ 8″ tall and, like this model, had 32 inch hips. The mean girls at school called my friend “Ichabod Crane.” Being jeered at by their classmates is a common memory among successful models in Robert Lacey’s book.]
Notice that Iris Bianchi wore a 1950’s size 10. Her measurements were: Bust 32.5, Waist 21, Hips 32 inches. She would not be a size 10 today.
Dior Customers’ Mannequins
The following illustrations are from Vogue on Christian Dior, by Charlotte Sinclair.
This is a photo taken through the windows of Dior’s workshop: “Lined up on a shelf above are made-to-measure mannequins, one for each of Dior’s private clients.” From Vogue on Christian Dior, by Charlotte Sinclair, p. 41.
Like many couture houses (and movie studios,) Dior’s atelier kept dress mannequins that duplicated the shape and size of regular customers. Each mannequin was reserved for one person; it had her name on it, and it echoed her shape and posture. That way, couture could be draped and fitted without requiring the customer to stand for long hours in preliminary fittings.
In case you need your memory refreshed, this is the famous “Bar Suit” from Dior’s debut “Corolle” line. Its tiny waist, padded hips, and mid-calf skirt was dubbed “the New Look” by fashion editors.
I’m struck by how few of Dior’s regular customers had the ideal figure for Dior’s clothing designs:
Another photo in Vogue on Christian Dior shows “A model being fitted for a Lefaucher corset in Dior’s atelier in 1952. Such a corset, Vogue reported, lent a woman the required Dior shape: controlled hips, nipped waist, flat back, and caved-in midriff.”
Getting “a Dior” to look good on a normal, imperfect — often aging — body? That is one of the things you pay for when you buy couture.
The Met has two nearly identical 1920’s dresses by Lanvin, adapted to flatter different clients. Click here.
I would love to see an exhibit of side by side dresses like those two! NOTE: Please do not copy any of these images. They are samples of the information contained in the books being reviewed.