Graded colors in a stylized ad for McCallum service hosiery, April 1927, Delineator. Notice the graded colors in the leaves (from dark olive to light olive to pale gray-green or white), the flower (from white to lavender to violet) and the dress (three degrees of rusty-reds.) [Yes, this is an ad for stockings to wear while gardening!]
I love the geometric flavor of 1920’s dresses, and this group of Butterick pattern illustrations is a sampling of late nineteen-twenties’ styles that combine geometry with graded colors. Dresses of two or more colors were called “composé” with an accent mark on the “e” [kom-poh-zay.]
Butterick patterns from Delineator, March 1927.
Although most of the illustrations are in black, gray, and white, try to imagine these dresses in colors: a dark, a middle, and a light version of the same hue, e.g, espresso brown + coffee with cream + cafe au lait; or deep blue-green + teal, + pale aqua, etc.
Women were encouraged to think of “blue, from baby to navy, with the many off shades which steal a tinge from the Mediterranean sky, the changing ocean or the twilight tints. These easily merge into orchid, with its overtones of lavender, mauve, and purple. Sports clothes are often flushed with rose, including every possible variation from flesh to wine, rosy beige to rust, pale cyclamen to dahlia red. Another important color range is based on yellow and brown. And white, always, only more so, alone, with black, or linked to some more lively shade.” — “The French Riviera Mode,” in Delineator, Feb. 1927, pg. 14.
Butterick pattern 6612, Feb. 1926, Delineator. A range of blues in one dress, from midnight blue to twilight.
Many of these composé dress patterns were in the March 1927 issue of Delineator. They show a nice range of skirt designs, with single or double pleats for movement placed differently in each pattern. The device we call a “kick pleat” in back was not used.
Butterick patterns 1282, a three-toned dress, and 1298, Delineator, Feb. 1927. Pg. 23. The two-color suit dress would count as compose.
Butterick 1238 and 1280. February 1927, Delineator, pg. 25. The graded sleeves match the skirt flounces.
Butterick patterns 1309 and 1325, March 1927, Delineator. Try to imagine colors, rather than grays. This compose dress combines traditional feminine touches like ruching and a sheer jabot with a square neckline and horizontal color blocks.
Butterick 1329 and 1317, March 1927, pg. 25. Delineator. No. 1329 has repetitive, geometric art deco or style moderne shapes,echoed in the cuffs.
I don’t know who the “famous Paris couturier was,” but the Delineator showed that several designers got on the graded color bandwagon:
A Paris design by Jane Regny, illustrated in Delineator, April 1928, pg. 37.
This designer dress by Premet used a range of related shades of reds from “deep strawberry, rose, coral, and pale pink” on pink crepe — and the fox fur was dyed pink, too. Delineator, November 1927, pg. 21.
Sometimes the graded colors were used more subtly, or as accents, as in this elegant two-piece sports dress by Lucien Lelong:
The dress is trimmed with graded bands of blue — and there may be flashes of color inside the pleats of the skirt, too. Resort wear by designer Lucien Lelong, illustrated in Delineator, January 1928, pg. 32. It’s hard to tell whether the dress itself was white or very pale blue.
This dress is not, strictly, composé, since the colors are only trim.
This Butterick dress uses three colors, but they may not be three values of the same hue. Pattern 1761, December 1927, Delineator. It could be white with two shades of green, or with jade green and black, or two shades of blue, or red, white and blue…. Quite a jaunty design — just right for Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby.
Although not really color blocked, this dress uses three shades, with red-brown as the darkest, fading through rosewood to a muted coral.
However, it doesn’t have the dynamic repetition of shapes seen in these two composé dresses from Butterick:
Butterick patterns from March 1927; both dresses are recommended for teens, but the dress on the right is also offered in women’s sizes 38 to 44 inches. I found them on the same page. (Is No. 1308 really in bleu, blanc et rouge, like the French flag? It looks more subtle.)
They may have graded colors in common, but what a difference in styles!
10 responses to “Composé Dresses with Color Gradation, circa 1927”
Another reason to love the 1920s! My personal favorite is Butterick 1329.
These dresses are so lovely with awesome ideas for 1920s color pairings in my sewing choices. I literally cannot pick out one favorite style! You taught me a new term for something I’ve always loved in fashion. Do you think the popular color trends of ‘compose’ colors changed over the 20’s for sports, day, and evening?
Vionnet liked to use ‘compose’, didn’t she? Her dresses and drawings are my favorite ways of color grading. I have the pattern for her ‘compose’ dress from 1922 in the Betty Kirke book, I just have not yet found four of the same fabrics in just the right tones so I can make it!
I confess I just learned the term compose, too! For those of us who think our hips are too big for the twenties’ look, the option of putting the darkest shades at the bottom and the lightest at the top is very tempting. I also love the thirties dresses with lighter yokes and sleeves. And just two coordinated colors were also considered compose — so you dont have to go for three or four, necessarily..
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