“Oriental” Hems, 1920

These dresses from 1920 have “Oriental” hems. Butterick patterns in Delineator magazine.

Dresses and skirts with Oriental hems were not the dominant style of 1920, but I’d love to hear from any vintage collectors who have encountered one.  I suspect that, like other trends that didn’t dominate their era, dresses with Oriental hems are probably rare, especially since they had plenty of fabric for re-making into a more conventional dress later.

The “Oriental” skirts of 1920 remind me of the bubble skirts popular — especially as formals — in the late fifties and early 1960s.

A bubble skirted evening dress, circa 1959. Click here for more. Associated with Balenciaga in the 1950s, they seemed to be making a comeback in 2018!

For the benefit of anyone who has found a vintage 1920s’ dress with this strange hem, here are more examples from Delineator, 1920.

Dress with Oriental hem, Butterick 2248, Delineator, April 1920.

The “Oriental hem” hem is not the same as harem pants, although this outfit also appeared in 1920:

Orientalism in high fashion: harem pants for an evening in Paris. Delinator, May 1920.

Oriental hem on Butterick 2309, May 1920.

On the same page:

Oriental hem — and ball fringe! — on a dress from 1920.

The pattern descriptions make it clear that the fuller hem on the fashion fabric is gathered to a narrower interior skirt — not trousers.

“The skirt is in one piece and caught under in Oriental fashion to a short, straight foundation skirt.”

Like most unusual fashions, this one began in couture houses:

Oriental hem on an evening gown by Elise Poret, sketched for Delineator, February 1920.

The Paris house of Madeleine et Madeleine showed this gown; sketched for Delineator; March, 1920.

There was — in more mainstream dresses — a trend to narrow hems, often as an under layer with a fuller, shorter skirt on top.

Butterick 2472 has a shorter, sheer overskirt and a narrow, longer underskirt. 1920.

Left, Butterick 2695 has a short overskirt and a narrow underskirt. Right, No. 2699 has an Oriental hem.

Butterick 2695 and 2699, skirt detail.

The “Oriental hem” was not the look for everyone, but, if you’re looking for something a little different — but authentic…. have fun.

Butterick patterns with “Oriental Hems” from 1920.

Witness to Fashion on Memory Lane: Bubble dresses circa 1960 often had wadded-up nylon tulle sandwiched in between their skirt layers. They did not emerge from dry-cleaning with all their charm intact. Since the small, hand-held steamer was not a common household appliance in 1959, taking a lovely bubble dress out of a packed closet could be a sad experience: a “light as whipped cream” taffeta dancing dress might emerge as a flattened prune.



Filed under 1920s, Dresses, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

7 responses to ““Oriental” Hems, 1920

  1. lauriebrown54

    This kind of skirt made a reappearance not just in the 50s-60s, but reared its head again in the 80s, under the name ‘pouf’. I must say I like these from a century ago better than I liked it in the 80s!

  2. I’ve never seen these in old photos, but I’ll keep an eye out!

  3. Duy Khang Nguyen

    Does “Oriental” Hems also call as bubble hem ??
    This Cheruit Sketch from Bendel collection Brooklyn Museum Example:

    They described the hem as “Bubble hem”

    • Great find! I did not research other magazines from 1920, so I was only writing about the term “Oriental hem” as consistently used in Delineator magazine in 1920. “Bubble hem” was the term used in the 1950s (and now,) so it’s possible that the person writing the description for the museum catalog used that term because it was more familiar to him/her and other readers. (And it did make it easier to find that sketch!) I wish there was writing on that 1919 sketch! “Orientalism” in fashion can mean anything from Chinese and Japanese influences to Western artists’ illustrations for “Arabian Nights.” The Ballets Russes performances of Scheherazade — with costumes designed by Leon Bakst — were a great fashion influence in the 1910s and 1920s. The influence of archeology in Egypt also influenced fashion in the 1920s and is also a kind of “orientalism.”

  4. Never seen it, either in pictures, in movies, or in real life dresses. Much like a hobble skirt or a tonneau skirt, would absolutely love to find one.

  5. Pingback: Butterick Fashions in Color, September 1920 (Part 1) | witness2fashion

  6. Pingback: Part 2: Butterick Fashions in Color, September 1920 | witness2fashion

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