Figure 1, a black pencil dress, with 15 covered buttons up the centre front. 1949

Here is a dress created by Christian Dior in 1947. Technically, it is a simple, black two-piece ensemble, with two skirt options.

The bodice itself has 3 self-covered buttons and features a boned corset section, made of tulle, which is attached at the centre front with hooks and eyes. It has a wide neckline, and a large fold-over collar, as well as a strip of chording going over the bust. There are also three-quarter length raglan sleeves and appears to feature an underarm gusset, instead of making the sleeve as one piece.

The two skirts are made of the same material as the bodice, one being a midi-length pencil skirt, with twelve covered buttons, running down the centre front. The other is a flared A-Line skirt, which closes at the side seam with four buttons.

All pieces of the ensemble are made of silk faille, also known as silk grosgrain. It is known for its subtle shine and its ribbed texture. This makes the fabric sturdy, so it’s often used in garments that have a lot of volume, or for pieces with a lot of structure.

The inside label is woven, and says ‘Christian Dior, Paris, 02195’ with a hand-written ink label, saying ‘72081’.

The ensemble itself was made for the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, which she then left to her Lady’s Maid, Joan Martin. The outfit was commissioned in Paris in the late 1940s by the duchess, where she stated that she wanted an interchangeable skirt, to suit the ‘New Look’ patented by Dior which was gaining popularity.


Figure 2, a black circle skirt dress, with 3 buttons on the centre front. 1949

The fabric used has been used is textured, so even though it is made of silk, it probably will not feel as smooth as one might have thought. Silk faille behaves similarly to silk taffeta, so its reasonably stiff, and holds a rigid structure very well, making it the ideal choice for a garment such as this. It also does not have any stretch along the warp or the weft threads of the fabric, and very little stretch in the bias. So, the garment could last longer than others without warping or changing the general shape drastically; unlike with knitted fabrics, where the material stretches in all directions with ease, straining the seams and the weave of the fabric to cause it to show the signs of ageing and begin to look somewhat sloppy or malformed.

This might, however, make it somewhat restrictive. Because of the nature of the way the pattern is cut, particularly in the shoulder seams, there is some warping in the fabric. We can see this in both figure 1 and figure 2, where there are stress lines in the fabric due to tension in some of the seams. This could be because the mannequin is not sized in co-ordinance with the garment, as it was a custom piece, and not off-the-rack. But it may be an issue with the fit and pattern cutting in the dress, which could make it somewhat uncomfortable to wear.

If you compare figure 1, where we see the outfit as a slim-line pencil dress with figure 3, you can see how the silhouette is represented, in the New Look style, from the rounded shoulders to the emphasised waist and the skirt fitting closely to just below the knee.

The same can be said for figure 2 when compared with figure 4, as the top still emphasises the shoulders, whilst the skirt is flared, and creates the illusion of a small waist, an hourglass body, and epitomises the key features of Dior’s New Look, from the late 1940s and into the 1950s.


Figure 3, a woman dressed in Dior’s New Look, 1959

A dress or two-piece, such as this, would have been worn over modern undergarments, as well as a slip or chemise dress, to protect the skin from the tulle layer of the build-in corset, as well as to protect the fabric from the skin, and just to provide extra comfort to the wearer throughout the day. The circular skirt could have also been worn over a petticoat of varying volume, depending on the occasion and what the fashion was at the time. 

Dior’s New Look created a classic feminine shape, with accentuated waists and hips. Its sometimes referred to as being “wasp-waisted.” In Christian Dior’s autobiography, he wrote: “I designed clothes for flower-like women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts.”

 With evaluating an object online, can be somewhat difficult, however, as you have a limited number of images and cannot get a good idea of how it is put together, and can only go off what seams, embellishments, and structural elements that you can see in the picture, and how the garment is put together. Also, there are no images posted of the interior of the garment, or the label, or how the seams are finished. And this applies to all display pieces, so it can make it harder to form a full picture of what the item is really like.

None the less, evaluating art in all its forms is something that brings me a lot of joy, and any opportuniity I can take to further my knowledge is one I enjoy.