A World War One Era Tea Dance

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Dress: c. 1917, bought on Ebay

Hat C. 1917, Ebay

Silk Gloves: C. 1921-22, a gift.

Handbag: C. 1910s-1920s, Not sure where it came from.

Shoes: probably modern, they were second hand and have no markings as to who made them, but a stamp on the bottom tells me they were made in Italy.

This afternoon gave me a rare opportunity to find one of my vintage finds of all time. I say rare because there are very few chances one gets to wear a pre-1920 evening dress without looking a bit looney. The tea dance at the historic craftsman Lanterman house in La Canada Flintridge gave me the perfect chance. The reason I say its rare I get to wear a gown like this is because of its delicate, fragile state.

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The dress is from about the time that our country was engaged in the first world war. I can’t put an exact year on it, but if I had to guess it might be somewhere between 1917-18. Many people call this period Edwardian, but its not. This era which would be 1911-1919 its sort of funny time stuck between the actual Edwardian era (which ended in 1910 with King Edward) and the roaring 20s. I refer to it as World War One era since there dosn’t really seem to be another name for it. This era is one of my favorite times since there was so many interesting events going on in the world.


Styles of 1917

Many people claim that the freedom that women enjoyed during the 1920s was something that started then, but the seeds were being planted much earlier and fashion reflected it. Starting in the early 1910s, women started moving away from the stiff modes fo the Victorian era and began wearing clothing that was both comfortable more practical the garments of ten or twenty years before. For the first time, women abandoned the corset instead going for the latest invention, the bra. Hemlines rose as well reaching their peak in the mid 20s.

A picture of a hat identical on the top!

A picture of a hat identical on the top!

It was also a very scary time, especially for the young men who went off to the first modern war in history and the people who waited for them back home. This was also the era of the influenza pandemic that killed millions of people world wide.


A soldier of the First World War.

A solider saying goodbye.

A solider saying goodbye.

I have said that the dress I am wearing is one of my favorite vintage finds.Despite it being a pretty piece,  how I gotit amusing. I won it on an Ebay auction for $30, my bid was the only one. Not only is $30 a rock botton price for a dress which is almost 100 years old and intricately detailed, it is also ironically the price a woman might have paid for the same dress in about the time it was made I found out the price of a simular dress by looking at some period advertisements for like garments. There is an excellent series of books that reproduce old catalog pages from Sears. You can find the one I was reading here, I highly recommend getting the books from these series, they help tremendously with helping to date vintage garments. The price It might have been the same price on paper, but $30 in during the years just mentioned would mean the dress retailed for a whopping $650! Keep in mind, these like gowns were sold at Sears, not Saks Fifth Ave (called Saks and Co until ’24) or the salon of some Paris couturier.

So what does this say about clothing today as opposed to clothing back in the day? It says a lot.

First off clothing was expenisve which is why the average person had so little of it. But why was clothing so expenisve in the 1910s? It was the materials that the clothing was made out of. Remember, in these days there were little to no synthetics. The first synthetics really got started in the 1920s and 1930s.

The dress in question which is not from Sears, is made from 100 percent silk. Its body is made from a rich silk crepe and is accented by several yards of silk chiffon and fine lace, all very expensive. On top of that, the edges of the chiffon is hand beaded and so is the fully beaded belt. In short, the dress was probably well worth the $30 they were asking for it. Today with the advent of synthetics and cheap overseas labor, you can buy a dress for $20 or less at a store like Forever 21. This is why people have so many clothes today, people no longer shop for quality, they shop for a quick fix that will be thrown out or given away after a few wears.

If you want to find a dress today that is made of 100 percent silk with hand beading, its still probably going to be around $650, so taking into account the price of inflation, the cost of quality clothing really hasn’t changed that much, its just that now people have the opportunity to buy clothing of a lower quality at a cheaper price.

Personally, I try to buy as little so called ” fast fashion” as possible, its not an industry I like to support. This is because especially the workers making the clothing are underpaid, they tend to work in unsafe or uncomfortable conditions, and are sometimes underage.

Back in the 1910s, we also had labor conditions like this, but they were in America. Now its some where else, so many people just push it out of mind.



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