The most iconic silhouette for the 1920s is the slender, tubular shift, sometimes with some definition well below the natural waist. For evening wear and parties, these gowns were often of silk or rayon, crepe, chiffon or georgette covered with dazzling beadwork. Perfect for lively dancing, the garments are now usually in self-destruct mode – the heavy beads pulling on the thin fabric and perspiration eating away the underarms.   

But, beautiful they remain, including this Nile green example with bronze and rose beadwork and delicate gold metallic embroidery. The skirt flares slightly and the front and back bodice extends into side flaps on the left side. There is a slit in the skirt panel on the left, revealing the matching chiffon underdress. Both the beading and the extra panels add a stylish note of asymmetry to the dress. It was worn by Helen Eulalie Northrop Wall of Marion, South Carolina. Born in Boise, Idaho in 1891, Eulalie married John Furman Wall in 1912. He was a colonel in the U.S. Army – their daughter Bettie was born in California and their second daughter Helen was born in the Philippines – but they settled in Marion.

Not as embellished, but just as swingy, is this aqua silk shift with a black ribbon lattice panel down the center back, around the lower skirt and in triangular pleats on the sides. The armholes have matching aqua chiffon binding. The front neckline has a delicate line of black beading. A pair of black ribbons ending in fringed tassels extends from the shoulder seam to the front and are slipped through front slits, creating a built-in necklace or sautoir. This dress could have been worn with a matching slip – or perhaps peach or cream for an even more tantalizing appeal.

TEXTILE TUESDAYS: Each Tuesday we post a piece from our textile collection.  Some items have been on exhibit, some will eventually be shown in our Historic Textiles Gallery and some may be just too fragile to display. We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on TEXTILE TUESDAY! #TextileTuesday