Dress & Textiles Collection: A new acquisition…


Christian Dior – Limited London, silk cocktail dress, mid-1950’s. Made in England.

This is a mid-1950’s Dior silk cocktail dress that forms part of the Beecroft Art Gallery’s costume collection. It has a strapless bodice attached to a full skirt coming to below the knee, which is pleated at the back and has a decorative bow at the left hip. The style of the dress means it could have been worn to a fashionable cocktail party and the wearer could accessorise with long satin gloves and a loose swing coat and heels.

It was sold under the Christian Dior brand, the fashion house whose inaugural 1947 collection was dubbed the ‘New Look’ by American Vogue editor Carmel Snow, who saw in it a stark difference from the austere, masculine styles of wartime. Dior’s usage of long, full skirts provoked outrage amongst the British press, who saw it as unsuitable and impractical to a country still recovering from war. As shown in this dress the full skirt is still apparent and requires yards of silk to achieve the pleated fullness.

A label sewn inside the back reveals this dress was not created in the Dior Paris couture atelier but was made in England, and sold as part of the label Christian Dior-Limited London, which was established in 1954. This label created luxury ready-to-wear collections four times a year, enabling British customers’ access to the Dior brand. The opening of Dior branches overseas was part of the brand’s extensive expansion into licensing from the early 1950’s. Foreign manufacturers would produce Dior goods with the exclusive cachet of the Dior name but all to the highest standard to create a unified brand.

This English-made cocktail dress has the distinct Dior trait of using underpinnings to construct a rigid body shape. It conceals a complex interior with a boned bodice that would cinch in the waist. To further exaggerate the small waist the interior bodice is attached to layers of petticoats which flare the skirt out. Getting into this dress would be a challenge, not only is there a central back zip but the boned bodice is secured by a row of hook and eyes. However, once on, the dress is a classic example of the skillful construction of Dior garments.

Iona Farrell (Museums Volunteer)