Although not necessarily the intention of the competition, I decided to enter at the last minute, to challenge myself and as I was finally inspired! I decided to have a go at the 1913-14 afternoon dress listed in Patterns of Fashion 2, which is a style completely unlike anything I’ve ever made before! I did some research, and found a couple of photos online on the V&A website. The original was designed for Miss Heather Firbank and designed by Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), the year after she survived the Titanic!
The dress appears at first as an unstructured and flimsy confection of chiffon, lace, satin and silk with a real fur trim adding a fantastic contrast. Lace especially was something which would very much disappear after the onset of war, so I feel this gown echoes those last heady days. Designed in 1913, Miss Firbank kept it until 1926, when all her clothes were put into storage, so it is entirely reasonable it would have been worn in 1914.
I decided to use modern fabrics, which are easier to obtain, a lot cheaper and able to take a little rough handling. The fur is real, from an old (rather moth-eaten) fur stole I had in my stash. The original uses skunk fur, I have no idea where you would find such stuff now!
The original lace has a large complex pattern, which I’ve substituted with a smaller scale pattern as I thought it fitted the design well and didn’t look cheap. This version sticks to the original colours, of cream and ivory, but uses man-made fabrics apart from the fur.
Despite its light-looking nature the dress is pretty sturdy, and bulkier than I expected, with a boned, fitted layer, then an underbodice, then a loose overbodice. The skirt has three layers, an underskirt, a satin fur-edged overskirt, and the lace tunic skirt. The underskirt has a false chiffon panel on the visible section.
My biggest challenge was reproducing the gentle drape of the dress, which I found difficult as the more usual snug fitting costumes. Despite its difference in appearance to the earlier, say, 1900s gowns, it is still constructed with a fitted underlayer and the skirt hooked onto the top. The shaping is in fact artfully made into the gown.
The contrast of the dark fur with the glowing satin is spectacular, and the lace adds a luxurious feel. The enormous bow at the back is definitely my favourite bit, and I replicated the original methods of making this that Janet Arnold describes.
Making it to fit me was a further challenge, as I have a somewhat larger waist than the 26” of the original. The proportions are different, but I feel it’s the sort of gown a well built woman of the era might have considered wearing. I don’t currently own the kind of “modern” underpinnings Janet Arnold describes (a bust bodice and low cut corset), so I worked the gown over a slightly earlier Edwardian corset, which seems to have given a silhouette at least in keeping with the era.
The finished article has a real feel of luxury to it, all I need now is a pre-war afternoon tea to wear it to!