Evening dress

Designer: Madeleine Vionnet (French, Chilleurs-aux-Bois 1876–1975 Paris)

Date: spring/summer 1938

Culture: French

Medium: rayon

Credit Line: Gift of Madame Madeleine Vionnet, 1952

Accession Number: C.I.52.18.4


In the 1930s, the ideal of slimness remained but the silhouette regained some curve as the natural waist and the breasts reappeared. Evening dresses during this period were made of clinging bias-cut fabrics that expressed the body underneath with every motion. In the advent of the new silhouette in 1930, one Vogue editor proclaimed that "ungainly women must be jubilant, for the new clothes are extremely becoming, and a multitude of sins can be hidden beneath the new draperies." Still, a dress such as the Madeleine Vionnet design show here would not have allowed for too much excess flesh. The embroidery is of individual graduated lengths of silk thread passed and looped through the fabric, with each thread forming two drops of fringe. Such decoration over a clinging gown would tend to call constant attention to the line of the body underneath.

The ideas of diet and exercise as a path to the ideal silhouette were well entrenched in the 1920s. The more curvaceous figure of the 1930s required all that and the return of corsets to give more form and control to the silhouette. As a 1933 Harper's Bazaar article on the season's new line of corsets cautions, "You cannot have a roll of flesh about the midriff. An uncontrolled derriere is vulgar in a slinky dress."