A Biba dress from 1971

Last night was my first off three halloween nights out in a row. Why I do it to my liver… I am not quite sure, but I just had to share the dress I wore last night.

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I’ve always loved Biba clothes, in part because Barbara Hulanicki’s clothes were over-ridingly designed for skinny flat chested pre pubescent shaped girls with twig like arms, which pretty much describes my body type. I don’t have many pieces by Biba but all of them are real statement pieces that feel amazing to wear (you can see my post about my yellow satin Biba blouse here). This dress was a must buy for me though. These medieval sleeved Biba dresses come up on ebay relatively often, but their fabulous shape tends to represent an equally fabulous price tag. I’ve seen this design go for over £200 on a number of occasions. With this one though I struck lucky, partly because the dress hadn’t been very well listed. This number came to me costing £66 earlier this year. I was ever so happy though to find that there was a little bit of provenance with the dress, on purchasing it the original owner sent me a message through ebay about the dress,

“my mother bought the dress for her winter wedding in 1971. She travelled up from South Coast to Carnaby street to go to Biba, as it was THE place to go then as you know.”

The lady who I purchased it from went on to tell me that she had worn the dress clubbing in the 90s. I love a story like that!

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The dress needs a suitable occasion though, because as much as I would love to, doing your weekly shop in sainsburys wearing a velvet maxi dress with a thigh high split may well garner some interesting stares. I thought the dress actually had quite a Halloween like vibe to it, so it was a perfect dress to wear last night.

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The dress has so many features though that make it one of the most comfortable dresses to wear (I sort of felt like I was wearing a dressing gown I have to say) The dress fastens right down the front with velvet covered buttons, but these only go as far as the very top of your thigh meaning that the dress is almost split to knicker level. As you stride this gives the dress a sensational shape, that I couldn’t quite capture in pictures. The slim line of the dress perfectly contrasts with the huge sleeves, that are actually so big you feel like you may take off when wearing it. Although the thing I love most about this dress? The sweetheart bodice, I think this may be the only dress in the world that gives me, even with my pathetic 30b bust line, a cleavage! It was amazing actually how confident this dress made me feel, the dramatic shape of it really makes you stand up tall (oh, and perhaps the fact I was wearing 6 inch platforms!) and I certainly received a lot of interesting glances/ stares last night!

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A “stained glass” 1950s dress

It’s been a while since I last did an outfit post, but I felt like the dress I wore last night fully deserved it. Partially because for once in my life my make up AND hair fully played ball and went just how I like it. I’d had a pretty awful afternoon at work, and I felt like the hair and make up gods were smiling down upon me as payment for this! Sorry for the lack of smiling in all of these pictures. The pictures in which I smiled just made me look like a grinning cheshire cat, this is the problem when you just put your camera on “continuous shoot” and hope for the best!
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I absolutely adore the dress I wore last night. It’s an original 1950s one, but just has a number of different and interesting elements that create for one thing a great silohuette, and take it away from just being another floral/ novelty print like i tend to wear. I call it my stained glass window dress, and it also has a slight Italian futurist feel to it.  The dress originally had straps, but I have taken these off (for now) in part because the way they sat made my already less than impressive chest look even flatter! The dress appears to be a homemade example (no labels) but finished to a high standard with complicated cut across the bodice and interesting inserted red detail to the sweetheart neckline. I think I could have easily worn it with one (or maybe two!) more petticoats underneath, but as I was going out and had to catch various tubes/ buses I thought it was best not to!

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As an aside the dress came from what can only be described as my FAVOURITE current vintage shop, The Looking Glass in Bridgnorth. I found out about this shop via facebook and I felt that this dress had to be mine. Their stock is incredible, particularly if you like your 50s printed cotton dresses as much as I do.

To finish off the outfit I wore a pair of original 1930s gold dancing shoes (they’re quite low, and very comfortable- I only had to take them off after someone rather painfully trod on my foot). My outfit was a bit lacking in jewellery to be honest. It needed gold, but all I had was a pair of (admittedly fabulous) gold hoop earrings from my Mum. I don’t think you can really see them in the pics at all!

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New (old) dress purchases

I honestly think I have a problem when it comes to buying dresses. I need to pay my masters fees, but instead I have purchased lots more dresses. It’s a real life problem.

Anyway, I thought i should share one of said dresses because a) it’s fabulous and b) it’s a Horrockses

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This lovely Horrockses number (yes, another one!) came from a lovely lady I fleetingly saw at the Chap Ball last year. She was wearing  what can only be described as the most fabulous dress I have ever seen. Anyway, we became friends on facebook and she offered me this simply sensational Horrockses which i could not resist adding to my collection.

The dress is from 1948 and the print is by Alastair Morton, you can see the dress in a slightly different colourway in this advert. The dress cost £5.7. 8 a fair sum for a printed cotton frock in the period. The advert featured in Vogue in May 1948.

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It’s interesting to see that the price of this dress is also shown with relation to the amount of coupons it would have cost (10). This was because rationing was still in force in 1948 (read more about rationing here). I was also interested that the dress fastens down the back with buttons, whereas a zip fastening would have probably been better. Again, I think this is probably due to rationing. Although I do have a few earlier Horrockses with zips most do fasten with buttons.

This advert also suggest that the dress was an exclusive to Harvey Nichols. I wonder whether this was just the dress in this colourway, or whether the actual print was an exclusive. My dress only has the Horrockses label, so I can’t be sure.

I was then rather chuffed to find an article ( by absolute accident) in the April 1948 issue of Ambassador. Images from the article are below, and you can see a number of absolute classic Horrockses prints that I have seen time and time again featured in it. I have also transcribed the full article as owing to my terrible photography skills you can’t really read it!

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Horrockses style new fabrics and fashions

For many generations the name Horrockses has been a household name  synonymous with quality cotton goods. Horrockses fashions ltd. Makers-up of cotton fabrics produced exclusively for them by the parent company (Horrockses crewdon and Co. ltd. Preston) are now marketing a collection of fine fabrics and fashions on which this feature is based.

 

During recent years tremendous strides have been made in the technical and aesthetic development of  cotton fabrics. The materials shown here have passed exhaustive tests for fading; they are shrink-proof, fast to light and washing, and have been treated with Horrockses Finish for permanent crispness.

 

Alistair (sic) Morton, one of Britain’s soundest and most progressive textile designers, has not only created this range, but  has also supervised the technical production. His rich clear colours emphasise the gaiety of the patterns right through to the styling of the garments themselves (models for town and country, beach and ballroom, housecoats, etc.). Great care in the making has been taken to facilitate laundering and ironing. Horrockses’ fabrics and fashions- right in quality, style and moderate price- are amongst the most interesting British export goods.  

In a moment of intense geekery I was particularly interested to note the mention of Alastair Morton here, as Horrockses were keen to portray a total image for the brand rather than convey the individual designer. Here, and also in a later 1948 issue of Ambassador (an altogether similar feature) Morton’s name was prominently featured. Perhaps early on in their marketing strategy this was a technique they chose to follow, before later ( i reckon after Cleveland Belle became director) abandoned. My other thought on this is whether this was actually an extended advert that Horrockses paid for, or whether this feature was of the Ambassador magazine’s choosing…If this was not a promotional feature it was certainly unusual for a single company to take up a whole article in this manner for Ambassador and again suggests the importance of the brand in the late 1940s.

On a slightly related note, if you want to help me out, so I have the money to pay my masters fees ( I promise I won’t spend it on more dresses) I have lots of fabulous pieces in my etsy shop right now, and on my ebay too.