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Historic Clothing Collection

1940-1950

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Trumpet sleeve dress, ca. 1946
Trumpet sleeve dress, ca. 1946Maine Historical Society

Once the war was over, pocket and pleats appeared again as fabric restrictions were lifted. An example of such is a shortish everyday dress made of narrow vertical red and white striped cotton, which may date from the late 1940s or into the early 1950s. From the collar and lapel neckline, there is a front closure with four sets of three buttons, and two knee level box pleats below a patch pocket, matching the pocket on the left chest. The pockets and sleeves are edged with a stylish detail--bands of horizontally placed stripes.

In more fashionable quarters, before the new fashion blazed its trail, European and American designers experimented, producing some exotic creations. In this vein, there are two American examples in the collection. One is a V neck navy blue cocktail dress with trumpet wrist sleeves and a skirt tightly gathered at the hips to drape in a cascade from the waist, showing a wine color lining. It is labelled: ‘Ceil Chapman,’ a designer known for her provocative dresses. The draped front styling is reminiscent of a 1946 afternoon dress by French designer Jacques Griff.

The second example features a V neck, cream satin dolman sleeve bodice, attached to a long tapering wrap around black skirt, and a heavy red rayon waist sash with an outsize (oversized) bow and long ties at one side. A label inside the waist reads "Bonwit Teller New York Trainer-Norell." Norman Norell was an important American designer famous for his elegant and timeless clothing. In the post war era, draped details, outsize bows, bunches, and swags were prominent design elements in evening and cocktail wear. The back of what was, perhaps, the original 'little black' cocktail dress by major U.S. designer Nettie Rosenstein featured a huge flat black bow with tails from waist to hem.