1960’s Dress Spotlight at the Whiteside Theatre by Lainie Hampton

Now on display through March 10 are three shift dresses. Born from the chemise, the shift dress is an easy fitting, unwaisted silhouette that could be worn without the restrictive corsets and undergarments of previous decades. Introduced in the late 1950s, shift dresses dominated clothing racks just about everywhere by the mid-1960s (Farrell-Beck and Parsons, 2007). The loose fit appealed to women on the move and was made in an array of prints and materials, adding to its popularity (Monks, 1963).

The display includes garments with American and Italian labels. In the post-War world, Italian and American brands and designers rose to prominence and became major players in the global fashion industry (Farrell-Beck and Parsons, 2007). The American and Italian markets offered casual, ready-to-wear, which was accessible and affordable compared to couture. The display features a green shift dress with matching jacket lined with an animal printed fabric. The ensemble has a Vilano label, a New York based company designed by Gerardo Livornese. Described as a “master tailor”, Livornese’s designs retailed at the finest department stores.

Another dress on display was manufactured by Alice of California. Krist Gudnason, an immigrant from Norway, founded Alice of California in 1925 after his arrival to the U.S. (Lamb, 2010). In the 1930s, Carolyn Perena took the lead as the label’s designer and introduced a new aesthetic, incorporating tropical styles like the muumuu and Hawaiian prints into her designs. Women’s Wear Daily ran an advertisement for Alice of California in June 1946 that touted the company’s ability to deliver “California color, comfort, and casualness” to its customers (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Alice of California advertisement, Women’s Wear Daily, June 11, 1946.

The exhibit also showcases a stunning creation from the hands of Italian designer Marchesa Luisa Olga di Gresy. Marchesa Luisa became a designer out of necessity in 1937, when she and her husband declared bankruptcy (Bickeringly, 1970). She quickly rose to prominence with her label, Mirsa, which became one of the world’s most renowned knitwear brands. di Gresy believed that “knits will never die, especially the good-quality ones” (Lang, 1963). The dress on display features a bold tiger print knit fabric, accented by striking green embroidery which enhances the eyes of the tiger (See Figure 2). This bold and distinctive design reflects di Gresy’s signature style, as many of her creations were known for their vivid and eye-catching prints. For example, in April 1966 Harper’s Bazaar featured Marchesa Luisa wearing an optical art print suit of her own design in an I. Magnin advertiment (See Figure 3).

Figure 2. Close up of di Gresy shift dress on display featuring tiger print textile. Object ID 1990.015.004.
Figure 3. I. Magnin advertisement Harpers Bazaar, April 1966.

Bold, colorful prints were popular in women’s fashion in the 1960s. Advancements in textile technology allowed for brighter and more color-fast dyes, which allowed designers to work with colors and prints that had not been possible before. The bright colors and bold prints symbolized a new era in fashion of freedom and individuality (Farrell-Beck and Parsons, 2007).

Works Cited
Farrell-Beck, Jane and Jean Parsons (2007). 20th-Century Dress in the United States. Fairchild.
Lamb, Mary Catherine (2010). “Alice of California.” Vintage Fashion Guild. Retrieved from https://vintagefashionguild.org/label-resource/alice-of-california/.
Lang, Eloise (September 11, 1963). “Knits From Italy Go Around the World.” St. Louis Post Dispatch, 58.
Monks, Arline (April 2, 1963). “Shift: No ‘Waisted’ Motion.” Los Angeles Times, C1.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *