Vintage 101: A special restoration – a beaded 1920s dress

One of the most sought after kind of dresses in the vintage world are beaded 1920s dresses. Fragile by nature, few have survived to the modern day, and those that have often require lots of restoration, as the weight of the beads damages the delicate silk chiffons and georgettes.

Last year I restored a ’20s evening gown for a customer who was wearing it for a special birthday. The bodice featured a beaded panel, much damaged over the years – the dress was unwearable as is, especially as she wished to dance in it, so I removed the bodice panels (front and back), matched the silk chiffon and silk charmeuse to new fabrics and (with the help of a friend) sewed them all together using silk thread.

Then I spent a week restitching the entire beaded panel. Originally sewn with cotton thread, it had deteriorated over the years and as I touched each bead, it came adrift – so there was nothing else for it, but to redo it all. It took me over fifty hours but I was happy with the result. I don’t think that I’ve ever spent so long restoring a dress for sale, and the resulting price did not reflect all the work and material costs that had gone into it. But it was beautiful and my customer was happy.

Please excuse the dreadful photos: as well as being out of focus, they don’t represent the true colour which is a delicate shade of pale green referred to during the Art Deco era as “eau de nil” (the first image, sans flash, is the closest). The original 1920s beads are a shimmering silver-white. I’m glad that there were enough intact to complete the task, as it would be hard to find more of the same.

The front is high and the back low, ornamented with a beaded rosette. The back detailing along with the silk charmeuse and bias cut skirt (below the drop waist) suggest that this gown is from the late 1920s, perhaps not long before the waistline returned to it’s natural place in 1929. Whilst featuring elements of 1930s style, it’s still very much a flapper dress, ready to kick up her heels at one more fabulous party.


  1. Wow, Nicole! Job well done!!

    I was wondering as I was reading if you were compensated for all of your time and labor; at least you ended up with a happy customer and a stunning result.

  2. What a labour of love – but look at the result – beautiful. I had to re-sew a few stray beads on to my beaded cardigan and that stretched my patience enough!
    Well done Nicole – a fantastic restoration.

  3. did you use nylon thread this time?
    so sad we dont have the the time and skills for more handstitching now.i so miss seeing it in clothing.
    ps.i have been meaning to ask you if there are any good in print books on fabric types.
    rachael.: )

  4. Rachel, I used pure silk thread for this one: not as strong as nylon, but more suited to the materials and it was a joy to work with.
    I do a lot of hand-sewing, in fact I’ll often hand sew even when it would be better to machine sew as it’s easier to control each stitch.

    Re: good fabric books, I saw one recently at the NGV but I can’t remember it’s name, sorry. It might have just been “Fabric”.

  5. thanks nicole.i just prefer how things feel when they are hand stitched.even doing the hems on my trousers that way makes me feel better.
    i will keep my eyes posted next time i go to the gallery!!

  6. That is a beautiful piece! I am also looking at a similar project, I have a light pink beaded dress from the 1920s and would love to chat with you about the process, if you have time of course :)

  7. I’m astonished at your skill in bringing this dress back to wearable (danceable, even!) condition. What a fabulous job you’ve done!

    And I hope your customer is aware how lucky she is. Professional conservators charge at least £20+ per hour – that’s about AUS$33 by my widget calculator!

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