1950s Leroy Alcorso print dress

When you love vintage clothing, you sometimes find yourself wishing that every garment came with a date, like tailored menswear does sometimes (look in the inside pocket if you don’t believe me). Ladieswear is a different kind of beast but you can imagine Kate’s surprise one day when she was ironing a new ’50s picnic frock and found a date amongst the printed design of native flora and fauna with koalas and kookaburra.

Not only a date, but some words: Australia and Australiano and Australien – and the print was one of those lovely ’50s ones that looks like it’s been hand painted. We even found a name “Susanne”. Perhaps Susanne was the artist?

We pieced together the story: here was a Melbourne made frock with a 1956 date and Australia in different languages…could it be an Olympic Games souvenir? The Melbourne Museum has a silk scarf in it’s collection, perhaps larger fashion items were made?

The dress is made of nylon plisse, a textured fabric often called seersucker – synthetic fabrics have “memory” and are great for embossed textures. It has a V neckline and extended shoulder sleeves. A diamante buckle ornaments the self-sashed neckline – it was missing a stone and I carried it in my handbag for a year before one day finding myself at Maria George where a replacement was found.

The dress was made by Flinders Lane label Leroy, who have provided many dresses for Circa including two from my own wardrobe (one has polka dots, one has a print of teapots). In 1954 they teamed up with a Hobart textile printer called Alcorso and together they ran an annual textile competition, to encourage better prints with Australian themes for the fashion industry. Each year one of the designs was made into dresses by Leroy.

Was this the winning design for 1956? That was the year that Aboriginal artist Mawalan 1 Marika won so perhaps this is his artwork?

In any case, this beautiful and very special frock is now available at Circa. It’s a small size with a 32 inch bust and 26 inch waist, so I’d call it a size 6 to 8, it could be a little bigger due to the bodice design. I do like a frock with a story.

UPDATE: Thank you to Gillian for your detective work, it would seem that the Alcorso fabric was designed by Susanne Copolov who won the award in 1955. Links in the comments below.

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16 comments

  1. Monika – that’s a really great point. I signed up for the Australian Dress Register but you can only submit three dresses(?) Of all the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of dresses I have, I’ve had trouble selecting only three – but this one could be a very worthy contribution. Hmm.

  2. Then I think they need to expand it, otherwise too much provenance and story is lost. Just my take on it. I let them know about this post, no doubt we will see what happens with this frock. Will keep an eye on your updates if you get them to hand. Worth some discussion, this issue, at the very least!

  3. Hello Monika and Nicole, In regards to the Australian Dress Register – there is no limit to how many garments a private collector can enter. If you would like further information, please go to the resources page of the Australian Dress Register under ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, question seven. It is asked that you work on one entry at a time. Nicole, it would be wonderful if you register some of your precious and loved pre 1945 garments on the Register. But back to this outstanding Leroy Alcorso print dress, this absolutely fascinating. I wish I was in Melbourne at this very moment so I could have a look at it and take in it’s glorious beauty! This is indeed a dress with a story.

  4. Ah Nicole – it made my day to read your email today – the time one can spend pondering the stories the clothes can’t tell….thank you yet again for sharing the amazing garments that pass through your doors….and,of course, I loved the LEROY label….cheerio Edie

  5. Well, ladies, that’s wonderful! Maybe that dress needs to go on tour, Nicole! All good to hear and if these dresses really can be documented, all the better. We love you!

  6. Wow, such a stunning dress, and a amazing piece of textile design. I bet it flew out the door !!

  7. Thank you Gillian for your comment, and I’ll paste the one you emailed as well:

    And drat – here’s a picture of the Malawan 1 Marika dress that is a very definite Aboriginal style.

    Your dress isn’t in the style of Olive Ashworth, nor the 8 year old Douglas Annand who won in 1954.

    Here’s a report from the winning entry of 1956: The winning design is a fascinator which introduces the topical Olympic theme subtly and totally, but without ramming it down your throat.

    On an Australian sky blue background, there are suggestions of Greek pillars, red laurel wreaths, the Olympic flame, kangaroos, and the Olympic circles . . . – alas, that doesn’t sound like yours.

    But in April 1955, the Argus reported:

    A LENGTH of nylon material will be a good advertisement for Australia when it goes to America on a film star’s back.

    Designed by 26-year old free-lance textile designer, Mrs. Susanne Copolov, it was presented to Ann Miller when she visited the Leroy Show rooms yesterday.

    Following a typically Australian theme, the material, which was designed in honor of the Olympic Games, is one of the two main prize winning fabrics in this year’s Leroy – Alcorso textile design competition.

    ——————————————————–

    So basically I think that Leroy dress is more likely to be from the 1955 design given to Ann Miller.

  8. Good work Gillian! I also found this article from 1955.

    I think you’re right: the fabric was designed by Susanne Copolov which explains why the name “Susanne” is included in the design – so as well as being designed for the Olympics (but winning the ’55 design) it went to Ann Miller too. I wonder what she did with the fabric?

  9. Hi Ladies,
    I am trying to find out more about the ‘Leroy’ brand but not finding much as I have a vintage jumpsuit with a Leroy tag in it and I am want to find out what it is worth before I put it up for sale because I just can’t fit into it anymore and would like to see someone else love and wear it as I have.
    Any info would be great. Thanks

  10. How gorgeous all this is. I’m looking for a typical Oaks Day dress design for1956. Can you help please. Dassana

  11. Hi Dassana, if you try the State Library of Victoria you’ll be able to look up magazines and newspapers from 1956 and see what they wore. You could also try Trove, the online newspaper database. The Victoria Racing Club also has a lot of material and there’s a book on racing fashion that might have some photos from that year. I hope that helps, as a start for your research.

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