A Gown and her Journey

I was on TV last night – did you see me? A flash of pink hair and that was about it for me, but you got to see more of Circa and Miss Kate, who modelled a gown for Channel Seven’s “Formal Wars”.

The show has a simple plot: money is given to the parents of a teenager, to organise and choose everything for their high school formal. The gown, the hair and make up, the date and the transport. It’s set up for conflict of course: how many of us shared taste with our parents at that age? How many parents have a different idea of how their children should dress? Using the word “war” in the title is a give away too: drama ahead!

Laura was shopping for a vintage dress for her daughter Tanya, and Danielle from A Vintage Outing took her to a few Melbourne vintage shops, where she saw some beautiful frocks – she came to Circa too and we were fortunate in that one of our gowns was chosen.

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Let me tell you a little about this gown – I bought it about seven years ago, as part of a lot of 200 vintage dresses from Rose Chong. That was a fun day – dresses from the ’30s to the ’60s but this one was one of the three best.

It was made in the late 1950s in Flinders Lane by top fashion label Raoul Couture and you might have seen it featured in my blog post on the designer. The fabric is the finest quality silk in a soft oyster colour, and it was hand beaded with prong set crystal diamantes, glass beads and sequins around the waist and hips – an unusual feature, as beading usually embellishes the bodice of a gown.

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The bodice was heavily ruched and the skirt featured a ruched ruffle to the rear, like a bustle – this gown is all about creating an hour glass shape, by adding bulk to the bust and hips (and bottom) to emphasise a tiny waist. Classic 1950s styling. The interior is fully lined with built in petticoats and boning to the strapless bodice.

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A couture gown, originally it was created for one special lady to wear for a special event. It would have been very expensive. It’s likely that it was only worn once before making its way to Rose Chong. I’m not sure when Rose bought the gown, but many of her special and older pieces have been in her collection for a decade or three. The best vintage was stored upstairs and mostly used for film and TV, where this gown probably appeared in some Australian productions. It was certainly used a bit because when she found her way to me, she needed love.

We replaced the boning, which had become tired over the years, with proper sprung steel corset boning. The ruching on the bodice needed some repositioning and restitching and the hem and the petticoat were bedraggled from touching the ground so we rehemed both. The beadwork needed hours of work: securing loose beads and replacing lost patches. The centre back zipper was replaced with a new one. Then it was dry cleaned by a specialist dry cleaner.

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I imagined that this beautiful gown would be worn by a bride – it’s a sophisticated gown that tells you a lot about the time that it was made, and the quality of the lady who wore it, but the wonder of vintage is that a gown like this doesn’t have to come with a high price tag.

I feel a personal responsibility to find good homes for my frocks, where they will be worn and appreciated but sometimes they have other roles to play.

I was pleased when Laura chose it for her daughter’s formal, and we tailored the dress to fit her – which was tricky, because we didn’t know her exact size, but we did our best. We also rehemmed the skirt and petticoats with rolled hems to remove the bulky – but authentic – 1950s style hem.

It’s not the sort of gown that most modern teenagers would choose for their formal but for some, it is a treasure.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to Tanya’s liking! There were tears, but not just over the dress – poor Tanya found the whole experience a challenge. Thankfully the situation was saved by an unorthodox choice of transport – when the camel arrived to take her to the formal, all was forgotten. Good work mum!

It made for an interesting evening for me too: I suspected that there would be a rocky ride but was caught off-guard by the negativity, most of it focused on Tanya and her difficult journey but some was reserved for the Raoul Couture gown. Here’s one of the nicer tweets:

Well, Aussie_Kardash, I probably wouldn’t like your idea of a nice frock either. Thankfully not everyone agrees:

Thanks Amy! It takes all sorts to make a world.

If you missed it last night, The TV episode is available for viewing online for 28 days.

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8 comments

  1. Love it. I think it’s a really beautiful dress and I wish I had the money and opportunity to own it. It really pains me to see how much she hated it (but I think she hated her makeup and sandals more). It’s hard to not get offended, but a 16 year old me probably wouldn’t appreciate it as well. Silly teenage years…

  2. I’m sure that Tanya will change her mind about a few things as she gets older: we’re all allowed to make mistakes when we’re young and who of us would entrust our parents with the responsibility to choose our frock for an important event?

    I know that I wouldn’t – at 16 my favourite frock was a foofy ’50s prom dress covered in ruching and rosettes – the opposite of what was in fashion at the time, and probably miles away from what my family would have chosen.

  3. Well, Nicole, now I’m glad we don’t have access to the program here in the U.S., as it would surely make me crazy seeing this lovely, sophisticated gown rejected and abused. As you say, it takes all sorts to make a world. On the bright side, their questionable tastes leaves more gorgeous vintage frocks for us! : )

  4. Omg! That dress is stunning Nicole. When I saw it, then read that it was going to be worn by someone who wouldn’t truly care for it and appreciate its beauty and history my heart sank. This dress truly deserved a more loving home. What a silly young girl. If my Mum had picked that for me, I would’ve been over the moon.

  5. What a fabulous dress! I hope it finds a more loving owner in the future, but reality TV is all about the shock value right? Not everyone appreciates vintage and that’s lucky for the rest of us who snap up some simpy gorgeous pieces. xx

  6. I know I’m going against the tide here but … that dress doesn’t photograph well, the colour is anaemic (some may say elegant, but it’s a matter of your colouring and taste) and it doesn’t drape well either. Take away the wonderful history of the dress and judge it on its appearance only and I can sympthise with a teenager who has to wear it to her big night. I would have thought a 50’s colourful sundress well acessorised to dress it up for night time or a sexy 60’s LBD would have been met with more enthusiasm. Alas, sometimes dresses age just as much as their owners and I think this might be one.

  7. Sandy, I agree that it’s not the best gown for a teenager – as I say in the post “It’s not the sort of gown that most modern teenagers would choose for their formal” In the episode you’ll see me presenting colourful and pretty ’50s prom dresses, very popular and what teenagers wore back then to their special nights. This gown is a lot more grown up.

    It was Laura’s choice which gown she wanted for her daughter though, so all I can do is present options.

  8. What a disgusting human being. Tanya is a spoiled brat, an ungrateful little turd. If I was her mother, I would have taken everything back and sent her to her room. She should be completely ashamed of herself.

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