Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
Always busy, a Newport lady’s morning planning sessions would have given way to a hectic day, perhaps motoring along Ocean Drive to lunch at the Spouting Rock Beach Association or enjoying a tennis match at the Casino on Bellevue Avenue. This vignette depicts 7:00pm, when the lady of the house finds a moment to rest in her red and pink lounging robe before changing into a floral summer evening dress for an 8:00pm dinner party at a nearby cottage. The silver-leaf Art Deco bench she uses at her dressing table was sold by designer Elsie de Wolfe to Philadelphia department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker for the decoration of his 1923 Palm Beach winter home, La Guerida, designed by architect Addison Mizner. The Wanamaker house was purchased by Joseph and Rose Kennedy in 1933.
Both the red and pink silk satin lounging robe and floral cotton organdy tea dress shown here are illustrative of the fashion forward revelations of French designer Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975), who trained with Callot Soeurs. Vionnet is best known for introducing the bias cut to the fashion world. Cutting on the bias, or diagonal to the grain of the fabric, facilitates draping to match the curves of a woman's body and echo its fluidity of motion. This technique was well suited to Vionnet's provocative dress designs that clung to the body and moved with the wearer. Vionnet eschewed corsets and instead found inspiration in ancient Greek art, where garments appeared to float freely rather than mold and distort the body's shape according to 19th and early 20th century conventions. Her innovation influenced the evolution of less structured lingerie as well as daywear. Both the bold floral and color blocks seen here are distinctively 20th century fashion phenomena.
Photography by Al Weems