Woman's' Evening Dress with Matching Shoes
This dress with matching shoes was donated to the university in 1984 by John Pierrepont Sturges (1912-2001) and his wife Alice Challifoux Ellsworth [Davis] Sturges (1914-2008). The dress has is a single tag sewn into the bodice, from a store called Claras. Little research has been done on this business; Claras apparently made custom clothes, provided alteration services, and sold works by high-end designers. The store was located at 18 East 53rd Street in New York City, right off of Madison Avenue. Information from the Couture Allure Vintage Fashion blog indicates that the store was advertising in Town and Country magazine in 1939, and still selling clothing with the Claras’ label at the same address in 1971.
The tag includes a date, 11/10/69, probably the date it was sold or commissioned, as well as the number “346,” possibly the order number. The tag also includes the name “Mrs. D. Dillon.” Alice Ellsworth Sturges’ sister was Phyllis Ellsworth Dillon (1911-1982), who remained married to C. Douglas Dillon from 1931 until her death in 1982. C. Dillon Douglas (1909-2003), who habitually dropped his first name and the initial “C”, occupied a number of very important positions in the United States government, including Ambassador to France (1953-1957) and Secretary of the Treasury (1961-1965). He returned to New York City and the family investment banking business, Dillon, Read & Company after 1965. Mr. and Mrs. Dillon were known patrons of the arts and collectors of Impressionist paintings. Phyllis Dillon served as a trustee of the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Since she passed away in 1982 it is not beyond speculation that her sister was responsible for determining what to do with her wardrobe, which included this donation to URI. Two other evening dresses in this donation have custom-made labels from Bergdorf Goodman with "Mrs. C. D. Dillon" written as the customer.
The matching shoes were purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and manufactured by Fenton Footwear, an American company (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d.). Both names are stamped in gold inside each shoe. Although it is uncertain if Mrs. Dillon wore these shoes with this dress, shoes customarily are dyed to exactly match the color of the dress a woman is wearing, which is likely the case for these.
The floor-length dress is made from a turquoise-colored, heavy-weight satin fabric and lined with a pale blue, plain weave material. The thickness of the rayon material, especially when doubled-up as it is on the sleeve cuffs, is able to hold its shape without any inner support materials. Ornamental feathers (chicken feathers that have been dyed black) have been sewn under the flared cuffs, protruding about 3 inches below the blue fabric.
The unusual dress construction includes five panels with front and back princess-line seams and no armscye or armhole seams. The center panel has minimal further shaping with a bust dart at each side. The side panels extend around to the side back. The garment closes in the back with a 17-inch zipper inserted by hand along the center back seam. The unique design continues in the sleeves, which are constructed from these panels. The front and back pieces meet at the shoulder and the seam continues down the top of each arm. The side seams extend up and turn into the bottom of each sleeve. This means each sleeve is made from three pieces; front, back and bottom. The final design details are found in the wide neckline and flared, decorated cuffs.
The major seams of both the dress and lining are sewn by machine, with fine details like the hand-picked zipper and hand-sewn bows indicating a high quality of construction. The lining is inserted entirely with hand stitching.
The princess lines give this dress a sleek design, with a long flaring skirt echoed in the sleeves. The heavy fabric contributes to the formality of the garment. It is very simple at first glance, with the focal points being its bright color and the flared, fun feather cuffs.
The matching shoes have a softly squared toe and an opening on the vamp surrounded by white rhinestones. They have a short, 3-inch pump heel. These shoes are made with a satin-weave fabric, leather, and either a plastic or metal heel, with glass or acrylic rhinestones on the front. The simplicity of this shoe’s design was typical for the time. In combination, the delicate feather details on the sleeves and rhinestones on the shoes create an evening ensemble appropriate for an extremely formal event.
This ensemble was very fashionable for the late 1960s. The owner must have been a very trendy woman, or had a very trendy designer working for her. Whoever had the money to afford this dress knew the importance of looking good in the public eye, whether for her own or for her spouse’s sake. It makes sense to assume that Mrs. Phyllis Dillon was the owner and wearer of these garments. In 1969 she and her husband were involved in numerous activities for several charitable and artistic organizations, each with formal fund-raising events to attend. C. Douglas Dillon remained a leader in the world of international banking, so a custom-made dress from Claras’ would be within his ability to afford. This outfit shows others that the wearer is in touch with current fashion, and displays the wealth of the owners.
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National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). National Archives and Records Administration. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/10679489.
Pieroth, S. W. (n.d.). History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Biographical. Rhode Island Reading Room. http://sites.rootsweb.com/~rigenweb/articles/207.html.
Sessions, D. (2015, November 5). 1960s Shoes: 8 Popular Shoe Styles. Vintage Dancer.
Shopify. (n.d.). About Us. Encore Resale. https://encoreresale.com/pages/about-us.
Wikio. (2011, January 24). Clara's Custom Made Clothes. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion. http://coutureallure.blogspot.com/2011/01/claras-custom-made-clothes.html.
URI 1984.04.17a, b (shoes)
Susan J. Jerome, MS '06
Internal label identifies the dress as from "Claras, 18 E. 53rd St."