Vintage Focus: 1960s Red Paisley Wiggle Dress

I thought I’d step back from sewing today and launch a new series called Vintage Focus. Each post will focus on a wonderful piece of vintage clothing from my collection. I’ll share commentary and up-close photos of the item’s construction that show external features (embellishments, collars, and buttons) and interior details (darts and seam finishes).

The first item in this series will be this amazing early 1960s red paisley wiggle dress that I bought at my favorite vintage shop, Bohemian Spirit Atelier Petit. Wiggle dresses were popular in the 1950s and early 1960s, and this dress is an excellent specimen. It’s one of my favorites, and it is exactly the kind of dress Christina Hendricks would wear as Joan Holloway-Harris in Mad Men. It seems to be made of wool jersey, as far as I can tell, and the print is an oh-so-very 1960s red, green, and beige paisley. It has a very slight stretch and it hugs the body just right! When worn with matching beige shoes, it seems to melt into a scandalous see-through illusion.


Here’s a up-close view of the collar, which helps form two pleats that angle outward to draw attention to the bust…just in case you weren’t already staring. Normally, high collars are a no-no for busty gals, but the collar and these angled lines stave off the dreaded “mono-bosom” look.


Side view. Notice the little pocket. I’m not fond of having a pocket right there because it adds bulk, but this dress integrates it quite well.


The dress has kimono sleeves, which are cut with the bodice (rather than sewn on), and neat little underarm gussets to ease the fit.


Back view, showing lapped zipper and collar. Isn’t that print just stunning?


Now, let’s take a peek inside! Here’s the tag marking the dress as a Nelly Don. Go here to read more about the history of this company. It’s quite fascinating! The founder, Ellen Donnelly Reed, rose from humble Irish-American origins and made Nelly Don into one of the largest dress manufacturing companies in the United States.


The shoulders have these little snaps. I’m not sure what they’re for. As far as I know, shoulder pads weren’t popular in this era, but maybe some women needed them. There’s a shoulder pad-shaped piece of fabric as well, but it lacks padding. Odd. Feel free to leave a comment if you can explain this mystery! [EDIT: A reader pointed out in the comments that these are for holding your bra straps and slip straps in place. Thank you, Katie!]


Here’s an interior view of those gorgeous gussets. This makes it look like it’s soooo easy to make them!


Interior view of the pocket. It’s sewn into the waistband along the top so that it wraps around the body under the dress.


Here’s the pleat at the back of the skirt. I thought it was interesting that the pleat starts at the waistline and goes all the way down.


What’s truly strange about this dress are its seams. I think they are trying to tell a story. In some places, you can see black or red thread and the silk bias tape, but other places have running stitches in white thread. The zipper has both black and red thread. Some of the seam edges have been pinked or left raw, but along the back and front of the waistline, they’ve been serged. The other seam edges are raw. It doesn’t look like it’s been ripped and repaired. I can’t really explain why the interiors of the seams are so hodge-podge. Most vintage garments have such nice, finished seams, but this one looks rather mangled. It’s as if someone tried to take it apart and put it back together. Maybe the seams unraveled, or maybe they took it in and then let it out. The crazy white stitching is close to the waist darts, so someone might have fiddled with them. Whatever happened, one thing is clear: someone messed with the waistline of this dress. Fortunately, it fits well and it looks nice on the outside.


That concludes the first entry in my Vintage Focus series. I hope you enjoyed it, and you can look forward to seeing what other vintage treasures my closet holds!


2 Responses to “Vintage Focus: 1960s Red Paisley Wiggle Dress”

  1. 1 Katie February 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    Those snaps on a strap are designed to wrap around your bra straps (and or slip straps) to keep them from falling off your shoulders.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: