What: Late 1940s/early 1950s dress coat
Where: American Rag, Melbourne, Australia
History Behind the Garment
Dior introduced his “new look” in the late 1940s, designing garments with nipped in wastes in contrast with full swirling mid-calf skirts (the style the pictured coat was following). He was accentuating the “ideal” woman’s figure, the hourglass.
A variety of body shapes have been admired throughout time. During the renaissance people showed a preference for big busts, round stomachs and full hips. It was thought that these features proved you lived a wealthy and healthy lifestyle. The Victorian era was when the hourglass figure first became popular, while the 1920s admired flat chested, boyish figures with short hair.
So why did Dior and other designers decide to accentuate and popularise the hourglass figure that merely 8% of women possess? Perhaps it was due to the fact that during WWII women entered the work force but as soon as it ended they were expected to go back to performing their dutiful housewife tasks. Therefore what better way of cementing a woman’s place in the home than dressing them in clothes that coveted a figure most admired in the Victorian era, a time when women were seen and not heard. Whatever the reason it is sad that contemporary culture has dictated which body shape women should strive for, when at different periods of time they have all been admired.
Story Behind the Garment
Edith purchased this coat when she was working as a secretary in London in 1951. It was black, it was warm, it could be dressed up and down, it would match her hat and shoes, it would do. She couldn’t afford any other so this was the only coat she owned for the next eight years. Edith wore it to work, to the opera, out to dinner, to the park, and she loathed every minute of it. She could only see the worn holes around the cuffs, her inability to purchase anything else, the boredom.
Forty years later Edith’s granddaughter Lucy discovered the coat entwined in laddered stockings in a box at the bottom of her wardrobe. Lucy admired the detailing – the beaded buttons, the scalloped collar, the tailored waste. She asked Edith if she would mind if she had it. Edith sniffed her assent wondering why anyone would possibly want to wear such a boring garment but as she watched Lucy twirl around the living room in the coat she remembered that she was wearing it when she received a letter accepting her into university; she was wearing it when she dropped her purse in the street, only to be picked up by a tall handsome man, the man who she was still with to this day; and she was wearing it when her doctor told her she was pregnant with her first daughter. Edith smiled and for the first time was grateful for her hoarding tendencies.
Story Behind the Name
Some of you may be wondering the meaning behind the name “Dance: Ten, Looks: three.” It is the name of a song in the musical A Chorus Line. One of the dancers tells a story about how she never used to get any roles until one day she swipes her audition card and reads the comments: Dance – ten, looks – three. She then “enhances” her appearance, mainly her “tits and arse”, and is a lot more successful with both men and her career from that day on. It’s sad but probably true that many women feel the need to do this.
Cotton and Woolley xx
Illustration by Cotton
Photography by Haley Kigbo