Image 01

Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Was this One of Greta Garbo’s Mata Hari Film Costumes? Or an Evening Dress Inspired by Dietrich in Shanghai Lily?

April 5th, 2011 by violette

Charming Pagoda Sleeves

An amazing 1930’s vintage evening dress has recently found it’s way into my collection of wearable vintage oddities! It reminds me of something Greta Garbo would have worn in Mata Hari! Where else could it have come from? It is not Siamese but has  Siamese and/or Thai influences. It looks like some designer was inspired by both exotic oriental costumes and Hollywood’s rendition of such for films like Mata Hari and Shanghai Lily starring Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich respectively.




Mata Hari Inspired 1930's Evening Dress

The dress is outrageous and fun! It is not in the best condition, but I am sharing it with you as found before I do any restoration and repairs on it. The thread is old and rotted and it rips when the dress is tried on. It is made of silk brocade. From a distance and in a photograph it looks alright, but close up it has serious problems. It is coming apart at the seams as they say! It is watermarked or something like tea or coffee or wine has been spilled on it. So it is badly splotched in large areas, but it blends in well because of the print and the colors of the gown and you cannot see these problems unless you inspect the dress closely in person.



Mata Hari 1930's Evening Dress Backview

I don’t think the fabric is strong enough to withstand dry cleaning. And I don’t think it is safe to wash it because it is silk brocade. It could be worn on the stage or for photographs because the stains do not show up at a distance. However, the fabric and the seams might rip if an actress were to move while wearing it! I had to handle it very carefully when trying it on myself and when putting it on the mannequin to photograph it. It felt, and sounded, ready to give out at any moment. By sounded I mean I could hear little threads stretching and tearing with the slightest bit of strain put on them. And you cannot put anything on without exerting some strain on the fabric and the seams.



Mata Hari 1930's Evening Gown Featuring Fitted Bodice and 28 Jeweled Buttons

Given all these negative condition issues this piece is probably best relegated to the category of a study piece. That is a piece of vintage attire or a historical costume that is fragile but worthwhile to keep as is for study and reference. Sometimes I make completely new copies of such pieces if I really want to be able to wear them.This can be done for theatrical costumes as well. I think this one is a perfect candidate for a copy made in the orient by a professional tailor. To measure of course, so it would fit perfectly. I think such a tailor could improve on the construction of this type of dress using his or her traditional techniques.

It is designed to be figure hugging through the bodice, waist and hips, then the skirt flares outward. It has amazing jeweled buttons! 28 of them! In perfect condition without a single stone missing! Wow! These are very high quality buttons which would cost a fortune now! There are 26 down the front and one on each sleeve for accents. These close the front of the dress with self fabric loop buttonholes made for closures.


Seductive Cut Out Back of Mata Hari 1930's Evening Dress

The skirt is beautifully shaped ~ smoothly over the hips, then flaring outward to achieve a lovely fuller skirt that is longer in the back. ~ note the shape from the back! Also take notice of the shape of the cutout back! Gorgeous! Isn’t it?


Topstitching on Sleeves & Collar

Then there are the amazing sleeves! I call them Pagoda sleeves! They remind me of little pagodas. They are open at the top and buttoned together. I love the way they stick out to the sides and point up. They are heavily topstitched in many narrow rows as is the super pointy butterfly collar!

Mata Hari 1930's Evening Dress with 26 Buttons Down the Front and 1 on each Sleeves

The dress was found in an estate sale in London by two friends of mine who shop there for their vintage furniture store. They think it is from the 30’s. So do I. There is no designer’s label or fabric content label to help us identify its origins.

Vintage Glass Jeweled Buttons & Fabric Loop Buttonholes

The buttons look like European ones made in the 1920’s and 30’s of base metal and glass. It is a small size. Approximately a size 2 and designed to fit a woman of petite stature.

Waistline Slopes to Point in Back

I love the way the waist slopes down to a point in the back, If you click on the full length and torso length pictures to open them you will be able to see this better, It always slims the waist beautifully to do this! The front of the bodice at the waistline slopes into zigzag points on this dress as well. You can see this in the very first picture at the beginning of the posting and in the photo showing the line of buttons down the front of the bodice. Notice how the fabric is beautifully laid out in the back so that both sides match exactly! This was common in older clothing and is something often overlooked by today. I appreciate this detail. It is one of the major reasons I love vintage – the care with which the clothes were made, the fabric was matched, the stripes and plaids lined up, etc. When the pattern pieces are matched on both sides the body appears balanced.

If anyone has any knowledge of the backstory on this dress or has seen another one of them would they please notify me?  I really would like to know more about it if possible, eventually.


Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.