30s Evening Wear at The Lady Lever Gallery

Seeing dresses on mannequins in a gallery always gives me a strange feeling. We see dresses on mannequins all the time around us in shop windows and yet put them in a gallery and we feel the need to pay close attention to them and take close up shots of them. Would I take close ups of mannequins in Toshop? Probably not, but then the lighting isn’t half as good. It’s all context I suppose.

I was both surprised and not at all surprised by the dresses from the 30’s. Some of them really looked like you could find them out on the shop floor of somewhere like Coast or John Lewis today, some also they looked like they’d come out of the 80’s! They were really displayed beautifully, and it was so interesting to gain an insight about the people who wore them too.


This dress was featured on the pamphlet for the exhibition and I can see why, it’s not often you come across something with beautiful details like this one. The purple colour, the deep V of ruffles cut into the back, that line of silk buttons; it’s all too good! Those buttons are of particular interest to me because the only context I’ve ever seen them in before is on the back of wedding dresses, or the front of army uniforms.


This second dress is biased cut and actually based on the fun spirit of Victorian swimwear. I was really interested in the back hem because it’s weighted down with tiny lead balls to stop it from blowing up as the wearer walks along the coast. The design and print is also really colourful and fun, I really like the use of red, yellow and green together – it reminds me a bit of a safari rather than the beach.


This fur stole apparently belonged to “doctors wife and renowned Liverpool shopper Mrs Emily Tinne.” Frankly, the title renowned shopper is the best title I’ve heard and would wholly love to be remembered that way myself.
This is a printed rayon satin gown that was apparently very typical in the 30s. The dress was lovely, but I thought  the belt detailing was particularly great and these kinds of belts continued to be popular all the way up until the 70s. It was owned by Miss Doris Howard-Jones of Allerton, Liverpool. Good choice Doris.


This gown is beautiful and kind of mysterious. The plume is made from cock features, bleached and dyed so they’re reminiscent of a flamingo. They bring out the subtle pinks in the gown beautifully and I love the subtle tropical theme. I thought the jewelled detailing on the nape of the back was particularly lovely, especially because it was ever so slightly hidden away. There is a pleasure in things that are hidden.


Anything with a big fluffy collar and cuffs like this reminds me of the witch of the wild from Howl’s Moving Castle. Her design was probably based off these gowns with their elegance and opulence. If only there was a matching feather hat. I really love the use of texture from many gowns in this exhibit, but this black marabou against the white background was a particularly lovely contrast.


The dual tone of this dress was so lovely in motion that it’s almost a shame to capture it in photo rather than video. This dress was made in Sloane Street, London and included a matching bolero to give the wearer a bit of cover if they thought the dress was too revealing. Normally I wouldn’t say that pink and green go well together, but they do look really beautiful in this gown.


These two dresses are the ones I was thinking about when I mentioned some of the gowns looking a little bit 80s. It’s the shoulder detailing that does it. The second one in particular definitely takes reference from ancient Greece, and so looks very Olympean in design, but those big shoulders do make it look very 80s.


This dress is silk satin and rabbit fur in a lovely Payne’s gray colour, and it belonged to a mine owner’s daughter from Prescot. I think it must have been really expensive at the time because of the fur and the amount of detail in the design. I am in love with the colour, but you know I love grey. Silk satin was widely used in the 30’s because it draped well and the sheen of the fabric gave the image of glamour and wealth. The rabbit fur is also dyed to the same colour, which creates a great contrast of texture.
This green dress I could totally see on sale at John Lewis today. The colour is really modern and sequins are such a timeless look. The dress actually belonged to Mrs Jane Moreton, daughter of the chief officer of the Titanic, which is pretty cool! The plaque also said that she had a very busy social life, which gave her the opportunity to wear expensive clothes.
This piece was made by Callot Soeurs, who were 4 sisters and dressmakers from Paris. They created their fashion house in 1895 and were well known for their intricate designs, luxurious fabrics and elaborate trimmings. This dress has embroidered godets in the same style as the capelet and a large poppy on the waist. It’s a light silver colour, and I thought it might be a wedding dress or maybe a dress for a reception, but apparently not – fancy was ust the Callot style.
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these gowns; the exhibition has a few more and it is brilliantly staged, so if you can get to it I definitely recommend it. However, if you can’t get to it, I hope my photos have proved good enough and you’ve learned a little something too. Let me know which dress is your favourite and if you see any other influences in the gowns that I’ve not spotted!

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