It’s party time!

This time of year I always find myself hoping for an opportunity to attend a swanky party that requires a bit of sparkle and holiday elegance.  Yet the season consistently brings casual family gatherings requiring little more than jeans and sweaters, or New Year’s plans including games and staying in with my sisters and our respective significant others.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love these holiday gatherings that have become a tradition in my life, but…if that invitation ever comes…I think I’d like to sew up my own version of one of these….

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Woman’s Dress. 1950s. Gift of Nora Oakes Howard. The Connecticut Historical Society. 2012.532.14.

As of late, I have had a slight obsession with hunting down vintage patterns, copying them, and then sewing them up for myself.  Sometimes I add a modern flair, and sometimes it is fun to stick to the original designs and fabric choices of the period.  I’ve also found myself more and more interested in the idea of creating patterns from existing historical garments.  I was thinking about all of this, and the parties I dream of attending, as I was cataloguing our costume collection the last few weeks.  I found a few garments that have a surprisingly modern appeal and I think would be great for any event you have going on this winter…it just requires a little skill wielding a needle.

Although the above dress has a decidedly springtime feel, I still think it could work nicely for a more casual holiday gathering.  Imagine it with a fitted black leather jacket and a pair of strappy studded black pumps.  Sounds like something right out of a fashion magazine, right?  Maybe it is just me, but I think it would be adorable for a work party…covered up and appropriate, but with a twist.

Need something just slightly more casual?  How about this festive red cotton and wool blend skirt?

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Skirt. About 1940s. Gift of Jane Eleanor Hofer Kettendorf. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1994.59.57. (Blouse, 1994.59.69)

The pleat in the front allows the skirt to remain form fitting while still providing plenty of room to move around comfortably…great for those afternoon gatherings that might include children!  I absolutely love this skirt and dream of the day I can make one for myself.  However, it will require the perfect fabric.  The wool cotton blend the skirt is made from gives a nice heft while also allowing it to flow.  And the color is a perfect mix of red and raspberry. 

Now, for those of you lucky enough to need something extra special for an elegant holiday party, let me make these two suggestions.

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Dress. 1935-1945. In loving memory of Joseph and Blanche Gagnon Ficaro by their daughters Blanche Ficaro Boucher, Jean, and Sue Ficaro. The Connecticut Historical Society. 2012.353.8.

Now, don’t get thrown off by the picture.  The dress is a deep black with black sequins around the neckline (I had to finagle it a bit in photoshop so you could see the details of the dress!).  To me, this dress looks like something you could pick out of a boutique store today and it would look just as classy now as it did nearly 75 years ago.  With the sequin detail, this dress screams New Year’s Eve bash.  The crepe fabric flows beautifully and would look amazing on the dance floor.  Not into dancing…imagine the low lights of a wonderful restaurant reflecting off of the sequins and the texture of the crepe fabric.  This dress would attract all of the right attention.

Going even one step further and planning to attend a holiday black-tie event?  Why not find a dressmaker as skilled as Ms. Aida L. Manupelli.  For years, her occupation in the Hartford City Directory is listed as “gowns” and it is clear why she stayed in business so long.

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Dress. About 1934. Gift of Mrs. Howard B. Haylett. The Connecticut Historical Society. 1974.15.2.

Let me first say that this picture doesn’t even begin to reflect the amazing qualities of this gown.  It is definitely one of my favorite 20th century pieces from the costume collection.  The dress is made of a rich deep olivey-green velvet with pewter-colored lace for the bodice.  The lace includes flecks of gold to catch the light even more.  And the velvet…oh the velvet!  I have no better word to describe it than…buttery.  I can’t imagine how lucky Ms. Haylett must have felt when she visited Ms. Manupelli’s shop in downtown Hartford to pick up this dress.  Our records do not tell us where Ms. Haylett wore the gown, but I can only imagine it was to something memorable.

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Manupelli Gowns label in dress.

This picture of the “Manupelli Gowns” label in the dress gives a hint as to the quality of this garment.  The carefully executed french seams just hint at the details put into making this a special dress.  Although we do not know much about Manupelli Gowns, we do know they put out quality garments.

I hope you have enjoyed a bit of inspiration from our collection for your holiday gatherings.  If I could, I would reproduce each one of these beautiful pieces. 

Have a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year!

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About Karen

Karen DePauw is a Research and Collections Associate at The Connecticut Historical Society. Along with aiding patrons who visit the museum in their research efforts, Karen works behind the scenes with the costume and textile collection. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History, double minoring in Theatre and Theology, from Quincy University. Karen obtained her Master of Science degree at the University of Rhode Island in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, with a specialization in Historic Costumes and Textiles.

2 thoughts on “It’s party time!

  1. Karen, My Grandmother is Aida Manupelli. Thank you for your article and compliements. I have wonderful memories of her store and how she loved to find gowns and clothes for her clients.

    • Sally, that is so incredible! The dress from her shop is one of my favorites in the collection. If you wouldn’t mind, I would love to hear more about your grandmother. We really know very little about her or her shop in Hartford. If you wouldn’t mind sharing some information, we can get together in person or via e-mail (karen_depauw@chs.org).
      I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see your comment.

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