Inside Christian Dior's
"I wanted my dresses t be constructed, molded upon the
curves of the feminine body, whose sweep they would stylize," Christian Dior
proclaimed in his autobiography. This concept was the Paris designer's aim
when, in the spring of 1947, he launched a new line of women's clothing that
stunned and delighted the rest of the fashionable world. "Corelle,"
Dior dubbed the line of post-war clothing (naming it after the botanical
term for the frail petals at the center of a flower), though fashion
magazines in Europe and the U.S. quickly and adeptly nicknamed the Dior
collection "The New Look."
It was Dior's belief that women were fed-up with the uniforms and unadorned
clothing of WWII. A new lady-like charm was being adopted by post war
women--who were mimicking screen idols such as Grace Kelly. The New Look
took women back to the more simple, traditional days of their
great-grandmothers; Vogue described The New Look as being "from the
era of Madame Bovary…wasp-waisted Gibson Girl shirtwaists, pleated or
tucked…slow-sloped, easy shoulders…wrapped and bound middles--barrel (almost
hobble) skirts--longer, deeply shaped shadow-box décolleté-padded hips…" And
while Dior's New Look was received with excitement by post-war women, the
Look didn't last past Dior's death in 1957--perhaps because the design
proved impractical for the growing number of women; however, the look of the
1950s can certainly be looked upon as a less extreme version of Dior's New
A Peek Inside
If the vintage clothing enthusiast of costumer wishes to re-create The New
Look, however, she will be disappointed to discover there no patterns
available that re-create a true New Look garment (although, thankfully, the
major pattern companies have begun to publish wonderful patterns from the
1950s). So, unless you're fortunate enough to discover a period New Look
pattern in your grandmother's attic, you'll need to rely on your own
resources to re-create the Look. The first step toward doing so is
uncovering patterns that are as similar as possible to the design you wish
The most important aspect to look for is basic style lines. For instance, if
you want to re-create Dior's famous "Bar" suit, use a circle skirt pattern
(not a gored or A-line pattern) as
your basis. Once this is done, an experienced seamstress or dressmaker can
alter the existing modern pattern. However, to do so, they'll need to know
as much as possible about how Dior created those exaggerated hour-glass
The New Look transformed the square shoulders of the war era into more
feminine, soft, sloping shoulders, inspired by pre-Civil War fashions. In
nearly all Dior designs, this look was achieved by the use of shoulder pads.
Today, modern shoulder pads should be home made or re-cut to achieve a
sloped look. Sometimes, drop shoulders, like those seen in early Victorian
fashions, were also used.
Once essential ingredient needed for New Look fashions is a corset-though
the fashion magazines of the period preferred to call them the more exotic
Dior's own corset (famous for taking inches of the waist) was named "the
waspie;" this new version of the Victorian corset was five or six inches
deep, made of rigid fabric with elastic inserts, and contained boning and
back-lacing. Generally, all corsets of the era were described by fashion
magazines as "super-light weight" and were advertised as containing feather
boning. Such corsets were worn well cinched at the waist, and were usually
worn over a panty- or roll-on girdle.
In addition to the use of corsets, Dior frequently lined the waists of his
skirts and dresses with feather boning. For women who
could only afford to buy the mass-produced version of The New Look, Vogue
suggested the use of a "waist-liner," which was a strip of muslin or seam
binding with boning sewn into it, which Vogue said gave "a thin strip of
indentation about [the] waist, and could be sewn into each…dress…"
By themselves, "waspies" and other post-war era corsets added some fullness
to the hip area, but Dior didn't rely upon natural plumpness to achieve the
full hips his designs called for. All his designs required some sort of
added fullness to the hip area--either with padding, or modern farthingales
Dior's suits contained padding at the hips to achieve an
ever more exaggerated hour-glass look. Dior added flounces or peplums
(usually made of gathers or tucks) to the back of all his suit tops.
Further, nearly all his skirts had built in back flounces (similar to the
smaller built-in bustles of the Victorian era); these were usually pieces of
taffeta, organza, or some other stuff fabric gathered tightly at one end and
sewn to the center back of the skirt at the waist.
Separate bustle or farthingale-like garments could also be worn to further
enhance the figure. These were also made of stiff material and gathered
tightly, although they were often made of several layers and were worn all
around the waist-not just at the back. Such garments were frequently sewn to
a fabric belt and buttoned at the waist.
The "waspie" and other New Look corsets also accentuated the bust somewhat,
but most women wearing The Look also used push-up bras to help fill out
their bust line. Some of these newly invented push-up bras also contained
rubber padding. Women who needed further help were told by fashion magazines
to sew a taffeta or acetate ruffle to the bust line of their bra.
The number one item Dior used to make his long (twelve inches or less from
the ground) skirts stand full was another borrowed Victorian item: The New
Look petticoat, reminiscent of early Victorian petticoats. Most New Look
petticoats were made of stuff nylon, taffeta, or horsehair net. Most often
they had a fitted hip yolk leading to several smooth layers of netting that
ended with a few ruffles. In order to avoid snags in nylon stockings, Dior
ingeniously softened the bottom ruffles of his petticoats with eyelet.
Some New Look petticoats copied Victorian fashion even further by the
addition of hoops-but this practice never gained much popularity since the
hoops had an annoying way of tilting--revealing a little more than their
Victorian counterparts because of shorter skirt lengths. New Look fashion
followers also favored petticoats in brightly colored shades (especially red
and green) just like their Victorian ancestors.
True Dior designs were also
marked with incredible built-in support--which spin-offs never were able to
achieve. Dior's full skirts were interlined with stiffened muslin and lined
with taffeta or acetate. In addition, his skirt hems were lined with
stiffened muslin or calico (usually brightly colored in case a flip of the
skirt revealed the lining) in order to hold out the hem. A new product
called Pellon (now a popular home-sewer's interfacing) was also sometimes
sewn in to hold skirts out.
If Dior's skirts and dresses were not full, they were nearly skin-tight. New
Look jackets, tightly fitted to the figure, were lined with acetate and
muslin to help stiffen and support the outer fashion fabric. Dior's right,
long skirts were given strong linings in order to ward off "seating."
Mass-produced skirts were usually sold without linings and therefore women
wore straight, firm underskirts made of taffeta or acetate under them. In
addition, right skirts were frequently made with back walking slits or had
pleats or gathers at the back in order to make walking easier.
Evening dresses were generally built in the same manner day clothes were;
however, the new strapless evening gown required extra support. "Merry
Widows" first appeared in The New Look era and were helpful in pushing up
the bust and trimming down the waist, but many of Dior's gowns contained
built-in feather boning to hold strapless gowns up.
If re-created accurately, New
Look garments should nearly stand up by themselves; the interlining,
linings, interfacings, bonings, and stiffenings Dior used all but supported
his garments on their own. Of course, not every woman was fortunate enough
to won and wear true Dior clothing. Mass-produced items (which contained
less foundation and support) were worn by most women of the post-war era.
Unfortunately, neither original Dior designs or spin offs are easily found
in vintage clothing shops and shows today. It's a rare treat to find a New
Look garment in an auction, and when they are found, collectors generally
pay $4,000 and up for Dior's early creations. While regular Christie's and
Sotheby's buyers may be able to fit such purchases into their budgets, most
of us will have to settle for the next best thing: A new Look "look alike
(c) 1992 by Kristina Harris