Dresses with Understructure – learning from Givenchy

Since falling for the Green 1955 evening dress I have been researching Herbert de Givenchy. He is most famous, perhaps, for dressing Audrey Hepburn. Isn’t this just lovely? A huge, deeply pleated skirt, attached to a slim yoke, coupled with a very neat shell bodice. This outfit must have quite a lot of support under it to look so dramatic.

Hepburn in Givenchy
Pleated pink satin gown

Pink evening wear was obviously the name of the game in the mid 1950s and here are two McCalls patterns by Givenchy – we know that these two are supported by tiered petticoats the dressmaker could make at home.

This look was also developed for daywear in very innovative and surprisingly modern incarnations by Givenchy. Remember he had been working for Schiaparelli for a few years. In these dresses I think there is couture tailoring – padding, pleating, gathering, underlining and lining.

When we look at the evening wear there is more evidence of under structures possibly being relied on.

So in order to have a try at draping over understructures I made a hip belt with two “croissants” sewn onto them. I sewed a couple of matching kidney or crescent shaped articles and stuffed them with what my American tutor called “Polyfiller” – polyester, recycled stuffing. And then attached them to a cotton belt. It’s not very sophisticated but it did the job for my Givenchy attempts.

I have recently heard about an exhibition of 1850-1890 understructures at the Museum of Costume and Lace in Brussels. This goes on until April. My birthday is at the end of March so I have an idea. I will organise a weekend trip to Brussels to see the exhibition. Anyone want to come? Or meet us there?

16 Responses

  1. StinaP

    I love everything that goes on underneath it all. But it’s so difficult to find out how the masters of couture did it! I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out for my Dior-jacket.

  2. ceci

    I continue to be drawn to your green understructure dress…..the reverse V waist looks like a modern take on Elizabethean bodices rather than maternity wear to me and I wonder if it would end up being very attractive on you…..

    And yes, designs inspired by AH should be becoming to you, not sure about the pale pale pink but the stronger pink is inspired.


  3. Stephanie

    That Audrey Hepburn dress makes one catch one’s breath – so lovely.

    If you get a group together, depending on the weekend you choose I might be able to meet you in Brussels (especially if it’s later rather than earlier, but don’t choose on that basis). How much fun would a trip like that be!?

      • Stephanie

        Technically I could as that is Easter weekend. There’s a bit of a glitch related to the end of the fiscal year (March 31) and some related commitments that I have here so I at this point I couldn’t do the natural thing and slide over to Italy afterwards. I will think about it and see if I can finagle something. It would be great fun to meet all of you and enjoy the exhibition (and chocolate!). I must admit that my French has deteriorated terribly as Italian has become the default; I have no excuse either right now as my team is francophone…I will practise!

      • Anne

        Helen enjoyed meeting you too.
        David thinks I should just do it, despite it being Easter weekend (I assume exhibition open). Let me know when the date is confirmed so I can book; and hotel name etc.
        My French is tres rusty!

      • Anne

        Sorry – it’s not going to work, after all. Too close to the wedding and my need to get dresses completed; Helen likely to be available for sizing etc as long weekend. I’ll be a free agent after wedding! Enjoy!

  4. SJ Kurtz

    Oh golly, that show would be swell.
    I’m under the impression there’s a fair amount of underlining going on, as well as the added crinoline petticoat. The hoop skirt that is not a hoop? The modern pannier?
    Ah horsehair, you are a wonder.

  5. Annie B

    That exhibition video is brilliant. Sounds fun. I like to envision alternative secrets eg how the divine AH might entrance the fabric surrounding her 🙂 Enjoy anticipating Spring (&those pesky festivities looming) xx

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