EXAMINING THE 1900S, 1920S, AND 1930S

The evolution of the wedding dress has changed significantly since the early years of the 1900s, changing not only in design but also in fabric and the process of construction. Megan Carey, a recent Virginia Tech graduate with a degree in Apparel Design and Theatre Arts, chose to examine this evolution in researching and designing three wedding dresses centered around the turn of the century; she concentrated on adapting the original style by adding modern influences, all while preserving the historical element of the era. Out of the three dresses, the 1920s dress named Lacy Dame, was entered into the 2010 ITAA Conference and chosen to be presented at the Live Gallery runway show in October 2010.

Carey, who has been designing clothing and costumes since high school as well as working on costumes with the Theatre Department, created her first wedding dress, inspired by the 1930s, in Spring 2009 as an assignment for one of her classes. With the encouragement of professor, Dr. Jihyun Kim, Carey decided to expand her project into undergraduate research by creating two other dresses to represent the first decade of the 20th century and the 1920s. These three eras have very distinct styles that make them recognizably different and yet linked.

In completing the project, Carey had to intensively research the time period, design the dress based on this information, and finally construct the dress. She admits that the initial research of the piece is hugely rewarding, especially with a project centered on the elements of a specific time period. “I look at everything,” Carey states, “from books, to online sources, magazines, and photography.” It was this research that led Carey to create a design that mimicked the 1920s flapper era, with a significantly lowered waistline and cowl neckline while introducing the modern element of the detailed cut-out of the lace.

Dr. Kim, the primary mentor during the project, claims that the design was created by Carey’s ability to “push the envelope to create a one-of-a-kind design by going beyond inspirations from the 1920s.” Carey’s extensive research allowed her to understand the elements of the era that she wished to include while altering others to mirror her own personal style.

Once the initial research was completed, Carey began construction on the dresses. The 1900s dress focused on corsets, layers, and textures, while the one from the 1920s was heavily influenced by the flapper style. Lastly, the 1930s dress was greatly inspired by old Hollywood glamour. “Megan paid close attention to detail and spent endless hours on this piece… From lace appliqués with pearl beading to perfecting the architectural lace overlays at dropped hip level, I love every aspect of the piece,” explained Dr. Kim. In order to go beyond simply recreating a piece, she added unique modern elements, involveing many changes and adjustments throughout the process. According to Carey, these small adaptations “transformed this dress from ‘just another wedding dress’ to a true ‘modern adaptation of a historical wedding dress.’”

To begin, Carey used techniques that she had learned in one of her Apparel and Design classes, Draping and Pattern Making. To form a working pattern, she draped the dress on a form with muslin. This gave her the ability to visualize the overall design and make changes before continuing on with fashion fabric. Even while working with the final fashion fabric, Carey admits that she continued to make minor changes until she was completely satisfied with the piece. “This piece [Lacy Dame] speaks for itself what it would be like to be a lady in the 1920s and how it can be worn by a modern lady who can bring the 1920s beauty in the contemporary nuptial setting in the 21st century,” added Dr. Kim.

Lacy Dame received much acclaim upon its completion; it was first showcased at the 2010 ITAA Conference and then selected for the Live Gallery runway show the following fall. In addition to paperwork, applications, and customs forms—the runway show was held in Canada—Carey had to make sure her garment was in perfect condition to compete. “The construction of the dress has to be top of the line. If the garment’s construction does not look acceptable, the judges will not allow the garment to be shown in runway show,” said Carey. While she was not able to attend the show, the pictures demonstrated that the work was a complete success. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your finished garment stylized and strutting down the runway,” she claims. In addition to the thrill of seeing the photographs of her work displayed, the competition also offered helpful comments. For all entries, the judges offered feedback and constructive criticism to help the designer to continue to develop and grow in their abilities.

In addition to the rewarding feedback received from the judges on her design, Carey claimed that having her work showcased in the window display in Wallace Hall was hugely gratifying, for it allowed her “to showcase the work she had done.” The display included Lacy Dame, as well as the other two dresses from the collection—Edwardian Pearl and Vintage Gardenias—allowing one to recognize the dresses as a cohesive unit as well as individual looks.

While Carey’s success at the ITAA Conference is highly regarded, her own determination in completing an undergraduate research project is greatly admired. Dr. Kim notes that she advises “the student to be an independent researcher and an owner of his or her research project,” thus allowing one, with minimal guidance, to creatively design one’s own project and “make final decisions through problem-solving.” It is in this way that Carey was able to design all three dresses with a twist to the historical designs.

Vintage Gardenias was the first wedding dress that Carey designed for Dr. Kim in her Senior Studio course on Draping, sparking her inspiration. It was this dress that led Carey to, “give a re-birth to the 1920s by re-interpreting the era and personalizing the design piece with her signature,” stated Dr. Kim. Carey claims, “I wanted the dresses to be my designs and not just recreations.” With the completion of the collection, and the success of Lacy Dame in the runway show, it is evident that she succeeded in doing just what she aspired to do.