WHEN DRESSES HAD NAMES

It sounds like something out of a glamorous Hollywood movie from the 1930s; the heroine is getting ready for a big night out with the handsome leading man but can’t decide what to wear. She turns to her friend, holding up two gowns. “Should I wear the Marigold or the Delilah?” Her friend turns her nose up at both. “Why bother, when the Tulip suits you so well?”

It’s not entirely beyond the realms of possibility. Charles James, a famous fashion designer of the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, used to name all his designs. I’ve set out below a few of my favourites.

butterfly-charles-james

This lovely little number is the Butterfly, and you can see how it got its name. Layers of tulle and net billow out behind a close fitting bodice to resemble the wings (complete with the different coloured layers creating a pattern) while the body is relatively plain, looking for the world like the thorax of an insect. I’m not sure I would wear it, but what an entrance you’d make if you did.

spiral-charles-james

The beautifully wearable Spiral dress, so called because it’s cut on the bias and looks like it’s slightly askew. I’d wear this any day of the week, even thought it is brown. It’s such a flattering shape and I love that neckline.

infanta-charles-james

I admit I’m less keen on this, the Infanta, although its much more my colour. It’s that neckline again – the bow and high collar feature seem fussy to me. I do love the pleating of the skirt though. I can only assume it’s inspired by Velazquez’s paintings.

diamond-charles-james

My personal favorite, the Diamond. I adore the cut, the colours and the beautiful neckline. I just need the occasion and a small fortune to buy one – these gowns were never cheap when they were made, and they’re certainly not cheap now.

I’m not convinced that James was unique in naming his designs, but I don’t recall seeing any other named designs from other designers. If you know of any, let me know – I’d love to look them up.

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