Fashion Hunt: 1930s Quilted Eveningwear

I am currently on the hunt for additional examples of a specific style of 1930s evening gown with quilting as decoration. I’ve recently come upon two remarkably similar pieces, suggesting that a single designer was experimenting with this style. I’m hopeful that those of you who work in museums, or auction houses or who are vintage collectors might have come across these types of gowns in your own work.

A few key elements are repeated, but frustratingly these dresses do not have identifying labels, linings or slips (and probably did originally). The two that I have come across are very similar, though not identical and show high quality workmanship. They have the following features:

  • Quilted and padded winged shoulders/sleeves
  • a demure bow at the collar
  • a belted waist
  • a mermaid style, bias-cut skirt
  • an open or key-hole back
  • made of iridescent taffeta, in varying shades of purple.

This marvelous example from Vintageous, is typical of the design that I’m researching:


In doing a little preliminary research on quilted fashions of the 1930s, I did find a couple of leads. Quilted clothing and furniture had a revival during this era, as is pointed out in the book, 400 Years of Fashion. In 1933, Elsa Schiaparelli created an elaborate quilted taffeta cape that was featured in the December 1, 1933 issue of Vogue. These dresses do remind me of Schiaparelli – they are vaguely surrealist and seem to reference butterfly wings, mermaid tails, and other sculptural elements – but I don’t think they are Schiap’s.  In 1937, Charles James took the idea of quilting a bit further, and produced this highly sculptural evening coat. Both of these designers regularly utilized sculptural elements in their fashion design. Schiap, often used Dali’s work in sculpture for inspiration, and James often focused on sculpting a woman’s form into his ideal of femininity.

Charles James Evening Jacket, 1937 (V & A)

Molyneux also seems to have used quilting as decoration heavily during this era, and as early as 1929. In May of 1935, he created an quilted taffeta evening gown, and paired it with a “plain jacket” (see “FROM ORIENTAL DRAPERY TO CALICO; Wide Shoulder Line Is Coming Back,” New York Times, May 26, 1935). Another example of an all-over quilted evening gown appears during the 1940s, by designer Matilda Etches.

Matilda Etches evening gown, 1947 (V & A)

However, the most similar gowns appeared 1933 and 1934: Bette Davis wears a strikingly similar piece with quilted shoulders, quilted hem, and a key0hole back in this unnamed designer gown photographed and published in November of 1933. In the March 1934 (n°151) issue of L’Officiel de la Mode I came upon several similar designs, with wide shoulders, and quilted details by Paris Designer Helen Hubert (not much information is available on Hubert, aside from this 1934 article from the Pittsuburgh Press).

Bette Davis in a similar gown, November 8, 1933 (Corbis)

Helen Hubert fashions (click to enlarge) L’Officiel de la Mode. 1934 n°151

And there my friends, my search has stalled. If anyone has any information or has seen one that looks similar, please do leave a comment below so I can be in touch.

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  • Claudine January 26, 2011 09.15 am

    Wow, these are fantastic! That James jacket would look fantastic as part of a ski ensemble.

    This is not what you were requesting, but I made a quilted silk dress a while back that I wear fairly often. It is blogged here:
    and here:

  • Clare January 26, 2011 09.43 am

    Good morning, Heather!

    Jeanne Lanvin used quite a bit of trapunto stitching in her early 1930s eveningwear, I think she is the likely source of the trend.

  • Lindsey January 26, 2011 09.47 am

    Oh my gosh. I stumbled across that beautiful purple dress a year or so ago and fell in love. I’m so happy to hear that you’re trying to solve the mysteries surround that amazing dress!

    I wish I knew of other examples; if I remember correctly, I did stumble across a quilted wedding dress on ebay a year or two ago – I can’t remember if it was 1930s or 1940s, though …or anything else about it.

    Good luck! I’ll let you know if I come across anything.

  • Kristen January 26, 2011 10.17 am

    I love these pieces. In the collection of the museum I work for, we have a few pieces of quilted clothing, though the earliest piece is ca. 1960s by designers like Givenchy ( quilted maxi dress), Mary McFadden, YSL, and Simonetta. We do have a quilted velvet cloche by Paulette, which currently is undated. Message me for more information if you’d like.

  • Mellissa January 26, 2011 10.47 am

    Hi Heather!

    Vivienne Tam uses Trapunto detailing really frequently in her collections. She has created a variety of really interesting quilted coats, skirts, and accents on many items over the years. There is also a dress from her fall 2005 collection that was simply called the Trapunto Dress as a style name. This dress– although a slightly different silhouette, and missing the bow and quilting–is particularly reminiscent of the example that you showed. It makes me wonder if she might have one floating around in her archive somewhere…

  • edgertor January 26, 2011 11.17 am

    i’ve seen lots of victorian garments with quilted detailing, but i don’t have any pictures/links at the moment…

  • Heather January 26, 2011 01.43 pm

    Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments! I’m starting to wonder if the trend is also related to Maggy Rouff, and her penchant for trapunto. More digging! Thanks for the clues folks.

  • Heather R. March 28, 2011 05.47 pm

    Hi Heather,
    I adore that purple dress too. I actually have a gown in my personal collection with a similar aesthetic. Also from the 1930’s, it is a lovely shade of gold with eggplant sleeve facings and sash. The sleeves have rows of cording giving them a similar look. There is currently an identical one in a shop on Ruby Lane, except it’s color is Royal Blue.

    There are no labels in either dress. I assumed mine was home made, but it’s hard to say.

  • Devon ciralo February 02, 2012 09.41 am

    I would love to wear these dresses , can i order them?

  • Beth Copeland April 04, 2013 02.56 pm

    I have a Helen Hubert full-length gown that my father purchased in Paris in 1956 for my mother. It’s plaid taffeta, with a fitted bodice and full skirt. I would like to donate it to a museum if there is any interest.


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