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Evening dress
  • Evening dress
    James, Charles, born 1906 - died 1978
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Evening dress

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1934 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    James, Charles, born 1906 - died 1978 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Fashion, Room 40, case CA10

Charles James created this elegant bias-cut evening dress. The British-born designer (1906-1978) worked as a milliner and dressmaker in New York between 1924 and 1929 and in 1929 opened premises in London. During the early 1930s he travelled extensively between London and Paris, establishing a Paris branch in 1934.

Like Elsa Schiaparelli, James was a friend of the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), and made use of Surrealist influences in his designs. He was also fascinated by the cut of historical dress and explored innovative new forms of garment construction, such as spiral draping. Among his most important works are the taxi dress, the pneumatic padded jacket and the Sylphide gown. His forte included the creation of luxurious, full-skirted evening gowns. He regarded dresses as works of art, as did his customers. In 1939 he returned to New York, where he continued to invent and rework toiles and construct extraordinary clothes in lavish fabrics for a devoted clientele.

The dress forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.

Physical description

Evening dress of satin. It is bias-cut and the bodice is constructed to emphasize the body's curves. It is sleeveless with a plunging back neckline and fastens on the left side with hooks and eyes. There is evidence that the shoulder straps have been altered.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1934 (made)


James, Charles, born 1906 - died 1978 (designer)

Materials and Techniques


Object history note

Worn and given by Mrs Alec Hambro

"I foresaw a new ideal and gave her the appearance of having more bust and a wider pelvis than would have been admired by the average fashionable woman of the early thirties."
(Letter from Charles James, 14/07/1971)

The dress forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection which was brought together by the late Sir Cecil Beaton. With great energy and determination Sir Cecil contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and America to bring this lasting monument to the art of dress. The collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue which detailed its enormous range. (catalogue no. 159 page 33).

Part of the Beaton collection. Listed as an anonymous donor – Records indicate it was Mary St. John Hutchinson.
It is photographed in the Beaton Anthology (pg. 6 in the plates) dated 1934, see quote in Beaton Anthology from a Charles James letter dated 7/24/1971 (pg. 33)
Photo notes:
Front hem interior: characteristic of the graduation of the size of the hem diminishing towards CB
Front hem face: shows seams coming from the back (diagonal ones) towards the center in the front.
Back panels splayed: halter top is unconventional in that the two back panels are attached at the halter neck by two hooks & eyes. The halter neck must be put over the head and it is the back panels that must be attached. (Note however that there is piecing in halter, not original?)
Bodice edge: front edge. Atypical construction with an extra piece at the edge of the bodice underneath the arm.
CB seam: Skirt constructed in one piece with no CF seam. There are diagonal seams radiating out from the CB at the hip level (GCJ cat. 15- donor incorrectly cited as Hambro)

Jan G. Reeder, Curator, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Taken May, 2011, Compiled September, 2011

Descriptive line

Evening dress of satin, designed by Charles James, London, 1934.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

no. 159
Fashion : An Anthology by Cecil Beaton. London : H.M.S.O., 1971


Fashion; Evening wear; Formal wear; Clothing


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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