The Skeleton Dress

Evening Dress
1938 (made)
The Skeleton Dress thumbnail 1
The Skeleton Dress thumbnail 2
+6
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

To many contemporaries the sinister black skeleton evening dress with its padded representations of human bones was an outrage - an offence against good taste. Although otherwise in elegant harmony with the prevailing lines of late 1930s evening wear, the skeleton dress is so constricted that it became a second skin and the imitation anatomy sat defiantly proud of the fine matt silk surface. Schiaparelli exaggerated the usually delicate trapunto quilting technique to make enormous 'bones' - the design was stitched in outline through two layers of fabric, then cotton wadding inserted through the back to bring the design into relief on the front. The shoulder seams and right side are closed by bold plastic zips.
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watch Introducing Elsa Schiaparelli Fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890 – 1973) was one of the most remarkable couturiers of the 20th century, known for her subversive, sometimes overtly surreal designs. In this film, Sonnet Stanfill, Senior Curator of Fashion & Textiles, takes a closer look at some of Schiaparelli's mo...
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watch Fashion unpicked: the Skeleton dress by Elsa Schiaparelli Designed in collaboration with surrealist artist Salvador Dali, Schiaparelli's elegant – yet uncanny – evening dress is superimposed with skeletal bones. Join Senior Curator Sonnet Stanfill for a closer look at it's construction, featuring padding, zips, and quilting on sheer crepe fabric....
object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Evening Dress
  • Petticoat
Additional TitleThe Circus Collection (named collection)
Materials and Techniques
Silk crêpe, trapunto quilting, cotton wadding
Brief Description
Evening dress and petticoat of silk crêpe, 'The Skeleton Dress', designed by Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí, Paris, 1938.
Physical Description
Black evening dress and petticoat of silk crêpe, with exaggerated trapunto quilting technique to make enormous 'bones'. The design was stitched in outline through two layers of fabric, then cotton wadding inserted through the back to bring the design into relief on the front. The shoulder seams and right side are closed by bold plastic zips.
Credit line
Given by Miss Ruth Ford
Object history
Ref. Paris Centre de Documentation de Costume, Schiaparelli, Album no 19, 1938, p.128



Featured in the "Circus Collection" of summer 1938, presented February 1938



Donated by Ruth Ford



Photo Notes:

Top bodice front: exposed zippers at the shoulder

Bodice front: shows the ribs and exposed zipper at the left

Neck interior back: shows the interior of the spine (padded). The spine facing has a rough and

Bodice back: vertebrae and ribs

Back hip: seductive end of tailbone. Does have a waist seam. Below waist seam there is a triangular insert ending at the coccyx (very Jamesian). Two side zippers (4 zippers total on dress).




Jan G. Reeder, Curator, The Costume Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Taken May, 2011, Compiled September, 2011



Summary
To many contemporaries the sinister black skeleton evening dress with its padded representations of human bones was an outrage - an offence against good taste. Although otherwise in elegant harmony with the prevailing lines of late 1930s evening wear, the skeleton dress is so constricted that it became a second skin and the imitation anatomy sat defiantly proud of the fine matt silk surface. Schiaparelli exaggerated the usually delicate trapunto quilting technique to make enormous 'bones' - the design was stitched in outline through two layers of fabric, then cotton wadding inserted through the back to bring the design into relief on the front. The shoulder seams and right side are closed by bold plastic zips.
Bibliographic References
  • Mendes, Valerie. Black In Fashion. London: V&A Publications, 1999.
  • Fashion : An Anthology by Cecil Beaton. London : H.M.S.O., 1971no. 225
Collection
Accession Number
T.394&A-1974

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record createdMay 27, 2002
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