The Perils of Wearing A Beaded Art Deco Vintage Dress

Art Deco Montreal Decorative Plaque
Art Deco Era Decorative Plaque - Montreal

When I was a little girl my mother used to make some of my clothes – not many of them (thankfully), and not because we couldn’t afford store-bought clothes (also thankfully) but because she thought it would be … fun, and creative. (Also, probably, because my grandmother had, at one point been a seamstress …) I vaguely remember the sewing machine and patterns made from tissue paper and fabric, but I don’t (thankfully) remember the clothes…

Art Deco Flashion 1920s Pochoir Flappers
Art Deco Fashion - Pochoir

I love the idea of being able to design and create clothing – to imagine a garment and, voila, to produce it. Unfortunately, my imagination exceeds my capabilities in that (and other) departments: on the very rare occasion that I have had clothes made for me, their reality was never quite as spectacular as the fantasy that proceeded them. I have always admired costume designers and their fantastic sartorial skills – with a few select pieces of clothing they seem able to conjure up an era so remarkably that you truly feel as if you were transported back in time.

The Golden Compass Nicole Coat Seated Retro Fashion
The Golden Compass, Nicole Kidman - Vintage Fashions

Nicole Kidman in the recent The Golden Compass seems like she would have felt right at home in the Paris which inspired

Au Bon Marche Vintage Poster Vincent
Au Bon Marche

Rene Vincent’s stupendous Metro advertisement for Au Bon Marche.

And the costumers for HBO’s enormously successful Boardwalk Empire seem to have every detail down right – the flappers look perfect, the gangsters look nasty … even the tablecloth looks right.

HBO Boardwalk Empire Fashion 1920s
Boardwalk Empire, 1920s Fashion

You can imagine that they would have felt quite at home in one of Montreal’s own Art Deco landmarks – the Lion D’Or.*

Lion D'Or Montreal
Lion D'Or - Montreal

My one experience with flapper dresses was – like my other, ill-fated custom-made experiences – less than successful: a friend gave me a dress which had belonged to her grandmother. It was a sheer, black shift, beaded all over with shimmering black bugle beads. There were areas of the dress that needed to be re-beaded, and I invested in having that work done by a person who theoretically knew how to do just that.

Hohlwein Hausers Hotel
Hohlwein Hausers Hotel - Hohlwein

When it was complete, I thought it was lovely and special and I wore it out to dinner one night, feeling rather regal. Until, very slowly, and imperceptibly, it began to unravel …. As I got up from the table, entire rows of beads dropped off the dress, leaving me looking decidedly less dressed than when I sat down.It was at that moment that I decided to stick with store-bought clothes – Art-Deco inspired perhaps, but of modern manufacture and with beads that would stay where they should and not fall off when they shouldn’t. (I kind of figured I should be the one to decide when and where my clothes evaporated, and not leave that decision up to the clothes themselves….)

Divinia 1920s Hohlwein Art Deco Fashion
Divinia, 1920s - Hohlwein
Hohlwein Kristall 1920s Flapper Art Deco Fashion
Kristall Palast - Hohlwein

*The Art Deco Society of Montreal has a wonderful website and meetings all year long. The Society is a labor of love run by Sandra Cohen-Rose and is very active in all things Art Deco.

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