Rialanna Spencer – is a vintage-loving mama, that’s trying to make a difference for the future by celebrating the styles and skills of the past, and a sustainable eco stylist that only buys vintage/second hand (where possible), as well as ethical and sustainable garments and products when new is required/preferred for her clients. She agreed to share with us her favorite op shop find – a rare Douglas Cox Creation, a fashion business owner who worked with Dior in the early 1950’s.
There’s a very real possibility that I squawked “mine!” and swooped on that dress like a seagull on a hot chip, but I knew I had to have it!
I was taking some interstate visitors on a vintage and op shop tour of Fitzroy in Melbourne, and at our last stop of the day at Sacred Heart Mission I spotted this black beauty on a mannequin in a corner. There’s a very real possibility that I squawked “mine!” and swooped on that dress like a seagull on a hot chip, but I knew I had to have it. I had it unzipped and off the mannequin in a flash! I didn’t waste time trying it on, and would have physically fought off anyone trying to take it from me, even to check the price! (It was only $18!)
I knew it was a treasure because of the quality of the tailoring, but it wasn’t until later when I did some research and contacted a fashion historian that I discovered the extent of the history of this garment. The dress was labelled Douglas Cox Creation, which initially didn’t mean all that much to me, and turned up very few results in my search, but I was informed by the extremely knowledgeable Tom McEvoy of House of Darlington that Douglas Cox was a Melbourne based fashion business owner who worked with Christian Dior in the early 1950s, when he introduced his “New Look” to Australia.
Douglas Cox secured the contract to produce garments in Australia under the Dior label. This dress design was obviously influenced by the Dior style, and was most likely made around 1956. The lead designer for Douglas Cox was Dotti Laughlin, who is somewhat legendary in mid-century Australian fashion design, although this is an area of couture history that sadly isn’t as well explored or celebrated as the European and American designers and couturiers of the time.
“I’m all for modernising, altering, repurposing and upcycling vintage garments, but I believe a certain amount of authenticity and integrity needs to be retained when it’s clearly a well-designed piece. I’m old-fashioned like that!”
While it’s rare to find designer couture pieces in op shops, finding vintage garments like this is even more rare, and I am exceptionally grateful to have come across this dress and to learn some of the history of it, even if I don’t know the details of the original owner. I can only guess that they were shorter than I am, or wanted to modernise the look of the dress at some point, as the hem had been taken up about 25cm. At least it hadn’t been chopped off, which is something I find heartbreaking – to discover an amazing piece in original condition except it’s had more than half the skirt length hacked off… I’m all for modernising, altering, repurposing and upcycling vintage garments, but I believe a certain amount of authenticity and integrity needs to be retained when it’s clearly a well-designed piece. I’m old-fashioned like that!
The burnout lace effect of the rayon dress fabric is in a fairly bold floral design, which is muted by the black-on-black of the lining. The sweetheart neckline and ruching of the bodice with tiny buttons is romantic and feminine, and the gathered fabric of the cap sleeves can be worn high up or off the shoulders.
The nipped-in waist of the dress is balanced by a full circle skirt. I think these elements amount to a timeless and elegant design, and it’s the attention to such details in true vintage garments that separate them from contemporary and reproduction garments.
Although this is a fabulous piece and should probably be reserved for special occasions, when worn with the right attitude and the understanding that life is a special occasion, it can be worn anytime and not appear costumey.
I try to apply this philosophy to my wardrobe as often as possible, and enjoy incorporating vintage pieces into my everyday attire. Sometimes it might be considered over the top, but I see it as an easy way to express myself, and I haven’t had a negative comment yet. Hearing older ladies reminisce about their youth when they used to wear seamed stockings, petticoats, gloves and a hat, and pin curl their hair, or have a chap doff his hat to me, brings me a real sense of joy, and I’m happy to have reminded them of these times.
Do you love vintage too? How do you incorporate vintage pieces into your look? What’s your favourite era?
Until next time,
‘Style has no price tags’