Duck dress, c. 1930


S200789739Day dress
c. 1930
Gift of Steven Porterfield

The charming idiosyncrasy of this dress always gets a smile. From a distance, it is simply a black day dress with a 1920s silhouette and bright red applied decoration. But take a closer look and you'll see that the red decorations are actually a series of plastic badges. Each badge features a hand-painted duck! In the close-up (below) of the sleeve cuff, the painted ducks (ostriches?) are clearly visible. Looking at the close-up also makes it clear that the painted badges are an integral part of the overall dress design. They weren't slapped on as an afterthought; the dress was thoughtfully designed to prominently showcase the hand-painted ducks. Other details, including the contrast piping at the cuffs and neckline and the metallic embroidery seen below, indicate that the dress was more than a throwaway novelty.


S200789739-3S2007.897.39 Cuff detail

There's probably a great story behind this dress, but we'll never know the details. The donor wasn't the original owner, so we have no information about its provenance. There's no label, so that potential source of information is also unavailable. The hem shows signs of having been taken up, suggesting it was either shortened to reflect changing fashions, or to suit the height of another wearer. Given the highly unusual decoration, this dress was likely one-of-a-kind. It was probably made by a skilled seamstress to the specifications of an interesting client. Was it made and worn for a special occasion or festive celebration? So many questions, so few answers!

S200789739-2S2007.897.39 Bodice detail


One response to “Duck dress, c. 1930

  1. Becky D says:

    Quack! I want to know more. Maybe the designer’s children or grandchildren will see your post and cluck on in with the background. I hope. I hope!

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