This sumptuous creation epitomises the elegance of 1930s evening wear, inspired by the glamour of screen ‘goddesses’ like Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich. After the brief period in the 1920s when hemlines had risen to reveal the legs, in the 1930s evening dresses dropped back to full-length gowns where they have pretty much stayed ever since. The back and shoulder blades were unveiled as the new focus of erotic allure. This was entirely novel and meant that dresses were designed to showcase the view from behind, hence the open back on this dress, the bias cutting and the elaborate ‘godet’ panels in the skirt, flaring out with an almost fishtail train. Fashioned from an ivory crepe, this dress drapes sinuously over the body, hugging it closely to accentuate its curves. This ‘slinky’ effect is accentuated further by the rows of silver bugle beads, whose patterns curve suggestively even as they catch the light to shimmer and sparkle.

This dress is thought to have belonged to Nancy, the only daughter of William and Mary McLellan. William McLellan was a prominent building contractor in Dunedin, responsible for some of the city’s major building projects from the 1920s onward. Nancy was born in 1917 and would have been in her late teens or early twenties when she wore this dress. She married John Manson, an accountant, in 1947. Their daughter, Pam Fastier, donated the dress to the Museum after Nancy’s death in 1995 aged 78.
1600 (h) x 340 (w) x 400 (d) mm (on mannequin)