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« Vintage Find: Nathan Turk Embroidered Shirt | Main | Vintage Find of the Day: Pick up the Gauntlet »

If a Gal Can Swagger, This is the Dress for it

The Squaw Dress of the 1950s: Vintage Finds by Valerie Lawrence

Admit it, there is not a girl in the West who doesn’t like the sound, feel and swagger of a swooshing dress.  High fashion in the 1950s, the Squaw dress, also known as the Fiesta dress, Patio dress, Rick-Rack dress, and the Patsy Cline dress was breezy, comfortable and it swooshed when you walked.

Credit: Pettipond

And they are beautiful. My mother had a breathtaking two-piece rust-orange dress set with black velvet rick-rack braid ornamentation sewn around the top shoulders and skirt edges.  It was all the rage. This video clip demonstrates just how popular these dresses were in the West:

The full skirt was often worn with a petticoat and a concho belt. It could be worn with cowboy boots, ballet slippers or stylishly worn with low heals as modeled in this image of young Anne Bancroft. 

Anne Bancroft poses in a publicity shot in the Parry Lodge’s Pink Poodle clothing store. Credit: When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking in Utah by James V. D’Arc.

Credit: Photo and painting by Kate Starling ©

My friend Kate, who is a wonderful landscape artist, bought her first Arizona Patio dress a few months ago and painted this picture of it. Since then, she bought another dress!

You can still find dozens of Simplicity patterns online to sew your own dress and pick your own rick-rack or balled trim.

Credit: donnasvintagetreasures

By the time I was old enough to wear a dress like this, the fashions had been replaced by bell-bottom jeans and hippie dresses, but in case you are nostalgically hoping for their return, as I am, I found a few vintage finds to add to your closet until that day arrives—along with the return of the 18 in. waistline.

Credit: seemslikeonlyyesterday

Credit: seemslikeonlyyesterday

Credit: ebay

Credit: Etsy

Credit: Etsy

Credit: hopeseguin

Thanks to Kate Starling (see her painting above) for sending this photo - great vintage find:

Reader Comments (2)

Donna, this is wonderful! I love the historical photos. Back in the '70s, college years, it was the era of Country Rock and I spent many nights at bars swing dancing. These were the perfect costumes and we all found them at thrift stores in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson (although sometimes all we could find was the top or skirt). So many of them were hand made and I find it amusing how fanciful and varied the decorations are. In looking for the new dress (brown crepe with silver and gold braid and rick-rack) I bought a hand-tooled leather hand bag that I was going to use for another painting. I thought I might use it on occasion but I have been carrying it all summer. Unlike some others I have bought in the past this one is old but hasn't ever been used and is really clean on the inside. It's quite the eye-catcher and I get a lot of admiring comments when I plop it up on the counter when I pay for something in a store. I'll send you a photo.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate Starling

I am anxiously awaiting another painting by Kate of a recently purchased Squaw dress! Kate is a wonderful artist, and is tall and stately with a model like figure. Would love to see her wear one of these dresses.
I have fond memories of the net petticoats myself and my two older sisters had. Full circle petticoats that we starched and then hung on the line to dry. It was fun to wear them, especially to dances. However, it was not fun when the starched slips I was going to wear to a Jr. High dance were attacked by our family Beagle and torn to shreds! I remember a shriek of horror that come from my mouth and my Mother running to see if I had some terrible injury or something. Luckily, we rounded up some other slips and all was not lost..
Girly girls have our challenges....

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Bingham

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