A Sparkling Vintage Life

tulleI was browsing through a vintage style book when I ran across this choice paragraph about party clothes:

“You should always determine whether a party calls for an evening length skirt or for daytime clothes. Sunday night suppers often find women in long skirts but with covered arms and shoulders, the ever satisfying ‘dinner dress.’ Only when men are in dinner coats should the women’s shoulders be bare; and only when men wear full evening dress do women wear very formal evening clothes. Perhaps an exception to this is the tulle dress young girls wear whose escorts merely wear tuxedos. The older woman, of course, never wears tulle.” (from Personality Unlimited by Veronica Dengel, 1943)

Now, there’s much here to boggle the mind. Skirt lengths! Bare shoulders! Dinner coats! But the sentence that caught my attention was the last one, about older women never wearing tulle. Ever the rebel, I felt a sudden inexplicable yearning to wrap myself head to toe in tulle–if only I knew what it was.

I did some research. Tulle, it turns out, is that stiff netting, often in white or pastels, most often seen in bridal veils and tutus. Named for the French town of Tulle, where it originated, tulle was worn early on by dancers on the Paris stage, hence the strong association with ballerinas.

Memories came flooding back of the scratchy underslip of many a starched party dress of childhood, and the yearning to wrap myself in the stuff waned as quickly as it had come. Nonetheless, it has its uses. Not just for ballerinas anymore, tulle also makes fine netting for keeping deer and even insects from gnawing on plants. I know this because I used some in my garden last year. I’m assuming this was acceptable, as the plants were suitably young at the time.

I have not yet found out exactly why tulle is meant only for the young, or who decreed it so, but I found corroborating evidence that it is indeed true. “There is undoubtedly a distinction between misses’ styles and those designed for older women,” intoned the garment-industry journal American Cloak and Suit Review in 1914.  “The new evening gowns for young women and youthful debutantes this season are developed, to a marked degree, in tulle. The youthful properties of this sheer fabric are enhancing enough to the appearance of the average purchaser, . . . for tulle trimmed dancing frocks are decidedly popular at present and are fashioned upon chic and attractive new lines which, though simple, are as graceful and girlish as it is possible to imagine.” The article goes on to praise a gown offered at Bonwit Teller (remember them?) which had “a simple surplice bodice of black silk velvet, which crosses just above the girdle, revealing a deep V-shaped vest draped with white tulle. At the wide armholes are set in double ruffles of finely plaited tulle, which stands straight out in the most Parisian manner possible.”

Parisian though it may be, the itch factor makes me happy to leave tulle to the brides and ballerinas.  How about you?

Retro fashion advice: The older woman , of course, never wears tulle.” Tweet this.