Late 1950s or early 1960s sundress and matching bolero from Madame Tilly for Saks 5th Avenue features a built in corset and a fabulous silk satin charmeuse fabric printed with black roses and sunflowers—some of which are flocked!
The strappy bodice of the dress, with its built in soft corset or long-line underwire bra, is intricately darted and pieced for a torso-hugging fit, while the skirt flares gently into a double-layered, tulle-fluffed flounce at the hem. Best of all, this flounce wraps around and is anchored to the left side by a large fabric rosette that echos the striking print.
The cropped, open-front bolero has elbow length kimono-sleeves and underarm godets to ease movement.
The dress, which closes in back with a metal zipper, is faced through the body in sheer cream organza and in the bodice with what feels like thick nylon, or perhaps latex. The “corset” closes with a set of metal hooks and eyes under the zipper, and the underwires are covered in long-napped cream velvet for comfort.
Bolero is lined in cream silk. In place of stiff boning of any kind, the “stays” which structure the bodice are created through matching flat felled seams in the corset body with vertical seams on the exterior of the dress, reinforcing them.
The label reads “Madame Tilly of Saks Fifth Avenue, Custom Made”. After spending most of her career as a corsettiere in Europe, the Viennese-born Madame Tilly became the director of Saks’ custom corset and bra salon in 1958. A 1961 New York Times article explains that her “designs are carefully constructed for maximum control, then cleverly worked with lace insets, appliques, and dainty trims to give as much luxury as possible”, while avoiding a “corseted look” in the finished product. Her designs ran from $27.50 for bras to $125 for “corselettes”, roughly the equivalent of $227 to $1032 in today’s currency.
Measurements as follows: Dress bust 34”, waist 26”, hips 34”, strap width 1”, length shoulder to waist 17”, length waist to hem 24”, length center back to hem 30”. Jacket shoulders 14.5”, bust to 40”, sleeves approx. 14”, and length center back to hem 15.5”.
Good/very good condition. Professional dry cleaning by a specialist has lightened but not removed the faint moisture staining across the back and in the underarms of the bolero lining, nor the yellowing to the chenille covering of the bra underwire. In addition, there are 7 tiny smudge marks nestled on the side of the dress, near and on the fabric rosette. Photos #7-9 show these issues, mostly invisible during wear. Overall, the set presents beautifully.
Proud Member of the VFG Vintage Fashion Guild