Inside Vintage: 1960’s I Magnin velvet and brocade cocktail dress

I Magnin vintage cocktail dress

Hello readers! I have an eclectic collection of vintage clothing that has absolutely no cohesion at all. Think years of picking up this and that at thrift shops and various flea markets locally and on my travels. After my grand wardrobe clean out, I kept the vintage pieces I loved most.

I thought you might be interested in taking a peek inside the construction techniques of clothing from yesteryear. These posts will also include a bit of fashion history as it relates to each garment.

My weekly posts will be entitled Inside Vintage.I Magnin vintage cocktail dress

The first garment I’m sharing is an I Magnin cocktail dress with a velvet bodice and brocade skirt. I think it might just be the world’s most perfect cocktail dress. Elegant and refined, yet youthful and flirty. It dates from the early to mid 1960’s, and was produced under the I Magnin Hi line, the store’s junior line.I Magnin vintage cocktail dress

I was especially excited to find this dress as I remember visiting the I Magnin department store at the previous 1929 Bullock’s Wilshire location in the 1980’s as a kid. The chain went out of business in the early 1990’s . There were elevator operators and the store was probably the most beautiful place I had ever seen at that young age. The type of place where the women of means from Los Angeles bought their fur coats, the least needed item of clothing one could imagine here.il_570xN.726466371_72z4

An Art Deco palace, I Magnin was on the Wilshire corridor in Los Angeles.  The original location was in San Francisco, and was founded in 1876. The I Magnin company went on to have locations nationwide, and was known for it’s high end luxury goods. It’s Wilshire Boulevard and San Francisco Union Square locations would become included among the world’s most elegant department stores.i_magnin_ebay_crop_thumb

The last I Magnin store open in LA suffered extensive damage during day two of the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Looters broke in and shattered every display case on the first floor. The upper floors weren’t damaged because fleeing staffers shut off the elevators. The original decision to build the store without escalators may have actually saved the landmark from ruin. At least three fires were set by arsonists that day, but they didn’t spread. 6fda5a05021f39f0939ef0c211d72d19I Magnin finally closed the next year, followed by legal battles as Macy’s, the newish owner, stripped the store of its historic artifacts, furnishings and fixtures for other locations (bowing to pressure, almost all the 1929 fixtures were returned. (source) . A rather sad ending to an era. The location is now a law school.


“Bullocks Wilshire” by Antoine Taveneaux – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –


Construction notes

The dress is underlined for structure, but not actually lined. The brocade skirt is underlined with a non woven paper like interfacing which was sewn on. The bodice is underlined with a silky fabric. I was a little surprised to find such a raw looking interior to this elegant looking from the outside dress. I suppose girls always wore slips in those days. That paper backed skirt is awfully stiff feeling without a lining in between. But it’s interesting to see how the stiff, bell shaped skirt was created.


underlinedAll shaping was done after the pieces were underlined. Hence the visible darts. I was a bit surprised that the dress wasn’t lined as it looks really home made. A simple piece of twill is used at the waist as a stay, which supports the weight of the skirt so the bodice isn’t dragged down. insideoutThe lapped zipper was attached in a rather rough way on the inside, with messy machine stitching. But it looks good from the outside.lappedzipper2There’s a hook and eye at the waist and there was one that fell off at the top of the zipper.ILGWUtagYou don’t see this tag much anymore, as there is no longer an International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The International LadiesGarment Workers Union (ILGWU) was once one of the largest labor unions in the United States, being one of the first U.S. unions to have a majority female membership. It’s now known as the union of Needle Trades (UNITE) .This label is consistent with the labels produced between 1963 and 1974.understitchingUnderstitching at the bodice neckline.

I hope you enjoyed a look at this little 60’s dress.

Happy sewing!

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  1. says

    Even as kids, we almost always wore slips (or petticoats, as we called them) with skirts or dresses of this length during the 60s. And there was always a hook and eye at the top of a zip. I was too young to own a cocktail dress at that time, though. An interesting read, Justine.