Designer: Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)

Date: 1951

Culture: American

Medium: silk/synthetic, synthetic

Credit Line: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., 1961

Accession Number: 2009.300.850


Borrowing from the Victorians, James interpreted the 1870s bustle dress in construction, form, and decoration to render his swan silhouette. A hollow, double-lobed understructure at back corresponding to a divided type of period bustle and similar foundations over the hips extend the figure beyond the natural form. Like the bustle, bisecting the back emphasizes the round forms of the buttocks and at the same time suggests the back of a swan, with wings folded gracefully on its back. The apron-front drapery is also a borrowing from 1870s styles. This dress is a shorter version of James' full-length "Swan" ball gown that was immortalized in a Cecil Beaton photograph of Nancy James posing by light-filled Pellon-covered windows in the James showroom.