Down the Vintage Rabbit Hole and into the Summertime

There’s a dress that I’ve seen float around Instagram a few times. Not even the dress so much as the fabric, that’s what’s special about this one. It’s known by many things: French provincial, Rococo, French baroque, spring time. J Crew broke every true vintage girls’ heart and made it a reproduction sundress, calling it the Versailles Dress. Me, I called it the “fairy tale dress” because it reminded me of illustrations in classic fairy tale books.

Sooo, when my IG friend, Lea, posted a picture of her in the dress, I swooned a little and told her how much I loved it, and that it was almost one of my ISOs. If I had ISOs, I told her, haha!

(Hey, mom? ISO stands for “in search of”.)

I know a lot of my vintage-loving friends have their top ISOs lists. I try not to do that. Because:

A) it makes me spend more money than I otherwise would on a dress.

B) When I get my hands on an ISO, it’s never quite as good as I thought it would be. The thrill of the chase is more alluring, apparently. Like my Kindergartener who, this week, after longing and longing to play on the “big kid” playground at school, finally played there, only to find it “wasn’t as much fun as he though it was going to be.”

C) I prefer to leave it to the vintage-powers-that-be to send things my way. I may be the creator of my own destiny, but when it comes to vintage, I leave it to fate and chance. And maybe a little luck. Ha!

So when I told Lea that it was almost an ISO of mine, I guess it was my lucky day! The dress didn’t quite fit the way she wanted, and she was willing to send it my way!

I bought it, and then I had a little bit of sad doubt (see point B) while I waited for the mail to come.

But friends. The dress came. And I L-O-V-E-ed it. More than I thought I would. The cotton is soft, the fit is perfect in a I-can-still-breath sort of way (which is more than I can say for many of my vintage dresses, haha!!). The print may be slightly faded, but in a comfortable, loved sort of way.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

Thank you, Lea.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

I struggled with capturing the print on the white background, but the print features rococo frames, kids swinging, and little blue birds.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

I did a little research on said dress, and found out a few things . . .

The Label

I really hadn’t seen this dress attributed to any label before, but this one did have one label that said “Young Size”. I could find other references to this label (in the same colors and design), reading “Lily Lynn Young Size”.

I found two ads bearing the name “Lily Lynn”, one of which is actually for Lane Bryant. Which brought me down a Lane Bryant rabbit hole to see if Lily Lynn was actually a label under Lane Bryant. I found no evidence of such, other than this ad, but I did read some of the history of Lane Bryant, which I do recommend. It was super interesting, from a marketing and fashion history perspective (maternitywear, plus size clothes, and a Chub Club— read all about it in this article by Hidden Fashion History).

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The Fabric

The fabric itself is called “Summertime” and it was copyrighted by H.M. Kolbe in the first half of 1962. Which brings us another example of a dress being overly-attributed to the fifties even though it was made in the sixties. Hashtag: pet peeve.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

H.M. Kolbe was owned by William Kolbe and was known for “high fashion fabrics”. But why the company name actually lives on in fashion history, is that they were a key employer to Jackie Peters, a black woman who made a name for herself in the world of textile design in a time when it was dominated by white men (such as William Kolbe, a “wild white man” who thought it would be great PR to employ Jackie during the civil rights movement). Cue second rabbit hole, while I read about Jackie Peters, who had nothing to do with the Summertime print, but is just an awesome person in general.

Variations

I’ve seen two main vintage dresses with this print: the shirtdress (what I have), and then a sundress that is sleeveless, has a fitted bodice and an circular open back, that ties at the top and bottom. The latter is what J Crew made basically an exact replica of for their 2007 spring line, calling it the Versailles Dress. I’m not sure if making repros was something J Crew regularly did ( I don’t think it was), or how this one ended up on the docket, but I really do mean exact replica here. The J Crew version was and remains a popular dress, being cited as “rare”, “coveted”, and “highly sought out” on sites like Poshmark and EBay. And all those terms could be applied to the vintage dress too: rare, coveted, and highly sought out.

Pictures of the J Crew Dress, courtesy of Sweet Bee Finds, who recently sold this one, as well as a true vintage version (and they’re also just a fun vintage shop to follow!).

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And then we have a similar version here, also found and sold by Sweet Bee Finds! At first glance, I thought it was the same as mine: same rococo style scrolled frames and bluebirds and same shirt dress design, but it’s actually a different print. This one features hunters with their horses and dogs. I find how similar they are super interesting. I’m totally unverified here, but I’d be willing to bet that this was also an H.M. Kolbe print and a Young Size label.

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Excuse another washed out photo as I struggle to express how lovely this dress actually is.

Summertime HM Kolbe Lily Lynn Young Size Vintage Novelty Print Dress French Rococo

Sooo, thoughts? Anyone know anything else about this design? What are your ISOs that you’ve found or are still on the quest for?

Update coming with close-ups of the fabric and the label!

-Molly