Smithsonian - National Museum of American History, Behring Center

Costume Collection - Women's Dresses

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Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Dress, 2-Piece - click to enlarge

Click photos to enlarge.

Dress, 2-Piece

Catalogue number: 1992.0399.005

Date: 1983-1985

Maker: Oscar de la Renta

Designer: Oscar de la Renta


Red, heavy weight silk organdy with moire weave; DRESS-bias-cut bodice with shoulder straps; shaped waist-to-hip yoke; full gathered skirt; left side zipper opening; bodice lined; skirt lined in organza; SASH-four-inch-wide single layer; overcast edges.


This dress was most likely worn to a charitable event by the donor. Born in Iran, she was educated in England. When she visited the United States during a summer school break, she met and married an American. She became actively involved in many New York City charities and political causes. She could not remember specific events to which she wore this dress, but it was most likely among these.

The dress was made by Oscar de la Renta. Born in 1932, he is the son of a Dominican Republic insurance agent and his wife. At the age of 17 he traveled to Madrid, Spain to study art, as he wanted to be a painter. To pay for his art studies, he began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses. He first thought seriously about a career in fashion when he designed a debutante gown for the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Spain. A photographic story of the party to which she wore it appeared in Life magazine. Soon after, he landed a job at Eisa, Balenciaga's couture house in Madrid. In 1961, he was hired as an assistant to Antonio del Castillo at the Lanvin-Castillo couture house in Paris. Following the same course as Castillo, de la Renta moved to New York in 1963 to design the custom-made collection at Elizabeth Arden.

In 1965, he joined the wholesale house of Jane Derby, and became a partner in the business. After Derby's retirement in 1967, he changed the name of the company and produced luxury women's ready-to-wear. De la Renta became known for his feminine, romantic, and dramatic evening clothes utilizing elaborate fabrics and embroideries. This dress is evidence of this in its use of an unusual moire silk. In 1993 de la Renta was hired by the House of Balmain to design its couture collection, becoming the first American designer since Mainbocher to design couture in Paris, France.

Credit: Gift of Lilly Lawrence