Vintage 1930s Tennis Dress

In which I don a 1930s tennis dress, without intending to play tennis.

The main appeal for me as a buyer and collector of vintage clothing is wearability. Of course, I adore glamorous evening wear, but there are only so many occasions that call for such exuberant attire. Hence, when I am looking for pieces to add to my wardrobe, I usually veer towards daywear styles – smart separates, suit jackets that can be worn with multiple outfits, blouses and swing trousers etc.

One area of vintage clothing that I am especially drawn to is sportswear. With the growing rise in popularity of leisure activities in the first decades of the twentieth century; this in turn created demand for stylish yet practical sporting attire. As these garments were quite obviously worn for physical activities, not many survive in excellent condition – the same is true of vintage house dresses; another item I am very much enamoured of.

The appeal for me of vintage sportswear is the fantastic original details that are true to the period – yet – as they were made to withstand and facilitate movement – they are incredibly easy and comfortable to wear.

I spied this fantastic early 1930s tennis dress on Etsy a few months ago, and even though she had a few issues, I fell for her deco charms immediately. The main issue with her was intense yellowing all down the back, due to (things are about to get yucky here folks) sweat. It is likely that back in the day, the dress was worn for playing tennis in, became a tad sweaty, then may have been put away without laundering. Not one to be deterred by such an obstacle, I decided I would try my best to rectify the issue.

Firstly, I used Orvus soap to soak her in three times, over the course of a good few hours. Now Orvus is pretty strong stuff, but is also gentle enough to use on antique lace et al, hence my application of it on 80+ year old rayon crepe. *If you are going to use Orvus – please use gloves and follow the instructions carefully*. I then rinsed out the dress thoroughly many many times to ensure all the Orvus residue had gone, then hung her up to dry.

By this point I was having a bit of a panic, as the dress had seemingly shrunk about 3 dress sizes. Anyone that has washed rayon crepe (especially vintage rayon crepe) will know, that it has a nasty tendency to shrink A LOT when it gets wet with laundering. This can thankfully be remedied by ironing whilst slightly damp, then again when dry. Luckily, the dress returned to it’s original size (thank goodness as I was almost thinking I had ruined it after all the trouble of laundering it!)

For an interesting discussion on laundering rayon, and how to rectify the dreaded shrinkage, read this piece over on the Fedora Lounge here.

But the big question – had the yellowing gone? Whilst it had definitely vastly improved, it is still there albeit very faintly. so I am happy with the progress made. I may have to soak her a few more times to try and get the yellowing out completely, but for now I am happy with her. So in conclusion – yellowing much diminished, and I know the dress is 100% clean having laundered it myself. Hurrah.

The fabric is surprisingly strong, especially considering its age. I just adore the art deco details – the decorative pin tucks down the front and sleeve caps, beautiful buttons and the flutter sleeves to facilitate movement. The buttons undo in order to slip the dress on, in addition there is a snap placket at the left hand side to fasten.

It is difficult to see the dress features in some of these pictures, as with the dress being white, the details tended to bleach out  when photographed. Hopefully you can see some of the details, particularly in the close up shots.

Whilst it is unlikely I will be playing tennis in this dress, I will definitely enjoy wearing it in the summer months. And, who knows, I may have a swing at a spot of tennis in it after all?

Outfit Details

Until next time dears!



6 thoughts on “Vintage 1930s Tennis Dress

  1. Tanith says:

    It is so so beautiful! I love day wear too, being a casual girl at heart, and even vintage day wear looking quite dressy by modern standards. It was definitely worth the effort to save it from the yellowing, even if it lingers on a little. It really suits you too, whether you play any tennis or not!

  2. Jenny Frances says:

    Hi Tanith, it’s funny because I often think how surprised and perplexed people from that era of the 1930s would be at us nowadays wearing their sports dresses & house dresses as our daily attire! But I most definitely think original ‘casual’ styles of the 20s, 30s & 40s are extremely formal compared to their modern day counterparts: 1940s house dress = 2010s onesie, 1930s sportswear = 2010s lycra etc. It makes me wonder if in 50 years from now people will be coveting trainer brands or t shirts. I often think the same is true of vintage feedsack fabric, who would have predicted how collectible they would become? And I do love a good novelty feedsack! XxX

  3. Jenny Frances says:

    I use Vanish on strong fabrics such as modern cottons, but was unsure whether to trust it on delicate, more fragile fibres. Orvus is good stuff, although it is pretty expensive (especially as you normally have to use it a good few times per garment, depending on the amount of staining).

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