Adorned In Trimmings

Adornment is the egoistic element as such: it singles out its wearer, whose self-feeling it embodies and increases at the cost of others, for, the same adornment of all would no longer adorn the individual (Simmel 1997:207).


A small dainty bead or sequin can seem invisible or insignificant on its own, but when it is adjacent to a thousand others, in the context of a garment, it has meaning.

Throughout the history of fashion the use of trimming or ornamentation has changed dramatically. There are points in history, such as the era of Henry VIII, where men, more so than women, would have indulged in lavish trimmings which adorned their outfits. Yet, today trimmings are more commonly associated with women’s garments. Trimmings were used on women’s garments during the 1920-30s to the point of extravagance, as they indicate the look and style of this specific period extremely well.

Dress trimmings were at their most influential on evening wear and couture. The trimmings produced a sense of fun, luxury, and glamour, especially during the rise of jazz and dancing in the 1930s. Trimmings also allowed women to distinguish an outfit worn during the day from those worn during the afternoon or evening.

This is a detail of the embroidered design on the afternoon dress (Blaise Castle, Bristol)
This is a detail of the embroidered design on the afternoon dress
Blaise Castle, Bristol

Evening wear would be worn for cocktail parties or nightclubbing, although it was only available for those who could afford it.

Evening gown (National Trust, Killerton)
Evening Gown
National Trust, Killerton

The cartoon, below, by “Fish” depicts a fashionable woman in 1920 wearing an evening gown embellished with dress trimmings. Fish. 1922. Cartoon. Print on paper. Eve Pictorial in (Dorner, J. 1973:7)

Adam: “Good gracious, Eve! You aren’t really going out in the apology for a dress?”
Eve: “Sure thing , old top. One must be in the fashion or die”


Day-wear was considered for practical purposes and so called ‘sensible clothes’, hence it did not have any elaborate dress trimmings.

This is a Crepe de chine dress with long sleeves and Erie lace collar, c1925-1930 (Blaise Castle, Bristol)
This is a Crepe de chine dress with long sleeves and Erie lace collar, c1925-1930 Blaise Castle, Bristol

During this period trimmings would have been used by various people: dressmakers producing ready-to-wear fashion or couture outfits; and even mothers, daughters or sisters, venturing into home-sewing to save money just after the First World War (Burman 1999).

What are dress trimmings or dress ornaments?

How can a trimming or dress ornament be defined, and what does its use mean?

Dress trimming or dress ornaments are used on garments. The appearance of the trimmings or ornaments changes depending largely on the prevailing fashion.  In a general sense the term ‘trim’ has several meanings, in terms of dressmaking, ‘to trim’ suggests an item which had a ragged edge that has been cut away, trimming it into the desired shape, ‘trim those hanging threads dear and then the garment will be finished properly’.

A beaded dress trimming made of matt gold sequins and gold glass beads sewn onto cotton backing with cut outs, c1920-1939 (Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol)
A beaded dress trimming made of matt gold sequins and gold glass beads sewn onto cotton backing with cut outs, c1920-1939
Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol

‘Trim’ could also be a decorative finish applied to the edge of a garment, a collar, neckline, or the cuffs of a sleeve, as a form of dress ornamentation. It could take the form of beading or embroidery applied to the surface of a garment or worked onto ribbon which could be applied as a form of ‘trim’.

Yet, beading and embroidery are integrated into the structure of the garment as opposed to merely resting on the surface like lace or ribbon. Trim has various meanings when not associated with dressmaking for example: neat and spruce in appearance; trimming the hedge; or having your hair trimmed. It generally means ‘to make (something) neater by cutting it slightly without changing its basic shape. His white beard was neatly trimmed’ (Collins 2001:844). Trimming (something) is therefore a reaction, or implies that something appears untidy or unfinished to the eye and needs to be trimmed or enhanced to appear ordered or aesthetically pleasing.

Ornament, (Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol)
Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol

Dress Ornamentation is very similar to dress trimmings; however, ornamentation branches out to consist of decoration used on a garment or even a motif design scattered around the whole of the garment. Whereas, trimmings, as previously mentioned, consist of a small designated area, usually the edge of a garment in a form which has been embellished to give a sense of a garment being properly finished off.  It is clear that there is a definite distinction between decoration and ornament. They are both considered forms of trimmings yet, have a different method of application. ‘Decoration is distributed, to give balance as well as becomingness in the overall effect; ornament is concentrated, to give emphasis or individuality’ (Institute of Domestic Arts 1962:1).

What does it mean for the garment to be adorned in trimmings?

Could it be an ‘extra little something’ that finishes off an outfit, transforming a plain garment into an eye catching and spectacular one?  Trim seems to suggest other words which are closely linked or could be used in order to describe the style and specific type of trimming like: adorn, decorate, ornament, enhancement, appearance, beauty, emphasis, embellishment and distinction. It appears that the use of dress trimmings or dress ornaments merges into a paradox. Could a trimming be placed onto a garment with a pre-planned thought that it will enhance the garment, cover or conceal problems areas resulting from cut and construction?

It is possible that the use of trimmings may have a nascent concept in the form of adornment, enhancing characteristics of the wearer, expressing individuality with trimmings.

Are you adorned in trimmings?


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