It was not, of course, Darlene Dancuso, or any other American designer (the designer Dancuso’s mother, who was born and raised in New York City, is the “discovering inspiration” behind the dress), but instead, an American, Virginia Hesselink, who in 1917, came to the U.K. in search of an outfit that could make it into the pages of the national magazines.
“What she did was she came to this country, she was a poor girl, a little girl, a very young girl. No mother had ever seen anything like it,” says Hesselink’s grandson, Daniel Dancuso, who is co-founder of the Museum of American Clothing in Los Angeles. “No one really knew what to make it — the thing was so big, so wide, so long.” At that time, the British had developed the fashion for long and loose skirts. Dancuso, who had previously designed gowns and corseted evening wear, decided to see what the Americans were making for women. But rather than designing a traditional one-size-fits-all dress, she wanted to go with a more limited collection that did not fall out of fashion. “It’s like her own clothing business. She had her own clothes, in what she called her ‘belly dress, or belly suit’,” Dancuso said. “I really was thinking about what did the American girl wear when she wasn’t working,” she added. She decided to create a skirt with a high hem so that, in the morning, she could walk in it without having to worry about wearing it, even when she was in a rush. Then she came back to the U.K. and sent what ended up in the London newspapers — an article titled “How the Miss and Mr. Dancuso Dress is Made”.
The dress, Hesselink told the newspaper, was so elaborate and complex that she was unable to have the materials delivered by mail order. As it turned out, the British had already created something similar — the American dress, but without the length (because there was a reason why they did not manufacture long skirts for their customers, Hesselink said). “The dress we made went around America. We made a skirt from two of the other fabrics, which were the blue-and-white fabric that the Miss and Mr. Dancuso fabric was made from, and the brown-and-