Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

A 1930s Timeless Black Dress Still Stuns Today

Every woman seems to search for that timeless black dress that looks fabulous and helps them feel fabulous, that they can wear for years and will never go out of style. Fortunately for Donna Weinrebe of Minot, she had no problem finding that elusive dress. In 1936, when Donna was a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, she wore this lovely gown to a college dance. While it was the height of fashion in 1936, this dress is still fashionable today.

Two side by side images of a black felvet dress. The first image has a matching short sleeved coat over the top of it. It is a full-length, sleeveless dress that is somewhat form fitting with a matching belt around the waist.

Worn to a University of North Dakota dance, this timeless black velvet gown was donated to the museum collection by Donna Weinrebe in1990. SHSND 1990.253.7

This dress was made for drama. The floor-length, Grecian-inspired gown was created from a luscious black velvet fabric that one of my co-workers described as a “black hole of gorgeousness.” It is sleeveless with a scoop neck and a peekaboo slit down the back. Blousy and loose at the top, the dress is fitted at the waist and hips. A matching belt helps to accentuate the narrow waist. To not distract from the dress, the belt buckle and button at the back are covered in the same velvet fabric.

The back of a black velvet dress. It shows an opening going down the middle of it to just above the waist.

The matching bolero jacket is the one piece that dates the outfit. In the 1930s, puffed sleeves on dresses were in fashion to exaggerate the shoulder and make the waist appear smaller. These puffed sleeves were made with five rows of corded pleats to provide more volume.

A black velvet jacket that clips together at the neck with short sleeves that are puffed.

Although not on exhibit in our upcoming fashion exhibit, Donna also wore this gorgeous coat made of the same black velvet and lined in white silk with the dress. The stylish, loose hood would help to keep the wearer warm and her hair in place on cold North Dakota nights. There is only one button at the neckline of the coat. The coat is held closed by ties and an interior loop at the waist.

A full length, hooded, long sleeved black velvet coat. There is a button at the neckline and ties around the waist.

Matching coat. SHSND 1990.253.276

The women of the Weinrebe family were quite fashionable in their day, and this dress is no exception. Few clothing pieces stand the test of time, but by leaving the bolero jacket off, a woman could still attend an elegant event wearing this dress today. No one would know her fashion dates from the 1930s. What classic pieces are in your closet?

The black velvet fabric that makes this dress so lovely also makes it nearly impossible to photograph and capture the details. It is a dress you need to see in person to really appreciate. So, visit Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style when it opens soon to see this timeless dress!

Three older women in dresses stand holding an award. They each wear a white corsage on their left side.

The Weinrebe women of Minot displayed an elegant sense of fashion. Here Ethel is receiving the Minot Sertoma Club’s Service to Mankind award in 1974 with daughters Nita (left) and Donna (right). SHSND 10560.0002.00

A mother and two daughters pose for a picture. The mother wears a darc colored dress with white lace around the neck and cuffs and a white belt around the waist. The youngest child wears a  white puffy dress. The other child wears a dark colored dress with three white lines around the collar and wrists. She also wears a large bow in her hair.

The Weinrebe women were stylish at an early age. Daughters Nita and Donna pose for a portrait with their mother, Ethel, circa 1920. SHSND 10560.0002.00026

6 men sit and stand together while another man stands across from them looking down at something in his hands. The men wear sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck line and shorter lapels. They are all also wearing hats.

Julius Weinrebe, Donna’s father (seated), and his friends were also sporting national trends in men’s fashion. Notice their sack suits featuring a boxy cut with a higher neck and shorter lapels. Julius’s bowler hat was also the style choice of the day. Circa 1907. SHSND 10560.0002.00016