The Dec. 1, 1952 issue of LIFE featured clothing meant to trick the eye, at least for a moment.

The dresses, from the storied French house Hermes, featured designs in the trompe l’oeil style. The dresses had come out the previous year in Europe and “were soon fooling eyes and causing conversations at France’s fashionable resorts,” LIFE wrote. In 1952 the dresses came to America via the shop of dressmaker Herbert Sondheim (who happens to be the father of composer Stephen Sondheim).

“Everything in the dresses is an illusionā€”pockets, collars, buttons are all printed on in carefully haphazard strokes; only the seams are real,” LIFE wrote. “Each master design is spaced out, then reproduced on fabric by a complicated screen printing process.”

The story featured pictures by Gordon Parks, and it’s no mystery why a photographer might be intrigued by fashion that was built on surface illusion. But the magazine, despite devoting several pages to the story, was stinting in its praise, calling the clothing “eye-catching but not functional.”

Indeed, given that a common complaint about women’s clothes is the lack of pockets, painting fake pockets onto dresses is borderline cruel.

A woman models a Hermes trompe-l’oeil raincoat in Paris. The decorations painted directly on the fabric included buttons, pockets and a hood on the back.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A model showed off a Hermes raincoat in the trompe l’oiel style with a painted hood on the back that sold for about $100 in Paris, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A belt that was part of the line of Hermes’ trompe l’oiel fashion, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

This Hermes trompe l’oiel dress sold for $29.95 in 1952 (the equivalent of about $340 in 2023).

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

This dress with a painted-on tie in the trompe l’oiel style sold for $39.95 in 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A model held the material that, when cut and sewn along the sides, would become a dress in Hermes’ trompe l’oliel line, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Hermes’ trompe l’oiel dresses, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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Skirted Subjects: Classic Images from LIFE