Going Back to a Past (1940’s) Challenge

For last week’s ‘Challenge of Re-Doing a Past Theme’ I choose the week of May 21st to go back and fulfill – ‘the 1940’s Challenge’. This was a rather easy submission, as I sewed my dress in the late summer/early fall of the year 2011. However, this suit-style, collared dress was my first in a new obsession with vintage patterns, and, as it turned out so well, I have worn it A LOT since it was made. It looks so good with a pristine head topper from my old hat collection…and gloves!


FABRIC: linen-look rayon/poly blend (the fabric is very soft, rather classic looking, and has a nice texture) from stash, so basically free

NOTIONS: bought matching thread and bias tape and a zipper. The cost? not much…maybe $6

PATTERN: Simplicity #2744, year 1949, bought at a vintage clothing store for $4; I picked this pattern out, along with a few others, when out shopping on my Birthday…it was a gift for myself!

FIRST WORN: to the city’s Saturday (Soulard) Farmer’s market

TIME TO COMPLETE: maybe 10 hours- I took my time to enjoy sewing this, wanting to do it right and making sure I was following the instructions…what’s a slide fastener’ anyone?!?

As with vintage patterns, it only had one size, and this one was the size I needed for my bust. I figured it would be an easy fix to adjust it to give me more room in my hips and waist. If I can’t grade up like a traditional “modern” pattern, I will do it myself!  Well – to my surprise – the pattern been used already by someone who knew what they were doing and someone who was also my exact size. How do I know? The pattern pieces had been cut out by a pinking shears (I don’t think they’re all that popular anymore though I do use mine on occasion). The pieces had also been sliced and folded open in all the right places to add in 1 1/2 inches – just what I needed. My work was done for me, already. This was a first!

Simplicity 2744 was a joy to sew together, quite easy and straightforward. I didn’t even have to do any interfacing. It was surprising that not even the collar was supposed to be interfaced according to the instructions. At first I was going to do interfacing anyway, but I thought, “if it worked for women in the 40’s, I’ll try to be authentic, too”. I do not know if the lack of interfacing was due to America crawling out from a World War or the fact pattern companies wanted something very simple for a housewife to throw together. Perhaps specifically saying to add interfacing was taken for granted – women of those knew what needed to be done and didn’t need to be told. The collar did turn out extremely well. It lays very flat, doesn’t bunch up without interfacing, and fits so very nicely onto the dress neckline.

As you can see in the picture, I added carriers to my dress so I can wear a belt, with the back carriers in a fancy crisscrossed X shape. Completely my idea…

The only problems I had sewing this were pretty minor: the fabric and the sleeves. I am glad I covered most ALL of my seams with bias tape because the fabric was shredding everywhere and was sort of a mess. My sleeves had way too big of an ease to fit in the armhole, and no amount of stretching or gathering could help me get the two to fit at all together. At that point, I took it upon myself to add small pleats, every 2 inches, across the top shoulder cap of each sleeve. Then the sleeves sewed in nicely and I am very happy with the result. I think it is much better over some messy, forced gathering. Look closely in the above picture and you should be able to see what I did.

What is funny are the instructions to use a ‘slide fastener’ sewn under the armhole along the side seam. I just used a zipper instead. If anyone reading this knows what a slide fastener was, please let me know.

The bust – which was the only part of the dress I expected to fit when I was done – was still big. Maybe it was meant to be worn with those war time body shaping underwear forms. (Those were all designed by men, by the way, and the Hollywood actresses that wore them cursed them as torture. I’m thinking of the bra designed by Howard Hughes for Jane Russell in the 1943 movie The Outlaw). Nevertheless, to fit the modern ME, I sewed in the darts to fit, extending them all the way to under the collar very much like princess seams.

Now it is a circus trick to wiggle in AND out of the dress, between the close fitting bust and the small side zipper. Oh well! This dress looks great and fits quite comfortably once it is on myself. I can pretty much wear this dress all year, too, because of the fabric. My husband always tells me how good I look when I wear this, so there’s a good incentive to put this on frequently!

Enjoy your Holiday sewing everyone!

P.S. I don’t plan on wearing something like this underwear with my vintage dresses anytime soon, just to make them fit. Behold the 40’s and the 50’s undressed below…

This display in the picture above is from an exhibit called “Underneath It All” going on at our city’s History Museum. It is a very interesting display on the “distinct changes in the fashionable silhouette of women’s dress over the decades, made possible by undergarments.” It is tastefully done, and begins with the Pre-French Revolution/Colonial era dress up to modern ‘barely there’ times. As a sewer of vintage clothes, I really appreciated this and learned a lot.

2 thoughts on “Going Back to a Past (1940’s) Challenge

  1. Pingback: Having a Monochromatic Summer | Seam Racer

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