A “Daily Life” Dress from 1945

In my sewing, most of what I make is finished inside and out quite cleanly with time honored methods, such as French seams and bias binding or lapped edges. This is all good, but it also makes my garments seem very new, perfect, and not entirely ready to be possibly marred by food stains, play stains, or fabric boo-boos which happen when being a mom. “New and perfect”, too, is all good and is as it should be, but sometimes I feel I am missing out on that comfortable, daily life, style of dressing which you see in many of the old time black and white pictures of people from 50 or more years past. In reality, those everyday clothes are what was worn when memories were made, duties were done, families cared for, and (in all) life was lived.

100_3843a-compI started out this project unsuspecting what was ahead, making a dress from a 1945 pattern. I was excited because the pattern was a gift for my birthday and the fabric I chose for it was a perfectly wonderful feed sack rayon. Little did I know that here was the perfect opportunity to make lemonade from lemons and end up with a new, but already-broken-in, comfy handmade vintage piece meant for being that “daily life” style of garment our grandmothers and moms quietly built history wearing. Now I can live my modern daily life, build my own family, and make new memories in a re-make of their style.badge.80

This is another post part of my own “Agent Carter” 1940’s sew along.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A 100% rayon challis, bought from a JoAnn’s Fabric store.  It is a feed sack style, cool toned, swirling leaf-and-vine print, in light turquoise blue, tan and a bit of navy against a field of slightly off-white.

NOTIONS:  No notions were bought – I had all the interfacing, thread, and hooks-and-eyes needed.

100_3836-compPATTERN:  McCall 5946, year 1945, actually a ‘Maternity’ dress.  It was thoughtfully bought for me as a birthday gift from a good friend.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not long at all, maybe 7 or 8 hours over 3 nights, were spent on my dress.  This project went quickly and was finished on September 26, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  The innards of my dress are left raw to do their own crazy thing and fray at will.  This sort of “finishing” usually drives me insane, but there is a very big reason for my doing this, which you’ll read later on below.

TOTAL COST:  I remember knowing I paid way more than what the fabric was worth, but still reasonable enough to really buy.  In total, I think my dress cost about $14.00 or less for 2 ½ yards.

I used this pattern as an opportunity to experiment and attempt some of the most dramatic pattern downsizing which I had done so far. I usually try to only get patterns very close to my bust size. Grading patterns up is no problem for me, and I have done downsizing in small increments. I’m tired of being confined to what designs are my size, so I did my homework and learned a new skill. Doing the math, and dividing up to take out a whopping 5 inches, the pattern was folded in vertically. The new size is not permanent, merely pinned in place. I can’t wait to do more of this method of pattern grading – it was fun and challenging for me.

100_3866-comp

Even though my dress’ pattern is labeled as a “maternity” dress, I really don’t see it as such. Now don’t take a hidden meaning to my making this dress…I’m not expecting anything at this time and I’m not sewing this ‘to prepare for something’ – I liked the pattern, it’s in a year I haven’t done yet, and it looked like a very entertaining design to assemble. Personally, I think this dress, and other 40’s and 50’s maternity fashions I have seen, are basically normal fashions, for non-expecting ladies, engineered very ingeniously to adapt to the possibility a growing belly. I find these maternity labeled fashions to demonstrate an even higher creativity than what I already see in vintage fashions. Women back then apparently did not make a garment that they would only wear while expecting…they made clothes that would last long term and adapt for their life, to get true use out of what they wear. We in modern times tend to forget that clothes back in the 40’s were a real expense, not always easy to come by, and a lot of unnecessary “luxury” clothes did not exist for the bulk of the working class. Fast, cheap fashion of nowadays has spoiled us a bit.

McCall 5330 yr 1943 dicky insert dress&McCall 5701 yr 1944 -comboMany other non-maternity clothes in the mid-1940’s have a similar wide ruched front belly band, so this feature on my dress is a classic, but not always common, feature to have for 1945. The ruching doesn’t stretch, unless it would have been sewn with elastic instead of regular thread, so this doesn’t necessarily aid in the possibility of maternity wear – a style feature only. There are actually 5 rows at the belly section, and 3 or 4 more at the top of each shoulder center to provide bust fullness. It is the ingenious closure system which sets this dress apart and also gives it the possibility of being worn by an expecting mother, as well as making it an easy-wear, easy-sew house dress. This 1945 is a pullover, with no side zipper, because hidden under at the ends of the ruched belly band are two hook and eyes, which create tucks to bring in the dress when it closes. Smart! For normal wear, the closure system makes for a fun, new, uncomplicated way of dressing, and for an expectant mom, it becomes totally adaptable by not closing the hook and eyes.  Check out the pattern instruction drawing sheet.

100_3867-compThe front bodice section is also designed to be extremely long and the entire bodice itself is instructed to be lapped onto the skirt portion for even more adaptability. This way, one could take out the front bodice seam and make it longer to fit over a pregnant belly, if need be, but in my case I merely sewed to the skirt at the natural waistline. I have no expectation of both taking out the waistline seam and using the front closure system to make this dress adapt to maternity wear, so I merely trimmed off the excess front bodice length and stitched the waistline as a regular seam. I just find this dress’ styling very ingenious and worthy of understanding. (P.S. I also think pattern’s cover drawing very beautiful!)

Ah, the poor pitiful fabric of my dress is really wonderful against the skin and deceptively nice looking. You see, I didn’t notice the slew of threadbare holes which riddled the rayon UNTIL I was halfway through sewing the dress together. Yes – terrible holes that look like a cross between a feast for a silk moth and a brushing with a cheese grater. I was so focused on the interesting design and how quick the dress was coming together. I was sewing on the front facings for the mock wrap of the bodice and gave an audible, “What in the freaking world…?!” Needless to say, I hold a grudge against JoAnn Fabric Store for selling products this “quality”, but I should have been more hawk-eyed myself. The holes are about 1/8 to ¼ inch big and randomly all over, although primarily on the left side of the dress’ bodice section. My hubby helped me see the “good” side of the situation, and I really did cheer me up to a point that the fabric’s flaws do not bother me. Now I am rather glad to have a dress which is already “broken in” but yet looks so great (so I think) because it is so comfy, easy, not “perfect”, and just a part of me whenever I wear it. See why this dress is great for real life for me? It’s perfect for errands, cooking, playing with my son, and etcetera…just being a mom, wife, homemaker, and creative person in modern times with vintage style! Dressing in vintage can be as comfy as those jeans and T-shirts many love to wear.

100_3854a-compAs you can see, I chose the collared style. I have nothing like this collar style in my wardrobe, so here’s to a first. However, it seems I do have a tendency to end up making mock-wrap dresses, though. This 1945 dress only has the bodice top half be the mock wrap, but my first full mock wrap oddly enough happened to be a 1946 dressy day dress (see post for it here), also from another McCall pattern. The McCall pattern for my 1945 dress was, as I mentioned earlier, a special birthday present from a special friend, but my first mock wrap (from 1946) came from my very first purchase of vintage patterns. For these reasons, I associate together the ‘46 McCall pattern with the one for the dress in this blog post. They both make me smile just to see them, even not being worn.

100_3846-compMy 1946 cotton mock-wrap dress and my 1945 rayon house dress both share a similar slight problem with the front bodice wrap. Both needed a slight hidden dart where the bodice joins to the skirt to bring the drooping wrap front more taught to eliminate an overly gaping neckline. I’m supposing this part of adjusting fit is all a matter of taste or body types. I, being on the smaller side of chest endowment (to put it nicely), prefer to bring my mock wrap fronts close against my chest. Flashing someone with a peek down your top is not cool. However, I am thinking that just perhaps the mock front of my 1945 dress just might have been meant to be a bit generous. Being an optional “maternity” garment, a wrap front does make things handy for nursing a little one…just sayin’. I made the long waist tie included as part of the pattern (it’s hard to see the tie in the pictures), and it nicely covers up the little tuck/dart that I took in at the bottom of the wrap front.

100_3850a-compThe collar and the facing strips for the mock-wrap front are the only places that were interfaced. The dress as a whole is very soft and drapey so I figured on going with that ‘theme’, if you call it, and I used a lightweight interfacing.  The right detail shot also shows off my handmade matching aqua crystal/sterling silver earrings and agate stone necklace.

For our photo shoot location, we chose a basic place – a 100_3847-complocal neighborhood delicatessen/grocery store. This store, called Le Grand’s Market, and it has been family owned for many years, with the building itself being 70 something years – a good authentic background for a “daily life” dress. It’s one of the last of the old “Tom-Boy” Grocery stores. We love Le Grand’s sandwiches, and here I’m faking at eating a giant plastic hoagie.

Le Grand’s Market is on the edge of the Italian district, what we call “La Montagna” or “The Hill”. In our United States of America, we owe much of our amazing deli shops, restaurants, buildings and neighborhoods (among other things) to Italian-Americans, who had a hard time of things in their new land through most of World War II. The character of Angie Martinelli, the waitress at the Automat in the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter”, keeps her Italian descent low key, no doubt on account of how post-wartime suspicions still ran high. Because of Roosevelt’s “Custodial Detention Program”, established in 1940 and 1941, Italian-Americans were often forced to live like nomads, live under suspicion, and only had access to low paying jobs, if they could find any. Read here the full official history of “A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry during World War II” – very interesting and formerly classified reading.

100_3842b-compAngie full shot at AutomatAngie was so dissatisfied being stuck with her waitress job, and had big aspirations to make it big in Hollywood.  Whatever her state in life, I thought she was a lovely person, a real friend for Peggy Carter and a trooper. Angie’s waitress uniform was also lovely, in my opinion, composed of primarily aqua color, and contrasted in peach tones – a combo I like, want to try, and wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. I often tend to fall for aqua, just like how I more oftentimes choose shades of purple. This 1945 dress is primarily aqua…or maybe that’s just what I see the most of in the print!

I would like to think of my “daily life” 1945 dress as a bit of a small tribute to people like Angie, the overlooked ones with big hearts and big aspirations, all the while helping to make the world go round, one day at a time. In 1945, the Second World War was winding down, the veterans were returning, women were used to making do, and it was starting to be the time for things to settle down. Daily life might seem mundane, and slow or unimportant, but it is anything but that. Just so, a casual, tattered, broken-in dress like my 1945 rayon house dress might seem stupid to make new, but, you know, it already has seen a plentiful share of wearing and good memories. No fancy dress that gets worn once or twice a year can boast the utility of a casual, classic, comfortable “daily life” dress 🙂

Do you have anything which you have made which is your “go-to” piece for comfort in both work and play? Do you have something that you made which is so comfy you could feel like you could live in it, even though it doesn’t necessarily look like that would be the case?

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