In a world where amazing vintage designs need upscale occasions in order to be made, what could be a better day than Easter to go all out with pretty pastels and fancy fabrics…complete with an ostentatious hat!
This suit set pays homage to what I think is the best the 1950’s has to offer in elegant design and interesting details. My hubby’s first spoken adjective for this duo was the term “swanky”. Either way, I so enjoyed the challenge of sewing this dress and jacket, and wearing them is a like an upscale dream. I’m showing off my new best clothes, too, you spring buds and flowers.
This is part one of a two part post set. The jacket, being reversible, can be worn with more than this Easter dress, so part two post will show the other pieces I made to match with the leftover fabrics for a complete four garment ensemble. Sorry if it sounds like overkill, but I really like versatility and using up all the material on hand…besides when an idea strikes, sometimes I have to listen.
FABRIC: 100% polyester shantung for the dress and jacket and a boucle, in a rayon/acrylic blend, for the jacket, as well. A small amount of scrap lining from on hand went into the skirt panel.
NOTIONS: I already had bought most of what I needed (thread and bias tapes) to make this set when I decided on it the year before, but I did have to go back for more thread and a zipper. The buttons were already in my stash as were the shoulder pads.
PATTERN: Simplicity #4793, year 1954
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress took maybe 20 hours (maybe a few more) and I spent about 15 hours on the jacket.
TOTAL COST: Both fabrics were bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics store. Each fabric was dirt cheap at about $2.00 a yard. So, for 1 ½ yards of boucle, and 2 ½ yards of shantung, I spent maybe $10.00 in fabric and another $5.00 in notions for a total of about $15. Not bad! However, one yard of the boucle went towards another garment to match the jacket.
This is another one of my ‘consecutive decades’ Easter outfit. In 2012, I made a dress from the 1920’s (year 1929 to be exact), and year after that I sewed a dress and slip from the 1930’s (a ‘feed sack print’ silk set from 1935). Last year I realized the “hop” up in decades I was doing and continued it by making a 1940’s dress (in rayon floral from 1944). I’m just keeping this “thing” going by making a 1950’s Easter outfit. I’ve already picked out my 60’s dress suit set for next year, with a special hat to match, too. I know, I know, you might be thinking, “What will you do going up to now when you run out of decades?” I’ve thought of that. My sewing plans might be to go back to the 20’s and start over again or even go fashion-forward or futuristic…that will be figured out when I get there.
Looking at it you probably won’t believe me, but my 1954 dress set is by far my easiest Easter creation. It involved some tricky sewing parts, which I enjoyed and learned from, but nothing that I couldn’t still zip through. This was one Easter outfit where I was super unsure about whether it would fit, whether it would look weird, or if I would even like it at all. Part of the problem responsible for such doubts, I think, was the shantung fabric.
Artificial shantung is a new fabric for me to work with, and I am on the fence about it now, too. I find myself impressed with it only as long as it is nicely ironed, so it was hard to tell how it would turn out as I was sewing with it. Fancy appearance aside, wearing a tightly woven polyester that doesn’t breathe is not a very pleasant thing for me unless the temperature is comfortably just right (otherwise I either freeze or sweat to death). Any raw edge shredded like crazy and there is an ugly shiny side to it, as well. However, the nubby side is nice and classy and comes in a lovely, tempting variety of colors at my local fabric stores. The stiffer “hand” to it is fun because it’s something I don’t usually work with, but a bit to artificial in texture. Surely the real shantung in silk is much, much better and I think it (the fabric) deserves another chance to redeem itself to a higher par in my estimation (hint, future costly fabric purchase, hubby).
The neckline of the dress was a tricky spot that actually stumped me for a while. My being stumped by a technique only comes around every so often in my projects and I like it. I need to find more projects that threaten my ‘comfort zone’ of sewing skills and push me to figure out something new with a great garment waiting ahead as the motivation. I worked on the dress first, then was confused by the neckline, so I put it aside to make the jacket so as to get a breather. Sometimes walking away from a sewing technique refreshes my mind enough to figure something out but sometimes also it only takes my sitting down and working with it, too, which is what happened once I tried. Pinning it this way and that, I realized you make some sort of tuck horizontally slightly parallel to the top end of the center front seam. What a very smart construction…good for expanding one’s sewing ability.
This dress’ neckline does strongly remind me of another pattern, Burda Style’s 1960 “Vintage Boucle Dress”, except here the same detail is softened in its corners and sent to decorate the waist. My neck fold over detail was at first just kept in place by my pin (which I’m not sure if it’s from the right era but it looks good, I think). Then, I went back to tack down the edges in three small places so I don’t specifically need a pin to keep it closed. Tacking the neck detail does unfortunately make it blend into the rest of the dress more than I would like, though.
The dress’ bodice is cut on the bias with the grain mitering into the center front and back seams. When wearing this I can feel how the bias helps the kimono sleeves, and both the bias and sleeve style make it surprisingly easy to move and reach in. I have larger upper arms, so many cap sleeves, shoulder caps and armscyes (without adjustment) do not provide me enough ‘give’ to do things, but this dress’ bodice is wonderful for me. It also hides my upper arms, tapering them by actually making my shoulder line softer and larger (thanks to shoulder pads, too). The decade of the 1940’s also knew the “large shoulder” trick actually makes one’s waist look so much smaller than reality, but the 50’s took things one step further by widening the hips, too, which is where my dress’ pointed extending pocket flaps come in handy. Appearances are everything for me to rock a proper 50’s silhouette as I do not have “traditional” 50’s proportions like Marilyn Monroe and others of a bigger bust and a tiny waist.
Speaking of a tiny waist, the skirt portion to this dress is very body hugging – it is a total wiggle garment. Somehow, between the way my hips are hugged in the fabric, the slightly confining skirt, and the high heels I’m wearing, I do end up with a swagger from the bottom down when I walk and it feels perfectly natural. I love it! The skirt does have a rectangular insert panel to the back skirt vent, making it modest and looking more like a box pleat. I don’t do long strides in this dress, but the vent still helps with movement. There are the standard 5/8 inch seam allowances in my dress, so I have room to let things loose if I suddenly decide on less of a “wiggle” skirt.
For the jacket, I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to wear with my dress…the matching shantung or a contrast boucle…so I figured, why decide on one when I can have both! I simply cut both fabrics out of the exact same jacket pieces (in lieu of cutting one smaller as lining). The facing pieces for the jacket were cut out of interfacing and ironed on the wrong (shiny) side of the lime shantung for support along the neck and front edges. Then both jackets were sewn together except for a small hole at the back bottom to turn the whole thing right sides out and roll out the edges to top-stitch them down.
Check out those amazing, unique pockets on the jacket! To me, they look like postal envelopes for letters. They were stitched on the jacket before the two fabrics were sewn together into one because I didn’t want the stitching showing on the other jacket side. My pattern shows two make two pockets, one for each side, so I improvised and still made two, just out of both fabrics with one pocket on each opposite side of the jacket fabric. Now, no matter how I wear my jacket there’s one pocket inside and one outside. The side fold ‘envelope flap’ is purely decorative and the entry for both my hand and whatever my pocket will carry goes in from the top.
The jacket is really surprisingly warm, which is exactly what I need for this year’s Easter. This year, Easter is quite chilly still and rather overcast, but the shantung not being breathable together with the plush loftiness of the boucle makes for a jacket that traps in my heat and blocks out any chilly wind. Didn’t see this one good benefit coming but it’s most welcome!
No changes were made to the design of the pattern, other than for fitting. I did grade up slightly in the dress for my waist and hips, but did not do the same grading for the jacket. I also switched up the construction method so as to make my dress easier to fit, if needed, by making the entire front and the entire back (meaning both skirt and bodice together) so I could sew up the entire side seams as one continuous seam. Many 1950’s patterns have long back bodice torso lengths for my proportions, so I shortened the back bodice by 5/8 inch. This way I avoid the ‘bubbling out’ of the zipper like I have a hump back all because of too much fabric. After making clothes from every era, it really helps to remember to have some foresight and look out for fitting trends I’ve notice with certain decades’ patterns.
My hair is an attempt at an elegant optional 50’s style of wavy bob. It kind of is similar to a 1930’s style, but the 30’s hair had more waves and curls, especially around the face, whereas the 50’s had soft waves with either fluff or smoothness for the rest of the (short) hair. The 50’s wasn’t only all pompadour bangs, obnoxiously large victory rolls, gamine crops, and a bouffant. Marilyn Monroe (in the early 50’s, as seen here) and Grace Kelly wore a similar hairstyle (in the 1956 movie “High Society”). If these two ladies can wear their hair like that, it must be alright for an elegant optional 50’s look, even though I kind of did a bum job at imitating. I really wanted to do some sort of fancy top knot or curly/wavy French twist (like in this book re-printed from 1954), but sometimes I can only go with what my hair can do for the day (it has a mind of its own sometimes). Maybe next time I “do” the 50’s…
Now, if you’ve made it this far in my post…thank you so much! I am quite proud of my outfit which is probably one of the main reasons for being so long-winded, but this project was also quite interesting for me with many special details to share. I hope you like it as much as I do. Do you also like to treat yourself to a new handmade outfit, whether dressed up or down, which makes you feel special? I can’t wait to hear (or see) what you have all made for Easter or spring, too.