Hubby and I have been long overdue for a vacation for over 5 years now. A few weeks back we finally went somewhere for a few days – Chicago! Our hotel was the historic Knickerbocker in the heart of everything, along the Magnificent Mile. To cut to the point, we explored the hotel in the evenings, and we found the secret door to the speakeasy upstairs as well as seeing some of the unique, original 1930s and 20’s posters which lined the hallways. All of this made me glad I had taken this as an opportunity beforehand to sew myself something special for the occasion! I figured (correctly), that by the evening, I would be dog-tired, and not want to stay completely put together, yet stay elegantly presentable while being comfortable. A vintage 1936 dressing gown was the perfect answer…
It seems a true dressing gown is something that rides a fine line between opposites. It is not purely utilitarian and overly warm, both of which better suits a housecoat. Yet, at the same time, a dressing gown is much more restrained than a tantalizing, sexy boudoir robe and not flimsy like a negligee. It is a garment with practical, chic elegance which is unashamedly luxurious and feminine. It is meant to be cozy in the way of being light yet chill-busting, because a dressing gown is generally flowing (and very classical Grecian in influence especially for the decade of the 1930s). This vintage page (below) from a “Good Needlework Magazine”, year 1937, describes the ideal dressing gown. See how it recommends satin, rayon, silk velvets for the best materials. A modern robe is no match in opulent charm to a full dressing gown.
Unlike both a housecoat and a boudoir robe, a dressing gown is something to be seen and worn in somewhat private settings, such as a secluded hotel lounge (my immediate modern purpose) or to host late night card parties with friends or answer the front door (traditional recounts of their usefulness). However, the name immediately implies that a dressing robe is a garment for a stage in-between dressed and undressed…like a “wrap dress sort of a housecoat” for when you would just have your slip on to do your hair and makeup before going out or for doing the opposite actions unwinding in the evening. Even still, a dressing robe isn’t so much about action, as it is for inaction…especially for any time after the 1930s. Most homes have had decent central heating since then, as well as leisure time being an attainable part of life, and with the frilly details and scant warmth to a dressing gown, this is something perfect for not doing anything, and completely treating one’s self to a little bit of luxury under the excuse of usefulness.Making this gown was somewhat of a leisurely luxury…it was so easy to whip up! I used a great, small Etsy shop reproduction of a year 1936 German pattern and some luxurious mid-weight jacquard that seems to mimic a very nice rayon for the ultimate dressing gown for myself. I am not one to wear reds all that much, but this burgundy jacquard was like a magnet to me in the fabric store…something I wanted to use in some way. I couldn’t see it as anything but nightwear, for some reason – even though my dressing gown idea meant I needed a whopping total amount.
FABRIC: The fancy exterior is 3 ½ yards of 60 inch wide mid-to heavy weight jacquard, 98% polyester/2% spandex (which feels like a rayon), from Jo Ann’s fabric store. The lining is a crepe finish (buff, non-shiny), lightweight, matching burgundy poly lining, also from Jo Ann’s.
NOTIONS: I had thread, ribbon, and clasp closures on hand…this needs only very basic notions!
TIME TO COMPLETE: This gown was made in about 10 to 15 hours and finished on August 9, 2017.
THE INSIDES: …what insides? This gown is fully lined…
Perhaps I only pictured the jacquard in nightwear because I was thinking of the rich red robe of Scarlett in the movie “Gone with the Wind” or Whitney Frost’s robe in Season Two of Marvel’s Agent Carter. Both ladies wear some dressing robes I crush over but I credit Whitney Frost’s gown to give me the idea to use two metal, gold-enameled filigree clasp buckles from on hand for the asymmetric chest closing. An elegant robe with a luxury fabric which is not seen that much anymore deserves even more fancy touches…because I can! Any garment can have buttons. My gown has something to close it as unique as it is, and there are two less items in my notions stash, too. One of the unique details which are part of the design itself is the pointed, arched front waist seam. It perfectly complements the gently arched neckline, in my opinion, and both provide a nice ‘frame’ for the asymmetric bodice closing. The arched, pointed waist is on both sides of the front wrap, and amazingly do line up when the dressing robe is closed. The waistline does have double tie closings to anchor this flowing robe in place – a pair of burgundy satin ribbon ties for the inside, and a pair of self-fabric bias ties for the outside closing.
The hardest and most time consuming parts to having a finished dressing robe were two things. I’ll start with the first in the order of being made – assembling the PDF pattern. I believe we have an extra ordinary amount of open floor space in our living room (where I cut out projects and assemble PDF patterns) and still I was almost completely out of space, so the large size of the connected pages into one full set of pattern pieces might be the biggest drawback for anyone else. Take note – this pattern is similar to many PDF patterns, especially from Burda Style, where there is no seam allowance given. It must be added in by you, in the width of your choosing. As the size for this dressing gown’s original measurements are (bust 38”, waist 30”, hips 42”) technically inches above my body size, I did not add seam allowances so as to easily cut down on the excess. In reality I could have added little seam allowances because this seems to run small in the overall fit. It just fits me, without any room for bulky clothes, but I do not think I would like this any bigger because a sloppy fit would make all the fabric to this ankle length robe overwhelming. So I guess I succeeded in a good fit after all.
Turning all the edges out all around so I could have a fully lined gown was the second challenging part that took up most of the relatively short time I spend on sewing this. I didn’t really want to bother deciding on a seam finish (bias, French, or raw) and a dressing gown’s inside is seen much more than any regular wearing garment. Thus I went all out and fully lined my robe, except for the sleeves. Whenever I want to make something nice, going the extra mile to make that special touch, even though it’s probably a bother, always ends up so very worth it in the end…at least for me!
I know the pattern shows cuffed sleeves, but I can wear that on my every day long sleeve shirts – I wanted the drama that wide bell sleeves add to my dressing gown. Besides, many, if not most, of the various other dressing gowns I perused on the internet (both patterns and extant garments) have similar bell sleeves, especially the 1930s ones. I did find the original pattern sleeves to be a tad short when I checked before cutting out. I am on the smaller side of average for my arm length, and I added 1 ½ inches, so everyone else interested in this pattern take note!
Many of the 1930s dressing robes also tend to have a neckline frill or ruffle, too, I noticed. I do have a vintage one yard scrap of some sheer, black, mechanically pleated 3 inch wide trim that would mimic the collar on my pattern’s drawn image cover. I was sorely tempted to add that trim to my dressing gown, but the trim is vintage and uniquely lovely, so I really think it deserves to be seen on a 1930s street dress or nice dress. I actually used up all of my jacquard fabric on the gown, so a self-fabric neckline ruffle was out of the equation, anyway. Having something frilly, fussy, and complicated around my neck doesn’t sound like anything but a bother on something meant to relax in, and I like the simplicity of the elegance to my robe as it is.
You really can’t see my slippers all that well, but I am wearing my prized vintage late 1930s to mid-1940s Daniel Green slippers. They are mine because of an even trade with a local shop of some vintage heels I wasn’t wearing, so I count myself as lucky to have these because they are something I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise. They are in pristine condition and just so amazing, I had to bring them on the trip and wear them with my dressing gown. House slippers have changed so much since these beauties – another example of how modern versions of things cannot stand up to vintage when it comes to class and personality.
Please – do yourself a favor and find a dressing gown pattern for yourself (maybe use the one I did) and make one, too. Like me I believe it will come together quicker than you imagined, and you will want to wear it more than you expected. Just find that luxurious fabric that speaks of fluid elegance in your mind, and go for it!