I despise the cold and hate the season of snow and dead looking trees. Grey skies and a body not tolerant of bundling up in layers combines to make the fact that we’re at the beginning of what is officially winter now gives me no reason to celebrate. In my mind I’m like a “winter warrior” that endures through the tough season…wearing my own made garments to make staying warm much more enjoyable than it could be.
This post’s suit dress is from 1955 and to me is the best of me putting up with the past cold season in lovely vintage style. I love this! Warm (but not bulky) boucle, slimming design, interesting asymmetric features, and mid-50’s chic fashion. There’s even a good influence of Agent Carter inspiration, courtesy of Peggy’s Smithsonian interview from the movie “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, to combine for one awesome result, if I do say so myself. (Watch the whole 3 minute clip here…warning, it’ll make you cry!) My dress may not be as “line for line” a copy as some of my other Agent Carter makes, but it is definitely similar in a way that is clearly recognizable, even if I do only have one lapel! Life is better with a little bit o’ Peggy in it!
A good Agent Carter dress in 50’s era class deserved an amp up in some quality features. Perhaps that’s why this dress is the first to have me hand-stitch everything when it came to finishing – the side zipper, all top-stitching, and all hemming. As one who hates hand work due to achy wrists and a bad neck, this is a truly strong statement to how I feel about this (not just a slight brag) that my “Winter Soldier” dress is the first to have deserved such treatment. It deserved it, believe me, but all that hand stitching taught me some unexpected but much appreciated lessons on a new outlook to certain aspects of sewing. More about this down later!
To “top off” my set is one of my favorite vintage hats that I own – a rich navy velvet halo hat, also asymmetric in style, complete with a matching velvet vintage clutch purse. My gloves are also vintage, so I guess my suede, patent toed heels are the only real modern accessories of my outfit! This kind of asymmetric halo hat found great popularity for a short period of time (about 1948 to 1953), so my hat is a tad early for the actual date of my pattern (1955). However, as the “Smithsonian Interview” scene was supposed to be in 1953, it is right on spot in both year and complimentary style, I do believe.
My lipstick is my favorite crimson shade, “Red Velvet” from Besame Cosmetics. “Red Velvet” goes on so smooth and is intense in pigment. It often lasts through eating a meal! Anyway, I’m naturally swayed in favor of “Red Velvet” – it’s the color that the Agent Carter actress Hayley Atwell wears whenever she’s in character, so it is only fitting to pair it with this Captain America outfit. I love how subtly patriotic and richly cheery it makes my mellow winter blue suit dress!
FABRIC: an acrylic/poly/rayon blend boucle lined in a crepe-finish polyester
PATTERN: Simplicity #1353, year 1955
NOTIONS: I had all the interfacing, thread, and other notions needed (bias tapes, shoulder pads, zipper) in my stash already. Yay for using what’s on hand for a project that easily comes together! The buttons are vintage from my Grandmother’s collection.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This was finished on February 11, 2017, and took me about 20 or more hours to make.
TOTAL COST: The boucle had been in my stash for I don’t even remember how long. It was one of those good materials that I hold onto until I find a very convincing reason to use it! My lining was something from my longtime stash, as well, so I’m actually counting this as free!
I’ve never gone wrong knocking-off or copying a Peggy Carter outfit for myself, and this dress only continues the good trend, even though it is from the next decade than we’ve traditionally seen her in. It is definitely 50’s, but it still has the strong shoulders with waist and hip slimming features that looked so well on her in the 40’s. In classic Peggy style, my dress is a wonderful combo of appearing impeccably put-together in a garment which is comfortable and practical. This is a soft, not stiff or even itchy, suit dress in just the right weight to keep me warm yet without being overly toasty indoors. I have no idea if such an ideal dress exists in RTW (I am highly skeptical there is), so I am extremely thankful to be able to put my sewing capabilities to use to make my own “copy” of a garment worn by my fashion muse, Agent Peggy Carter.
Sewing this dress was a real pleasure. Sure it had its challenges, especially when it came to getting sharp corners to the collar and adding in the skirt pleats. The boucle was lofty and nubby making it hard to be so precise with such details. As tempting as it was to just pin it all down in place and whiz through to tack it down with a machine stitch, I couldn’t stand the thought of a harsh stitching line around the edges standing out against the lovely speckled boucle. I wanted a finish that would blend in with the boucle invisibly and there was only one way to do it.
Many times I feel an inner unwilling tolerance to the necessity of doing a large amount of hand stitching, most due to my resulting physical discomfort. This time, I slowed down and took time to give it the detailed work it deserved, coming to a new realization of the power of time lavished and well-spent on a special quality which sets handmade clothes apart in best of ways from RTW. When a certain hand-made technique would make a particular garment be finished with a quality which would bring it to another level, a handmade garment can receive that treatment whereas a RTW dress made in a sweatshop or factory setting will not…ever. Bureaucratic time restraints and the frequently penny pinched fast fashion system has too many limitations on the quality of what can be offered in stores. A home dressmaker’s common constraints are often finding “free time” and availability of easily found or affordable supplies! As efficient and productive as I am with what I make, I do not like to see what quality I want be sacrificed to time constraints…especially not after this dress. What I found is that when I relaxed and appreciated my hand sewing like never before, it was not as uncomfortable to my body or as terribly drug out as I had expected. It’s amazing what a new outlook can do. I really do believe that quality concerns must be one of the many reasons I sew. I just hadn’t seen this before I had this dress to give me an example and come face-to-face with it. Poor quality is one main reasons why store bought clothes so quickly end up thrown or given away, and become uninteresting. High quality is one of the main reasons why a vintage garment from 50, 70, or more years ago is still existing in such good condition and are such a treasured treat to wear. I want to learn from time-honored lessons. Be warned, though – a French seam or a hand-picked zipper and hems can totally “spoil” you in a very worthwhile way!
Speaking of details, other than the aforementioned challenges with the points and corners arising from the nature of the fabric, the rest of my challenges were mainly about fit and the asymmetric front. You see, asymmetric designs are always an interesting departure from the “norm” because suddenly you don’t have one pattern piece which is laid on a double layer of fabric for an easy, instant result of both right and left sides. Ever since this 1947 asymmetric dress, I realized the importance of making sure your patterns are all equally facing “right side up” when laying them down on the single layer of fabric, otherwise you don’t end up with a “left” and a “right” piece with the good side of the fabric on the outside. When you are cutting double fabric layers with one piece you don’t have to think of this detail.
Also, the fit was a bit unexpected on this pattern. The bodice turned out generous, but the skirt turned out slightly small. Bringing the seam allowances out and then in at the proper areas helped this matter but even still, this was a weirdly unique fitting fluke for a 50’s pattern. Oh well, this gave me an opportunity to use some thick 80’s style shoulder pads from my stash so as to fill in the extra fabric to the bodice, pick it up, and square it off. You’d never have guessed such big shoulder pads were in there, right? I’m always amazed at how vintage fashions benefit so discreetly from exaggerated shaping! Shape definition is something this decade of the 50’s was known for being good at – creating and emphasizing the ‘ideal’ hourglass shape.
From the back the dress merely looks like a lovely, tailored, but basic dress. The sleeves quietly amp up the details – they have darted French cuffs (similar to these on this 30’s blouse I’ve made), cut on-one with the sleeves and merely faced. Now it’s the front that carries the weight of the intricacies! It might look like a wrap, but that’s only part of the guise. The “wrap” is sewn down from the waist to mid-thigh were the skirt releases up into a double pleated opening for fashionable freedom of movement. The pattern only called for a solo oversized button to ‘hold down’ the collar’s left lapel, but as I had a matching smaller sized button I added it above the waist to help keep the bodice wrap closed a little better and add to the asymmetric appearance. I will definitely be trying out pulling a small scarf through the collar lapel buttonhole, just like the cover envelope shows, for a whole different visual effect!
My background is meant to lend a professional and city living kind of air to my outfit besides being rather accurate in era. However, for clarification, my background building is special…just about the last of its kind in the area, an icon in the history of the famous Route 66. It is an early 50’s office space, a late successor in the style of the infamous Coral Courts Motel, which had been just a block up the street. Glass block windows and golden bricks with decorative aluminum work began in the 1940 and 1950s as a way to build the bridge between late Art Deco and early Mid-Century architectural styles.
The end of this post brings me to think of a quote from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” I see he’s described by The Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’ so his quote may not be the best from a fashion point of view, but technically it’s still every bit as appropriate. From my point of view, I really don’t see how, if you can sew or knit, why your clothes can’t be every bit as warm AND as fashionable as you would like! Beat that you cheap store bought dresses that only make me freeze in the winter…or you worthless sweaters that have unravelled on me after a few washes.
What is your favorite winter garment to make or favorite winter fabric to use? Do you like the dressy luxuriousness of velvet, the loftiness of fleece, cozy comfort of a knit, or the warmth of a classic wool? Do any of you find yourself infatuated with boucle as I am? If you haven’t experienced this fabric for yourself, you need to! Let me know your special way of rocking your winter style!