Hooray! This is my 300th post! To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest. This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat. My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label! Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on. This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit! More about that later.
For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.” She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story. Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.
The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s. I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption. There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive. My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!
Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”. I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes. However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from. We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi. Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked! One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.
Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead. The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam. The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam. Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing! There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out. It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper). Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist! She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself. The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.
The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress). The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar. There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front. The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece. There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself. However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric. The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check. I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.
Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!
FABRIC: a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents
PATTERN: McCall’s #1571, year 1950
NOTIONS: all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…
TIME TO COMPLETE: this was made in about 4 or 5 hours
TOTAL COST: I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50! I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).
This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined. The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash. I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet. Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage. Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.
At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap. It completely covered my ears and hair. Bummer! Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly. It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand). The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.
My solution was to work with what I already had. The side curves had “wings” cut out of them. The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge. The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips. This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.
You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of. An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it. Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim. He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him. My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this. Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor. I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.
Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be. Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is! I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others. Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.
There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations. I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up. As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to. Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!
I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you. Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way. I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace. Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!