An “Appointment” with the Baroque

The word “baroque”, widely used since the nineteenth century, comes from the Portuguese word “barroco” meaning “misshapen pearl”, a negative description of the ornate and heavily embellished music of this period (circa 1600 to 1750). The name has also come to apply to the architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, dance, as well as fashion of the same time period.  The Baroque style is characterized by exaggerated details and sensuous richness used to produce a sense of drama, exuberance, and grandeur. 

There is no better example of this rich style of dressing in our modern fashion than the two designer lines of both Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.  Am I a too much of a rebel to admire both enough equally to combine their distinctive elements into one self-made interpretation of Baroque dressing?  How about adding some Hollywood inspiration to the mix as the base for my creative efforts?  The film industry and designer clothing goes together quite often after all!  In this dress, I will pretend to be a wealthy aristocrat strolling to the music of Bach in my private rose garden for a true Baroque experience.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester scuba knit in a large scale paneled print, with the bodice edges faced in a beige cotton-poly broadcloth (which ends up being interfaced, too); the button placket edges are of a heavyweight cotton sateen (leftover from this blouse)

PATTERN:  Advance #5550, from July of 1950

NOTIONS:  All I practically needed was a lot of thread and some interfacing.  The closures of the dress required one small skirt side zipper (7 inch) and lots of buttons.  Luckily, back in 2011 I had bought two packs of “Dress It Up” buttons, and I used some from both the “Victorian Miniatures” pack as well as the “Nostalgic Treasures” pack.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finally finished on September 9, 2020 after about 30 something hours spent to retrace and grade out the pattern, assemble the dress multiple times to make up for the bad fit, and then all the finishing details.

THE INSIDES:  left raw as scuba does best

TOTAL COST:  This material was sent to me in April 2018 for free.  It was part of my prize from “Minerva Crafts and Fabrics” for winning the 2017 Vintage Pledge sponsored by Marie at “A Stitching Odyssey”.

A recent purchase of a new-to-me vintage pattern had interesting features that I saw as a probable compliment to my paneled, oversized scuba print.  All the scallops along the bodice edges and the basic blocked bodice and skirt pieces were a natural pairing to my prize fabric and worked well with the rolling print and oversized scale of the fabric.  The scuba knit made construction a bit easier (no edge finishing needed, either) and provided the dress some ‘body’ without stiffness.  After all, this was my excuse to get around to using my amazing supplies of both pattern and fabric sooner than later!  Besides, after the previous post, I can still stay on-topic by continuing to explore the possibilities of neoprene material for something that is true vintage, designer inspired, and a movie style all-in-one. 

As is alluded to on the pattern cover, the dress’ design was first worn by the actress Jan Sterling, designed by Mary Kay Dodson, a costume designer who worked under Edith Head at Paramount, under contract between 1944 and 1951.  (If you’re feeling curious, just look at this fantastic chartreuse suit Dodson designed for another movie!

The dress from my pattern is out of an old Noir genre movie which tells the story of a fictional peril to the United States Postal Service, titled “Appointment with Danger” starring Alan Ladd.  The film was lucky to have just be seen by audiences – having gone through several names and stalling for almost 5 years before being released.  (This is why the pattern cover has a different title for the same movie!)  Besides the sultry Jan Sterling, there is no other real female fashion inspiration to “Appointment with Danger” so it’s a good thing her few dresses were fantastic when compared to the only other woman in the film, a religious nun, Sister Augustine as played by Phillis Calvert.   

Dolce & Gabbana have a religious flair to many of their creations, paired with the frequent Sicilian influence (the cultural roots of Domenico Dolce), and so for me the gold scrollwork often calls to mind an old church or Renaissance opulence.  One of the pieces from their fourth collection was labeled “The Sicilian Dress” by the fashion press, and was named by author Hal Rubenstein as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed.  Rubenstein described the piece in 2012 by writing, “The Sicilian dress is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand’s sartorial touchstone.”  

Yet, at the same time, the 2018 Met Gala theme of “Heavenly Bodies” solidified the manner by which the house of Versace could also mimic the same vein as Dolce & Gabbana, as seen on the late but great Chadwick Boseman.  Versace is commonly known for its striking use of chains as a print and large scale panels.  However, both do frequently use the primary colors of white, black, a golden yellow as well as interesting textures and feminine styles. 

I heavily referred to Dolce & Gabbana directly by my details – choice of buttons, the red rose hair corsage I made, and my Sam Edelman brand leather platform heels in animal print.  I really don’t have many sets of 12 buttons, and none of them paired well with this dress, so I went with the showy and eclectic answer of using all different buttons on this unconventional dress project. (See the “Notions” section of “The Facts” above.)  All the buttons luckily need the same size button hole and all are fully workable buttons (and button holes) – no fakes just for show. The most interesting ones – a cherub’s head, a Fleur-dis-lis, and a sun – are all along the shoulder while several miss-matching round golden buttons are along the sides under my arms.  I love the subtlety but unusualness of it, but in reality doing so helped clear out my random buttons from my stash and stayed true to the “more is more” spirit of Dolce & Gabbana. 

My Versace tribute is in my fabric’s print and by wearing vintage chain jewelry.  My jewelry is from my Grandmother and by a well-respected small Italian designer who came to America at the end of WWII.  “Jewels by Julio” items are said to be are hard to find today.  Such marked pieces are by Julio J. Marsella, who created high quality jewelry from 1946-1957. He was a perfectionist who sang Italian Opera with the same skill that he created jewelry. His jewelry was considered to be on par with Hobe, Hattie Carnegie, and Dior (by Kramer) pieces for quality and desirability.  It is most likely only plated and has a warm authentic gold color that has aged nicely and pairs well with my dress.  Even though the actual print of my fabric is more Dolce & Gabbana, the colors and the way it is laid out is very Versace.  There are still chains in the borders to the panels, after all.   

My heart will always be tied to Italy, especially Milan, the founding place for both companies.  My first trip out of my country and into Italy was a 3 day visit to that town!  Thus, this outfit takes me back in sentiment to a place I remember so vividly as the experience of a lifetime.  As a 19 year old, I was unfortunately not equipped with the pocketbook to splurge on things I had then admired in the store windows.  Yet, now I can sew whatever I set my mind to.  This outfit is my hometown, homemade version of a replacement!  Thus, my post’s outfit is also my submission for Linda’s “Designin’ December 2020” challenge at the blog “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!”

For the 2 ½ yards of fabric which were gifted to me, there were 3 ½ panels for me to work with for my dress.  Two of the panels immediately went towards the front and the back of the skirt respectively.  The last full panel went toward to the bodice, both front and back.  I added a center front vertical seam to accommodate the way I wanted the print to lay.  With the main border running up either side of the front center seam, the torso is lengthened visually to offset the full, wide skirt.  The angled, radiating front bust darts nip in the waist perfectly – just as I hoped – by creating the image of the sides to the bodice wrapping over the center border.  The back bodice reminds me of a glorious chandelier the way the scrollwork seems to drip down from my shoulders.  I wanted to widen my shoulders from behind with this layout, and thereby complement the waist in a different manner than what I employed for the front.  I had to get inventive as I had limited fabric to work with.  I do love a good sewing challenge…with exceptions.

After all the raving and seeming glowing words I have given my outfit so far, reaching the point where the dress was actually wearable and properly fitting me was a very frustrating journey.  The proportions to the dress pattern were so completely off whack that I was mind blown.  Yes – I love the final result of my dogged determination to see this project perfected.  Yet, what was shown on both the cover drawing and the line art specifics was something so very different than what the actual tissue paper turns out.  All the details shown were still there.  However, where the skirt and bust landed on me were all wrong.  I should have listened to my gut instinct when I noticed such on the tissue…only I’ve never seen a pattern this far off and considered that I must have been the one measuring wrong.  Nope!  This one pattern has both a sizing and proportions problem, the likes of which I have never seen.  If I hadn’t been using the very forgiving and easy-to-work with scuba knit, this dress would have easily become a sewing project straight from hell.  

The actual size of the pattern was very tiny (a 28 inch bust!!) and so I graded up an inch less than what I assumed I needed due to working with a stretch knit.  Width wise grading was the only adaptations I traced out when prepping this pattern, and my work was not the cause of my issues with the design.  I did notice right off the bat when laying out the pieces and checking measurements on the tissue pattern that the waist length from shoulder to skirt seam was really quite long…and I only trimmed off 2 inches because even that much taken off seemed extreme, right?!  I also lengthened the center-radiating, French-style bust darts to actually come up to where they should on me.  I sewed up most all of the dress, stitching once and tried it on.

Agh!  The ‘waistline’ ended at my high hip, the front bodice was still huge, and the neckline was so small I couldn’t even button it closed.  After lots of unpicking of thread, cutting of new seams, and even some crying, I started fresh again.  I cut off another 2 inches from the bodice length, stitched in the vertical center bodice seam making the front smaller by 2 inches, and cut the V neckline lower by 2 inches as well, then finally sewed the uber-gathered skirt in again and called it good.  Let’s realize I took out a total of 4 inches from the length of the bodice!  The line drawing shows the ‘waistline’ should have where my hips are…so weird!  Something went wrong with this pattern because even a long-torso woman could not be 20 something inches from the shoulder to the waist. 

I lost each one of the bottom side scallops in the process of re-fitting.  See how the movie dress has four on each side and I only have 3 on each side.  That worked for me because I didn’t have any more buttons anyway.  How in the world did the four button arrangement work on the movie dress with actress Jan Sterling still having a naturally placed waistline for the dress?!  Were the scallops drafted smaller, maybe half the width as the Advance pattern’s?  Did Ms. Sterling have an impossibly tiny Barbie sized neck?  Perhaps the Advance pattern wasn’t even directly drafted from the movie dress at all, like I am assuming. I’ll never know.  Nevertheless, all is well that ends well, as the saying goes, and the good thing is no one would ever guess the troubles and frustrations it took to finish my outfit.

There was a nearby companion to my photo shoot who did not have to go through the bother I did to look so striking.  It was a Yellow Garden Spider, waiting it in its web for an evening snack.  This is a larger spider than what I am used to seeing around town – several inches in diameter when you include the long legs – and it was rather creepy to see an arachnid in the garden which would take up the whole palm of my hand.  It was matching me in color and was too dramatic of a creature to not appreciate, though!  This is exactly the kind of thing I could see becoming inspiration for a designer dress.  Let’s talk about the killer print that spider is wearing on its back!!  Its scientific Latin name translates to “gilded silver-face”.  For having a plain term for its English name, this spider could be baroque by the way it has drama, loads of interest to its details, and it still respectfully regal.   

This is a fun and different thing for me to make that is still so very wearable.  Dressed in this, it brightens my day, brings a smile to my face, and makes me swish around feeling imaging myself a princess for the moment.  The fact that I have on some higher-end brand, extreme 5 inch heels feeds my unreasonable enjoyment for tall shoes.  (They not only lengthen my legs but bring me up to my hubby’s stature level, he he).  Being a modern scuba print and not something heavily embroidered or fine silk like a true designer item keeps it more akin to ‘normal’ – albeit fancy – clothes.  Upon arriving at the first place I wore this dress, I immediately received compliment.  Apparently my dress must share with its viewers the same happy feeling I have when wearing it!  This is proof that making my own spoof on something designer I have admired for years ends up doing good all around, much more so than if I had broken my bank account to splurge on a true Versace or Dolce & Gabbana.  Dolce himself has said, “A dress should live the personality of the woman who wears it.”

There is still time to create your own designer inspired ‘copy’ for “Designin’ December” since the challenge runs until the end of the year!  

3 thoughts on “An “Appointment” with the Baroque

  1. That’s a great use of this print! But I am confused about the material. Is it polyester or neoprene? Because these are totally different fibres. I have so far shied away from scuba, but it does look nice.

    Like

  2. I love the elements influencing your design, and they come together so well without looking gaudy. I would say “baroque” is just the word for it!
    Pattern frustration IS the bane of my sewing, but even with having to basically alter every single one I use, I have never found one so drastically off! Wow.

    Like

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