Hubby’s Vintage “Non-Smoking” Jacket

With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw.  Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion.  They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines).  Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes.  As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees.  Ah, men deserve better.  I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.

A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute).  My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title.  Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness.  What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode.  This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets.  The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem.  My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials.  Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples.  However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste.  He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it!  I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved.  Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket.  I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2172, year 1947

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 40 plus hours to make and was finished on September 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  What insides?  This is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!

At-home Robe (Banyan) with Matching Waistcoat France, 1720s

It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947.  The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related.  The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place.  Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading.  By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.

At-home Robe (Banyan) England, circa 1880

However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century.  Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing.  “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.

In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets.  They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes.  Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times.  At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes.  Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.

Whew!  As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming!  Every detail counts on a smoking jacket.  This one has full body lining.  There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie.  The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket.  The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him.  I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.

Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge.  Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was.  At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before.  Those kinds of makes are the best kind!

For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’.  It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found!  I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining.  Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic.  I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased.  It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!

What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose.  It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see.  Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be.  The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process.  Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times.  Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going!  I really don’t want an answer to that…

Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease.  I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity.  He wanted “to exist beautifully”.  There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing.  I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.

Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man.  See this page for some serious eye candy.  The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo.  Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty.  No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.

A picture from the exhibit “Reigning Men”, with (from left to right) a May’s Co. Dept. Store short jacket from 1948, a Victorian-era engraving, and a Smoking suit in satin from ca. 1880

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Celebrating Memorial Day with a 1940s Recipe

Time for something a little different to remember and honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country on this Memorial Day!  I will share yet another recipe from the “Modern Family Cookbook”, by Meta Given, that it had belonged to hubby’s Grandmother.  (More recipes at this post here, and also here.)  This book is from 1942, and seems from wear on the book, to have been quite useful to his Grandmother, whose husband was away in the Army during WWII. She no doubt found a simple but tasty treat like the recipe included for this post great for herself during those times!

I’ve made this recipe as a light lunch or a snack, and it was great – easy, interesting, and a great base for further fancy experimental flavors (but great as-is, too).  I want to try these cheese puff toasts as a sandwich, with tomatoes and pesto in between, for one example.  If you try this, I hope you enjoy it as I have!

Even though this holiday is about thoughtful respect for the fallen, let’s honor those who have fought and survived as well.  Please remember to thank a veteran today (or any day, really!) and never forget the freedoms of today are built from the courage and bravery of others.

Easter Backup – An Easy Sew, Late 40’s Peplum Blouse

Do you ever listen to that “just in case” voice reasoning inside your head?  Well, maybe I was just needing an excuse to whip up another pretty outfit.  You see, I had started this late 40’s peplum project last year’s end of summer and realized (after I cut this blouse pattern out) that I was running out of warm weather time to make it worth my while to sew. Sigh – each season never lasts long enough for all the plans I have.  Nevertheless, I had a project ready to go, just waiting for a few hours’ commitment and nice weather.  What if I didn’t really need another, second Easter outfit?  Whatever…don’t mind if I do.

Now, as my title alludes to, the peplum blouse is the only item I am featuring in this post.  The skirt is something I did make myself, but it has already been blogged about here as it was the bottom half of my 1946 Agent Carter suit set.  It was basically the same pattern as the skirt in with my peplum blouse pattern and this brown one was a great fill-in because it happily matches!  My wide platter hat (definitively bringing this into the late 40’s Dior era), my purse, and gloves are all true vintage items, with my earrings in particular from my Grandma’s old jewelry box.  My fabulous shoes (if I do say so myself) are Miz Mooz brand.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an all-cotton pink printed floral, lined partially in a polyester anti-cling lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8463, a year 2017 reprint of a 1947 pattern (originally Simplicity #1928)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  basic stuff here – a little interfacing, a zipper, and thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together in the blink of an eye.  It took about 6 hours and was finished on March 30, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The blouse only took just over 2 yards and I used a remnant of lining (free in my stash) so with the zipper (the cotton being about $5 a yard) my total is only $15.

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed I have had a renewed fascination with the late post-war 40’s since about 8 months ago.  Anything between 1946 and 1949 has frequently been blogged about here lately.  What has also been going on in the background for me since then, is a new fascination for peplums, as well.  I mean I’ve had an interest in peplums so bad it has been almost like an addiction.  Don’t worry – it’s under control now, after a couple vintage dress purchases later, ha!  However, when it came to sewing something that would relieve my ‘fix’ this 1947 Simplicity re-issue was one that of course had to pop up as it ticks both post-war and peplum boxes.

Now, what makes a peplum?  According to the basic google dictionary definition, it is a “a short flared, gathered, or pleated strip of fabric attached at the waist of a woman’s jacket, dress, or blouse to create a hanging frill or flounce“.  However, I find the technical use of it much broader than that.  Especially in vintage fashion – particularly in the post-war 40’s when fashion styles were easing out of rationing into the full-skirted, sumptuous 50’s silhouette – a peplum was frequently only a small detail that emphasizes the hips by evocation (much like this 1949 dress I have made).  It doesn’t always have to be as obvious as the blouse in this post.  What matters is the prominence a peplum places on the hip line.  A peplum achieves that through excess fabric artfully added in the area between the waist and the upper thigh.  That – pure and simple – is a peplum.

I did change the pattern slightly.  I wanted to taper the back half of the peplum into a slightly lower hem with a point at the center because I don’t have anything like that.  Possessing so many different peplums now, I guess I’m starting to become picky!  I also took or just two inches out of the peplum gathers coming into the waistband.  Other than these two customizations, I made the rest of the pattern as designed and didn’t even need to adjust the sizing, which I found spot on.

Yet, there was something I added to help the peplum hang better.  Ideally, this blouse should be made out of something draping or flowing, and that wasn’t this cotton…but that wasn’t going to stop me!  I cut and extra double of the peplum out of my lining to go underneath.  This way it slides over whatever skirt I wear under this top (because it does also match with about two other skirts, anyway).  Another layer, no matter how lightweight, adds a little more heftiness to the peplum helping it hang straight, also making the formerly ugly wrong side so pretty and cleanly hemmed now.  Lining a peplum is definitely the way to go when sewing such a style.

Most of the times I ditch fiddly facings in lieu of bias edging or full lining but I kept them here.  This blouse has cut-on sleeves – kimono shoulders with a cap (as it’s called) look – which dip very low.  This style is very comfy for me with my larger upper arms and give a soft shoulder widening emphasis.  Such an arm opening also makes however you finish the sleeve edges visible…why I stuck with the self-fabric facings.

I love the bust shaping on this top.  This is not the first time I have experienced such drafting.  It is also on my 1951 dark purple slip (posted here).  For this 40’s blouse, though, there is more dramatic shaping, not for any flat chested or very small busted woman.  I didn’t change the neckline depth, and find it a nice in between – not showing cleavage yet prettily open enough for showcasing a necklace.  My little simple single diamond is something I am happy to show off, anyway.  It is quite special to me.  I received it as gift for a special occasion when I was about eight.  So much of my outfits are tied up with memories…

Before Easter is yet another distant memory for this year and summer is upon us, I just wanted to share my other very spring photos of my latest make.  I realize I have been posting so many 1940s creations here as of late and I will share more variety soon, I promise!  If you are on Instagram, I hope to be posting on that platform more of my true vintage original peplum dresses that I have acquired.

Do you have a particular style of peplum that especially appeals to you?  Have you not tried peplums yet?  Is it just me or does my 40’s purse somehow look like an Easter basket?  Let me know – I love comments!

My “Conservative Gilda” Nightgown

The character of the woman Gilda, in the famous Rita Hayworth movie by the same name, is that of a bold woman, to say it tactfully.  In no uncertain terms, she is shown to the viewer – from that very first moment in the boudoir (watch it here on TCM) – that she is not scrupulous when using her female wiles for whatever emotional game or selfish desire she chooses to play upon.  The sheer tulle and off-the-shoulder nightgown says volumes.  Her character is so far removed from me, yet I love the relaxed, romantic aura of what she has on.  With a pattern already on hand that was quite similar, I hope to have tamed that famous Gilda nightgown into something more respectable.  Am I decent in this?  I think so.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton flannel and a sheer polyester tiny tulle

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1479, year 1944 (I’ve already made the tied-front crop top here as part of a playsuit)

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this on hand as it was all basic stuff – thread, some scraps of interfacing, and skinny elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took 5 hours to make and was finished on February 4, 2019

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the sleeves (including armscye), self-fabric bias binding for the neckline and bottom hem, raw edges for the long side seams

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was something I bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business – the tulle was just bought.  As the flannel was bought quite a while back for what must have been dirt cheap, I’m counting it as maybe $5 to $10.  Together with the $5 spent on the tulle, this is an under $15 glamorous steal of a nightgown!

This was a quick and ridiculously simple make for how nice it turned out.  Yet, at the same time it was a total fabric hog, especially since I chose the ankle length version (for both more warmth and elegance).  What is practically two giant rectangles comprise both the front and the back, taking up 3 ½ total yards of flannel!  This is partly the reason for the sheer sleeves – I flat out ran out of fabric for them.  However, hubby reminded me that sheer sleeves would bring my make closer to my chosen movie inspiration.  Two heads are better than one is a legitimately true phrase, but it’s always cool and surprising when that second brain – which isn’t sewing oriented – can be so helpful with my garment projects!

I chose tiny holed, super fine mesh tulle for the sleeves or a chiffon.  They have a bit more body in tulle to make for a nice blousing out above the cuffs which matches well with the heavier cotton body to my nightgown.  Chiffon can look droopy (as it does on the original Gilda nightgown), but that can also have its place with some styles.  Besides, something as slippery as chiffon did not sounds appealing to me on nightwear.  As sultry as that fabric can be, I think I understand the properties of chiffon and only imagined the fabric wrapping itself around my arms as I slept.  Whether that would happen or not, I didn’t take a chance.  The sleeves are two layers of tulle.  Two layers hopefully will be not as fragile as one seemed and lent more of a matching grey tone.

I have not been able to find any source which says what hue the original Gilda movie nightgown was, but for some reason (not just because it is in black and white) I picture it in a light color, close to no color.  Kind of like the ironic use of a pure and innocent white on Lana Turner in the movie “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, I could see the mischievous Gilda in a similarly demure costume to amplify her tempting, teasing demeanor.  Now, I could be totally wrong here, but anyway – these musings gave me a reason to use the material I did.  Flannel is my favorite nightwear material for lounging (used it for this nightgown already) and definitely more modest and practical.  While not as drafty or alluring as Gilda’s frilly, sheer gown, however, the print is pretty and delicate in the softest hint of a light grey scroll work motif.  I low-key complimented the print with the dove grey sleeves, but tried highlight it better by using a dark grey (albeit sheer, as well) ribbon as a belt.

The pattern called for a set waistband, one that either is elasticized or has a ribbon running through a sewn-on casing.  I left that out.  I like my waist free and unrestricted at night when I sleep, because this is still a nightgown that I am going to wear no matter how pretty it is!  Besides, I felt that seeing a ribbon around the waist, and not hiding it in a casing, would set a defined waistline better in this voluminous gown…hey it worked on Gilda!  Finally, having no set waistband is much more versatile, in my opinion.  I used a whole 3 yard spool for my ribbon tie because I absolutely love the way there are long ends that elegantly, dramatically flutter down, almost to the hem.

I kept the rest of the details as fuss-free as possible.  The cuffs around the wrist were instructed to be made like a regular blouse cuffs, but that is too much for nightwear.  I made them one piece and they just slip on or off of my wrist over my hand.  The neckline has elastic in the casing so I could easily wear this as a regular scoop neck or pull it off the shoulders for a full Gilda effect.  As the elastic is pretty thin and the neckline holds the entire weight of more than 3 yards of flannel, I have two strands of it through the casing.  In order to make the gathered ruffled neckline turn out (with the sheer material involved), I had to use more of the dress flannel for the casing and make a tiny “track” for maximum ruffling.  Thus, a thin, string-like elastic was the only way to go, anyway.  Simple, easy, so pretty, and timeless, vintage designs really know how to make nighttime clothes something to look forward to wearing at the end of a day!

This is the final post about the garments that I made for our trip to Denver, Colorado.  For these pictures, we were at our Alpine-style bed-and-breakfast the “Vasquez Creek Inn” at Winter Park.  The other garments I made for this trip included a refashioned boxy cropped pullover and a 1940s quilted jerkin with corduroy trousers.  Making a nightgown made me feel like I had a new, complete set for fun, fancy, or relaxing to bring with me!  Hotels are great for taking pictures of nightwear, anyway…they are an uncluttered, nicely decorated, different setting.  Not that our bedroom is an atrocious mess or not pleasant to see either, but we’ve already taken pictures there and as I’m not crazy about our old wallpaper, I didn’t want to do that again.  It’s always nice to take pictures where you’ve had good times away from home anyway, right?!

One Shot

When you finally have the chance you’ve been waiting for…when you have the opportunity to be what you aspire to be…when you have one try to get something right…that ‘one shot’, or trial attempt, out into the dark of the unknown can mean failure or success.  If you have to wait for an answer, not knowing which of the two will be the result of your effort is agonizing.  However, being bold enough to follow your heart and do what is right for you is an answer enough…whether or not the truth shines through.  The worth that was already there is in its full glory so own it.  I’ll just sit back and completely own this me-made Agent Carter suit with a maker’s pride, and be a second Peggy for a time!

April 9 is International Peggy Carter day, her “birthday” per se (which in fan fiction is in 1921), and a day to celebrate in our own individual ways a character from Marvel Comics that has brought so much into our lives.  I celebrate by dressing like Peggy, even if it’s just adding some little detail like red lipstick.  Most importantly, though, it is seen as a day of confidence, empowerment, and compassion.  Believe in yourself today, and have confidence that you are beautiful inside and out – worthwhile in every way.  Have empathy for others and treat them like an equal human being, and feel the courage to say or do what needs to be done today or in the future.

Speaking of having guts, this post’s outfit required all the dedication and enthusiasm I could muster because this was my first attempt at full-fledged, proper suit tailoring…and I couldn’t be happier with the result!  My patience was tested and proven by this seriously complex, two-piece project made from a true vintage pattern.  The fabric and design I chose was directly inspired by Peggy’s fashion on the pilot episode of “Agent Carter” called “One Shot”, a short story (fifteen minute) release to American audiences in September 2013 on the Iron Man 3 DVD.  (Please, go watch it for yourself here.)  It was Marvel’s successful test run of an idea on the heels of Captain America: Winter Soldier, showing them there was (and still is) overwhelming interest in Peggy receiving her own screen-aired storyline.  As she was shown competently taking upon herself a solo mission in the face of extreme sexism and underestimation, I cannot think of a more appropriate example for me to channel on International Peggy Carter Day.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton flannel plaid, underlined in a cotton broadcloth, stabilized in loose cotton canvas (light interfacing weight) for the main body of the jacket, lined in poly cling-free lining (on hand); the skirt is an all-cotton heavyweight twill (almost a denim), with the jacket detailing being the same material

PATTERN:  McCall #6638, a Junior’s Two-Piece Suit, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread (which I had), a zipper and waistband hook for the skirt, iron-on interfacing, and a set of vintage plastic but carved-horn look-alike buttons from my husband’s Grandmother’s collection of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the patterning, the skirt took only 2 hours to make on was finished on February 4, 2018, while the jacket took me 40 plus hours to sew and was finished on March 14, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt total cost me about $15, the jacket total about $45 ($30 for plaid flannel from “GSM Designs” on Etsy, $15 for the extra padded layers) so the overall price is $60.  Not at all a bad price for a suit set like this, much less a customized fitting, vintage-style one!

There are several cool coincidences when it comes to this outfit – I revel in things falling into place just so!  This always tells me that I’m on to something good that is meant to be.  First of all, the “One Shot” episode takes place in the year 1946…the same as the date on the pattern I used to make my look-alike suit!  This pattern was something I already had in my stash so it was super convenient, practically the only Agent Carter outfit I have needed to hunt down a design for specifically.  Also, the skirt half for this is so very versatile and an easy choice.  It is made of exactly the same wonderful favorite fabric as my two pairs of 1950s skinny jeans (red one here, pink one here) and it is super reasonably priced so I kind of knew it would be a workhorse of a piece, but I didn’t expect it would become something I now wonder how I lived without.  This basic, brown, slight A-line, skinny, straight skirt completes a true vintage early 1950s blazer that I have, many of my blouses, as well as a post-WWII peplum blouse I have recently sewn (yet to be posted)!

The only reason I dove into this long admired Agent Carter set was because I happened to come across a small lot of the perfect matching plaid online.  Well, yes, this plaid does have an undertone of olive green (which I love) that is actually not on the original Hollywood costume, buy hey…I do need to make my project my very own.  So – I had the perfect opportunity in my hands…with no extra fabric in case I didn’t make this project perfectly.  My “one shot” at this luckily turned out nearly perfect…but I blame it on a great pattern and following in the steps of something amazing in the first place.

It was tough just reaching the point where I had a usable pattern to start with because this suit was for junior’s sizing – it was for young women very petite with tiny proportions.  I had to retrace AND resize every freaking pattern piece…and there were so many!  This was the ‘make or break’ step that might ruin my efforts or make them worthwhile.  It was a bit stressful to realize that.  I did the patterning step a few months before even beginning to make my suit set.  I wanted the pattern fresh in my mind yet needed a break first, too.  I did try a loose pattern tissue fit and after a tweak here and there I had to leave it well enough alone or I would overthink it forever and never actually start sewing.  Post-project, the only fault I see to my grading was making my jacket sleeves ½ too long…but that’s not bad, is it?! 

The skirt came first in my ‘battle plan’.  Ha – this is a reference to my favorite joke!  “How do you make a jacket last?  You sew the bottom half first.”  Yeah, sorry about that.  Anyway, it was an easy make that gave me preliminary confidence that my grading might just be right on.  I left the skirt on the longer side for a 1946 design but I liked this better on myself and I wanted to make it clearer that it is a post-wartime set.  The skirt is pretty simple, but it has great shaping and I love the pointed tab closure!  Making the skirt first also left me free to know that I had enough to use for some details on the jacket.

It was dizzying to even figure out how many times I needed to cut the same pattern pieces out from different fabrics.  That is the whole idea of a proper suit jacket – structure comes from layering, layering works with pad-stitching, which pulls it all together.  One layer of the plaid flannel was laid over the stiff, canvas-like cotton, then the panels sewn together and all seam allowances opened up and ironed down.  Then the same body was sewn out of the tight cotton broadcloth and this was ironed the same way and layered wrong sides facing over the stiffened flannel body.  The whole darn thing was pad stitched together, not sewing through the flannel to the right side, only catching the loftiness of the underside.  All eight of the curvy, princess seamed body panels blend almost seamlessly together (boy were they tough to match up in a one way plaid, by the way!).

Pad-stitching is defined as a running stitch…your basic stitch anyone who hand sews starts with, right?  The stitching stays in and is permanently part of the coat and all of the layers combined between became one, substantial, new fabric, completely dictated by the direction and density of what is applied.  Usually, the best benefits of pad-stitching is a nicely rolled collar or study lapels (which I needed with my suit because the collar was on the bias).  It is an age-old technique, mostly for menswear, one that modern tailors leave out, mostly because of the dedicated hand work it requires, although there are machines which can remotely do such a thing.  Something as loose and soft as flannel needed a major structure change to become a suit, anyway, so I pad stitched a layer of light cotton canvas to all but the sleeves of my jacket.

I would have preferred to work with wool to begin with, but you gotta make do with what you have!  I chose the ‘wrong’ textured side of the flannel to be the “good” right side because it was less fuzzy.  Even still, this particular flannel was twice as thick as any that I have seen, so it had hope…obviously, as you can see!  Over the course of a week, for a few hours a day, I did some pad stitching segments.  My stitching was wide, loose and not as structured as it should have been, but I did see that I became much more regular with all the practice!  I know just how to do even better next time.  I only took one or two in-process photos and was almost sad all that handiwork was covered up by the lining (hand sewn in place, I might add).  The jacket needed the lining, nevertheless, as it did also need those giant ¾ inch shoulder pads I added (oh-so-very 1940s)!  Both helped all that bulk glide over my under blouse and convey it with its last touch of gentle, secret structuring.

When it came to frilly little extras on the jacket, I kept them low-key by being complimentary or just plain leaving some out.  I did help myself out in the only way I could with the jacket by leaving out the pleated panels to the back “peplum” of the original pattern.  That looked way too complex and mind blowing to add with something already that level for me…and Peggy’s suit did not have such a feature.  I adapted the pockets to be more Peggy-like and also snazzier in exchange.  Peggy’s suit had rectangular slot pocket flaps (just like on my pattern) but with a rounded drop down spot for the button.  They were in the same fabric as the skirt, which both matches yet contrasts to add a depth to the plaid.  I felt the rounded shape of the Peggy pockets did not match all the other lines to my suit so I pointed the drop down bottom of the flap.  It matches with the sharp, notched sleeve cuffs, also in the same fabric as the skirt.

Making bound buttonholes are always quite a project in themselves, but I also stitched on regular buttonholes for the inside self-facing half of the front, as well.  I was merely following directions, here – they told me to make two different types of buttonholes and was really doubtful about how it would look and turn out.  I was terrified the two lines of buttonholes would not match together or line up when I folded the front in…but they look fantastic and give a very sturdy closing, I must say.  It’s a good thing my buttons are heavy duty, too.

My efforts have given me a suit that is everything I adore about true vintage suits.  Now I know a bit more about what once was an absolute mystery…but there is so much yet I desire to learn in this field.  During construction, though, I was quite terrified to see if it would finish awesome, mediocre, or disappointing.  I mean, I could tell along the way it should be just how I hoped, and the skirt was by far the faster of the two to make, but there are so many layers hidden inside the jacket that I couldn’t fully tell the result until the end.  This one of the reasons I took my time like no other project, slowed down my expectations, and reveled in every detail.  However, you know how you want a sewing project done, or need visible progress, else you grow tired of it?  I expected that to happen with this, but no – I found a real reason for an extremely slow fashion project without even hunting for it.  Once I enjoyed the realization of the depth of what I was learning along the way and that this is all just the tip of a bigger “iceberg” of couture tailoring techniques…well, time kind of disappeared as I would do my hand stitching or patterning.  I found my work so very peaceful, calming, and worthwhile.

There is an art to tailoring that is its own world of sewing – it is a world of enjoying every moment in a time honored craft of creating something beautifully customized with lasting quality.  It is a world of building sculpted “body makeup” which gives the body an idealized definition that becomes your own.  It is all something I cannot wait to do all over again because it’s downright amazing.  I’ve planned out my next suit jacket already – it is going to be a knock-off of the classic 1947 Dior “Bar Suit”, all in silk shantung, just like the one worn by Peggy’s arch-nemesis Whitney Frost.

Peggy dons this cherry red and dusty brown suit set on two very memorable occasions that are a turn of fortune for her.  In “One Shot” she dons her red suit when she is victorious, proven, and validated, with her chin up…and then in episode 3 of the Season One television show “Time and Tide” (at left) she again wears the same suit when she is at a loss, with the guilt of a fellow Agent’s murder heavy on her, and now a wanted woman entrenched with a friend’s secret.  I always appreciate it when garments are shown on a Hollywood character more than on one scene.  It makes them so relatable to me, like they themselves truly have a wardrobe of favorite pieces and are not just for show at the hands of the costume department.  It is interesting that in the Season on episode the whole outfit does not fit her quite the same in “One Shot”, but with a white blouse underneath she makes it work.  To similarly style my set, I chose a RTW favorite of mine – an Irish linen blouse with decorative stitching.  Did anyone notice my S.S.R. (S.H.I.E.L.D.) lapel pins before this mention of them?  An old late 30’s Art Deco police station was the very suitable and fun photo shoot location.

Any of us can “be Peggy”, and not just on April 9, and not just because of what we happen to have on ourselves.  It is what is inside that counts.  She was an imperfect superhero with no powers beyond a conviction, perseverance, and strength that is human.  She is not afraid of a bit of hard work and she is intelligent to know her value does not rely on other peoples’ estimations.  Fictional character or not, together with her killer vintage style she is my kind of gal.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop channeling her with my wardrobe, off the silver screens or not, so – yes, there’s definitely more Agent Carter fashion still to come here on my blog!