Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style – “Hot Stuff” Cocoon Coat and Poster Dress

What you wear says something about you, whether or not you want that to be the case or whether you even want to get anything across.  How would an army-to-army battle be fought in the buff without clothes to identify sides of the combatants, after all?  How else did the upper classes of the past undemocratically distinguish themselves from their peers not so well off?  Well, since the last 50 years clothes evolved into something more…as an opportunity to purposely, inaudibly, make a message, declare a challenge, signal protest, or be the spark of a conversation using written expressions.  Today, more than ever, fashion is re-imagining the 1968 poster dress, slogan tee, and op art garment trends in its own way to truly make powerful statements with what is worn.  You can literally wear your heart, your convictions, or your idealism on your sleeve nowadays for all to see, and we don’t realize how lucky we are for this, something we take a bit for granted in an era where every tee or pants bottom has a slogan.  It’s the golden anniversary of this freedom, and I’m celebrating with a fun, mild little version of my own.

Not too often do I go for shock value…with what I have said above, now I have a good reason!  Under my cool and classy ice blue coat is a silk dress printed with advertising labels containing four letter words (“Well I feel damn sexy today!), even though a bit subdued due to their small size.  This is the outfit of bold contrasts and complimentary contradictions.  My dress is light, airy, and flippantly playful in earth toned silk, leather, and an A-line silhouette.  My coat is lofty, warm, dressy, and feminine, as sharp as an ice crystal, yet made out of one of our modern era’s most crafty, over-commercialized material – fleece!  My coat is definitely not body conscious, with its voluminous shape silhouette concealing, while the dress is practically the opposite, with more leg and general skin baring than is my norm.

 As I said, I was inspired by some strong 60’s trends here – both the in-your-face poster dresses as well as the shape-disguising cocoon coats made popular by the likes of Balenciaga and Cardin, the Après ski culture, and popular movies.  Using two great Burda Style patterns, I have now come up with an outfit that is part 2018 and part retro flower child era, all the while designer inspired.  This post is part of my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” Blog series as this is a modern take on 60’s styles.

Our home town’s downtown was the appropriate backdrop for our photos.  As a river city town, we have a long levee wall to keep the water at bay.  Along that wall, there is a concrete ‘canvas’ (allowed by the city) open for graffiti and street artists.  It is a wonderful, organic, and ever changing platform for a very interesting, creative, and sometimes rebellious way for expression.  This medium doesn’t always have a mainstream outlet, so it attracts quite a number of visitors and quite a variety of talent, as you can see.  For an outfit centered on the 60’s idea of self-expression in a semi-shock value sort of way, I couldn’t think of a better equivalent in the built environment of the city than our river levee graffiti wall.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The Coat – The outside is just your basic anti-pill fleece, and the inside is fully lined in flannel backed satin…yummy warm!  The Dress – a 60% silk, 40% cotton blend semi-sheer fabric, lined in a soft finish crepe poly.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “Long Coat” #104B from December 2015, and their “Sixties Shift Dress” #106 from July 2016.

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, the only thing I specifically bought to finish this outfit was the plastic “crystal-look” buttons for the coat.  Everything else (notion-wise) was on hand – a 22” invisible zip, thread, snaps, interfacing, and bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The coat was finished on December 7, 2017 after maybe 20 to 30 hours.  The dress was made in about 10 hours and finished on January 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Both the dress and the jacket are fully lined, so…what insides? I don’t see ‘em!

TOTAL COST:  The light blue fleece was bought probably 6 years back on deep discount for a few dollars a yard, so I went crazy and bought 6 yards of it and I only used 3 for the coat…so I have plenty leftover still.  The silk was bought online at an Etsy seller and the faux leather is leftover from this 40’s purse project.  Other than these fabrics, the linings were bought at Jo Ann’s fabrics specifically for my project.  I’m supposing my total is about $10 for the dress, and $20 for the coat…what a deal!!!

Both these pieces were time consuming and challenging, but they were so satisfying to make because I was making a creative idea from my head a reality.  Making a coat is necessarily labor intensive, but the dress and some of its detailing took more time than I expected.  However, I like a garment that I can be just a proud of inside as well as out, and I want my clothes to last, so I feel they deserve the extra time and I deserve finding a way to take my time to enjoy my sewing better!  Rome wasn’t built in a day and a good garment isn’t either without something being sacrificed, I would think.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My patterns were traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, but they are also available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace your pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

The sizing of both garments was pretty much spot on, without much extra fitting needed, yet I did  some departures from the original design lines.  I’ll start with discussing the coat, and firstly, the sleeves. They were so very, very long, just by leaving off the additional cuff piece they came to a good length on my arms.  The sleeves do have the most beautiful seaming, though, especially where they join the body of the coat.  At the top sleeve panel, they are “epaulet style”, continuing the sleeve to run right along the shoulder top into the neckline.  But then the bottom panels join in as a raglan style to make a sleeve that has first rate seaming and is gently set-in the main body.  What an unusual but amazing combo!  Many cocoon coats, especially the ones first created by Balenciaga in the late 40’s and early 50’s, and many of the others made by his fellow couturiers, all had deep cut kimono or dolman sleeve, or at least a sleeve that had a similar silhouette that tapered into the waist and offered generous ease of movement.  This was part of the reason they were so popular with the Après ski culture that exploded in the 60’s when people saw movies such as “Charade” with Audrey Hepburn, “Help” with the Beatles, or the James Bond escapade “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  These coats are easy to move in yet look good on their own accord, and offer full movement.  The excess material around the body only keeps the wearer warm.

The back bottom hem panel to the coat was also very long in length, so I cut that down by half in order that my coat would end at my knees, what a proper longer length cocoon coat should do.  Thus, my coat ends up being a length which is in between the “A” short version and the “B” long coat of pattern #104.  The idea of the general shape of Balenciaga’s cocoon fashion was to liberate the waist with flowing lines that carry their own beauty in the tailoring and shaping of the garment itself.  The defining points to a cocoon coat, however, is the neck and the knees, the two ends where the coat tapers in to slenderize the legs and highlight the face.  This coat has great design lines that do just that with the front French bust darts, the horizontal back bottom panel, and the angled, sun-ray style darts which radiate up and out from that.  From what I have seen of cocoon coats, many have an open, basic neckline.  Nevertheless, I added a small self-drafted collar at the neck because there’s no use for a warm and cozy coat that lets my neck freeze!

The pattern called for giant patch pockets to be added on the front of the coat, but that would ruin the classy streamlined look I was going for with it.  So I added pockets that were set into the French darts!  I think this one touch was the best thing I could have done for this coat!  The pockets also end up filling out the coat right over the low hip area so that it has more of a cocoon shape – this was a bonus I did not see coming but I really like it!

This coat was a project on my backburner queue since the pattern came out in 2015.  However, it wasn’t until I saw light blue coats popping up everywhere this past Fall-Winter season, at different stores, from different designers, and even on the back of one of my favorite actresses, Hayley Atwell, that I realized now was the time to pick up that idea and make something of it!  This Versace set from their Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection, with its ice blue coat and Vogue poster print dress, was the first real impetus that inspired me to pair two 1960’s trends together in a modern way.

The leather piping is the most obvious out-of-the-ordinary addition that I made to the dress, yet I think it also was the best touch.  It brings to attention the awesome geometric cut to this dress that wraps around my arms, over, and down the back of my body, as well as bringing out a whole different “feel” to the general color scheme and texture.  I did take out the horizontal waist seam all around the front and back, mostly because I did not have much fabric to work with (only one yard) but also because I did not want to mess up my silk’s print with extra seaming.  As my dress is fully lined, I did not have to bother with using any of the facing pieces the pattern provided.  The full lining not only made my dress opaque, and covered up my seams inside, but some leftover scraps of it were also used to add in some small side pockets.  My pockets are basic and in the side seams to (again) not cut into the print, since the instructions directed to add welt pockets into the front.  Welt pockets are not my favorite thing to do, anyway, but I did install an invisible zipper down the back!

The faux leather neckline detail has that hint of a plastron-armor type of feel to me, but it does make for a lovely neckline or at least a good place to highlight a statement necklace, as I have done.  Beginning circa 1967, fashion was all about experimenting with novelty materials, and mixing them with contrasting traditional fabrics.  They did have many plastron front designs (I’ve made one myself) and several armor-like dresses in the late 60’s – especially when it came to the metal and chainmail garments of designer Paco Rabanne  or the plastic armor in the film Barbarella.  For the neckline addition, I made it slightly different than the pattern.  Mine is wider and more geometrically simple to match with the dress, versus the curved, tiny design as what the pattern originally planned.

I have worked with many 60’s patterns and this Burda dress felt like a true 60’s pattern, I must say.  I’m impressed!  It has the angular corners that the late 60’s loved (thanks in part to Pierre Cardin), the traditional pair of small back neck darts, and the normal, lovely, A-line silhouette with ever so slight body shaping that I enjoy about fashion of the flower child era.  I know certain “dress doctors” mourn the 60’s loose and youthful styles as the end of tailoring and the introduction of sloppiness.  Often these kinds of fashions were part of a certain desire to stand out, be different, or perhaps a bit rebellious, and are certainly not for everyone.  They are nonetheless a significant part of history.  Text and wording on these fashions didn’t come until about 1968, but even before then they were a statement in themselves.

Now, I’m not saying that wording isn’t to be seen on what people wore before the 1960’s.  Yes, there were many novelty prints in the 1940’s and 50’s that discreetly hid small doses of words which were often song lyrics or famous persons’ names (see this vintage pj top or this Elvis skirt for only two examples).  There are cultural uses of text in traditional African khanga to list out proverbs or words of wisdom to suit special occasions.  Earlier in the past century, women who were protesting the First World War or standing for women’s’ rights had sashes, ribbons, and badges which sported the words of what they believed in.  However, the wording was never (to my knowledge), before circa 1968, directly on the fashion garments themselves, and it was never before advertising or a personal or highly political statement.  The paper poster dresses where the first wave of this methodology – with the Cambell’s soup dress, ‘Nixon for President’ dress, the Newsprint dress, and the op art dresses.  The trend has spread like wildfire since.  Beyond the paper poster dresses, about the same time Pierre Cardin borrowed from the Lacoste crocodile logo idea that started in 20’s, and began the now universal practice of visible designer logos announcing themselves on clothing so one can obviously brag who ‘made’ their clothes and how much they spent.  We now have words, messaging, and advertising overload everywhere.  What would 21st century life be without your basic favorite printed tee?!  As New York-based artist Susan Barnett has said in her interview with “The Guardian”, “slogan T-shirts…tell us about the wearer’s identity. ‘It’s about how people use their bodies to send a message about who they want us to think they are.’”  Thanks be to what was going on in history and who was alive doing the moving and the shaking 50 years ago.

We should all be aware of the power that fashion has nowadays with the black dress code for the Golden Globes.  But it’s becoming more than that, in a way that reflects upon the wearer as well as our unconscious perception of the wearer, even if their clothes are not so subtle.  Just a year ago, Dior’s first female artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, had her first collection begin with a basic white tee printed with the slogan “We should all be feminists”.  Now, there are even collections so overly cued into the political climate that the newspaper garment has official made a comeback!  See my picture of the newspaper Poster dress 1967 next to Alexander Wang’s “Page Six” collection for Spring/Summer 2018.  If this keeps up, I wonder when fashion will need to be protected by the laws of our First amendment right for freedom of speech.  Just like in the 1960’s, it seems as if these collections are catered to the younger crowd, our Millennial age group, the 18 to 35 year olds.

My own advertising dress is nothing so serious or political.  There isn’t any such a thing as “Bonobo Jeans and Underpants” that I can find before 2007, so this print is a spoof.  Making something of it is meant to merely push my boundaries so that I can understand history by making my own small part of it.  Besides, the print does make me laugh and blush at the same time in a way that I uniquely love.  “I can clean dishes and wear tight edgy underwear!’’, “Designed for fun!”, and “We shape nice butts” are all on there.  I love how I inadvertently had “Somewhere beneath” with the masculine eyes along the bottom hem – it’s too funny.

Finally, this brings me to explain my title.  One of the logos on the print is, “Hot stuff for all to see!”  Yes indeed, I do feel like the dress is pretty close to being hot, and it’s so thin and lightweight it’s definitely made for hot temperature days, anyway.  The coat is so warm and cozy, it is better than our best bed comforter at insulating.  I’m supposing it’s the flannel and the fleece together, with the satin to keep the heat in.  I suppose a man-made, non-breathable fabric is good for something after all!  I certainly do need to dress for summer underneath this coat, otherwise I’d burn up.  It’s unexpectedly the warmest coat I now have, so it deserves to called “hot stuff”!

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – a Vintage Inspired Novelty Knit Dress

Waffles aren’t just for breakfast anymore!  Silly me, you probably knew that.  However, I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as a waffle knit fabric.  Plain, flat surface knit isn’t the only option in my mind anymore, and this opens up a whole new world of fashion ideas to me.

This dress, made from a novelty, reversible (yes!) textured knit, is sewn using a modern Burda Style pattern with strong features of 1960s and 70’s fashion.  Thus it is part of my ongoing blog series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester blend knit bought from my local JoAnn’s Fabric store

PATTERN:  Burda Style #116, from February 2014, “Dress with Buttoned Back” view B, or “Jackie Dress” view A.  (Both views look the same to me, by the way!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some cotton scraps, and some buttons and snaps were needed and I had all of that on hand already.  Yay!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 15, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  As this knit is a polyester and it is a dense weave, it does not fray so the innards are left raw.  Hey – even the dress hem is left raw and unfinished!

TOTAL COST:  I don’t clearly remember, but I believe it was between $15 to $20.

When you look around at it, novelty knit fabric is ah-mazing, especially this waffle version, which is totally reversible, too (in a “photo film negative” sort of way), making it all the more open to crazy fun possibilities.  Novelty knits hold a certain balance that amazes me about modern fabrics – they keep their surface quality while still having a forgiving stretch which still acts like a normal knit, with a “memory” to go back to its original texture.  From what I have seen in my research, I have realized modern knitwear has been around since the 1920’s, but it seems as if novelty manufactured knits exploded into the designer fashion scene beginning with the end of rationing after WWII (in the 1950s), and have been out there ever since.  Look at this 1950 “blistered” textured knit dress from the great Claire McCardell, or this 50’s puckered knit wiggle dress for two examples of how a solid color becomes so interesting with this kind of fabric.  Then, after the 50’s, avant-garde fabrics (made of plastics, paper, and metal, to name just a few) were popular in the late 60’s and in the 70’s, so I feel this unusual fabric especially suits a design of that era.  After all, the pattern is called a “Jackie” dress, and as Burda calls it a “classic” design (which I really don’t agree with), I would like to think they are referring to the Presidential fashion inspiration for the 1960’s, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis.

This was really an easy-to-make dress that is so versatile and comfortable.  I found the sizing right on, and the instructions very good. Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did not make any changes to the design, but I did take advantage of it by using both sides of the reversible fabric.  The main body of the dress is in the side that has more grey than white undertones, while the belt which is sew-in to the front shaping tucks was made from the side which is mostly white.  I love how using the other side of the fabric for the belt helps it blend into the dress without getting lost over it at the same time.  I kept the dress a little on the shorter side, and I think it looks better that way…it also gives me a reason to wear fun colored tights in the winter!  Looking back on it, however, I now wish I would have left out the center back, between-the-shoulders, vertical closing because when this dress is sewn out of a knit it is not necessary.  I could have sewn a basic center back seam rather than making a proper placket with fake, sewn on, non-working buttons as I have.  It looks good in the end, so I shouldn’t complain.

I am proud and happy with the way I figured out how to interface the back placket and back belt after all.  I have seen but never tried the interfacing fabric stores sell that is labeled for knits – it is a lightweight tricot mesh with an iron on adhesive back.  I do not see how this would help much or even really work well.  A good knit dress needs certain areas to be non-stretchy, and this is what true interfacing should do.  However, anything iron-on can rip off a knit if stretched too much, and a thick facing would not look good.  Thus, I used a basic 100% cotton broadcloth and basted it in place of the interfacing with some stitching, and have it inside the waist belt straps.  This works wonders to let the back facing and belt be pliable without stretching and be stabilized without undue bulky thickness, besides being an easy, on-hand solution to something that could have been more complicated.  Basic cotton bias tape was used to finish off the neckline edge, as well.  The cotton tape, though on the bias, is not all that forgiving – it is primarily stable in character – which is what I needed to keep the wide V-neckline from losing its shape.  Cotton woven fabric used as interfacing or a stabilizer for stretchy knit fabrics is a match made in heaven and one of the best tips I have discovered!

I’d say the trickiest part to the whole dress was the back belting.  Now, it wasn’t hard to do.  It was just fiddly and required my being precise with matching up the alignment of where the belt straps came into the bodice tucks.  I did lower the belt pieces slightly by about 5/8 inch so they would land just above my natural high waist rather than be at a true empire waistline.  Even still, I was and sort of still am self-conscious about the style and how it compliments (or doesn’t compliment) the tummy and hips.  I do receive tons of compliments by people when I wear this, so it must look alright.  I fudged with the closures of the back straps and sewed on fake buttons to hide the oversized snaps underneath…so much easier to do on myself blindly reaching behind.  Thread loops at the sides and center back keep the belt in place.

This “almost-mini-dress with a back waist band that comes from the side front seaming” is something I see a plethora of when it comes to sewing patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I see variations of it in patterns from every single year from 1967 to circa 1972, even with many designer names attached, so this must be good style for it to persist for at least 5 years straight in the Disco era!

Simple, straightforward and uncomplicated fashion is needed and has its place.  Solid colors and basic fabrics are staples that many times become a most-reached-for item to wear.  However, stretching the limits of what is conventionally available (the boon of sewing) can be such a likeable refreshing change for both yourself and others to see.  Doing so also stretches one’s habits of dressing and provides fun to an everyday need and unique personal expressiveness.  Novelty fabrics and creative uses for patterns can do all this!  Don’t be afraid to go find that odd fabric that speaks to your wild side and whip something up with it!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my trial with a newly discovered fabric, and a newly found vintage-does-modern fashion style only helped me like it all the more.

The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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Totally Reversible 1967 Suit Dress Set

How does one maximize a garment’s wearing options with style?  By not deciding!  Before you tell me I’m crazy, listen.  You see, when I was planning to sew a 1967 suit set, and I had set my heart on two fabrics for it, I thought why not just go all out and make it reversible?  I had equal amounts of a lovely lavender linen and a fleur-dis-lis printed cotton, both of which I saw as meant for one another.  I wasn’t willing to hide one or the other to use as a lining, and using them separately just wouldn’t have the same effect.  Making a reversible suit set sure solved the problem of which fabric to choose, and it also gave me a darn good challenge, to boot…especially since my pattern was lacking instructions!  I had to count on my sewing smarts to get me through!

Yes, I know how to make things hard for myself, but it gives me a goal to accomplish which can make me feel proud to complete successfully.  There are so many ways of wearing a reversible suit dress set, so each picture practically has a different combination and different details to show.  I love how this set ‘suits’ my body, yet I mostly enjoy the ability to pop into a bathroom and come out looking different as if I’ve changed what I’m wearing when I really haven’t!  He, he.  It’s never dull around me apparently 😉THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The one fabric is 100% linen, in an open woven blend of the lavender, lilac, grey, and purple.  The other fabric is a 100% cotton in lavender, with a purple geometric Fleur-dis-lis print which has a slight metallic silver sheen printed over it.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #6957, year 1967 junior’s pattern

NOTIONS:  Believe it or not, everything I needed for this project was already on hand  – thread, interfacing, a zipper, as well a vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The set was finished on May 24, 2015, after maybe 25 to 30 hours spent.

TOTAL COST:  Everything for making this project was stuff languishing in my different stashes for many, many years, so I’m counting this project as free!

I will admit that I had ‘support’ for my idea from a major fashion figurehead – Chanel – and an outfit of hers with a dramatic story behind it.  I’m talking about a suit set that she designed for her Patrimoine collection which was showcased in Marie Claire magazine No. 181 in September 1967.  It looks like a dress in a violet tweed with a reversible, or at least contrast lined, jacket and hiding helmet-style hat.  This Marie Claire magazine article was part of a daring and little known contest they hosted between Andre Courrèges and Chanel.  Thus, the violet tweed outfit that was my ‘splashboard’ was the best of what made Chanel, well…Chanel, still presenting appealing yet classic designs in the crazy decade of the 60’s and setting her apart from her modern peer Courrèges.  A woman’s suit, traditionally a man’s garment decades back when she was beginning her career, is Chanel’s specialty, along with that elegant “distinction” which her designs have.  The youthful, bright designs of Courrèges (such as the go-go boot or mini skirt), by the very way they fit, are cut, and worn, bring the body close to one’s sensibilities and contrast in bold terms with Chanel.  (More info can be found in the book “The Language of Fashion” by Roland Barthes, Chapter 11, pages 99 to 103, you can read some of it here.)  More or less, Simplicity was offering a very high class design here.For some reason, I feel that my reversible suit dress set from 1967 is an unorthodox mix of both Chanel’s dignified tweed design (with her soft feminine colors to boot) and the youthful, arm baring, modern aura of a Courrèges creation (my cotton print does have shiny silver, his preferred color besides white, and it is a junior’s pattern).  We were at a contemporary art museum for these pictures after all, yet many of my poses are dignified for even more contrast.  Hopefully, in my 1967 set, the contest between Chanel and Courrèges from years back is now a tie.

To the actual sewing, I more or less made the entire dress and jacket in double, with all edges inside itself.  There was so much turning of edges, pinning, top-stitching involved!  I eliminated all facings (of course) and instead ironed on interfacing inside where facings would have been.  Luckily this dress did not need any adjusting to fit me other than the changes I made to the pattern already at the cutting out stage!

The two biggest challenges to making this suit set reversible was the shoulder pleats to the dress and the button closing to the jacket.  The dress’ shoulder pleats are more akin to an overlapping fold, or technically a knife pleat, which runs right along the outer sleeve edge.  To make this work on a reversible dress, I did these folds last, and stitched them down individually.  There are four in total – one on each shoulder and one on each fabric side – and make things only slightly bulky (nothing a good ironing can’t fix), but at least the original design lines are kept intact.For the jacket buttoning, I went with a method which was popular in the 1930’s when delicate closures could be smashed through rough treatment from roller style wash machines – removable buttons!  Both sides of the jacket opening edge have button holes.  This way my buttons can be placed in the correct side, whichever that may be, for the right and the left change up when my jacket is reversed!  Vintage 1930’s buttons had a metal look which used a ring or a pin to keep them in place in the buttonhole openings (see pics of that in detail on the “Vintage Gal” blog), but I didn’t have that advantage here.

Again, my indecision saved the day for my outfit!  As I couldn’t choose between some large satin finish pale pink buttons or fancy deep purple shell ones, I used them both, connecting them underneath with a ribbon tie.  Making the buttons reversible actually worked out very well, because the second button behind whichever side I use acts like a backing to keep them in place in the button hole opening.  Next time you make something and want to use some precious or fragile buttons, or even if you want something reversible, remember to make both closing sides with button holes and make your buttons removable in one way or another!  A little ingenuity can go a long way to solving problems.

Even though my fabrics are not busy, I’m disappointed at how they hide the graceful style lines to this set.  You can’t really see, but the dress has these shaping side bust panels that arch down from the back neckline darts, swoop under the bust to head into and around the back just above the waistline.  So lovely!  This way there are no darts or other means of shaping besides a well-tailored panel which brings in a curve over the chest and high waist, unlike many other fashions for juniors from the same time (mostly non-body conscious A-line dresses and loose “baby doll” styles).  With such a shaped dress, a short and boxy jacket (which has French darts and an arched side seam hem) actually works much better than I’ve ever come across before.  I’ve always tended to dislike boxy jackets – I find them hard to pair with most of what I wear or have in closet, and never before found a way to like one so much on my body.  I love it when utilizing both my sewing and vintage styles opens up a way for me to like something on myself I’ve always avoided before.  It is hard for me not to like anything in any shade of purple, anyway!Oh yes, I can’t forget to talk about the back zipper!  I’ll confess I made things hard on myself here by using a “normal” modern zipper.  I know they make reversible zippers, but buying one 22 inch length would get pricey and finding one that match would be more challenging, so I merely used one that was on hand.  For the first time I switched to the lavender Fleur-dis-lis printed side out, it originally was quite tricky to zip closed the dress on myself grabbing the pull from the inside…a bit stressful, to tell the truth.  To make things easier, I later used my jewelry making skills to attach a double jump ring to the small zipper pull so I could add a decorative metal Fleur-dis-lis charm.  This charm makes the zipper pull easier to find and grab so I can close my dress no matter which side I wear without freaking out, stuck in a bathroom changing, with the back of my dress open (it has happened, can’t you tell).  Besides, the charm hanging at the back of my neck is quite, fun, and quirky.  Also, in my opinion, and there is no such a thing as Fleur-dis-lis overload.

There was a storm blowing in when we took these pictures, and as my hairstyle did not hold against the humidity, I resorted to using a vintage scarf which actually worked out quite well.  I think it conveys modernity, youth, and movement (Courrèges influence), as well as keeping my outfit from being too stiffly dressy, although I am wearing pearls…so very classic Chanel!  My shoes and gloves are vintage pieces, too.  The gloves have a scalloped edge, much like my suit jacket, and I think my shoes are very similar to the ones drawn on the middle model of my dress’ pattern cover!

I really enjoy reversible garments – I love how they offer optimal wearing options, and prompt me to nicely cover up all edges for a nice finish!  Not too often do I come across a garment with more than one wearing option – changing up one’s look with a single garment isn’t an option that I see in ready-to-wear, unless it’s travel-themed clothes.  I now have many pairing options for the effort of sewing one relatively simple suit set.  I feel like I’ve maximized some of my time and the space in my closet without compromising style.  Yet, reversible clothes doesn’t have to mean simple design…I’ve just proved that with my crazy sewing experiment.What do you think of reversible clothes?  Have you worn anything reversible, or made anything reversible?  Do you prefer the style of Chanel or of Courrèges for the 60’s?

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