Free From My Tower

I suspect that many of us can now empathize (or commiserate) to some small degree with the fairy tale girl Rapunzel, who was locked up in a tower for the whole of her young life.  Being kept from social situations, apart from friends and family, as well as seeing the same limited spaces all too frequently during the pandemic has been very trying for me…I can’t dare to imagine a 16 year solitude!  Thus, I am here portraying a Rapunzel liberated from her tower, barefoot and free amongst nature, wearing my interpretation of a Bavarian Edelweiss dirndl to honor the Germanic version of the fairy tale.  My hair may not be blonde, nor is it remotely long enough to be comparable Rapunzel’s tresses, yet I was really feeling the part here nevertheless.  Enjoy the fun vintage spin with cultural heritage that I wove into my dirndl for a Bavarian take on this popular character – yet another installment to my ongoing Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” blog series

The classic “Rapunzel” is a fairy tale that Friedrich Schulz printed in 1790 in Kleine Romane (Little Novels), followed by the Brothers Grimm publishing it in 1812 as part of Children’s and Household Tales.  Tied to the witch of the story, Rapunzel’s name is given to her because of the German word for a salad vegetable.  Although the Grimm’s recounting of the fairy tale is the most prevalent version of the “Maiden in the Tower” in the western literature, the basic storyline has strong origins to French and Mediterranean tales rather than to Germanic oral folktales, as once believed.

However, the only version that I particularly enjoy is Disney’s “Tangled” from 2010. It’s a 3D animated film loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale with an added, appealing twist – she’s born a princess with magical hair whose ‘rescue’ is tied to the character redemption of the handsome scoundrel Eugene, aka Flynn Rider. 

Do not be confused though, as I am posting this just before Halloween – it is not meant to be a costume!  I am of German ancestry myself, and esteem and appreciate wearing a garment which is intrinsic to the story of my heritage.  Cultural attire of any kind is NEVER a costume for misinterpretation or joking about.  I made this as a true dirndl, attempting remain authentic to its heritage while also being modern enough to be very wearable for me to enjoy outside of Oktoberfest or ethnic settings.  If you go by past standards, yes, I am channeling someone that I am not – an unmarried girl of the Alpine region – with my choices of color and style inspired by a commercial Disney retelling of an old German fairytale.  Yes, I am sadly missing and apron here, too…I normally do follow a more old-fashioned expression for this kind of clothing.  This is only a ‘costume’ for me in the older, sensible, “uncountable noun” term of the word – a set of clothing, just like anything else in my wardrobe, for expressing who I am in this time and place, not a characterization of another race or culture.

Dirndls of nowadays, however, are not as confined to older traditions that designate them to be a visual statement on your state and condition of life (I will address more on this topic further down in my post).  Today we have to freedom to wear what we want, how we want.  Nevertheless, cultural clothing like a sari, a kimono, a kilt, or a dirndl (for just a few examples), always needs to be worn with proper context, understanding, and respect.   I have sadly seen way too many ‘influencers’ on social media this month wearing a dirndl has a costume, especially for “Lord of the Rings” themed Hobbit parties.  History has many deep tales to tell and perspectives to teach, along with amazing people to hear about, so let’s open up to all those lessons by respecting garments that express cultural identity.  Is there a garment for you that signifies your ancestor’s’ heritage?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton Alexander Henry fabric dated to 1999 (seen on the selvedge) in the “chloe” floral print, with solid color jacquard woven cotton for the contrast front and sleeves, a sheer matching colored poly chiffon for the ¾ length undersleeves, and fabric leftover from sewing this vintage hat went towards making the tiny tubing which is my front dirndl lacing

PATTERN:  Butterick #6352, a vintage inspired Gertie design

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, lots of interfacing (for the entire bodice), one zipper, and a set of traditional dirndl hooks

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours and it was finished on October 7, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  practically nothing – this fabric was picked up at a second-hand thrift sale where fabric is sold for $1 per pound.  The 3 yard cut of this thick, substantial fabric was kind of hefty, so it was probably just a few dollars.  The rest of my supplies was all items on hand for longer than I remember or leftover from another project, so I’m counting that stuff as free!

I loved being able to start off this project with such a high end cotton with starting place tied to that of Disney and a date that reminds me of just how long “Tangled” was in the works before its completion. The concept of an animated film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Rapunzel” originated from Disney supervising animator Glen Keane in 1996.  Keane pitched the idea in 2001 to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who approved it, but requested the film to be computer-animated. 

My 1999 fabric hits right in between those preliminary dates for the film.  Alexander Henry is a premier textile design house, producing original cotton prints for product manufacturers and home sewists alike from their talented artists who hand-paint each design the line produces.  Their business is located in Burbank, California which is also the corporate headquarters for Walt Disney Studios!  We drove through Burbank on our way in to Los Angeles a few years back, and it was so nice, with great shopping opportunities!  I love weaving in little details and cool correlations to my outfits, but especially so when they all come together without even trying, such as for this dress.  It also happened to be the perfect purple-pink orchid tone for a Rapunzel frock!  It was such a soft, thick, and fabulously lovely cotton!  I love how serendipitous this project came together.

Now, knowing that Disney’s story base was the German version of Rapunzel, I looked beyond the artistic license of the animation to see that her dress was intrinsically a dirndl.  It was the laced front, the puffed sleeves, (faux) apron, and the neckline shaping that give it away for me.  This would make total sense, anyways.  Dirndls are an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, for Bavaria, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and more.  They are not just for Oktoberfest.  “Fashion With Renée” relates that back in 1626, the Bavarian Prince, Maximilian I created a ‘dress code’ to show people’s rank in society. The law separated people into seven groups and noted that farmers (and the lower class workers) were not allowed to wear imported clothing…and thus the dirndl was adopted for women, just as the lederhosen was for men.  The Bavarian Alps are located in what is now Germany (since 1945) near the southern border of the federal state of Bavaria and continue across the border into Austria.  

“Girl Sewing”, 1869 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is a great example of the romanticism of the peasant life that brought the dirndl to the consciousness of the aristocratic class. Our picture is of an original oil painting, from a 2019 exhibit at the Memphis, Tennessee Brooks Museum of Art.

Beginning in the early 1800s, aristocrats, upper classes, and even artists romanticized rural living of the Alpine regions.  That eminent Habsburg the Archduke Johann of Styria (briefly Regent of Germany in 1848 to ’49) sported traditional Tyrolean styles in his coats and jackets, and his famous nephew, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, was a great hunter of the Alps who also was an aficionado appreciative of the rustic designs of the region.  In 1900, two Jewish brothers, Julius and Moritz Wallach, opened a clothing store in the Bavarian city of Munich and had the clever and successful idea of marketing dirndls and lederhosen as a kind of urban “rural chic”, transforming them into a fashion trend.  The Wallach name was renowned for their famous custom printed folk textile prints, even offering fashion shows of Bavarian and Austrian wear in their cloth.  (See this excellent blog post here for more info on the Wallach history.)  Thus the dirndl (and lederhosen, too) became both more universally adopted and overall more vibrantly fashionable.  Much of this energy and growth was snuffed around the time WWII began, only for Germanic clothing to find a comeback for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.   Today in 2021 they are having a moment in popularity again with an exhibit “’Dirndl – Tradition Goes Fashion” at the Mamorschloessl palace (former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I) in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.

Vivienne Westwood dirndl on display at the “Tradition Goes Fashion” exhibit in Bad Ischl, Austria, 2021.

On a local level, in the 150 years before the 1940s, many new, organic traditions were evolving around the dirndl to make the wearer’s marital, economic, and regional status be something visibly recognizable by the every detail of one’s manner of dress. For example, an apron knot tied on a woman’s left hip meant she was unmarried, the right meant married, while the center back meant she was either engaged or otherwise working at her job (so leave her alone).  Married women were more restricted in colors to choose from while single girls were permitted the flowered hair crowns and the prettiest variety of tones.  These are just a few of the many, interesting, and beautiful traditions surrounding an old-style wearing of the dirndl.

The rich pastel colors that Rapunzel is wearing properly designates her as a young unmarried woman while the laced bodice with the dirndl hooks ties it to the Alpine region, which would be the perfect place to hide the tower the witch uses to imprison her.  However, I am so excited to have thought out not just her dress but about the main symbol associated to Disney’s Rapunzel – the golden sun of her parents’ Kingdom of Corona.  I see it as reminiscent of an edelweiss flower, also called the “mountain star”.  

The Edelweiss is such a long-standing Alpine symbol – it’s still on everything from Swiss airline planes, beer cans, club logos, coats-of-arms, money, and certain uniforms for army officials and mountain troops in Germany and the Bavarian Alps.  Again, it was the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I who popularized a renewed passion for the edelweiss flower in 1856, when he made a point of gifting the flowers, picked during a hike in the mountains, to his beloved wife the Empress “Sissi”.  As I wanted a simple outfit without jewelry, the most natural (and practical) way to add this Alpine symbol was to order a set of edelweiss flower dirndl hooks, ordered direct from a shop in Bavaria that sells tract supplies (link here).  The pattern called for loops to be sewn in anyway, so decorative hooks for the front tie was a prettier, more interesting, more authentic to have a laced-front dirndl.  The way they show the long and short petals radiating out in a staggered, wavy fashion perfectly embodies Disney’s Rapunzel Corona sun symbol while still being specifically Bavarian.  I love how beautiful the hooks are on my dress. They bring out the color of the golden flowers in the print and shimmered in the sunset glow for this post’s pictures.  

Lacing is not necessary to the front of a dirndl, but one of the many decorative elements that are optional yet also traditional.  Because it is not a corset, a dirndl normally has a closure on its own separate from embellishments – here the dress has a center closing zipper.  Lacing is a traditional Bavarian feature, but dirndls often have a front buttoning closure instead, especially ones from Germany (such as a “Black Forest” dirndl, which I have posted more about here).  A dirndl has a stable, substantial bodice, which is why it was fully interfaced just as the Gertie pattern instructs.  Most Gertie patterns call for boning, which I thought would have been overkill here, so I did leave it off for my version.  Dirndls have a close fit with little excess wearing ease, which was how the pattern fit anyway after choosing my matching size according to the given chart.  It is not confining, though, but fits me perfectly because of the pattern’s excellent curving drafted into the princess seams. 

The way a dirndl’s front bodice panels (in between the lacing) are often in a different fabric, or at least highly decorative either by adding embroidery or lace, is reminiscent to their old and hazy origins to a corset.  Either way, for my center panels I used a heavy cotton jacquard that alternates stripes with a tiny floral.  It was just a remnant on hand, and it happily matched the Alexander Henry print I used for the rest of the dress.  Disney’s Rapunzel had striped sleeves so I was originally led to choosing this contrast fabric from my stash so I could have a similar look on my dress, but then carried it over into the front panels to incorporate it into the dress, just as many dirndls do.  The open U-neckline is another classic dirndl feature, and such a pretty one for framing the face.  I see dipped U-necklines pop up a lot in the late 1940s (see this ’49 one I made back when I started blogging) into the 1950s, and Gertie herself says this pattern of hers is strongly 50’s inspired, after all.   

Whether or not the skirt is the easy part depends on how much detail and what level of quality you want to achieve. Some dirndls have tiny, even pleats going completely around the waist, and the high end ones are sometimes smocked, but many are merely gathered into a waistband – the simplest method by far. I chose that last mentioned option, using fabric left (about two yards) from cutting out the rest of dress, making sure to have the selvedge be the hemline to save myself some trouble!

My chiffon undersleeves are a custom addition.  Not only do they bring my dirndl closer to a Rapunzel look alike, but they help my dress look polished.  They add a nice touch of color and a differing texture that helps make it more interesting, in my opinion.  They help my puffed short sleeves stay controlled, most importantly.  I did wear my dress for a short time without the undersleeves, and the puff sleeves crept up my arm and ended up looking weird.  I just used a very basic, skinny fitting, long sleeve pattern piece from another pattern (don’t remember which one), sewed it in under the puffed sleeves, and then shortened to the length I wanted.  The two sleeves are tacked together around the cuff of the outer puff sleeves and the hem kept simple by a bead of Fray-Check liquid.

It was so awesome how this Gertie pattern has so many authentic dirndl details under the guise of being a cute, vintage style dress.  This is a great pattern I highly recommend.  Granted, it is a mark of 20th century modernization for a dirndl to suddenly be a one-piece garment, instead of separates – skirt, dirndl (under) blouse, dirndl (vest) blouse, apron, and an optional collar.  Just like any other culture, traditional clothes tend to evolve along with the changing needs and the present history of the culture they are a part of, yet traditional elements still remain.  In the decades between WWI and WWII, the groundbreaking research of Austrian Jewish anthropologist Eugenie Goldstern showed how the Alpine culture has not been static, or overly set in its ways, but has adapted over the centuries since ancient times when King Charlemange was hunting in the region and was impressed by the sturdy, warm Loden cloth of the region.   

Many of the cultural stereotypes for Germany originate from the Bavarian Alps, yet ironically it only composes less than 10% of Germany’s total area.  All too often stereotypes have the facts warped or screwed up to the point that the actualities are understood in a distorted way.  Popular understanding of history doesn’t automatically equal truth.  I love to uncover facts that get overlooked or forgotten for a clearer picture.  I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the history, lore, and traditions surrounding a dirndl – if you fancy more, read my last post on the other German fairytale princess Snow White, as well as my post on my “Black Forest” dirndl interpretation.  Maybe the next time you hear of Rapunzel, or visit an Oktoberfest, I will have given you a different, deeper outlook!  As you can tell, I became totally invested in taking on this particular fairytale through the lens of my heritage.  I do admire a girl who can grow her hair that long.  I’m pretending I’m the Rapunzel who got her hair cut after being free from her isolation, ha!

Blushed Briar Rose

It mystifies me that something as vigorous, beautiful, and pleasant smelling as the shrub rose, also known for its wild varieties the dog briar or briar rose, can also be designated as a weed.  Yes, I agree a shrub rose can grow out-of-hand, it creates dense vegetation of spiny brambles, and it can be aggressively invasive.  However, many flower shops and high end events desire lab curated roses for arranged displays, yet snub their nose on the humble, steadfast briar rose that was the humble ancestor to all roses back from the time of the dinosaurs.  After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is the popular quote from Shakespeare.    Did you know that most of our important crop plants are in the “Rose” family?  A pretentious pedigree should not matter for a plant. 

It’s cooling down now that September is here, yet in our city’s Botanical Garden there are still plenty of shrub roses blooming untamed next to some single oversized hybrid.  A desire for overly curated cultivation has grown a skewed perspective.  I think a plant such as a briar rose that perseveres through the ages, with healthy benefits to boot, while still having loveliness to share despite their alleged flaws is the diamond in the rough that deserves more respect – ‘weed’ or not.

The hidden beauty with a hopeful heart, Princess Aurora, of Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty”, was also called Briar Rose.  This was a term for the fairytale princess which comes from the German version of her story as told through the Brothers Grimm.  I can deduce that this genus of plant was specifically what grew into an impenetrable barrier to enclose the sleeping princess.  This is what I’m channeling today – the wild and prickly beauty of the briar rose as inspired by the Princess Aurora.  Here is a delicate combo of a blouse in sheer white chiffon similar to Aurora’s forest outfit and flowing rayon trousers in a soft rosy hue…because briar roses are almost always pink, you know! 

Here is a rare example of me mixing decades, I would like to think to great effect.  These pants are from the 1990s, yet my old-fashioned ways I keep calling them trousers by default because they are high-waisted and wide-legged as if from the WWII era.  The blouse is 1940’s, a piece from an old dirndl pattern because it has been suggested that there is a Germanic influence to Briar Rose’s forest attire (no doubt coming from the story being derived from the Brothers Grimm).   The fabric I chose and the way I’ve worn it here keeps the blouse more of agelessly romantic in aura than pure vintage.  I been having a lot of fun with my style recently.  I find the eras that revived older fashions so very interesting, but now especially so when it comes to the 90’s, a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  Besides, the 1940s era came up with some of the best classic pieces, particularly for separates.  Put all this together and I can’t go wrong, right?

Before I go on with my post, can we all take just a moment to appreciate the skills and patience of my 9 year old to take these blog pictures of me?  Let’s give him a hand for being my photographer for a day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a poly chiffon with the ‘interfacing’ of the cuffs being a sheer white stiff organza; Trousers – 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  Blouse – Simplicity #4230, year 1942, from my stash; Trousers – McCall’s NY NY “The Collection” pattern #5718, year 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one 7” invisible zipper for the pants and lots of hook-n-eyes together with one vintage covered button for the blouse, but otherwise lots of thread, some bias tape, with a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 8 hours and finished on January 6, 2020.  The bottoms were done on April 3, 2021 in 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse is a combo of French seams and serged (overlocked) seam allowances.  The trousers’ raw edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  All supplies came from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  Two yards for the pants and 2 yards for the blouse came to about $30 in total.

Similar to the way I successfully used a bedsheet to sew a couture dress (in my previous post here), this outfit was also started with materials not what I intended, but what struck my immediate fancy.  It just goes to prove that the final look of any and every sewing project is entirely dependent on the execution of every step along the way towards the finish.  It doesn’t take fancy supplies to end up with something amazing to wear, and trying something new might just end up better than you originally thought.  “A rose by any other name…” comes to play here, too.  If you can make the most of what you have it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bedsheet or a polyester in the end if you’re happy with what you’ve created and think it is fantastic!

I would have preferred a silk chiffon for my blouse but after getting tired of internet searching, I instead took advantage of a fine polyester option that was both convenient to find and reasonably priced.  I was doubtful that a slinky rayon would be substantial enough for what was supposed to be a structured pants pattern, but I wanted to try something experimental and it was in most enchanting pink tone…I couldn’t resist.  Together, this outfit ended up way better than I imagined.  I love these results!  Luckily, I avoided being snagged by all the thorns around me while wearing my delicate fabrics.  I took the risk, as you see, to folic like a modernized, dreamy version of a princess, spend time touring a lovely rose garden for an afternoon, smelling all the flowers.

These two pieces were really a lot easier to construct than they may look.  The pants pattern fit me straight out of the envelope like it were drafted just for me, a trend I find with this 90’s line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns.  There was a front piece, a back piece, and two facings, all with just the right curves for my hips, so it was pretty simple to make and match the very geometric windowpane plaid. 

I took a shortcut from the French seams I started in the blouse to do the rest in serging (I rarely use overlocking) because it was a poly after all, not a silk like I wanted!  It has a loose and flowing fit, but as I already used the rest of the pattern before for a dirndl vest (posted here) I knew what sizing to expect and graded accordingly.  A little before-hand knowledge is not always something available when working with vintage patterns, and I definitely appreciated it here.

As the pants and blouse were easy otherwise, I spent a bit of extra time on the details.  For my bottoms, I made sure to have impeccable inside edges and a center back invisible zipper.  I sewed in a hook-n-eye placket to close the blouse along the side seam, just like a proper vintage garment might have.  A fluid, sheer, light-as-a-feather blouse deserved something other than a harsh and rigid zipper!  This type of closure was the fiddliest part of the blouse, next to the neckline, but elevates it closer to the quality I’d hoped to end up with for a silk version. 

Of course the resemblance of my blouse to Princess Aurora’s “Briar Rose” peasant blouse was made all the more similar thanks to a little piece of vintage lingerie in my collection.  I wore an authentic 1940s boned long-line satin foundation undergarment beneath which gave my blouse an illusion similar to the sweetheart neckline of Aurora’s black overblouse corset.  I acquired this amazing garment in the first place because not only was it my size, and something I did not have, but I also felt sorry for it.  The brassiere needed some TLC to bring back up to a wearable status. 

All the boning channels had been torn through but otherwise it was in impeccable condition, with elastic that was still very intact.  To do the mend, I merely used some old vintage twill tape from on hand and re-sewed down the channels, closing in the spiral steel boning strips once more.  This repair took me only 30 minutes!  It is pretty enough of a piece to be seen in it floral damask satin, but I remember it is still lingerie, so I loved being able to fulfill both aspirations by wearing the brassiere with my sheer 40’s blouse.  At this point, it rather looks like a mere strapless top underneath anyways, and highlights more of the gauzy goodness to my blouse than anything else.  If anyone but my husband notices anything otherwise, shame on them!

I would be remiss if I failed to also highlight the unusual choice of footwear I chose for my outfit.  As I was going both romantic old-timey but also experimental, I felt it was time to enjoy my new purchase of a pair of American Duchess’ “Kensington” 18th century leather shoes in ivory with “Cavendish” 18th century brass shoe buckles.  To be inspired by “Sleeping Beauty” meant I had all sorts of historical references in my mind for this outfit, and these pretty – if a bit unusual – shoes made me happy with their finery.  It was all about creating an aura for this mashed-up outfit.  Yet, after all, I was also being practical.  There was an 18th century reenactment to attend the coming weekend, and all American Duchess shoes need time to be “broken in” before they really start forming to your foot and becoming more comfortable.  A walk through the soft ground of the Botanical Garden did just the trick!   

The way you see these pieces worn and accessorized in this blog post is merely one out of the many other ways I pair them with other separates from my wardrobe.  You can see this post here where my sheer blouse is being worn with my scuba knit sundress like a jumper!  As pretty as these pieces are on their own, they really are being enjoyed much more than I had hoped – which is a very good thing! 

After all, ever since the pandemic of 2020 started, I no longer ‘save’ my nice stuff for just nice functions, otherwise much of my wardrobe would never be worn.  I really do think people appreciate it when they see there was thought and enjoyment behind putting myself together – no matter the occasion.  You know, after these pictures at the Botanical Garden, I wore this outfit to do some practical grocery shopping, and received the most unexpected amount of compliments.  Public appreciation or not, pulling cans off the shelves with sleeves like these suddenly felt much more elegant than hum-drum.  Pushing the shopping cart around in 18th century heels feels empowering instead of droll.  It was fantastic!  I highly recommend it.   

It’s just a parody to my earlier reflection of appreciating a ‘weed’ of a rose as something to be valued in one’s personal estimation.  If I can’t avoid the weeds of life – like droll errands – I will find a way to see them as palatable by also doing something I enjoy at the same time…like wearing my me-made clothes.  I will not let the lack of events to attend get in the way of an outfit like this not having an opportunity to be worn!

Modern Beauty

Superficial standards for beauty are fickle beasts to follow – they come and go, change and go out-of-style, caring nothing for humanity.  I prefer appreciating the more meaningful qualities.  When it comes to princesses, Belle from Disney’s 1991 animated fairytale movie, has the spunk, self-confidence, intelligence, love of learning, independent spirit, concern for family, and loving heart enough to be beautiful in more ways than the frivolous!   Now that I’m older, the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” seems weirder to me than when I was little, yet Belle is still “my” princess nonetheless.  The fact she loves to read, has brown hair and eyes (both like me), and is of a different breed of Disney “royalty” always has resonated with me.  Goodness, my parents bought me the special “New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast” comic books, the dolls, and handheld game when I was a child because I couldn’t get enough of Belle’s story!

Thus, her iconic golden yellow dress was the first creation I made for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  My mom had sewed me a version of that dress for a beauty pageant when I was little.  This time around, Belle’s ball dress was my birthday present to myself in 2019, and it became the catalyst to all the rest of the Disney outfits which have followed since.  My birthday is always my day to feel like a princess, anyway, so being able to wear this gloriously swishy, glamorous dress was a dream come true!  As I just had my special day come around again, I thought it appropriate to post this particular dress now.

This is also my most recognizable ‘copy’, where you can easily see my inspiration.  Yet, as I have said in my flagship announcement for the series (posted here), many of my princess inspired are channeled through the lens of the year the movie was released.  In this case, I found a pattern from circa 1991 which had a similar silhouette, neckline, and shoulder details to Belle’s dress, with just my kind of interesting tweak to the style.  I always have to take an original interpretation to be happy and this is why I call this my “Modern Beauty” dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the exterior is an all rayon twill, with the body lined in an all-cotton, and the sleeves lined in a golden tan polyester; several layers of pre-ruffled sheer golden organza become the attached petticoat to the dress’ lining

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5999, year 1992

NOTIONS:  one 22” invisible zipper and lots of thread, with a bit of embroidery floss for some hand stitching

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took about 25 to 30 hours to make and was finished August 1, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are covered up by the full body lining

TOTAL COST:  Each yard of the rayon twill fabric was on closeout for $6 through Hobby Lobby, and the cotton was the basic broadcloth from JoAnn Fabrics.  The ruffled chiffon was a remnant on clearance from JoAnn Fabrics for $10 at one yard.  Altogether, this dress cost me about $50.

First off, you have no idea how I fussed over finding the right golden color to create this dress!  When searched for a “golden” color, I found tones of beige, yellow, and orange.  Even then, one cannot trust the accuracy of what a computer screen is showing you will receive.  What I see in Belle’s dress is primarily a very orange toned yellow, though, one that will go with beige tones well.  My rayon twill outer fabric was originally (on its own) much brighter than I wanted.  However, the fact is was semi-sheer gave me the opportunity to turn the shade into just what I was looking for by having the lining be darker.  The true color as it turned out was hard to capture in photos…whether I’m in full sun or the shade changes the tone.  Yes, I know I am a perfectionist but I think it pays off in the end. 

As this is a princess seamed dress, it is not only appropriate in theme but also a very big fabric hog.  The pattern needed much more than the 3 yards of both the rayon and its lining that I had on hand, but I was feeling cheap and didn’t want to buy anymore.  A midi length dress was my ideal, as it is less formal but still elegant.  I trimmed down the width of the flare to the skirt from the hips to accommodate my shorter yardage yet still keep the length.  Even still, the skirt is so very full, making the dress quite heavy, and I’m glad there isn’t any more than 3 yards to each layer.  Yes, that means there are six yards in total, not counting the yard of double layered ruffled trimming to the hem, whew! 

As much as I like an open shouldered look, I reconciled myself to something more sensible for my version of Belle’s hallmark gown.  A dress this substantial that is also strapless sounded like a nightmare to turn out successful unless I added a fully structured bodice much like what was done to couture gowns in the era of the 1950s.  This is a 90’s dress that – though well shaped to my body and fancy, too – I intended to be wearable by being effortless and casual.  A structured body would counter that. 

Neither did I want to do the ‘’work” and once a sewing project becomes drudgery to me, it is no longer enjoyable, and that completely defeats the intended purpose of my sewing, especially when it comes to fun princess outfits.  The hem ruffles are added to the lining to eliminate the need to wear a crinoline yet still softly shape the skirt…easy, right?  Along this vein, the shoulder straps were added to support the heavy dress without needing an internal structured bodice.  I can pop this dress on then zip it up without any specialty lingerie, fussy closures, or restrictive shaping needed.  I was wanting a princess dress for modern times, and I kept it that way.  There’s no use to even making this dress at all if I’m not the one ecstatic about it!

Of course, I still have the dropped, off-the shoulder sleeves, just like the inspiration gown.  Of course, if I was to get technical, Belle didn’t really have sleeves – just a shoulder drape that is part of an extended neckline decoration which to me looks like a home décor sash.  My dress’ sleeves are so much cuter and easier to wear than I already expected.  They are joined under the arm only up to the nearest princess seam and merely float over my arm.  I absolutely love this feature although it does fool me into thinking that the sleeves are going to fall off!  (Silly me, I forget they are attached.)  It made for some interesting sewing that I haven’t done before, that’s for certain.  In the future, if I want a ‘closer to the original’ kind of cosplay piece, it would be easy to add to my dress some sort of shoulder/neckline drape (as well as skirt draping) like what was on Belle’s gown.  

As I couldn’t bear to just plainly top-stitch down the sweetheart neckline or leave it blank, I did some simple decorative hand-stitching across the front.  I made a stitch that calls to mind some sort of chain because I was thinking about how weird it was the way Belle transformed her captivity under the Beast.  We tend to forget that she was a ‘prisoner’, in one way or another, for most of the movie.  Belle had many good qualities, but her honest regard for her life situations wasn’t one of them.  Just one small touch in the details of my dress alludes to my current adult outlook on the animated film. 

There are several significant pairings with my outfit which help me fully immerse myself into Belle’s world.  The most important of any accessory is the red roses I’ve included.  The real roses I am holding were part of a dozen which were gifted to me as a birthday present from my Aunt on my mom’s side.  The necklace rose is a memento piece from my Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mirror – like my roses – might not be magic, but still special.  The mirror is part of a sterling silver dresser set (including comb and brush) that I received from my parents as a present when a young girl.  Yet, it was my background setting which is what really helped me feel totally in character for these pictures.  It is an old abandoned stone church that has been shored up and overtaken by ivy but left to become a now popular photo location in the city.  It completely reminds me of the stately but derelict atmosphere of the Beast’s castle. 

I hope you too can relate to my Belle inspiration here because I know “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most popular fairytales and has received many other iterations other than through Disney.  The original story is even more enchanting than any Hollywood version, though.  Nevertheless, it is great to relive a childhood memory in a tactile way, especially when it’s a good memory.  So far, this is not my most worn princess creation, but it might be my favorite just because of the treat that it is and the way I interpreted it.  I wish for such a euphoric garment on everybody…especially on their birthdays!

“No Chance! No Way! I Won’t Say It…”

…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is!  (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)

Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project.  The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s.  This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here).  Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era.  Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager.  Ah, what am I turning into!?  This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  

Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s.  My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length.  Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress.  I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck.  Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways! 

However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”.  A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style!  Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality.  (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too).  They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise.  They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds.  Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental.  Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”.  This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.

Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology.  In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman.  Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny.  I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara.  Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno.  Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno.  That not all, however!  At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld.  After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.

I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did.  Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand?  It always feels so remarkably serendipitous.  She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together.  Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)!  Good things happen when sewists unite! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets

PATTERN:  New Look #6306, year 1994

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.

TOTAL COST:  practically free!!! Read on…

How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story.  Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale.  The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets.  Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house.  I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free!  At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away.  The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.

It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static.  The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling.  Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me.  I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it.  1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child.  My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion.  I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime.  I am not the only one, though.   

Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York.  Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”.  I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content.  It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.”  (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.)  What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”. 

“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says.  Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls.  The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.”  So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way?  The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.”  Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects?  This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era.  “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly.  Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past?  It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp

No wonder I appreciate the 90’s!  It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make.  Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so.  I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion.  Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage.  This might not be your view and that is fine.  After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation.  If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog.  I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.

That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge.  I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it.  Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces.  I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s.  My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles.  I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years.  My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.

Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend.  Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater.  The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era.   The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though.  My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion.  The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion.  Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with.  The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.

After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew.  It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required.  Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction.  I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper. 

Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie.  I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper.  Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back.  Yes, I feel terrible about this.  There were tears involved.

Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress.  I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all.  The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular.  My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy.  I garner so many compliments when I wear this!  I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer.  Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too. 

The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers,  the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song!  There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus.  The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period.  This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!