Agent Carter’s Color-Blocked Slacks Suit

Slacks suits of the 1940s – when the blouse and the pants both matched as a set – are such an admirable yet interesting piece of fashion history which is under the normal radar what we think of WWII clothes for ladies.  No doubt it has to do with the fact they are an extremely rare item to find extant, especially with both pieces together.  They were an avant-garde statement of women’s empowerment.  They always have great design lines and wonderful styling when they are to be found either in person or in magazine images.

A slacks suit was nice clothing, and not just for working the garden or at a factory assembling war supplies like dungarees.  They were also day wear, or for home leisure, when they were out of nicer materials with finer details, but always practical by offering great ease of movement and practicality for the busy, multi-tasking woman of wartime.  Any way they were styled or worn, though, wearing pants was still not a societal accepted norm for women.  Many young women or ladies with confidence and a sensible disregard for public opinion took to such fashions.  It totally makes sense that a character such as the indomitable Agent Peggy Carter would wear such a thing when she came to sunny Los Angeles in 1947 (Season Two)!   What a better way for me to channel a 40’s slacks suit than to take cue from Miss Carter and make my own color blocked version!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a burgundy colored apparel weight polyester challis from Uptown Fabric shop on Etsy along with an old cotton knit t-shirt

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Simplicity #4762, year 1943, for the blouse; I acquired this pattern as part of a trade of vintage goods with Emileigh, the blogger behind “Flashback Summer”

NOTIONS:  thread, some interfacing, and a set of true vintage 1940s buttons out of the inherited stash of hubby’s grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me 30 hours to complete, including the necessary re-sizing of the pattern.  It was finished October 30, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  All I needed was two yards and this cost me only $14

To make things a bit easier on myself –so I thought – I bought the pants RTW from a company that remakes vintage style garments (Unique Vintage‘s “Ginger pants”).  These pants are made of the hard-to-find, soft, and wonderfully sturdy rayon gabardine so I couldn’t resist them, especially as they have a true high waist, pockets, and a good 40’s style wide leg.  I love that these pants are the next best thing to something I would sew myself.  They are a saturated, true burgundy and I thought that should not be hard to match…boy was I wrong.

It took me a year’s worth of browsing every so often, both in person at fabric stores and over the internet (which is much harder to do due to screen variations), to find a color which would match my existing pants AND be a proper blouse weight material.  So many burgundy tones either were too blue toned, too red, or too purple and then the fabric was either a quilting cotton, a silky print, or a duck cloth.  I would have preferred a natural material, but sometimes ya gotta go with the best one can procure for sewing projects.  At least this challis is high quality polyester which is surprisingly quite nice and –besides the surface shine – really not an obviously man-made in content.  Occasionally that dream material is too hard to find, especially when I was so impatient to be able to wear my completed dream project!  The two different contents of the pants and the blouse play tricks on the camera in the sun, but in person and through pictures in the shade, the two pieces really do match up.

Speaking of another challenge in color matching, I also had a really hard time also finding a material to match the rest of my set which was a true dark-toned spruce green.  I was tired of the searching so part of this outfit is also a refashion.  I chose the practical “made-do-and-mend” route and used an old printed t-shirt from on hand which no longer fit me.  It was in the right color green, only a completely different fabric – a cotton knit.  I was thinking (rather hoping) that the contrast in type of material might be passable because it is a contrast color to the rest of the set as well.  Also, I do love a sleeve that is easy to move in.  Against my better judgment, I went ahead and used the tee for this slacks suit’s blouse…and I am pretty pleasantly surprised at how well this refashion turned out.

I kept the original sleeves as-is from off of the t-shirt and transferred them directly onto the new blouse I was sewing.  I cut out the front Christmas print because I liked it (and might applique it to a new tee in the future).  The majority of the back body of the tee went towards the new blouse’s contrast shoulder panel and under collar piece, while the bottom hem was used to lengthen the sleeves a bit by adding faux cuffs.  I interfaced the shoulder panel and the under collar piece because, being a rather thin and stretchy knit, I thought the green tee material needed to act and feel stable like a woven from the rest of my set for it to ‘fit in’.  It seems my idea worked well.  I was afraid that using a knit for the shoulder panel – the spot on a blouse which has practically the most stress from movement – would be a terrible idea yet between the interfacing and lining that panel with more of the blouse fabric…my blouse is staying in its intended shape.  The sleeves were the only part from off of the tee that I kept fully stretchy.

Between the knit arms and the full, gathered lower back bodice panel, I now have a vintage blouse which lends itself to some extreme butt-kicking wrestling moves, such as Agent Carter was wont to exhibit on men who needed an awakening at the hands of a woman.  Luckily the scene in which we see Peggy first wearing this outfit (“A View in the Dark” episode) was a very active one, and all the different angles shown of her slacks suit were very helpful in seeing what details there were.  Out of the TV series’ original outfit, I kept the small pointed collar, the dark green buttons down the front, the back blouse fullness, the combination of colors, and the general placement of the contrast color.

However, as I have done for all of my other Agent Carter “copies”, I like to both personalize the clothing according to my taste and base it more heavily upon historical accuracy.  My bought trousers align with WWII-time standards with smaller pockets, no hem cuffs, a side metal zipper, and rayon gabardine – the classic fabric for a slacks suit.  I started with a 1943 pattern because when the war effort hit the home front in full force, slacks suits began a strong showing in fashion catalogs and shopping magazines.  All I needed to do was make just a few tweaks to make my outfits closer to extant originals that have caught my admiring eye.

I feel so much better about trying to copy a garment when I change up the design according to my own ideas.  Doing so is my way of respecting the original artist that was behind the garment which is my inspiration!  Yet also, I do want to stay true to that self-realization of knowing what will look best for my body shape, height, and proportions.  I want everything that Agent Carter wears, yes – but I also want to like myself in them rather than forcing something which might not be ‘right’ for me.  This is the only way for me to naturally incorporate a bit of Peggy Carter into my everyday wardrobe.  I like to wear my Peggy outfits as something other than a special occasion cosplay item, but to each her own.  This is why I opted for a belted overblouse style to my slacks suit, unlike the way Agent Carter originally wears her set.  Just like her, I dare to be different!

My main 1940s inspiration sources were both color-blocked jackets (with skirts) and extant matching slacks suits as seen through vintage selling sites.  Many of these include burgundy color.  My favorite set is a 40’s “California Sportswear” set made in Hollywood monotone set, sold by FabGabs, which is remarkably close to Agent Carter’s TV one.  Otherwise, I drew heavily from the two-tone “American Spectator” blouse sold at Boswell Vintage.  I made a separate belt and added it to my blouse, then adjusted the look to match my inspiration.  I imitated the front (below the belted waistline) pleats of the blue hound’s-tooth overblouse and the full gathered back of the burgundy “American Spectator” blouse.

The detail of the button going through the middle of the attached belt is everything to me here.  It’s a sharp detail so very much in tune with the tailored 40’s era and complimentary to my waistline, a big plus.  It keeps the general idea of Peggy’s set with – dare I say – better details and a better classic 40’s sportswear air to it.  My blouse is sans faux chest pocket flaps because they struck me as a detail which might only become a fussy distraction.  Combining my smaller frame proportions with the faux belt detail seemed like just enough of a balance although I do feel lost in any outfit that is lacking true pockets!

Matched in both fabric and color, slacks suits were frequently color-blocked – no doubt because each piece would be easy to mix and match separately with other items in a wardrobe.  Like most clothing meant to be an everyday item or at least supremely useful, they do not survive like special occasion clothing, says “The Vintage Traveler” (as in this post here).  She had been highlighting her collection of slacks suits on her Instagram (see these fantastic sets).  The more I see of slacks suits the more I agree with “The Vintage Traveler” and admire how casual did not mean sloppy in vintage style.  Yet, such dressing – women in pants, in particular – has lost its novelty over years.  What was informal for back then now appears quite refined by modern standards, but at the same time what was daring then is now often only thought of as a conservative approach to everyday wardrobe staples.

True instance on many an occasion – my hubby tells me to be casual for running errands and I reach for my vintage sportswear.  Then he says he needs to dress up to match me because I still look so nice!  This slacks suit is my sharpest version yet of 40’s pants based sportswear and has no complaints when I channel Peggy.  Luckily I ordered more burgundy challis material before Uptown Fabric sold out.  My hope is to extend my slacks suit to have a blouse and skirt matching combo at some point in the future.  I love how I can make something killer but still have it versatile and practical at the same time when I sew vintage…especially Peggy Carter…styles.  Now I have something new in my arsenal of creations, another box ticked off – a 1940s slacks suit.

Ready for Another Adventure?

Ah, I can’t help but interrupt my previously planned post for one that highlights Agent Carter…because she’s back!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, it has been confirmed Peggy will be back only in name only for the newest (and last) Season 7 of “Agents of Shield”, despite her romantic interest Agent Sousa being front and center in the most recent episodes.  I’ll admit that I have not been following “Agents of Shield” until now and I do despise the last ditch ideas of time travel which shows too often fall back on at the end of their run.  But if Agent Carter is back for some sort of relevant story continuation (which was cut short by the lack of an expected Season Three of her TV show), I’m here for it by adding more outfits from seasons one and two to my wardrobe and perhaps watching the new show.  I’ll pick up on sewin’ and postin’ more Peggy fashions, starting with recreating the first thing we see her in upon embarking on her new California adventure at the beginning of Season Two, “The Lady in the Lake” episode.  “Are you ready for another adventure, Miss Carter?” said Mr. Jarvis.  Oh how I do love having my own exciting escapades when in Peggy’s shoes!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Matte Blue 100% Silk Batiste (sorry, but it’s sold out now!) accented my handmade bias tape of Dove White Cotton Sateen, both from Fashion Fabrics Club

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Butterick #6374, originally a year 1944 design, reprinted in 2016

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing extraordinary – just thread, a bit of interfacing, and 3 vintage buttons out of the stash of hubby’s grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the hour or two spent to re-draft the pattern, sewing the blouse took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on June 11, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  French seamed with a bias covered hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the silk and a ½ yard remnant of the sateen cost me a total of just over $30.

First off, yes, I am wearing separates – a blouse and trousers (which are the Marlene pants from Burda Style, posted here) – and yes, my pattern for the top half of my outfit was highly redrafted from a dress pattern.  You did not read the facts above wrongly.  I wanted to start with a vintage pattern, of course, and all the blouse patterns I had on hand were not remotely close to what I wanted.  Yet I did have the 1944 dress pattern which had a similar shawl collar and strong, slightly full, shoulders.  After all, Peggy Carter was known for wearing mid-40s fashions prior to her time out in California in the second season, so the dating would be perfect, too.  I was never a big fan of the original dress, although I might eventually try it in the future, but I bought it anyway a few years back on one of those $1-something sales.  This way I feel like it is not just taking up useless space in my pattern drawers.  It has now actually come in handy, just not in the way initially intended.  I might have a large stash of patterns, but I do not hoard…the patterns I have are cared for gently and often preserved and copied, but they do ‘work’ for their keep here and they are much more than a pretty inspiration!

I first had to trace out the pattern as it was, from hip length up, and then tweak it.  Next, I extended the collar to be wider, especially in the front over the chest, as well as making it roll over itself better.  The back collar was drafted by me to be just wide enough for the edging.  I am so happy to have ended up with a collar which was just what I wanted!  The shoulders and main body are pretty much the same as the original dress, but I added greater wearing ease all over so it would be blousier than the original slim fitting dress.  The back bodice had a dramatic re-drafting because the original dress had princess seams.  I combined the pattern pieces to become one piece, cut on the fold, with two vertical fish-eye darts.  Remember, it really doesn’t take much to change things up dramatically on paper for a sewing pattern…an extra ¼ inch may go a long way.

The semi-sheer batiste needed to be double layered to be an opaque blouse, which was rather hard to pull off on only 1 ½ yards.  This silk is so lightweight and breathable two layers is no big deal, though, once I was able to fit the pattern pieces in.  Silk is the world’s most all-season, easy to wear, and overall beautiful fabric in my opinion.  The listing for this fabric said it was matte finish, but there is still the loveliest shine along every soft fold.  Even a matte silk blend has the same lovely sheen.  Every time I create with silk, I find it is more imperative than other fabrics to use a new needle in my machine, otherwise it create pulls in the fabric as I sew.

Now both the silk and the sateen listings say to dry clean them…bah!  Only in a few exceptions – and vintage acetate is one of them – have I come across a fabric that is not washable.  I wash woolens, silks, rayon, cottons, linens, and of course any man-made (i.e. polyester), as well as any combo of those, and have never come across any unpleasant effects of doing so besides a few wrinkles, which a good ironing can easily remedy.  Even many decorator fabrics can totally be washed, although their first dip in water does shrink them like crazy.  Washing all of these fabrics must be better for them anyway over harsh, unpleasant chemicals of conventional dry cleaning!  When in doubt, I do try and wash a small, snipped off test corner first.  So, don’t be afraid to get your fabrics clean, just do so in the gentlest way possible.  For me, this means either hand-washing, or placing them in a zip-closed laundry bag before machine washing on the delicate cycle.  A cleaner garment means less attraction for hungry bugs that might like to eat them, remember!

I am still thrilled over the lovely novelty of self-made bias tape, as seen in my making of my last project, this multi-use apron/sundress/ jumper thing (posted here).  Especially when your bias tape will take a front and center stage, it is important to have a quality notion.  So I started with a quality fabric to edge this blouse the way I figured it, and I’m so glad I did.  The slightly heavier weight of the decorator’s sateen is perfect for keeping the collar in place and stabilizing the soft silk.  The slight shine on the sateen matches the finish on the silk, too.  The very slight off-white color is a gentler contrast than a pure white.  I just love it when an idea for a garment comes together as good as or even better than I expected!  It’s the best surprise.

This ‘blouse-from-a-dress’ experiment opens up all new doors for my pattern stash, now.  A dress can be tweaked to become a jacket, a vest can have sleeves added to develop a blouse, or a skirt can be reformed into pants when you approach patterns as a fluid tool with great potential to aid in creating anything with your hands.  This is the beauty of sewing.  It is all up to you – the skies the limit!  Anything can be sewn up anyway you like it.

With that said, I want an entire wardrobe of everything Agent Carter has worn in her TV series, and so my sewing creativity in this sphere goes towards personalizing and doing some historical basing of my ‘copies’ of Peggy’s outfits.  “Copying” an existing garment you admire can be every bit as challenging, if not more so, as trying to match your own individual idea.  Sewing is an exciting undertaking in its own way, and even small adventures are important in our times when there is so much wrong about the world today and a pandemic has forced too many of us into an unwelcome isolation.  Stepping into Peggy Carter’s shoes and clothes is my ongoing quest that suits me up with her spirit of independence, personal confidence, sense of equity, and – of course – great fashion taste.  How is sewing your special adventure?

Peggy’s Faux Bolero Dress

It was the day after that terrible, unexplained explosion at the Isodyne Energy Facility.  She was fighting through so much internally and externally – confusion, loss, blame, and a gut suspicion of a truth that she cannot prove.  At least she was the only one who had the humanity to get to know the missing scientist, no matter what his skin color.  Although she did not have the time to establish the connection she was inherently hoping for, she did understand him enough to mourn that he was only another senseless innocent in the long list of persons she seems to be the cause of their destruction.  Rightly or wrongly, those are her feelings.  Yet, the rest of the world around her only wanted the ‘facts’ about last night tied up in a nice little package, so that the truth for them was what they expected to hear.  SHE was the one needed by those in power to sign off for their lies – willingly or not was the threat.  What might our heroine wear for such a scene?  How can her fashion translate her strength showing through her weakness, her conviction to stand for veracity as the sole woman among a sea of lying, well-connected men?

Luckily, Peggy did have some true friends to turn to in such an hour.  Fortunately, also, the wonderful costume designer Gigi Melton has already come up with the perfect, amazing, and striking answer to a scene such as this, as well as other incidents just as powerful.

The heroine, Peggy Carter of the “Strategic Scientific Reserve”, dons the signature color of her female adversary – purple.  As someone who perennially wears blues, reds, and browns, she combines it with a new-to-her tone from the other end of the spectrum…green.  A professional looking faux two-piece outfit becomes a convenient one-piece dress.  Bold but sensible courage is manifested in Peggy’s fashion as well as character. Now, with my sewing capabilities, some fabric remnants, and an old pattern, I have my very own copy of Marvel’s Agent Carter’s dress for the above described scenes from Episode 3 of Season Two, “Better Angels”.

I love how Peggy’s words perpetually cut through the crud around her and are searingly direct, like a hot knife in hard butter, especially for this scene.  Truthfulness with others is what she is best at, and those scenes in which this memorable dress is worn, she oozes an assertive yet feminine, complex yet simple, and full on 40’s look!   “Better Angels” episode helps demonstrate why I have such respect for her and why I admire her character – an everyday superhero capability is tinged with a very relatable humanity and touching empathy.

April 9 is the anniversary of Peggy’s birthday, and it’s annually a day to celebrate a character that has brought so much into our lives by taking part in the “International Agent Carter Day”.  This is one of my favorite days of the year!  For such a day this year, I will post one of my very favorite Agent Carter outfit “copies” I have done.  It also happens to get the most compliments everywhere I go wearing it!  All this was made in one yard of deep eggplant purple gabardine and a few scraps of bright China silk leftover from a past project.  I adapted a true vintage 1946 pattern to both keep to the era and find the real historical version – thus I’m not just copying a Hollywood garment.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows I love a great pair of shoes, especially one that perfectly matches a color in my outfit.  Thus, I set out to find some true vintage shoes which would parallel the olive green B.A.I.T brand heels in the show.  There are some more modern decades, such as the 60’s or 70’s, which mimic 1940’s shoe styles, with slightly different heel shapes.  They are frequently much more wearable because of their not-so-fragile-as true-40’s footwear, however.  So, after much searching, I found a pair of lovely suede and polished leather, woven front, peep-toe heels in my size, in the exact matching green as my center bodice!  These are so comfy and really complete the outfit, yet they sadly blend in too well with the grass to be seen when I’m in a yard!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon/cotton blend gabardine, combined with china silk (leftover from lining this 40’s jacket-style blouse) for the contrast, and full lining in the bodice with all cotton broadcloth.

PATTERN:  McCall #6377, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and I used interfacing scraps and a zipper from on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on September 10, 2018, in about 10 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The one yard of purple gabardine was a remnant found for about $5 at Wal-Mart, the silk was scraps (I don’t count the cost of such small pieces), and the “American Classics” cotton was yet another remnant, this time found at JoAnn for a few dollars.  This dress cost under $10!!!

Faux boleros on a one-piece garment or even just color-blocking – like this dress – seemed to have been a ‘thing’ starting in the late 1930s through 1940s, from what I have found so far through extant garments and similar sewing pattern designs.  This collage is only a small portion of what inspiration I have come across.  These are all a very smart – perfect for using small cuts of fabric, but nevertheless make the most fun out of fashion as well as the most streamlined outfit ever!  The bottom right extant late 1930s dress is the one that I specifically channeled here with my tweak to add a bit of Agent Carter my vintage pattern.  That inspiration garment had the arched, faux cummerbund mid-section as well as the shiny silk contrast bodice panels which worked perfectly with my need to fit every pattern piece on small remnants.  The more concise the pieces, the better to fit onto scraps!

Getting my bodice to look like a faux bolero required me to retrace it out onto paper, cut out that copy, and re-draft it into a few extra pieces.  Yet, to keep all of those pieces together nicely – besides validating the accuracy of my re-drafting and provide a clean interior – the bodice lining is the one-piece design of the original pattern.   I was so happy to be using my lovely leftover silk in a project which would highlight it.  As I had only used it for interior lining in the project before, this silk literally now has its opportunity to shine.  Yet, the silk is so much lighter compared to the substantial thickness of the gabardine, it sometimes appears quite wrinkled.  China silk is not the best at holding its own on a fashion design.  There’s exceptions to the rule as you can see here, but it really is best as a lining.  I wouldn’t trust the China silk to not rip or tear apart on its own if I hadn’t lined the bodice.

The best part of sewing a two-tone dress (total irony here) is having to switch between colors with the spools and bobbins of thread in my sewing machine.  It is a real pain!  This is why I did the side zipper and several other sections by hand.  Not to brag, but I can use whatever color of thread on whatever color of fabric and make the thread invisible!  Such a technique is a very useful skill, just sharing a heads up!  I kept the machine top-stitching to the purple portion of the bodice only because gabardine doesn’t look as terrible showing thread as silk would.  Silk is such a fine fabric, I feel like it deserves better (most of the time) than machine stitching!  I know, silly me!

There’s something to be said about dressing in character.  When you try to copy someone else’s wardrobe, no matter how much you like it on that other individual, you are not dressing for yourself until you own it and make it yours, whether through a tweak to the garment or a change of mental outlook for example.  I – and many other wonderful women who call Peggy Carter their heroine, like me – find that Captain America’s “Best Girl” only raises us up and makes us stronger and more confident in ourselves when taking on her persona through wearing her wardrobe.  Agent Carter is such a special character to emulate.  She is so relatable and inspiring in so many ways that to imitate her is like manifesting a braver and bolder version of yourself, which needed Peggy’s help to show itself.  Let’s all “know our value” today and every day!