“Big Apple Plaid” 1924 Frock

New York might have seen this outfit as the smartest dressing in year 1924, but it sure wouldn’t fly on streets of today.  How things have changed almost 100 years later now!  Nevertheless, I’d like to be up-to-date for 1924 and flaunt about in a more historical style for a change of pace!

For most of the 1920s, the decade did not look like the stereotypical “flapper” that everyone reverts to.  Realistically, they were quite conservative in their long length and loose fit, and almost dowdy to our modern eyes.  To recreate them in a way that makes them appear better than a costume takes a bit of a different mindset (such as understanding the underwear which gave them their weird shape) and attention to the finishing details.  This project was more challenging in the way that I self-drafted all but the three main body panels – which were from a true 20’s design – so I could copy an image from a year 1924 “National Suit and Cloak Co.” catalog which had caught my creative eye.  Having the perfect fabric and trimming on hand certainly helped convince me to make something wearable of the idea.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #1101, from October 1926 (I know the precise month/year only because of the comprehensive Butterick pattern dating charts provided here by “Witness2Fashion”. This pattern is from when Butterick started a new design style and numbering system so that is easy to track!)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, interfacing remnants, embroidery thread, and extra trimming (soutache and satin grosgrain ribbon) from my stash.  The creamy yellow ball buttons down the front are vintage from my grandmother’s stash of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on April 17, 2020 after about 10 hours put into the dress.

TOTAL COST:  This project is as good as free – the fabric had been in my stash for over a decade before becoming this dress, and the trims were something I got for a dollar each years back…who’s counting after all that time?!?

I will bet that the actual inspiration dress was made just a bit differently, but I did the best I could interpreting a small image into an actual garment using what knowledge I have of the era.  My dress is a comfy cotton which makes it a great dress for a low-budget historical dress, yet I have an inkling the original “fancy checked suiting” might have been a wool or slubbed rayon.  The trim I used is modern but exactly the same as something straight out of the 1920s – soutache and satin grosgrain.  The way I layered them together they create a low-key but very complex detail that garments of the era were so good at inventing.  It can be one thing to like a dress you see in a catalog, but then ending up liking it on yourself can be a whole different thing altogether.  Luckily, I think I personalized my interpretation of the chosen inspiration image just enough for me to enjoy wearing this, no matter how odd of a style this era’s true fashion can be!

The body of the dress fit right out of my vintage pattern.  Now granted when I say “fit”, I mean that in a 1920s way of being very loose, unfitted, and with straight lines.  Since I am an hourglass body type and my hips are ever so slightly my widest body feature, making a 1920’s fashion means I need the entire dress to be a tube which is as wide as my hips plus a generous wearing ease of about 4 or 5 inches.  Yeah, that sounds very unappealing, doesn’t it?!  This is why sizing charts on patterns of this era are not dependable (going by age?) and not easily understood.  Even though the bust was too big for me, I needed it for the hips because you don’t curve in the side seams to find a modern fit for true 1920s dress.  It’s not intuitive to make clothes fitting like this for someone living today.  The only thing I did change up was to cut out the sleeves on the bias grain to accommodate my larger upper arms needing more room for mobility.

I traced a paper copy of the pattern to work with even though the tissue was in fantastic shape and still pliable.  This true vintage pattern copy will be a great starting point for any other early or mid-1920s dresses I have a mind to make!  Ah, the version on the cover with the scalloped, two-tiered skirt portion is calling to me.  Only, I know I would definitely add beading and embroidery along the hems if I did sew up that cover dress…and there is enough going on in my life for quite a while now for me to add in something which would be so time consuming.

Making this little 1920s cotton dress was relatively quick and simple.  It was figuring out the details which took all the thought and bother!  As I have said for most of my historical projects (by which I mean 1920s and earlier), they look like nothing but awful, ugly failures up until adding one little detail which suddenly brings everything you’ve worked on together.  For my 1917 dress, it was adding both the lace on the front piece and rosette ribbon on the sheer hems which made it appear like an actual dress and not just a concoction of fabric.  For my 1912 walking suit, it was the hat that added that extra oomph I was lacking.

Here with this project, it was at first the arrow points I embroidered at each end of the faux pockets at the hipline that made this idea work, but that wasn’t enough – then the collection of ten front placket buttons made the whole project come together.  Ah, the power of the ‘little things’ is never to be underestimated.

Figuring out what trims and notions to add was more difficult than drafting all the add-ons to that basic 20’s sack which was to be my dress.  At least with drafting patterns, it is all math and technical measurements!  Making up one’s mind about finishing details can be the hard – but fun, too!  Using the main body of the dress as my base line, and my little inspiration image for reference, I self-drafted the giant ‘pilgrim’ collar, the front placket pieces, and sleeve cuffs (which I didn’t end up using).  For the front bias flounce coming out of the placket, I used a Simplicity #Simplicity 4593, year 2005 skirt pattern for reference (such as figuring what grainline to choose) and then proceeded to draft my own according to the size I needed.

It was tricky to discern proportions.  On a 20’s dress that is over the body much like a sack, how do you properly visualize where the natural waistline and hips actually are?!  I had to make my front placket fall lower than the 1924 fashion image might show because it was hard to get the dress on otherwise (as my front placket was a workable closure, not just for show).  Once I figured that out, then I could measure the flounce piece to match, and estimate how to strategically make the most of my just under 3 yards of trim.  I ended up with only a few inches of soutache/ribbon leftover and nothing but small scraps left for the dress’ cotton, which is incredible after starting out with over 3 yards (45” width)!  Whew, I just made this idea work.

I kept the dress’ insides and construction simple – raw seam edges, bias tape in lieu of “proper” neckline facing, and all machine stitched seams.  Because the dress’ fabric was so see through, I skipped out on doing true welt pockets and did the easy ‘fake’ version.  The front placket has just five large hook-n-eyes (also true vintage) underneath because this dress hails from a time when it was still considered improper to have the means of closing one’s dress in plain sight.

You bet I’m wearing my 1920s combination underwear (posted here) underneath!  Believe me, modern underwear only brings attention to the fact that this style of dress is baggy and unfitted, besides the fact it doesn’t give the full historical effect.  Honestly, the early 20’s are super comfy to wear and not confining in the least, like a good nightgown.  If it wasn’t for all the other accessories, I would be ready for bedtime, ha!

I’ll admit, this project has been languishing as an unfinished project for two years before now.  The fact I am staying at home more is for some reason helping me have the fire to finish projects started, cut, and ready-to-sew.  It is so hard to have the gumption to sew something that will not see possible everyday wearing like much of my post-1930’s vintage garments.  Yet, my great impetus for finishing this project finally was recently happening to find the perfect hat to match.

All of my accessories here are vintage – and the hat is the cherry on the top!  It is a true-to-the-era original from around the same period as my dress.  It has a crown of silk velvet, with velvet ribbons around the brim, and was handmade by a talented home milliner by all that I can tell.  Sure there are a few chews to the velvet, but the wool base is untouched and the silk lining is not shattering.  To think this is in such good condition for being a century old blows my mind, and I am tickled to be wearing it with such a complementing outfit.

My shoes are true to the early 20’s with their pointed toe and French heel, yet they are of 1980s era.  The 80’s had a resurgence of many old styles, and besides 100 years ago, from my knowledge they are the only decade that came back with a strong, hourglass-style curving French heel (quite hard to come by otherwise).  Generally, 1980s shoes are unwanted today and can be found in plenty at my local thrift stores – happily they are also great for providing great 20’s style footwear that is in much better condition than their original counterparts.  Mine are a lovely suede leather and bring out the burgundy colors in my set!

Even the building backdrop to my pictures was built in 1924! How cool is that?

I do believe this to be a nice “street dress”, meaning something that would be worn out of the home to do things like shopping downtown or business-related duties.  It is too nice for a housedress, but the fact that my version is of cotton brings it down a level from, say, a ‘Sunday best’ kind of wear.  Sure, all those glitzy evening gowns or luxurious party dresses are so easy to gravitate to, but personally I appreciate the clothing that was more for everyday living.  It is more of a teaching opportunity/learning experience then.  I learn from the research and actual sewing which goes into my making such an outfit.  In exchange, I find that I can wear such an outfit to living history events or for historical presentations and my clothing only helps others both learn from me as well as feel welcome to ask questions.  It’s a win-win!

“Minted Lime” Midi Flapper Dress

A modern Burda Style pattern has come through again to give me a great 1920’s style for everyday summer fun in the sun!  For some reason, this pattern company seems to have the best modern recreations of the flapper era (this bias cut beauty and this mock wrap dress are just two examples).  They are interesting designs that are practical and modern yet still so very similar to true vintage 1920s style.  I have not seen them popping up as much lately, but there are plenty yet to hit up over the years since I started sewing from Burda back in 2012.  So – let’s dive into a post about this oldie-but-goodie midi dress that I had made several years back but never remembered to post.

This is wonderful modern sundress has such a sneaky vintage twist.  An untrained eye could miss it.  The swirl-appropriate full gores on the side of the skirt makes this fun and easy to move in, contrasting to the straight overall lines which visually deceive the eye into hiding my hourglass figure.  Together with the longer length, here is a strong reference to late 20’s or early 30’s style that makes me feel so much taller and slimmer.  I can sense the carefree freedom and reckless spirit of the pre-Depression era wearing this!  However, better than a true vintage design, this one has pockets!!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton and rayon blend knit with a gold foil butterfly print

PATTERN:  Burda Style Burda Style “Midi Flapper Dress” #105A, from April 2015 (my ultimate favorite monthly pattern magazine issue ever!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and a bit of bias tape was needed – so simple!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together pretty quickly – about 3 hours.  It was finished on May 19, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This did cost a bit because it calls for several yards, but I bought this on a good discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, so I’m guessing $25 or under.

This dress was an interesting mix of opposites.  It seems so simple looking at the design lines yet was still tricky to make.  It was also an unexpected fabric hog for just a few odd shaped pattern pieces, and with most of all the over 3 yards disproportionately below the hips.  As I was using a knit fabric there was no need for closures and using bias tape instead of any facings made this much simpler than it could have been.  I did not have any problems with the construction or instructions, though, and it finished just as pictured, so I am quite pleased.  There is just one caveat to my being fully happy with how this turned out.

According to the Burda size chart, it was not a tall size but it sure seemed to be proportioned for someone with a longer torso.  I noticed the low waistline (compared to my body) and didn’t really think too much of it because of the 1920s influence to the style.  I mean, ‘waistlines’ at hip length were the trend back then.  Only by the time it was sewn up, the hips were not as loose as I expected, and even though I still love to wear my dress no less, I wish I would’ve raised the waistline now.  The front pockets do seem to be at a very handy height, so I don’t know…maybe everything is where it’s supposed to be.  I didn’t bother to let out the side seams to give myself more room because I liked the perfect points I achieved where the gores come in at the sides, and the straight seams in the body of the dress have more points (and pockets) so get this dress right the first time.

I love a good challenge and all the points were enjoyable details for me, yet I could see these being a pain for other people.  Just remember, every point needs good stabilizing before sewing, especially in a knit.  The squared off corners at the bottom of the sleeveless armholes are my favorite.  My runner up is the tricky corner at the bottom of the front pockets where the godets come into the front panel with a pleat.  1920s fashion was all about expert and creative mathematics in design lines, and this modern Burda dress stays true to the Art Deco era.

This dress post continues the series I began 9 months ago in our early fall season, the “Indian Summer of the Sundress”.  In 2018, we had a warm summer that extended longer than normal so took it as a reason to binge on sundress sewing.  Since that first post in the series I have begun showing a sundress from almost every decade of the 20th century (30’s here, 50’s here, and 60’s inspired here).  This modern Burda dress fills in for the 1920s decade plenty well enough.  The 40’s and 70’s are yet to come!

A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!

Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part Two, 1920s and 1930s

Here is the second part of my post on vintage and historical lingerie that I have made in the last year.  Part one was a princess seamed slip from the 1910s era.  As in my title, this one will focus on 10 years during two decades primarily – the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.  Between these two posts, I hoping to provide an overview that will give a good picture of how fast things had changed between 30 years to give a backdrop for “modern” underwear as we know it to be now.  Not all that long ago, the first layer for women was quite different, but not a bad different.  After all, I hope to show, too, how this lingerie from the past had a ‘what’ with a ‘why’ that explained its presence, and it is wonderful to wear and easy to sew.  If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, you need to – and if you have made some vintage undies, let me gush with you and say…isn’t it awesome?!

I went for two landmark, quintessential styles – the Kestos bra of the 20’s and the bandeau and tap pants set of the 30’s.  This was for three major reasons.  First, I had patterns of these available and on hand.  This is the practical and basic reason.  Secondly, I wanted to see what the big deal was about these and find out for myself why they were so popular and groundbreaking (besides shocking) for the times.  Thirdly, these filled in a gap for me. I have a vintage original 1950’s corselette bra, a deadstock 1940s bullet bra, a pair of 20’s style bloomers, a whole set of underclothes for the 1910 era, as well as a few individual tap panties (here and here), so a Kestos bra from the Flapper era with a full-out fancy, novelty colored 30’s set was just what I needed for a whole 50 years of undergarment history at my availability.  I did need some new underwear anyway, and I’ve wanting to try my hand at some brassieres, so these pieces were my first step.

Compared to the slip of the last post, the pieces presented in this post see much more wearing.  First of all, they are closer to “modern” skivvies.  They are very comfortable to wear and I actually prefer them over undies of the current style.  They also work great with fashions from the matching, appropriate eras (of course!) and, although they do not sculpt the preferred present-day shape, they complement what I am endowed with for a more natural appearance that does work with clothing of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All cottons for the 20’s lingerie, a poly satin for the 30’s set, with matching cotton scraps for the linings

PATTERNS:  A vintage original McCall #7823, dated November 1934 in the closing flap of the envelope, for the aqua set, and a pattern from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen for the Kestos bra.

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand already.  I had been wanting to make these pieces for a while now and so I had everything, even the lingerie notions such as the buttonhole elastic, foam bra cups, and plastic rings for the straps.  Besides those notions mentioned, nothing really unusual was needed anyway – twill tapes, hook and eyes, and thread.  The buttons I used are authentic 1920s pearled shell notions from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The 20’s bra was made in a flash in only 3 hours and finished on January 4, 2016.  The 30’s set was made in about 15 hours and finished on November 13, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All nice and cleanly finished by being self-faced or bound.

TOTAL COST:  The 20’s Kestos bra was practically free to me as it was made with scraps on hand.  The supplies for the 30’s set were bought several years back at (the now defunct) Hancock Fabrics, so I don’t really remember.  As I only needed scraps, on yard of lace, and ½ yard of fabric this probably cost me $10 or less.

I’ll start with the older set of the two!

First off the bloomers you see are bought reproductions, yet (as far as I know) true to the time frame of the bra I made.  Thus, I now have a set that works perfectly to wear under my 1920 ensemble, or any other outfit from the late teens up until 1926 or 1927, when hemlines began shortening up (to the knees by 1929!) as well as slimming down before 1930 came.  Technically, I have read this type of undergarment called ‘pettibockers’, as they are full yet drawn in by ribbons at the knees, but also called ‘drawers’ and ‘knickers’.  However, I have an old original Pictorial Review year 1926 pattern (very much like the Butterick #6194 seen in this post) to make such undie bottoms and they call them ‘bloomers’, so I’ll stick with that term here.

I was tempted to use two handkerchiefs to make this bra, so it could be much like the way the first divided ‘cup’ bra was made by Caresse Crosby in 1913, as the story goes.  The early bras were really that simple and barely supportive, but compared to the corseted figure or the unibosum styles, this kind of bust definition was dramatically innovative!  The Kestos form of this bra in particular is a brand of sorts – it was one of the first commercially manufactured with separate cups.  It was a trademark by circa 1925 (or 1927-ish; accounts differ), and was invented by Rosalind Klin, a Polish-born female designer residing in London.  It also has a very creative and unexpected way of closing, the main visual and wearing trademark that ladies cared about!  The straps for the chest wrap around the body to button closed in front again under the bust.  From my experience wearing this style, it is immensely comfy and so easy to close and put on oneself.  The criss-crossed back prevented any riding up of the straps, and made the bra versatile for many garment styles.  The overlapping front cups supported the straps and stayed close to the body.  I really don’t know why bras ever stopped being made like this!  None of this modern trickery of a back closure you can’t see with its many problems of fit!  Kestos bras had a strong popularity through the 30’s, and even the 40’s as well, yet dissipating after circa 1937.

I really made my version a bit thicker and substantial than the pattern calls for, besides definitely downgrading on the original design, as well.  As you see, the original garment for my pattern was very fine indeed, with progressive early tap panties.  My 20’s bra was a trial garment for me, so I made it basic and straightforwardly simple (much like this one from 1941).  I guess I could add some lace or such now, or even dye it a different color, after the fact that it’s done.  I do now feel confident in making an amazingly fancy version, though!

Jill Salen’s book “Vintage Lingerie” offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging this bra pattern 200%, but most of the rest of the 1:1 scale patterns, including the matching panties, need to be enlarged 400%.  Then, add your own either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  I have had pretty good successes so far with using patterns from this book.  All of the patterns offered are drawn off of the existing garments shown, and fall in the ballpark of somewhere between a 32 to a 36 or 38 inch bust. I fall in that range and so can generally grade up or down as needed.  For the 1920s Kestos bra pattern, according to how well it fit me with no changes needed, I estimate it is for a 33 to 34 inch bust.

I doubled up on the thickness, to have more support, no see-through, and easily finished off edges.  Each cup on this pattern is two pieces, and I had four cups to have assembled, so I ended up with a bunch of little pieces to keep track of!  This was the downside to making this bra super simple.  The straps on old originals generally are elastic covered in self-fabric casing, but as a wanted to go basic and keep the bra all-cotton, I merely used raw twill tape and bias tapes for the straps.  For my bra, I still needed some elastic to have some give, so the ends of the straps that go around the chest had the last 6 inches become attached to modern buttonhole elastic.  I had this elastic on hand and I’ve been dying to find the perfect opportunity to use it, but I still can’t help but wonder if all my 1930s kestos adefforts to be ‘historical’ (even old 20’s shell buttons, too!) went out the window using such a modern notion.  Nevertheless, I have found a year 1936 Symington Kestos bra, from the Leistershire County Council, which does have very similar looking buttonhole elastic.  Whatever – I love it.  Well, yeah!  It was whipped up in 3 hours, of course I do!

The back the bra closure creates is indeed special.  The way the straps criss-cross behind makes them less confining than the one-restricting-band-around-the ribcage from a comfort point of view.  Once you wear a Kestos bra it’s like a breath of fresh air you never knew you could have with a brassiere.  It also makes the Kestos bra the best thing ever for any low backed dress or top.  No wonder it continued to be a hit in the 1930’s when a wide open back was the popular for evening wear, and slitheringly sexy, manner of showing off both skin and body…as if a bias cut gown needed something like that!  Granted the body form doesn’t fit the bra as well as it fits myself, so it is lower than normal for me.  However, I draw the line at myself publicly modelling this post’s pieces.  If I want the back lower, I could fix that the way they used to in the 30’s and 20’s for a Kestos – make a loop that hooks closed at the back center of my bloomers or tap panties, and connect it to the straps to bring them down…down, to the waist…for the ultimate backless bra!  There are so many options with a Kestos closing bra.  It is the ultimate in comfort, ease, and versatility.

Now, the 30’s brassiere and tap panties I made is the next step in chest closing, bust supporting, and body conscious covering, bringing women’s lingerie recognizably close to today’s methods. The tap pants are feminine and freeing compared the previous era’s style, yet still covering one’s bottom discreetly under skirts and dresses.  The brassiere is basic in design yet Depression-era fancy and more about supporting and shaping than the 1920s were.  Luckily, with the advent of talking motion pictures in 1929, and the advancements of film and filming methods thereafter, there are many glimpses to be had of the early 1930s style underwear for women.  Some of my favorite 30’s lingerie sets seen on film come from Carole Lombard in “Twentieth Century” (1934), Joyce Compton in “Anabella’s Affairs” (1931), and Loretta Young in “Born to be Bad” (1934).  The Hays Code of Decency put an end to such displays of intimates after 1934, the year of the pattern I used for my sewing.

However, there are two films in particular that show an interesting side to the two differing styles of women’s underwear that existed between the 20’s and 30’s – “Three Wise Girls” from 1932 and “The Smiling Lieutenant” from 1931.  You know how some people find it hard to accept change or adapt to the newest mode, even if it is “in”?  Well, undies are not seen, so no doubt many women went back to wearing the old style pre-1927 bloomers and such that they were used to wearing, getting away with it, too, when hemlines came back down to calf length in 1930.  It wasn’t cut and dry, black-and-white, when it came to when, who, and how the two styles underclothes I’m presenting in this post where worn.

If you see what “The Smiling Lieutenant” and “Three Wise Girls” show, it seems as it is was other women and not just clothing styles that convinced (or shamed) women to give up the old styles.  In “The Smiling Lieutenant”, the character of Claudette Colbert is “helping” the married Princess, played by Miriam Hopkins, to “save” her marriage by ditching her mid-20’s style bloomers and wearing the newest tap pants and bra, even adding in the habit of smoking too!  It’s a very dramatic scene that the storyline revolves around, and Claudette Colbert has the Princess lift up her long, ruffled dress to reveal her undies, then performs a tune “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to convince her otherwise (watch it for yourself here).  “Be happy! Choose snappy! There’s music with every ribbon…”  Thereafter, we see the old style bloomers burning in the fireplace, and the princess in a skimpy “teddy” with cut off bobbed hair!  It’s the new feminism winning out over old-fashioned morality. The anachronistic setting suddenly makes sense: the Victorian Age must give way to the Jazz Age.

In “Three Wise Girls”, one of Jean Harlow’s many attempts at finding a job is becoming a model for a dressmaker’s salon, showing off gowns that clients are interested in purchasing.  The lady in charge of the dressing room, Mae Clarke , wearing a one-piece 30’s ”step-in” slip, sees Jean Harlow before she dresses in a slinky 30’s evening gown, and Harlow is criticized on how she looks, with the old bloomers causing wrinkles and bulkiness.  She gives Harlow the newest style of tap pants and bra to wear, telling her (more or less) that if she is going to work for them, this is what underwear she’ll be wearing.  After all, being a model is about the most body conscious job out there!  When Jean Harlow quit working for the dressmaker’s salon, she is seen again wearing her 20’s style bloomers in 1932.  I’m now supposing that it wasn’t just a matter of comfort zone or attachment when it came to not adopting the new styles – perhaps it was also due to a Depression-era thriftiness or just plain lack of money that some women stuck to the old 20’s style skivvies in the 1930’s.

I’d like to think that if I was living back then, in 1934, and had the money and the means, that I would be a woman that would adapt a pair of lingerie just like what I have made!  I made the set out of a wonderful novelty color, as you see, because how could I resist when all the right notions needed just happened to fall in my lap in matching colors!!!  No really, though, ladies of the 30’s did have fun when it came to the underwear made and offered.  There were not only novelty colors and plenty of lace, but also suggestive designs, sheerness galore, and decorative details aplenty.  Check out my Pinterest board on vintage lingerie for more inspiration! 

For being a printed McCall’s this pattern was quite clear in its instructions and generally easy to make.  According to the size, this pattern should have technically been several inches too big for me, so to test it out I made the tap pants first.  They fit me well, and thus I made the bra up unchanged, too, and it just fits me exactly…any smaller and it wouldn’t fit.  Thus this pattern definitely runs small.  This is important to share, as it seems this particular McCall’s is frequently seen for sale on Etsy or Ebay as well as having been re-printedSimplicity Company recently released a year 1937 bra and tap pants set pattern that looks awesome (I have yet to try it) for an easily accessible, slightly later style, and cheaper option if you want to make a set for yourself.

I did do some “updates” to the pattern, mostly when I was sewing the bra.  There is satin outside and cotton inside for my person taste and comfort, when the pattern seemed to expect one layer.  However, the biggest difference is that I added lightweight store-bought bra foam liner in between the inner and outer layers of my bra.  Again, the original design called for cups thin and basic.  I do like how the foam insert makes the bra feel more like a modern piece, with more support and no see-through.  What I don’t like is the center horizontal seam to the foam insert.  Using a pre-made foam cup liner is something I won’t do again, although it fit perfectly with the pattern I was using and made little to no difference as I was sewing.  From now on, I’ll buy my own foam and make my own padding if I want such an add-in again.

I did stick to the original design with the completely non-elastic, no-stretch design.  Everything is non-adjustable and all stitched down in cotton twill tape.  I even made my own back bra closure from scratch to match using the pattern’s pieces (no pre-made notion here)!  Although the straps might need tailoring to be adjusted every so often, it is quite comfy this way.  Nothing is going to move on me or pinch me or fall apart as quickly as elastic does.  Once you ditch the elastic in your bras (as scary as that might sound!), it is really freeing.  You don’t really need it.  It does force you be better at customizing what you make to yourself, though!

The only real change I made to the tap panties original design was to add in an extra dollar in change to weigh it down.  No, I’m not crazy!  The fact that these are a poly satin creates static cling when I wear these in the wintertime.  In order to keep these bias panties hanging down properly and not clinging or bunching up to my waistline, I made lace pockets at the two side seams to hold two quarters each.  It kind of makes these feel like a true Depression era garment…with extra change safely hidden on me!  The waist has no trick – only hook-and-eye closed.  The bias cut to these gives them a body clinging fit that flare out at the hem.

The panties’ faced crouch gusset is sorely understated by these pictures since the mannequin wasn’t fully adjustable to stand on a right or left “leg”.  On me however, the design is ah-mazing!  Much like an underarm sleeve gusset, you clip into the center bottom of the front and back to connect the two with an adapted rhombus diamond shaped piece, then faced that on the inside so the seams are covered.  Wearing History has pattern #4005 from the 1940s that is shocking similar, and her blog provided a tutorial on sewing the faced crouch gusset which was very helpful.  Even still, having something so small with points and curves be faced in such a way that the two sides perfectly line up was…well…exhausting.  But I did it, and it looks just as nice inside as out, only no one sees it.

So – this conclusion of my post brings me to contemplate a few things.  Is it the egg or the chicken?  Does the lingerie influence the fashion or does the fashion influence the lingerie?  Or, does the primary layer for our bodies have its own organic progression?  I do find it interesting that undergarments almost always have not just been about coverage or support, although that is the basic reason for their being worn.  Even today, it’s about molding women into a desired shape, not necessarily customer (or recipient) feedback based.  Is it society based?  What do we women want to wear for our bodies?  What shape do we like for ourselves?  Who really controls our choices in this field?  We generally wear what is out there, much like the rest of fashion nowadays, and if you’re anything like me, searching for the “perfect” lingerie is exhausting, worse than searching for a needle in a haystack.  However, with sewing skills, that is not the only option nowadays!  We have every past era to choose from, and notions, fabrics, and patterns available to order.  Set those sewing talents to good use making something for your body, your comfort and your taste because the first layer of garments is the most intimate, personal, unique!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this duo of posts.  Writing this now makes me want to bust out some more patterns from Jill Salen’s book or that Simplicity re-issue I haven’t tried yet!  As always thank you for reading and please – share your thoughts and ideas!  What do you think about vintage lingerie?