My First Vintage Original 1920s McCall Pattern

I have had the pattern I used here in my stash for the past 10 years and only just recently made time to sew together something wearable with it.  It’s not that I’ve been procrastinating.  I’ve had this all planned out, even down to being paired with fabrics to match the cover styling, but it always was delayed in lieu of more pressing ideas or plans.  The 1920s is not a vintage look I generally reach for in my wardrobe.  No more is this the case – yay!  With such a comfortable, enjoyable, and well-designed dress, I am in love with the 1920s like never before. 

This particular pattern design is special because it was my first acquisition of one of those fabulous, collectable McCall releases between the mid 1920s and early 1930s.  Patterns in that time frame have colorful, engaging cover envelope illustrations, instructions in three languages, and easy-to-follow instructions printed in blue-line directly on the tissue paper pieces.  Most of these features are what we are used to today, but were exceptional and uncommon for that time, unlike anything else out there back then.  No reproduction pattern can offer the same thrill.  The old originals are a joy to use, delightful to work with, and an investment…I am a big fan, needless to say. 

Even though old patterns of that kind have climbed significantly in price over the last decade, I have been lucky to find some great deals over the years to build upon this first acquisition.  Now, I have a handful of these amazing McCall patterns.  Yet, for me the first one of its kind for my stash had to also be first one to sew from.  It was the easiest to envision from the beginning, too, channeling the cover in strikingly similar manner.  My dress pops over the head with no closures for an instant boost of fun!  The quadruple pleats, the short skirt, and lack of sleeves conveys a small taste of the thrill that the free-spirited ‘flapper’ women must have felt.

With this first 20s era McCall project being such an enjoyable success, I am so excited to plan out fabric and buttons from my stash to pair with the rest of my old printed McCall patterns…which will be made in good time.  No need to rush, but I also don’t intend to procrastinate!  I love being able to add to my ‘everyday’ 1920s wardrobe with items like this dress that are a wonderful combo of being historical with a modern appeal. 

I am wearing a true 1920s original woolen felt cloche hat with my dress, for an extra bit of the real deal!  Just like the condition of the pattern itself (more on this below), my hat is amazing to be in such a great state for almost 100 years in age.  Why, there is even the original feather cockade and decorative felt buttons – and no moth chews!  Most vintage original 20s era cloche hats are much too small for my combo of thick hair and wider crown.  This one was not only in my size but only $5 – amazing, right?!?  I had planned on a modern pulled back hairdo with a low, tight bun.  Yet my 1928 McCall sewing project suddenly had pizazz when worn with this special hat to end up with a full outfit that I adore.  I find myself wanting to wear this outfit more than any other 1920s garment I have made.  I’m so happy my hubby caught such great pictures.  Can’t you just hear some hot jazz music in the background looking at them…because I can!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, both for the print and the solid contrast as well as partial lining

A close-up of the fabric’s print

PATTERN:  McCall #5624, stamped with a date of December 18, 1928 under the envelope flap

NOTIONS NEEDED:  just lots of thread – no closures or interfacing needed…pretty simple

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 12 hours, with 2 extra hours to reproduce the pattern.  The dress was finished in April, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  raw but clean are the interior edges, merely stitched over a few times to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember where it was bought or how much I spent for any of my fabric for this project because it was purchased soon after I acquired the pattern 10 years ago.  But I needed just over 3 yards of printed cotton (at 45” width) as well as 2 ½ yards of cotton for the contrast and lining.

My very first step, as I considered using this pattern, was to make a copy of it.  The original tissue paper was in remarkable condition and much stronger, thicker, and overall higher in quality than any other patterns I have dealt with.  This is remarkable (and impressive) when you consider that it is over 90 years old!  Even still, as there were many markings to trace out and since I want to preserve this pattern, I went to a copy shop and printed out a paper copy for myself.  The grief I felt just making one or two small tears in the tissue by copying it justified my decision to not use the original pattern tissue.  Normally I hand trace most of my patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper, but I wanted all the text, instructions, and the general feel of the original on my duplicate McCall, as well as a more durable paper  Thus, a photocopy was my preferred option here. 

envelope back

1920s patterns are always such a unique combo of simple yet complicated, and this style seemed even more so than normal.  Printed McCall patterns of the late 1920s are indeed more exceptional in detail than the ever popular beginner’s “One hour project” shift dress.  Even still, the pattern pieces are very straight cut and angular – no side seam curves, minimal darts, and very little body fit is required for a true-to-the-era silhouette.  Sounds simple right?  Let me explain.

For every other decade that followed the 1920s, the bust fit has been the primary aim.  However, for the 1920s, what will fit over your hips is the guide for the size you choose, as evident on the size chart of this old McCall pattern.  My hips are about 38” around so this patterns was perfect because it was for a 40” finished hip.  The entire rest of the garment is more-or-less follows suit to be about a 40 inch circumference column, from the shoulders to the hipline.   That sounds weird, right?!  It might make the garment easy to sew in theory but it takes attention to the fine details to make wearing a sack look this good.  Also, it is contrary to most conventional ideas of how a dress should lay.  To a 1920s dress, a snug wearing ease (2 inches) is needed for the hips and a looser ease (4 inches) for everything else above that. 

Crafting 1920s clothes with an authentic silhouette becomes all about making the clothes wear you in the best way possible (without looking forced or overly baggy) to create the slender, boyish, ‘gamine’ image preferred.  Luckily, my strong shoulders are just about the same width as my hips, so I feel like I can make it work with my hourglass figure by hiding my waist under the straight lines of true 1920s designs.  This true-to-the-era ideal that I aim for is harder to achieve on some bodies more than others, and many people who sew the 20s merely choose to sew their flapper era projects with a modern fit.  That’s perfectly fine, too – to each their own!  I find there is a very teachable lesson in aiming for authenticity of fit for sewing the clothes of the 1920s. 

The rest of the pattern pieces here – the angled neckline jabot but especially the pleated skirt – followed suit by being very basic in shape but miraculously turning into something so beautifully dimensional and tailored.  It is such mathematical beauty and the precise use of simple engineering that makes me adore the Art Deco era, yet also makes its garments challenging to make.  They are confusing in their utter simplicity.  They require precision in marking folds, pleats, and more on the fabric at the cutting stage.  Exact piece matching is necessary, as well as accurate stitching, at the sewing stage.  All of this, combined with the era’s juxtaposition of our set ideas of bodily appearance, has sewing a 1920s pattern feel like a special conquest to me.  I like the kind of challenge they present, though.  It is a welcome change of mindset which keeps my sewing skills fresh and non-habitual.  It makes me ‘switch gears’ as the phrase goes.  Understanding different means of how to flatteringly tailor and create garments for myself assists me later on when I am paid for making clothes to fit the bodies of my customers, who are varied and dissimilar than my own.

For all my talk of how 1920s designs are generally straight lined, the little details are geometric and add subtle shaping and dimension to this dress.  For example, there are knife pleats in the front shoulder line for gentle bust room.  There is also the tiniest bust dart coming horizontally out from the side seams.  Together these add room for the bosom, but only just enough – the 1920s brassieres were about minimizing (or flattening) what nature has bestowed!  Additionally there is the tiniest amount of gathers eased in just at the high hipline to create a comfortably boxy shape to the torso.   

The dropped skirt-to-bodice seamline sits at the low hipline and is not plainly horizontal but has an upside down V in the middle of both the front and back…kind of like a spike on a cardiogram.  Then, there are four clusters of quadruple box pleats in the skirt to add controlled ease of movement in the most appealing way.  The pleats are stitched down in place to the point where my leg bends from my hip.  The skirt is the only portion of the dress that I lined using the rest of the same golden contrast solid cotton as can be seen on the neckline and arm openings.  The printed cotton is rather lightweight and thin, but more importantly the extra weight the lining lends really helps this dress hang nicely.  The slightly heavier skirt portion ever so gently pulls down the dress, keeping it from creeping up on my body and wrinkling as 20s garments tend to do on me.  It is not natural for me to wear a dress so hip-centric.

The entire neckline is the one thing on the dress that is not subtle.  It totally tries to steal the show!  Sneakily, it is also the facing for finishing the neckline, at the same time.  These old patterns are terribly smart and knew how to do sewing at such a higher level than any commercial pattern offered today!  Here the neckline is interesting both coming and going with a jabot hanging in the front and ties hanging in the back.  Firstly, though, how about a brief definition?  “Jabot” is a French word that originally described the crop of a bird, so that is not very complimentary to use for a pretty piece of clothing.  Nevertheless, a jabot, also known by less impressive names such as ‘court bib’ or ‘neck doily’, is a decorative accessory attached at the neckline consisting of lace or other fabric falling from the throat, cascading down the chest.  The kind on my 20s dress is reminiscent of the stiff, crisp variation worn by barristers of old, being one without frills and pleated from a simple square.  It has a properly Art Deco air to it!  Jabots are not a stranger to me, however.  This early 1930s blouse that I made years back had a sort of jabot that is part of the wrap neckline, and my 1880s Victorian ice skating ensemble was accented by a frilly, lacey, 1930s tie-on jabot collar. 

To sew such a detail for this dress, the jabot piece was faced in the same fabric for clean finishing, and then edged in the golden cotton pieces to form the perfectly squared off neckline.  This made for a very odd and confusing piece to work with on its own, especially since the last 14 inches of both opposing ends are turned into tubes for the back ties.  Then, the golden edging alone is sewn onto the inside (wrong side) of the neckline, so it can be turned to the right side of the dress and topstitched down for a clean and decorative finish in one step.  Both the jabot and the back ties hang freely because they are attached to the contrast edging and not directly tacked to the dress.  As much as I adore the skirt’s clustered quadruple pleating, this neckline definitely wins one of my “favorite detail” awards.

Among all the years of fashion I sew, the 1920s has certainly been a decade which has seen the most improvement during my 10 years of blogging.  My higher skill set gives me the confidence to even pick up this old McCall pattern, something which had totally intimidated me back when it was first purchased.  My sense of style in the era has been slowly forming, assisting me to be more comfortable with the era.  This gives me confidence to both wear and make real deal fashion from the era.  It helps that I have been using true vintage patterns for my last several projects rather than winging it from modern based designs.  To have a true 1920s direction that an original pattern can lend that authentic aura to the finished project and the instructions are a learning experience good for one’s sewing skills.  Happily, there are more reprints of the older patterns now more than there were a decade ago when I first started acquiring antique originals.  You don’t have to wait for the happenstance pattern find or pay a pretty penny to work with these fantastic 1920s McCall patterns.  I highly recommend you try them out for yourself, even if only a reprint.  

I hope I have given you a small taste of how amazing and modern an almost 100 year old pattern can be.  The old McCall patterns are not backwards nor old-fashioned in manner of instruction and construction, for as dated as their styles may be.  They are printed, and in three languages – Spanish, French, and English.  How much more contemporary can you get?!  Hopefully, finally owning the 1920s shows in this modern interpretation of an old original pattern.  I feel like this is the first 20s era project (amongst the ones I can authentically date) in which I have the confidence, enjoyment, and wardrobe versatility that I normally have when wearing my go-to decade of the 1940s.  Not that I don’t still love all the 20s projects I made that came before now.  I do!  It’s just that I found ‘the one’ perfect for me to have a renewed sense for the era.  Look for more 1920s sewing projects here on my blog for the rest of the year.  I have too many empty gaps in that decade page on my site…I want to fill them up!

“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!