The decade of the 1930s probably has the most joyful, extravagant, and inventive use of stripes to be seen in the last 100 years of fashion. Garments back then – for both men and women – had striped material used in a dizzying array of differing methods to either complement the figure underneath or showcase the talent behind the design. Visit this “Witness2Fashion” blog post for some visual proof of this fact. Sometimes stripe directions were used straightforwardly, but more often mixed up to compliment paneled designs (such as I did for this 30s blouse) or used diagonally on the bias grain (see this dress of mine). Back then, stripes were even used for evening wear, on winter coats, as well as shoes, hats, and everything in between.
Yet, 1938 is special in the way it stands out as the niche year for a specifically kind of striped print. When I happened to run across a fabric that closely imitated the style of a 1938 striped floral, I was thrilled to have a chance to channel this short-lived vintage “fad” in my own sewing by combining it a 1938 dress pattern from my stash. I love being able to recreate a killer vintage look, of course, but it is fun to do so as a modern comfort piece by working with a forgiving stretch satin-finish poly. You’d never guess, right? For me, this project is the epitome of learning from society’s fashionable past while also building upon and personalizing it for today.
It is important to note that later on, this post will also be highlighting my fabulous vintage style hat, which I also made. It is a refashion of a modern wool felt fedora. Real vintage hats (in good wearable condition) are often beyond my preferred price range, and I really wanted a specific ‘look’ to match with my ensemble ideal. It is much more satisfying for me to have made something with my own hands, using what was immediately available, and at a ridiculously reasonable price than high priced instant gratification. I also made the grey belt (posted here) which can be seen in some of my pictures, but that already has had its own feature so I will not talk about it here. I’ll do whatever it takes to assemble together everything I need to imitate those late 1930s fashion illustrations that so enthrall me where all the trimmings – jewelry, scarf, belt, gloves, etc. – are piled on in excess but somehow perfectly coordinate while also contrasting.
All the rest of my accessories that you see are true vintage pieces, most of which have come to me from my paternal Grandmother. I couldn’t decide if I preferred a grey belt or a rust colored belt – the latter of which is more true to the Tyrolean and peasant influence of the late 1930s. With its laced front, the rust colored suede belt is just like what can be seen in fashions which span 1937 to 1940, even though the piece itself is from the 1970s. We took pictures with both belt and color themed options. As you go through my post, let me know at the end which prevailing color in accessories you prefer to pair with my dress! Do you see how much accessories alone can change the feeling of or add appeal to a dress?
FABRIC: The dress was made of a stretch polyester satin, the same material as what I used to make this vintage 1946 dress. The hat is a 100% wool felt, originally an American Eagle brand modern fedora.
PATTERN: McCall #3102, circa March or April of year 1938, an original pattern from my personal collection, while the hat I made with no pattern
NOTIONS NEEDED: For the dress, I used lots of thread (of course), one zipper for the side seam closure, a few buttons for the front bodice (I used true vintage buttons from the stash of my husband’s Grandmother), and some cotton broadcloth scraps which I used as interfacing. Everything I needed for the hat was repurposed from off of the hat, so I needed no extra supplies.
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress was sewn in about 20 hours while the hat was made in two hours and both were finished at the end of August 2018
THE INSIDES: as the dress is a knit and the hat is felt, neither piece has edges that ravel and thus the edges have been left unfinished
TOTAL COST: This fabric had been bought too many years back for me to remember how much I spent to buy it, but I bought it on clearance from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics store. I believe I had about 2 ½ yards of material in total. Everything else I needed was as good as free, coming from my notions stash on hand. The hat I refashioned only cost me $10 to purchase second-hand. My total cost for this outfit was probably $30.
The striped fabric I was working with soon became more than solely an aesthetic or historically based choice but ended making the pattern I was working with easier to construct than it would have been otherwise. As the entire main body gets pleated down (only down to mid-thigh for ease of movement) I merely followed the lines of the stripes on the fabric to aid me in making the pleats. It helped that this was a 30’s pattern and therefore generally straight-lined and not very curvy. The width of one row of striping was the depth of the pleats, and figuring that much out saved me from having to chalk mark a plethora of fold lines. The vintage pattern – which was printed much like a modern one because it was a McCall’s brand – suddenly was much less intimidating despite being covered in pleat lines and balance marks!
This gets me wondering if perhaps stripes were popular for reasons such as this, to aid in the sewing of a very geometric leaning design. Stripes get the bad rap for being more challenging to work with since they present a challenge to match up along seam lines. However, this dress proves that is not always the case. For pleated patterns, using fabric that is striped can definitely aid in the construction of your garment. Sewing is very much tied to math, so use that fact to your advantage and make sewing easier.
I wanted to level up the slimming powers of the color black and have the direction of my print run vertical, even though floral stripes (as the blog “Witness2Fashion” states here) are often associated with flannel nightgowns when used lengthwise. The popularity of the “Lantz of Salzburg” line of clothing helped commercialize the Tyrolean and “peasant” look for American women’s mainstream fashion in the late 1930’s. I have found such floral stripes labelled “Romany striping” in late 1930s original Sears brand ad paraphernalia for either fabric or the dresses that are in such a print. These have a clear Polish, Hungarian, Bavarian, Czech, and Balkan influence to their quaint, colorful, geometrically laid out designs as seen in the old advertising illustrations. Perhaps the term “Romany” referred to the Roma people so often stereotyped as the classic “peasant” influence for 1920s to 1970s vintage fashion?
Floral stripes may have been fashionable street wear in the late 30’s, but they became mostly relegated to nightwear in the WWII era. With the onset of war, the ethnic fashion of Europe was confined to bed chamber clothing or at least watered down in obvious cultural influence for American women. In the 1950s, a brand new batch of floral striped cottons became popular for full-skirted, cute summer sundresses of the era, but emerged looking closer to vintage bed sheet or wallpaper prints then what was what seen in the 1930s. My own dress’ floral stripes are rather subtle and not very obvious. The ‘stripes’ are more like trailing vines, but definitely botanical upon close inspection. At some point, I would love to find a true “Romany striping” from the 30s and use it for another of my ’38 patterns because this first attempt is a big win for my wardrobe!
As I mentioned above, as 30’s patterns are generally straight-lined and do not account for full hips, I added necessary shaping into the side seams. This way I did not mess up the layout of the pleats down the front of the dress body. I didn’t try too hard to do any matching in the layout of the pattern pieces, but the stripes seem to match in most places anyway. Overall the closely spaced stripes make for a busy print that hides any flaws in my half-hearted effort at matching. The print sure does visually elongate my body, giving the illusion that I am taller and slimmer than my petite frame size says I am. It thereby conveys the ideal 1930s body type image on my definitely not 30’s era appropriate hip size. I made sure to have the stripes run horizontal in the shoulder panels, though. This gives my dress strongly framed, squared up shoulders that hint forward to the 1940s era, with a nod towards a menswear influence. Laying out the stripes horizontally in the shoulder panels balances out all the other vertical lines, thereby further elongating my torso. Sometimes fashion can be merely about creating a certain visual imagery for the body through perfect placement or mere exaggeration of details.
Along such a topic, I would be remiss if I did not further address this dress’ fabulous sleeves. Amongst all the straight lines and stripes going on, eve the sleeves are uniquely geometric with the sleeve cap head being nothing box right angles to form a box shape. When I said above that the shoulders are squared off, I meant that…literally! I’ve never seen this kind of sleeve before and I love it because it is really comfy to wear as well as interesting. The pattern recommended some sort of stabilization over the sleeve cap area, such as canvas or stiff crinoline, to be sewn in with the seams but as this is a modern interpretation of a vintage style, I merely used cotton iron-on interfacing. The sleeves have a life all their own and smashing them down under a blazer, sweater, or coat does not crush them – they pop back to their intended shape! The things to see and learn from using vintage patterns never fail to amaze me.
The neckline is unexpectedly versatile. I am glad of this since I was not a fan of the high tied neck in the illustration, as necklines too confining around my throat freak me out. However, I also felt such a neckline suited the design so I left it as-is and made it a part of the dress anyways. As it turned out, the tie – being a stretchy knit – is not as restricting as I thought it would be (and I can tie it loosely, after all). Even still, if I merely tuck the tie end into my dress I have the appearance of a plain neckline. Taking that a step further, if I also undo the top button and flap the facing open then the plain neckline looks like it has lapels. I mixed up the necklines in my photos, since (like my accessories) I don’t know which way I liked best. I love clothes that have options.
For my hat, I started off by buying a basic wool felt fedora so I had a “blank canvas” with which to re-block, cut, or otherwise refashion as I so desired. As I was going to do a hot steam treatment to the crown to turn it into a new shape at some point, anyways, I had no qualms about finding this secondhand. It was very clean and at a steal of a price for such a good quality, good condition, and good brand name felt hat! My main inspiration was a 1930s original item I found through a vintage seller’s online site. No matter how much I wanted it, I just couldn’t deal with the sticker shock. The crown shape was pretty basic, in a tricky specific shape, yet with minimal stitching. I felt from the outset that this was something I was capable of reproducing, and there is nothing like having that preliminary confidence to give you a vision to go on.
As my hat turned out, it is slightly different than the original inspiration yet still the same in the general shape and idea. Nevertheless, having put the effort into this piece, I personally prefer my own version! It matches perfectly with my dress (and other items in my wardrobe, as well) and is a 1930’s shape that still carries a sort of modern air. It sits on my head effortlessly while also not messing up my hair, since it kind of perches more than hugs my crown. Even still, I added an attached headband of elastic thread – so thin it gets disguised in my hair so easily- that goes around the back of my head.
My hat was happily a zero-waste project, too! Everything that was there on the hat as I bought it is on it now as a vintage-style refashion – the felt has just been cut and steamed into a new shape and the leather decorative ties went towards becoming the “string” that brought the crown together. I really love the vintage style hats that I make for so many reasons, but the last reason may just be the way I don’t have to be as delicate or careful as I would be with an old original piece. I know fashionable hats may be out of style the way they were in the 1930s, but with a hat like this one I will not care. I will wear my me-made hat as much as I desire so as to bring more than just stocking caps back in style (hopefully) for fall and winter!
The proof of how much I enjoy wearing the hat and dress is in the fact each has become my frequent go-to item, either separate or together, for an easy vintage look. Worn together, though, the dress and hat pairs with all my favorite shoes, jewelry, and blazer colors. I like how I can brighten the dress up with yellow for summer, keep it all black for a funeral, or go with burgundy, beige, or pastel tones.
My best pairing outfit pairing for this dress may just be from exactly one year ago, when my husband, son, and some acquaintances all went to an outdoor live Jazz music festival which travels down several blocks of a city street and goes on for the course of a whole day. We showed up in head-to-toe vintage and caught the attention of photographers. Thus, we ended up getting some good pictures after all, since we were too busy enjoying ourselves dancing the day away to the lively tunes! I wore a true vintage peach rayon gabardine blazer, with my rust orange belt and me-made hat, and black and white spectator heels from Chelsea Crew. Visit my Instagram post (here) on the Jazz Crawl to see some extra pictures. We had a grand day out and my outfit was just what I needed for the occasion. The stretch fabric and the little knee pleats of my dress were perfect for swing dancing…I would have never guessed this benefit when I made it!
Floral stripes are a fun spin off of the traditional plain lines. Such a fabric pattern is a wonderful way to incorporate botanical prints into your colder weather wardrobe without looking like you are sporting a spring print out-of-place. Finding that there is a certain year of fashion history that excelled at this specialty floral stripe helped me discover a medium through which to enjoy something new for my vintage wardrobe…something I love to wear! Also, my hat was so much easier (and cheaper) than would be guessed by appearances so I definitely suggest giving refashioning of secondhand headgear a try. This is such a great way to get yourself that dream millinery piece and customize your accessories at a more achievable level while also having fun learning a new skill. All around, creating this outfit was a great experience for me, and you will not be disappointed if you try out a 1938 look for yourself. Everyone loves flowers, right? So – stripes that are floral cannot be anything but fabulous, right?!