Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.

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Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.

Autumn Maize

The thing that many downward spiraling leaves and a dizzying corn maze have in common in the season of fall is a golden rich hue.  I’m talking about the color called “saffron” that has been popularly seen everywhere beginning in the early fall of this year…it’s also called mustard, goldenrod, and harvest gold among other things.  However, I love word puns, so I’d like to associate my dress as being more the color of the traditional grain maize, with a title that calls to mind one of the joys of autumn that a field of corn can provide!

This dress is so comfy, the skirt is so swishy, and the details are so unique I can’t help but love it, although I’ll admit it was a bit hard to like at first because it is so quaint and more blatantly dated in style than much of what I make.  This dress does have rick-rack and an obvious vintage metal zipper in the side closing, after all.  Nevertheless, I enjoy trying novel things, and that includes new styles, new colors, new sewing pattern companies, and new techniques.  This dress has all of that in one project…so hooray for a feminine and fun vintage dress in the latest color for those warm “Indian Summer” days of fall!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  American Weekly No. 3545, circa year 1941

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and the oversized rick-rack and vintage metal zipper I used were from my existing stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with the tricky paneling and added rick rack, this dress was still relatively easy, made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on September 10, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are either enclosed in bias tape or French finished, with just the armholes left raw edged. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store within the last few months, for a total of about $10 to $12.

That American Weekly dress pattern has been stumping me for the last few years since I bought it.  As much as I liked the design and wanted to make a garment of it, I could not figure out how to picture myself in the dress or get past the example drawing to see my own interpretation.  On a completely different strain yet a similar situation, when I bought the golden floral rayon, I loved it and knew what era of vintage it would be perfect for – the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Yet once it was brought home, I realized I was stumped with how or what to make of it.  Both the pattern and the fabric were dually stumping me in their own ways.  Maybe this is why the two of them felt right for one another in some vague way when I was sorting through my pattern stash for ideas!  I am so glad I have found a way to conquer the rut I was in and make something I love wearing!  For me, pairing a pattern with fabric and notions is something deep down inside I can’t always pin down, a sort of creative intuition.  No matter what I want to do, sometimes I need to wait for right moment of inner approval for me to sense that I have made the perfect match.  Many times the process of a project coming together is different, such as pairing fabric off first, or being inspired by the notions or merely a picture, but it all feeds my creative intuition that keeps cranking out ideas which keep me going.

Although I see it mentioned nowhere at all on the pattern, when I was doing my preliminary fitting of the tissue pieces I realized this was a petite Junior miss pattern, not in adult proportions in other words.  I can’t help mentally pat myself on the back for finding this out ahead of time and not just whipping it up.  Never assume too much when it comes to vintage patterns!  Check them out fully and figure them out before you reach for those cutting scissors, especially with old mail order patterns…I’ve made enough to know by now you can’t exactly know what to expect.  I retraced the pieces out onto my roll of sheer medical paper so I could then cut, tape, and otherwise re-size the pattern.  I suppose this time I had an obligation to preserve this pattern by being ‘forced’ to make a copy if I wanted to sew a dress out of it!

The sizing read as a nicely “normal” bust-waist-hips combo for me, and it should have technically been a tad big.  Just to be safe, however, as well as to have bigger seam allowances than the given ½ inch, I did add some ease to the side seams.  Good thing I did this!  Even with the extra width, the pattern still ran small enough to fit perfectly…I would not want it any more snug, especially in the hips.  Apparently not only is their sizing chart off when it comes to the finished dress but there was not a designation for body height sizing either.  McCall’s and Simplicity would use the term “junior’s” on their patterns and generally would be in the small sizes like a 30” bust.  My pattern was a size 16, for a 34”-28”-37” body, so it was not a small size by vintage standards.  Although there have been other mail order patterns I have come across which had some mysterious, slightly shortened proportions, this pattern was so short…it made it look so tiny!  It needed over two inches added to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to where they needed to be.  Just how many American Weekly patterns are actually in a junior’s size and no one would know the better until the tissue pieces get fitted on someone?

Sizing complaints aside, American Weekly patterns were offered through a Sunday supplemental magazine of the same name produced by Hearst for inclusion in their newspapers – kind of like the modern day “Parade” leaflet.  At one point, it was billed as having a circulation of over 50,000,000 readers!  Apparently this magazine only offered patterns from circa 1940 through the 1950s.  As I can find proof of one of the first American Weekly patterns, dated to year 1940 with a number that slightly precedes the numbers on this post’s pattern, I am pretty certain at dating my dress as year 1941, when the patterns just started being offered (besides basing the date on the style).  My instruction sheet says that their patterns only come in 5 sizes for anyone between a 30” to 38” bust, so that is not a whole lot of variety!  The actual construction directions were some small line drawn pictures and several brief paragraphs of text – not much for those you who would need assistance.  American Weekly patterns do have some really lovely styles, nevertheless!  Nothing I’ve seen is really is jaw-dropping, but they strike me as subtly complex and harmoniously designed.

Enough facts…look at the dress’ lovely details!  It has mock tabs on the hem of the gathered-top sleeves, and a mock-jacket look to the body.  The curving to the bodice panels was amazing on the pattern and really make for an interesting, unusual, yet quite complimentary fit.  The dress elongates the bodice and puts emphasis on the hips, yet the full skirt and wide, strong shoulders (thanks to the sleeve tabs) balance it out.  The bodice dips lower in the back than in the front, but as the hips turned out snug, this feature is not as obvious as I’d liked.  The skirt is 6-gored for a very pre-WWII fullness, with each of the skirt seams perfectly lining up with the bodice darts in the back and the two bottom points to the bodice angles in the front…simply marvelous symmetry of design.

This sure gave me an opportunity to use up a pack of giant rick-rack from my stash of never-touched notions in order to make sure the lines of the panels didn’t get lost!  The points, curves, and corners of the dress sections were tricky already, made trickier by the rick-rack, but I just love the interest the exposed notches create.  I probably could have achieved sharper points had I not included the rick-rack but – oh – how it brings this dress to a whole different level I’ve never had before!

Previously, I always had this idea that rick-rack was very home-sewn distinguishable, and for feedback dresses or aprons, even though I do have a generous stash of it.  I tested rick-rack out on this 1945 top, loving the results, and the more I’ve recently looked at really creative uses of the stuff, the more I felt I need to dive in with a major project, and that this was the one.  Similar dress designs from about the same time frame use the “half-rick-rack” method on the edges (see Marion Martin #9547 and my fabric inspiration dress New York #1368 from the late 30’s/early 40’s), so it seemed like the proper thing to do for a style like this anyway!  Adding the rick-rack was really time consuming, especially as I went to the extra trouble to tack the points down to the fabric so they would lay flat nicely.  I realized after the dress was done that the rick-rack actually does much to stabilize the bodice seams of shifty rayon, thinking practically.  Going out on a limb can be so amazing when it’s this successful.

“Three inch hem” according to the instructions, my eye – the dress, unhemmed, came down to my ankles!  I ended up doing a hand-sewn hem that was actually 8 ½ inches deep (see picture above at “The Facts”)!  Initially it was because I didn’t want to cut that much off my dress, but then I realized by making the wide hem it actually helped the dress immensely.  Firstly, the wide hem weighs down the otherwise very full and floaty skirt.  It keeps me from having a “Marilyn Monroe” moment of my skirt coming up on me and gives it a very feminine swish when I walk and especially twirl!  Secondly it makes my skirt opaque, much like a self-lining, so my lingerie slip doesn’t always have to be the perfect length.  Lastly, I didn’t have to commit permanently to a certain length.  I like my clothes to have the versatility to be tailored and changed if need be so that they’ll be something I’ll be happy with and fit into for many years.

One of the good surprises to this dress is actually how versatile it is to accessorize.  In these photos, I went for the brown and snow white tones, but is also works well with black shoes and earrings, as well as dusty greys as well as maroon brown-reds or orange tones.  My two-tone, brown and cream, slingback spectator heels are actually a good example of how the 1970’s era can imitate the 1940s era so closely the difference is almost indistinguishable.  What I like about 70’s-does-40’s shoes are the chance of finding them in a much more wearable state, as well as cheaper prices!  The rest of my accessories are true older-era vintage, however.  My gloves, my earrings, and the little beetle brooch are all from my Grandmother, while the 40’s hat is my very first vintage piece of headwear I acquired from a second-hand shop so many years back now.  It’s so hard to find brimmed hats from the 40’s and earlier in decent condition, and this one is a winner that has some stunning petersham ribbon decoration to boot!  In fall weather my allergy sensitive nose needs attention too, so I couldn’t resist grabbing this lovely seasonal handkerchief from my collection to pair it with my outfit for the day!

Yellow does have the connotation (at least so I’ve heard) that it does not “work” for many people, but I think this stylish golden hue is a bit more promising than other ochre shades!  Granted, I suppose I am a bit biased…I have made a hat in this shade already!  Besides, I know that just because something is pushed as a style ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ doesn’t mean people really like it on their own terms, after all.  My hope is that I have presented an attractive way to style and accessorize this golden maize color, though.  I have taken what is on trend, and interpreted it for myself using the way the past had done it before.  What goes around comes around and fashion is persistently resurfacing in surprising ways.  In the hands of someone who sews, fashion is whatever you make it!  Are you or have you worn a similar golden tone, or have you used your sewing talents to find a way to better like a style or shade of color?

“Alley Espionage” – a 1945 Glen Plaid Suit Set

There are many, many old movies that I absolutely love, and then there are others that I like just as much in their own way for being interesting, inspiring, or having actors/actresses I enjoy seeing.  The 1945 noir film “Escape in the Fog” is one of the latter.  Actress Nina Foch plays the part of a mentally battered war nurse who had a frightful dream of a future event while on leave for rest.  She disturbs the hotel guests with her screams, bringing her to meet one of them – the actor William Wright, a mysterious but friendly (and handsome) double espionage agent whose future she had foreseen.  Nina Foch becomes an important part to William Wright’s mission, but later she becomes a desired pawn for those w ho would seek to sabotage his efforts.  I hope I didn’t give away too much of the plot here, but I find the details of this movie enthralling (the conversations, the subjects, etc.), as it was made during war time.  Although it is not as good as Marvel’s “Agent Carter”, I enjoy seeing the lovely Nina Foch take on a significant role for a woman trying to actively aid world events, besides enjoying her alongside William Wright, to me one of the most dashing and little known Hollywood men of WWII times (next to John Hodiak).

What this chatter amounts to for this post is the fact that I made a suit set inspired by the fashion on the “Escape in the Fog” movie.  It all started with finding and buying a $5 vintage beret-style wool hat, really.   Soon after the hat was bought, I watched “Escape in the Fog” for the first time and I saw an almost exact style hat worn on Nina Foch.  A few years back I had also made the skirt half to a 1945 suit set, and seeing all the finely tailored suits and trench coats both Wright and Foch wore in the film inspired me to finish up the coat half of my set.  Now I have the perfect year 1945 outfit to relive “Escape in the Fog” by watching the details of life down darkened city alleys and warily wind my way home in the gathering dusk in a complimentary muted grey Glen plaid.  It’s really the perfect suit for anytime, but a girl can dream, right?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and acrylic blend brushed Glen Plaid suiting with a grey cling-free polyester lining the coat blazer.

PATTERNS:  a vintage year 1945 Advance #3964 pattern together with a year 2006 Simplicity #4044 reprint of a 1941 Simplicity #3838

NOTIONS:  The buttons for both the skirt and blazer came from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads, and thread I used were already bought years back and on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:   The suit jacket was made in about 20 hours and finished on October 25, 2016.  The skirt was made pretty much a year before, whipped up in only a few hours.

THE INSIDES:  The skirt is all bias bound finished and the suit jacket is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I sure stretched out only a few yards here!  I only used about 2 ¼ yards for this suit – true 1940’s rationing smarts – which leaves me with about ½ yard leftover for another project!  This suit set probably ended up costing me $10 because the suiting was bought on clearance from the now defunct Hancock fabrics, while everything else was from my stash on hand.

Well, this suit might be vintage but it also happens to be right on trend this cold season.  Suit sets are the new “thing” it seems and popular in all styles and variety (see this recent post from Simplicity)!  There is a suit style out there for every body and every taste – vintage or modern!  Yet, I love how 1940’s suit sets are strong but womanly, simple at first glance with details and fitting that is top rate.  This suit was originally intended to be entirely made from one vintage pattern, but as my old Advance #3964 was missing significant body pieces for the suit jacket, I had to improvise and use a modern Simplicity reprint to supplement.  New pattern and old pattern combined, same wonderful details with a result I love!

Some of the older Simplicity reprints have disappointed me before when it comes to fit so I was wary about Simplicity #4044.  I’ve already made the arch-waisted pants (blogged about here) and the skirt (yet to be blogged), and they turned out great.  Thus, I had high hopes for the jacket, and I was not disappointed!  It was as easy as a suit jacket is going to get, and the fit was spot on…no bad surprises.  I do miss the two piece, true suiting sleeves but the front closing and the general silhouette was strikingly similar to my old original Advance pattern’s jacket so I just had to try it out.

My favorite features to the suit jackets are a combo of the pockets and the bias front shoulder panels.  Look how they really make such a simple design have some character that elevates!  I interfaced both of these pieces in heavy interfacing, while the front facing along the edge of the jacket opening is reinforced in a slightly lighter weight interfacing.  I feel this use of two different interfacing weights is a good idea for this jacket pattern.  The bias shoulder pieces need to be stable to keep the strong shape of the jacket, and stiff pockets on lend a crisp, matching flawless air.  The wide curving front closing edge isn’t quite supposed to be limp, nor like a poker, so something in between seems to be the right body.

Yes, I did slightly cheat as to the closure and made a fake button hide the snap closing front.  Sometimes when I am undecided when it comes to what button to choose for a project, I am so reluctant to make something as permanent as a buttonhole.  However, I did make this snap closing very nice and use it as an opportunity to try something new!  With a tiny fabric remnant, I covered the exposed half of the snap before stitching it onto the jacket.  It is fun to have such lovely features as this fabric covered snap on my sewing…it makes me feel so proud of what I can accomplish, and gives me what I feel is a small taste of the amazing attention to detail and fine finishing which is on couture garments.

Now my skirt was the necessary half to my finished suit but definitely the most simple and useful.  Without the matching jacket, this skirt can go with many other items in my wardrobe – navy, ivory, green, and brown blouses, tops, and sweaters as well as a true vintage forest green 40s blazer (see this set put together in this post for Emily’s Fall Color Challenge).  In this post I am wearing the whole set with a creamy pastel yellow blouse (not me-made, from a resale store years back) to brighten up the set and contrast with the black accessories.  With the lofty thickness of the suiting and its brushed, cozy finish, this skirt is incredibly warm – like being wrapped in a blanket – yet with a light and manageable weight.  I really don’t know how I made it through the winters before without this skirt!

I love how the pattern simplified the box pleat by having it all-in-one with the skirt.  There is merely a center front seam and center back seam that nicely lines up the center of the folded sections which make the box pleats.  I do find it sort of unusual that there is a center box pleat in back, too. Usually it’s only on the front.  Sitting on a skirt back box pleat rarely ends up other than a mess, but surprisingly this one keeps its shape really well.  Maybe it’s a combo of the fabric and a thorough steaming job from the iron.  Whatever it is, it works!  The fact that the folds of the box pleats are on a slight bias does give them a slight squiggly appearance, however

Making the skirt was a bit frustrating for as simple as it was because it ran so very small!  Most of the time patterns outside of the “Big Four” (Simplicity, Vogue, McCall, Butterick) tend to run on the larger side with a few random ones being true to size.  Not this Advance pattern!  I even graded up so it should have been slightly roomy on me, but no – it turned out mysteriously too snug.  Luckily, I had extra room to give myself by letting out the side seam allowances as far as possible for the perfect fit.  However, I would have preferred not to have to do that because there’s now no leeway if I need more room yet.  I suppose it was a good thing after all that I did not use the suit jacket half of the same pattern because it could’ve run on the smaller side as well.  I do see a good number of these Advance #3964 patterns for sale all over Etsy, Ebay, and various other pattern market sites, so if you pick one up for yourself, you’ve been warned about the sizing.

Sorry, but if you would like to see the “Escape in the Fog” movie for yourself, it is frustratingly hard to find.  I just happened to get lucky and catch it on our local station which shows old classics.  For being a movie from 1945, it is rather like one of the early pioneers of the Film Nor genre which hit its height post WWII.

However foggy and dreary my suit is in color, it is certainly not bland but useful and exciting to me.  Actually, it is only the beginning of a small spell of suits that I have lined up for the next few months, most of them from the 1940’s.  Will you be joining in on this suit trend, too?  For me, it’s pretty much an excuse to make some of what has been languishing in my want-to-do project queue!

Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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