Agent Carter’s “Body Raid” Outfit – Burda Style Trousers and Jersey Satin Blouse

I realize this is a bit late for our recent civil holiday (in America) of Presidents’ Day, but nevertheless I will now share the outfit I made to wear for it…better late than never!  America’s sweetheart and Captain America’s crush, Agent Peggy Carter of Marvel, was of course my go-to girl for inspiration here because when you stand behind the super soldier defending the freedoms of the stars and stripes, your wardrobe naturally ends up being very patriotic!  As February is a short month, I am sneaking this post in between my dual posts on historical lingerie.

This outfit is part of my quest to have all of Peggy Carter’s wardrobe (as seen in both seasons of her TV series), as well as looking for something brightly patriotic, wonderfully 40’s era, and supremely comfy.  You see, I wanted a special set with all of those qualities to wear during our traveling weekend, and a trip gave me a good reason to buck up and finish a Burda Style project for the month of February (meaning the pants)!  I have been supplying myself with a nice and varied collection of trousers and pants, and this one is definitely another kind of ‘different’ to do – all baggy yet still tailored, and definitely vintage-inspired.  The blouse half of my outfit satisfies my current “thing” for making tops, and it is sewn with a knit, which is both easy care and different, too, for my 1940s wardrobe.  Also, it is made using a vintage Advance sewing pattern, a brand that is not seen as much, with leftover material from a past Agent Carter project of mine, for even more special connections.    

This outfit’s original inspiration can be seen on the Agent Carter television series by Marvel, specifically Season Two, Episode 5, “The Atomic Job”, when she breaks into a morgue to steal a body that holds the evidence her and her friends so desperately need, before things end up taking a much more dire turn.  In our pictures, my version of Peggy Carter’s outfit is seen in the historic Union Station of Kansas City, Missouri, for a much less heavy reason – a destination trip to see some exhibits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse – a polyester interlock knit with a satin finish is the primary fabric (same as what was used to re-fashion this dress), with cotton broadcloth scraps to line the inside of the shoulder panels for stabilization; The pants – a half and half linen rayon blend in a purple toned navy blue (same as what was used to make my turn-of-the-century Walking Skirt) with a fun rayon challis print (leftover from this dress) used for the pockets

PATTERNS:  A vintage original Advance #3182 pattern, circa 1941, was used for the blouse and a Burda Style #102 for the pants – view B is the “Marlene Trousers”, while view A is the “Button Tab Trousers”, both the same and both from September 2013.

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tapes, hook-and-eyes, a metal jean style zipper, and vintage pearl buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took about 20 to 30 hours of time to finish on January 17, 2018.  The blouse came together in about 10 hours and was done on February 14, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  The pants are as professional as I could make them – all tiny but fun bright red bias bound edges.  The blouse’s material doesn’t fray so it is left raw to make my work easy for a change!

TOTAL COST:  maybe $20, at the most $30.  Both fabrics were bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store

This set was a wonderful mix of sewing things I’m used to, with an added element of difficulty.  I’ve sewn many pants and trousers by now, but this pair was labor intensive and required dedication to finish.  I do feel it brought some of my skills to the next level and perfected others.  This was by far the most challenging Burda pattern I’ve tackled yet, besides this coat, but it’s so worth when it comes to what I end up with having!  The blouse was not far off from any other traditional blouse, but the fine, lightweight material in a knit made it slightly tricky to sew, besides the fact it has very unusual front shoulder panels.  I splurged on this blouse and used some prized vintage notions from my stash, just to be close to the inspiration Agent Carter blouse, with its pearled square buttons, so this was an added special touch a bit out of the ordinary from my “normal” sewing.

Both patterns had their aura of mystery when it came to getting them to fit.  The blouse was a vintage unprinted pattern, marked with a code of dots, but as I have done so many of these by now, it was no problem to cut and it fits beautifully.  Yet, I was dubious about the pattern because every time before this I have sewn with an old Advance pattern, they have run small in size.  Thus, for this pattern, it is happily a size too big for me already, and it fits.  With the knit fabric, I actually could have brought the blouse in a bit, but I’d much prefer a bit generous than too small.  For the trousers, I realized (correctly) that they probably run a bit big due to the generous silhouette and wide legs.  However, I figured it’s easier to take a garment in than work with it when it’s way too small, so I stuck with my “normal” size that I always tend to make in Burda Style.  Yes, the trousers do run big and I probably could have went down a size, after all.  However, because of the way these pants are finished in the back center waistband, sewn up there as the last step (very similarly to menswear, actually), these were easy to take in an extra bit for a size that is better than they could have been, not as good as I would like.  These are so comfy being roomy, and I do love the style, so I can’t really complain with all that much energy!  Perfection in an art (and I include sewing under an art form) is relative to one’s contentment with one’s work and the either unknowing or appreciative eye of the beholder.  Both pieces turned out great and taught me more than I knew before.  There’s something good achieved, beyond the fact I have another Agent Carter set! Squee!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

Burda patterns do frequently get the bad rap of having terrible instructions (they’re words only), but I did find these to be quite good…except when it came to the front fly and its self-placket.  I was lost, but that was okay.  I looked at my husband’s existing pants, and remembered the last trouser fly I had made, and sewed it how it made sense and was practical.  You know what?  These turned out great.  The side pockets smartly have a panel extension that continues towards the middle to connect (inside at the facing) with the zipper fly.  This is a wonderful detail that helps out taming the front pleats, but made it confusing to sew.  It did turn out a very smooth and flawless inner waist and tummy area this way.  The side pockets stay nicely in place and balance out the bulk of the fly by those extensions pulling it in.  I did a lot of invisible hand-stitching, though, to make sure the front fly looked quite nice.

The welt pockets – to me – are actually the best part to the pants, even though I detest sewing them and find them exhausting to make.  There’s something about cutting into the middle of a perfectly good garment that makes me doubt my capabilities.  One welt pocket took me just over two hours to complete…but I’m so much happier with it than my last attempt!  The instructions for the welt, and its markings were right on and helpful.  I wasn’t sure if I really wanted the pocket flap, but now, most of the time, I keep it tucked into pocket.  If I ever feel like wearing it out of the pocket more, I might feel obliged to stitch on a button and buttonhole to keep it down, like the instructions recommend.

I did add plenty more belt loops than the pattern called for, mostly because my pants (as I said) are still a bit too big on me.  The more belt carriers, the better the trousers stay up, for there is a darn lot of fabric here to wear anyway!  The side tabs on the waistband were left out in lieu of the extra belt loops.  I fear that the wrinkling in the waist and back pants legs are not due only to the properties of the linen material, but also from the fact that the waist buckles a bit from bringing it in under the belt.

The complete indulgence in excess fabric to these pants make them very much like pre-WWII menswear styles for women.  Burda aptly labels them “Marlene Trousers” after the woman that channeled her own taste for the masculine-feminine dressing for the empowerment of others to do the same in the face of society – Marlene Dietrich.  She certainly started something when she appeared on January 12, 1932 at the opening of The Sign of the Cross movie, wearing a masculine tuxedo, wing collar, soft felt hat, mannish topcoat, and a pair of men’s’ patent leather shoes! Dietrich, who had been wearing trousers publicly as early as 1929, and Greta Garbo were the 1930s pioneers for menswear styles for women.  Yet, “I wear them to be comfortable,” Dietrich is quoted as saying, “not sensational!”  1930s ladies’ menswear borrowed heavily from what guys were wearing especially when the materials were woolens and other suiting, but women also found their own interpretation in the super-wide legged, flowing beach pyjamas of summer and resort scenes, skirt-like Singapore trousers, and other unique interpretations of bifurcated bottoms.  These were also, no doubt, part of the luxury that was the mindset of the 1930’s, especially for Depression times.  Fashion counter-reflected what society was really going through, so from the boom of bling with costume jewelry to the luxurious evening gowns, the trousers, too, had every added feature that used as much extra fabric as possible – cuffs, deep pleats, and generous pockets.  Check, check, and check…these Burda pants have all that aplenty!

My own pants are somewhat a mix of the heavy men’s suit style with a little female influence with the lighter weight linen blend, non-suiting material.  This is a kind of trouser style that could have been worn throughout the 1930s and well into the early 1940’s.  This pattern definitely deserves to be included in my ongoing post series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  A good pleated pant of this style is hard to find.  Vintage pants were always ironed, or sometimes even stitched, with center front and back pleats on each leg.  Most pants that I see nowadays which attempt this “look” end up fitting so tightly past the hips there is no point in having a vertical running pleat, it cannot continue down due to the tight fit in the thighs and below.  Now, I know my pants do not show as crisp a pleat as I would have liked, but it is there and they can hold it quite well when I am not traveling in them.  Nevertheless, these pictures show the reality of my pants being used and worn for real living, well-traveled in and time tested…and I think they prove themselves quite well, especially for being linen-rayon!  (See? You can travel in and wear linen!)  I’m really surprised that bloggers and seamstresses in the vintage community haven’t discovered these after all the 5 years this pattern have been out.  These are like rare gold!

To match with the whole pre-WWII style, my blouse is from 1941, before America had been completely committed to the war effort.  Besides, Agent Carter herself was a woman stuck in the past, due in no small part to her fond yet painful memories of both knowing and losing Captain America.  These were two of the reasons for using this particular Advance pattern.  I know it is not exactly alike to the inspiration garment, but it is perfectly her style as she has a penchant for blouses with small yet stunning and beautiful details, whether it’s in the top-stitching or design lines.  This one certainly fits the bill with its special pointed front shoulder panels, square buttons, silky finish, and menswear-style back shoulder panel.  It’s simple at first glance, yet more complicated the further one looks.  This is one of the few blouses I have made that has this much all over gathering…here, there, everywhere!  Most of the times I use menswear inspired, professional-style pleats in the sleeves nowadays, but this flowing feminine fabric deserved a departure from my norm.   

Yet, there is one more detail that deserves to be told.  The front buttons came from one set that was bought (intact on a lovely decorative card), while the other two for the cuffs are a size bigger, from a pair that were in the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Not too often have I come across two separate vintage button sets that actually match up with one another.  Button serendipity sometimes does happen.

Both of the bottoms and top are made from various leftovers, as I mentioned above.  Besides the whole “reduce-and-reuse” sensibility of it, and the way it whittles down my ever growing fabric stash, I do like how the connection with the previous outfits these fabrics went towards is perfect for a new Agent Carter set.  The Agent Carter dress re-fashion from exactly one year ago had just enough left over to make this post’s blouse, bringing together two of my Peggy creations. 

The linen of the pants is the same material as my 1905 Walking Skirt, the first power separate, much like 1930s and 40’s trousers, from an earlier era for a self-reliant, independent, and active woman.  After all, Hayley Atwell, the actress who plays Peggy Carter, also plays a similar character led by both her heart and mind in another television ministry taking place around the turn of the century, “Howard’s End”.  The small, almost worthless leftovers from my 60’s wrap dress became novelty pockets in my pants.  It would just be like Peggy, who had a photographic memory for detail and the mind of a true government agent, to remember some little scraps to hide a secret in her clothes.  Now if it really was Peggy wearing these, there would be some coded message or handy tool inside my pockets as well!  Contrast pocket fabric is a fun, personal touch that only I really know about (well, not anymore!) but just knowing it makes me smile inside!

It’s these little personal touches in one’s sewing, especially when it’s not something publicly noticed, that makes one’s work a very individual art. Using up every bit of what you have and having all of your projects go to ‘help’ out other projects, can make you proud and feel like you are doing something bigger than yourself (and you are!) by making your own clothes. 

Be like Marlene Dietrich (or Agent Carter) and wear what you want, without fear of judgment or scrutiny.  There is no better way to do that today than sewing one’s own clothes or even buying second hand, whether vintage or not.  I for one feel my best self in something vintage, and/or handmade, and especially Agent Carter related.  You know, there is almost nothing more lovely and catching than the self-confidence that comes of being assertive in who you are and the clothes you are wearing!  Find that sweet spot and change the world.

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1940’s Arch Waist Blue Jeans

My new found enjoyment wearing (and success in making) my first pair of vintage pants gave me gusto to jump in to fill a gap in my wardrobe: comfy, casual vintage inspired jeans. Jeans are something I’ve learned to do without, mostly because it seems near impossible to find a pair that fulfills all of my requirements – room in the bottom area, vintage appeal, tailored details, and a waist that really sits at the waist, all the while being complimentary on myself. Whew! No…it’s way more fun and appropriate for me to make my own jeans.

I now have the ultimate vintage jeans, perfect in every way possible to my own discriminating taste. I also feel I’ve found the happy medium between loose comfort and tailored fit. Hopefully I can inspire others with this post to turn to their inner talents and provide for themselves, creating their own personal style to appeal to their own unique individual taste. Do not rest dissatisfied with wearing what doesn’t fit or suit you – be the one to make that change!

Now, for THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A 100% cotton mid-weight denim, in a medium blue wash. It was bought from a Jo Ann Fabrics store.Simplicity4044

NOTIONS:  All I needed to buy was a zipper for the side. The rest of what I needed – the interfacing, hook and eye, and thread – was already on hand.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 4044, a 1940’s outfit reprinted with a modern date of 2006

TIME TO COMPLETE:  These jeans were a breeze to make once I got past the fitting and adjusting of the pattern. I spent maybe 2 hours of time to customize the pattern, and then only 5 hours to cut, sew, and finish the jeans. They were done on February 6, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  …left raw. This denim has a tight weave so it really doesn’t fray much on the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  I paid half price for the denim, and the jeans only took 2 yards to make, so my total (with the zipper) was only about $8.00. Pretty good, huh?!

The Simplicity #4044 pattern I used for these jeans was even easier than the other Simplicity pattern (#3688) used to make my first pants. Although it is unfortunately out of print, it seems readily available to purchase from many different sellers. I bought mine from Etsy.

I did a bit of research to be able to pin down exactly what part of the decade of the 1940’s might be the source for this pattern, Simplicity 4044 reprint. At first, I was focused mainly on the arch-waisted style, but looking into the design of the jacket happily co-ordinates with the years I found for dating the waist style. There is a McCall #6019 pattern for a skirt and bolero jacket, and it has an arch-waisted skirt front with arched/scalloped pocket detail on the jacket as well. Now the skirt detailing is similar to the pants and skirt waist of the McCall 6019 two-piece bolero suit year 1945 - Advance 3964 suit set year 1945Simplicity reprint, as are the jacket sleeves, but the skirt box pleat is a change and bolero style is missing. Now let’s look at a pattern in my collection, Advance #3964. The jacket in this pattern is almost exactly the same as the design in the Simplicity reprint, with its paneled sleeves and long jacket front and single button waist closure.

What I find interesting is that the pattern I gave as similar examples, McCall #6019 and Advance #3964, are both from 1945. This paneled, streamlined jacket style is very much a war-time design – it was in skinny and small pattern pieces meant for going towards re-fashioning an existing man’s suit. The skirt style of center front box pleats were a staple of the years 1942 to about 1945, with basic, full,Grace Kelly teen model pic 1947 - line drawing for Simplicity 4044 reprint A-line styles not as frequently used, so Simplicity 4044 throws my fashion reasoning off just a bit. Nevertheless, I have a strong “guess-timation” here that Simplicity 4044’s pieces are from late war-time, definitely 1945. Simplicity probably did not reprint a McCall or Advance pattern, so I’m assuming there is an original pattern I’m missing out on highlighting here. However there’s one more piece to my puzzle. The picture you see on the side here is from 1947 of the young, then teen model, Princess Grace Kelly wearing bottoms with an arched-front waist, setting the possibility of the fashion of Simplicity 4044’s set back even more to post-war fashion.

This time around for making trousers, I read up and informed myself on better fitting techniques, ways to understand the shape of your body, and how to do a full booty adjustment, which I needed. None of this is for the faint of heart, so if you’re squeamish about knowing the shape of your booty and the true measurements of your body, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t like what I found out either, but…hey – the way I see it, I am how I am, and I’m healthy and happy so I shouldn’t put myself up to some artificial standards.

My primary step was so have a second pattern “victim” to cut and mark up at will. Only the top half of the pants pattern (both front and back) was copied on a machine so I could have a paper version. I also had to choose sizing first off, too. I was in between sizes for the waist so I stayed in between, but went up in size for the hips and carried that size all the way down the pants legs. As my jeans turned out just a tad too roomy in the waist, I think going down a size might be a good idea for anyone else in between sizing because this pants pattern is generous and, without a set waistband, these pants need to fit well to stay up. Of course, there are always “braces” or suspenders to fix droopy drawers!

Next, I used two sites to guide me in my pants adjustments – “Sew Your Boat” blog – on a ‘BBA’ and Colette’s tutorial on “Pants fitting basics” (although Colette’s “Pants fitting cheat sheet” is good info, too). After reading through “Sew Your Boat” post, my first step was to find out the shape on my booty and see if the fullest part back there is low hanging so I can know where to add the necessary room. I did her “aluminum foil roll shaped around the crouch line” trick…and yes it is weird and funny, yet it works. You look at the shape of the foil and think, “This is me?” At least I knew exactly how to shape the booty of the pants because now I had a template.

Next, I did the “slash and spread” method. I had the finished garment measurements of the unaltered garment and compared them to my measurements with added generous ease, and compared the two to see how much room to add in the “slash and spread”. I supposed I rather ran high on the measurement combo of my measurements + ease, so I chose the happy middle between that and the finished pants measurement – a total add in of about 1 ½ inches, slightly more or less. Finally, I used the booty form to do a finishing touch-up shaping of the “slashed and spread” back half pattern piece. The front piece was relatively left untouched except for the bottom point of the crouch (top of the inner leg seam). That part was re-drawn just an inch lower to make a wider dip of a curve so as not to have a drastically baggy bottom. All in all, my effort and figuring here completely paid off with exactly the fit and feel I had hoped to find…sewing bliss!

With this much done, the pants were cut out and constructed as instructed otherwise. I simply overlapped the paper top half over the tissue bottom half to come up with one whole pants leg pattern and cut it that way. As my fabric was 60 inch width, I was able to actually use less than the 2 yards asked for, and now I have a nice chunk of about ½ a yard of denim to use for another project. This pants pattern does have a side seam, and there are small tucks in the front, and small darts in the back, so there are a few no too complicated steps and details to accomplish when sewing the preliminary steps.

The trickiest part of the jeans were the arched front detail, but as you get into it, it is not as hard as one might expect. The arched front, together with the facing that finishes the inside, only requires taking one’s time to be precise with the stitching (and marking beforehand). I was impressed at how well the facing matched up and stabilized the waist of the pants pattern– sometimes small facing pieces can, if they are a tad wonky, throw everything off.

Words cannot describe how incredibly pleased I am with everything about my 1940’s jeans – from the fabric to the fit but especially the pattern. I do find the appearance of the pants on myself to be not exactly as complimentary as I had hoped. However, they have such a subtle unique vintage quality to them, one which does not scream vintage but still speaks of style to me. I cannot help but love them. I have also now made the jacket pattern from the same Simplicity reprint as my pants – and a lovely Glen plaid fabric has made it a wonderful set for the chilly weather. If you don’t have Simplicity 4044, and happen to come across it for sale, snag it for yourself and let me know what you make from it!

I couldn’t resist going with the whole Captain America/”red-white-and-blue” thing to pair with my jeans. A favorite past project, my 1943 cotton basic blouse, was worn with my jeans, layered over my favorite captain America tee shirt. I felt like some secret superhero opening my top to show off my Captain America shield tee underneath.

Do you have an article of clothing that you have conquered when it comes to fit and understanding? Be it pants, shirts or knit fabrics, the world of sewing and the fabric arts is always there to provide a challenging, interesting, and creative project for those willing to tackle it – never a dull moment necessary!