I am normally not in the mood for wearing red unless I want to channel Agent Peggy Carter. That is just me. It is such a strong statement color, and it is the one bright tone I am truly still not accustomed to yet! A classic red I reserve for her, my stalwart heroine, in my way of thinking. Christmas and Valentine’s Day are my only exceptions, as well as any patriotic occasion…which in its own way is related to Peggy Carter via her beau Captain America. It’s cool that there is a holiday in February (for the United States) where I can tick more than one of my ‘stipulations for me wearing red’ boxes. President’s Day comes in February on the heels of Valentine’s Day and is close to the anniversary of the first release of the Agent Carter television show. So here’s a post about a great ‘new’ me-made WWII era dress, sprinkled with a bit of blue and white for good patriotic measure, in an unusual red tone that works for many seasons and celebrations!
My accessories really carry this outfit, I think, and I am very happy how they complement my dress together. I am proud the hat is me-made at the last hour before these photos. Understand it’s not a proper ‘sewn’ kind of hat, but neither is it a permanent creation either. It’s whipped together in a sort of very resourceful 40’s era ‘make-do’ idealology. I will talk more about it later on in this post. My shoes are a fabulous true vintage find I bought for only $5 (yes, you read that right). I have been able to pin their style down to the late 1930s or very early pre-WWII 40’s, due to the heel shape, materials used (woolen fabric and leather), and the high vamp (where it cuts across your foot at the front). My gloves as well are a true vintage late 30’s or early 40’s cotton twill pair.
All these items tweak the year on the pattern I used to make it seem (from a historical standpoint) as if this is a style of dress earlier than what it really is for a 30’s spin on a 40’s pattern. By adding inches to lengthen the dress, as well, I ended out with an overall late 1930’s look, instead. Usually historical vintage fashion anticipates the upcoming era during decade transitions, but not too often can styles go back in time. This is an interesting and successful experiment!
FABRIC: a rayon challis for the dress and a sheer chiffon for the hat
PATTERN: Simplicity #4949, year 1943, from my pattern stash
NOTIONS NEEDED: All I needed was what was on hand – thread, a 22” zipper, and a bit of bias tape
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished in September 2019
TOTAL COST: I bought the under two yards cut of my dress’ material on clearance in my local JoAnn store for only $7.00. The blue contrast is from remnants leftover from this Burda Style 50’s dress. The hat’s chiffon was on hand, bought years back for another project not yet made. I’m counting the scraps and the chiffon remnant as free.
Before I go any further, I need to point out that this dress is so wonderful it is my ultimate go-to 40’s dress. I actually had to put it downstairs for the time being because I need to give my other dresses some love by wearing them, too! The lack of a set waist (with a seam) is somewhat unusual and oh-so-comfortable. The dress is one piece from shoulder to hem. Added to that is the stretchy side panels cut from a knit. Combined with the swishy rayon and midi length, this dress feels and wears like the loveliest nightgown. I added a center back zipper to keep this dress easy and stress-free to put on, as well. With the side panels in a knit, I didn’t really have a choice but to move the placement of the zipper anyway. Sneaky loungewear which can also be dressy enough to wear out and about is a gem, especially today. The colors work for all seasons too, as my grey, navy, or dusty blue blazers and sweaters pair well over this dress. For only $7 spent and some easy sewing, I really received the most bang for my buck with this project.
Besides changing up to a back zipper and adding length to the hem, I slightly altered the pattern to both make it work for my under 2 yard cut of material and also not break up the floral print on the dress’ front. There were only four main pattern pieces for this dress so I took the easy way to grade in an extra inch or two anyway and changed up the layout of the tissue pieces. I didn’t even bother with cutting out the fussy neckline facings, either, opting for simple bias tape finishing. My fabric was restricting me at only 45” wide. Luckily, the dress is not bias cut but straight along the grainline.
Instead of having a seam down the front, I cut that on the on the fold. Yes this eliminated the curvy shaping, but kept the print undisturbed. In lieu of the original lines, I added a “fish eye” style dart vertically down the front center from the bottom dip of the neckline to taper off into the skirt body at the waistline. The dart also nicely raised up the originally very low V neck. The back half was cut as the pattern wanted, and was laid out on the fabric with the wide skirt portion at the opposite end as that of the front. The short sleeves were barely squeezed out of the portion in between the side seams to the front and the back dress pieces. There were scraps left which were no bigger than 4 inches. As I have done time and again, I just made my project idea work out with an inventive tissue piece layout.
Speaking of pattern layout, I also went rogue when it came to cutting out the side triangular panels. I barely had scraps of my chosen fabric leftover big enough for the two side waist panels. It was all that I could manage to cut out the side panels on the bias. Not that it matters all too much as I was using a 4 way knit, yet it is always important to follow grainlines. Oh well. The fact that I kept the seam though the center actually helps keep the knit from stretching overmuch. I stabilized the seam with a three solid rows of straight stitching while not letting the knit distend under my machine. Furthermore, I did some small, decorative hand stitching along the seam to help the inside allowance lie flat but still add some subtle beauty.
The knit panels help this dress hug my curves in a way I adore. When I was looking through what scraps I had on hand to use which would be the nicest contrast to the rayon print, this dusty blue knit was really the best, most versatile match I came across. The fact it was a knit was secondary to my choice of color, but I figured that it may help shape this dress into a body-hugging, comfortable, slinky little number. I was spot on, apparently. The fact the side panels are in a contrast really do so much to make this a dress which slenderizes a figure. Seriously, if you want a dress that automatically makes you look like you lost weight, this is the one. Just imagine if this was in a solid tone for some color blocking. It deceives the eye to see an hourglass figure smaller than what is really there. You see the side panels, but the mind centers on the main body of the dress, which at its smallest point, is only a third of what the true waist of the wearer is. It’s a deviously simple successful design and incredibly fun to sew – the perfect detail to make use of fabric scraps, too!
Now, this style of dress seems to be relatively easy to find. Since both before and after I have sewn my dress, I have found similar styles both in Hollywood costumes, designer styles, extant vintage garments, as well as through several sewing patterns, some of which are available to buy as reprints today. If you like this post’s dress, particularly, than you’re in luck because the pattern I used for my own dress can be bought through Eva Dress (see page for it here).
Yet, the 40’s era side panel dress pattern of the moment through the vintage sewing community seems to be Folkwear Company’s #233 “Glamour Girl Dress”. However, I just do not see it having the same size-reducing effect as the Simplicity #4949 I used. Perhaps it’s because of the way the panels connect in the middle into a tie. I do not have this pattern myself and do not intend to, but the tie front seems to cause too much bulk and excess of material around the waist. It is lacking the thin, smooth band of material through the middle of my dress which fools the eye into seeing an impossibly tiny waist. Besides, so many ladies seem to have both fitting and sewing issues with the Folkwear dress, from what I have read and heard first hand from others. The midsection to the Folkwear dress becomes more of a belt-like feature for ease of wearing rather than a flattering design element as on the Simplicity dress I made. I will stick with something I have tried already and know I like. I hope to revisit this post’s pattern in the future to make it in a different way, inspired by the many varieties you see in my collage image.
My hat is actually something I whipped up after seeing some tutorials for such a thing on social media several years back (which is why I no longer remember where it originally came from). It is only a one-something yard length of sheer chiffon wrapped around two foam styling rolls (like a modern version of a vintage hair “rat”). I used my “Hot Buns” hair tool, since I had it on hand. Then I connected the two of them together to form a circle (there are snaps built into the ends so this was easy to do). I was tempted to buy something a bit more defined in shape such as a Styrofoam ring (used for wreath making). However, the Velcro-like outside to the “Hot Buns” grabbed a hold of the fabric nicely, just the same as it does to my hair, to help this impromptu hat idea work better than I expected. I left enough of a ‘tail’ on each side of the ring for this to tie around my hair much like headband. Otherwise I wrapped the rest of the fabric closely around the “Hot Buns” ring with no pinning or tacking needed to keep in place.
I think a knit would have worked better than the chiffon for this accessory project, but I’m just happy to have a new, era authentic hat for no cost and no effort, using things from on hand. I’m practical enough to know I don’t currently have any more room in my hat boxes, so this little head decoration suits me perfectly. This is a very late 30’s to early 40’s style of hat that can be seen everywhere between that time – from Hollywood, such as the head of actress Ida Lupino in the 1939 “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” movie, to a home fashions, like this page out of a Sears Catalog from 1940 (see bottom right). It seems as if such a hat can be also termed as a turban, especially if it was knitted or a soft velvet. With that in mind, it makes total sense now that it would come together quite easily, not be a permanent millinery piece, and be comfortable, practical glamor to wear.
Now I suppose it is time to ease off of the fascination for red that the February holidays have brought upon me…at least for now. Although scarlet tones are not seasonal (I do realize), it’s time to catch up on some more of my Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” outfits next! I will return to something more appropriate for the chilly weather we are currently having. I’ll meet you ‘just around the river bend’…and let me know if you catch the hint!