“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!

Bright Sewing

This simple little blouse has everything going for it!  It is a small wonder project, literally, in colors that make me smile from the inside.  It is a little remnant of happiness and I need every ounce of that I can get at the moment.  The radio silence here has been because I have seriously been knocked down by sickness for two very long weeks.  Now that I’m slowly crawling back into humanity, it’s good to post something that is yet another amazingly simple design which calls for very little to make something so fun and creative.

All of us who sew probably possess or have found leftovers in an amazing fabric that are substantial enough to save yet small enough to stump creative expression.  Or perhaps you have seen or own a vintage or modern scarf that you love but have no use for.  Not only is this post’s simple top the perfect answer to such dilemmas, but it also only took 2 hours to come together…aaand there is more than one way to wear it.  Plus, my version is in my favorite colors of pink, purple, and turquoise.  I’m in heaven!

My trousers are an older make, see their blog post here.  They were made of a colored denim and an early 40’s vintage original pattern.  My earrings are old originals from my Grandma.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, in a Kathy Davis Designer brand print

PATTERN:  Vogue #5524, circa year 1945 (check out the original garment label that was hiding in the factory folds!!)

NOTIONS:  …nothin’ but thread…and a quarter in monetary change!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  under 3 hours, closer to two.  It was made in one afternoon on July 16, 2019..

THE INSIDES:  cleanly French seamed

TOTAL COST:  about $7

This pattern is so much smarter than is looks at first glance.  A one yard project is always great, but this top design calls for a square 36” scarf as an optional material source.  How awesome is that?!  There are so many absolutely lovely vintage scarves that would be stunning made up into this blouse.  As the envelope cover illustration shows, a scarf with an all-sides border would give such a unique look.  But wait – that’s not all (cue the selling point)!  There is no designated front or back either, and this is reversible!  The draped neck can be worn in the front (which I prefer) yet will also work worn in the back.  There is no zipper or buttons, no facings, and very few seams for an easy, simple, fun project!  I am thoroughly tempted to whip up a dozen of these in all different fabrics and colors, trying out drafting a long sleeve adaption, too!  There is so much potential here.  It is the epitome of smart 1940s wartime rationing that did not cut corners with style at the same time…truly a smart design.

The way this top works being reversible, with no closures needed, relies on the cut of the bias grain.  Each bodice piece is tucked into a corner of the one yard (or scarf) which is laid out flat, single layer, not folded.  This is why this pattern would work so well with a square scarf.  There is one small and odd-shaped sleeve piece that needs to be cut twice, and I also squeezed out a belt as well, but that is all.  The pieces just make it.  What an efficient little number this pattern is!  So many sewists have a hard time understanding or even working with the bias grain, and this pattern would be great place to start

To enhance the drape of the cowl neckline, the pattern instructs you to choose a moderately hefty button and attach it to the inside point with a thread chain.  I like to keep my buttons for being seen (most of mine are treasured vintage pieces from Grandmothers on both sides of the family) and I pictured that danging button as perfect for being caught up and snagged in the wash machine.  Instead, I made a tiny square pocket, just the size of a quarter in change.  Only one side of the pocket opening was stitched down to the inner drape point.  This way I can remove the weight easily before washing and even control how much drape I want – sometimes I go for two quarters or a lighter weight dime in the tiny pocket.  Versatility is everything to me when it comes to my own sewn wardrobe!

I didn’t change a thing to the pattern.  Its sizing is broad – merely a range bulked into a small, medium, large rather than the traditional numbers.  Even though this looked like possibly a size too big for me, I went with it because I figured a pop-over top never hurts to have some extra room.  I like the loose and flowing fit, but for a different fabric I might size down next time.  I left the blouse length as-is and it is almost too short to stay tucked in easily, yet I must say it is a good length to be just as nice untucked.  Of course, I did leave out the directed adding of shoulder pads.

I realize that I have been posting a lot of one yard or less and remnant projects, and I will take a break.  However, they are really as good as I tout, and really necessary to counter the fast fashion of today.  I have an inkling that it might be an unrealized, underlying mission to find and use as many of these one yard projects in my lifetime as possible.  Such economical projects are not as well advertised (or as easy to find in modern patterns) as I think they should be.  This one is the cream of the crop in my opinion, which is why I am considering offering copies of my Vogue #5524 pattern (at a minimal price) for your own enjoyment.  I have not decided how or through what method I would offer the patterns because it would depend on the interest.  Please, just let me know if you would be interested in a copy by commenting to this post or send me a message.  I will keep all of you posted!

In the meantime, I will follow up this post with something different, but connected to this post – a smorgasbord of inspiration about ways, both vintage and modern, to wear and use scarves.  Curious after finding this pattern, I ended up coming across too much more scarf inspiration not to share.  Get your one yard squares ready!

…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.

“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 (blogged here), 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!