The last scene of the last season of Marvel’s television show “Agent Carter” could not have went out with more of a bang when she wears a stunning mid-40’s dress of contrasting colors and pie-sliced neckline cut-outs. Here is my version! Where else but in the decade of the 1940’s will you find such unusual features, in a dress which is a mix of both fancy and casual, like this!
Cut outs seem to be all the rage everywhere I look this year so far, and I’d like to think this is due to the last dress we see Captain America’s girl wearing in her own series. So why not (as I thought) just go along with things courtesy of that awesome, indomitable Peggy Carter – a woman ahead of her time in many ways. Now I can not only be fashionable in modern day but also back in 1946!
This is the one of the more difficult vintage patterns I have come across, and also I think one of the most dramatic and highly detailed of the ones that I own. Leave it to me to only make this more difficult in an effort to be more like Peggy Carter. I made all the contrast bias tape for the belt, sleeves, neckline and cut-outs, with way too much unpicking to get the top-stitching right. Whatever! This dress deserved all the attention it received at my sewing table to even get close to a “Hollywood Ending”.
FABRIC: Two different colors of the all American-made 100% cotton sold at JoAnn’s Fabric. The one is a deep navy which has a hint of turquoise (so I think) and the other is a baby blue color leftover from making my other Agent Carter project, a hybrid 1940’s style blouse.
NOTIONS: Well, I did need to go out and buy a special ¼ inch bias tape Dritz notion to make my own tiny single fold custom binding from the blue fabric. Other than that I had all the thread, seam tape, bias tape, shoulder pads, and the zipper I needed.
TIME TO COMPLETE: My dress was done on August 8, 2016, after maybe 25 plus hours spent on it.
THE INSIDES: All cleanly finished off in either French seams or bias tape.
TOTAL COST: Not much for what I think it looks…less than $15.
Gigi Melton, the designer of the original “Agent Carter” wardrobe as seen on the show, now commands my great respect after making my own attempt to both replicate Peggy’s dress and stay historically authentic by using an old pattern. She also deserves the credit for my inspiration. Sewing this baby up was hard! I have not come across many sewing project which so completely challenge me, even drain me, like this dress did. Therefore, I am so very proud of this project, and I feel like a million in it! Gigi Melton did indeed make a seriously complex, yet lovely version of a post-war dress for Peggy (actress Hayley Atwell) – it very much deserves to be part of the current FIDM exhibit of “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design”!
I know my version is slightly different when you get down to nitty gritty details, such as the sleeves and skirt front. I could have made an exact copy, and considered it, too, but Gigi Melton deserves to keep the privilege of having her original stay one-of-a-kind…and besides I personally adore the details of the old original pattern I used. Originally, I fully intended on making my version in a different color scheme, with blue contrast but brown overall. When I found the exact blue-slightly turquoise deep navy cotton in my face at the fabric store, I couldn’t resist going with the same color scheme.
What I find interesting is that season two of Agent Carter is supposed to have taken place in 1947, but my dress is dated to 1946, as are many other similar neckline cut-out dresses from the 40’s that I’ve seen. See my Pinterest board here for other related vintage cut-out neckline ladies’ garment patterns that I have come across. Burda Style has recently released a few patterns which have features which are so reminiscent of this 1946 Agent Carter dress, such as the “Cutout dress, No. 112, 06/2016”, or “Open-Back Jumpsuit, No. 112 A, 04/2016”, the “Fancy Pocket Dress, No. 104 B, 10/2016”, and even “Long Sleeve Jumpsuit, No. 107, 10/2016“.
Cut-outs are such a demure but appealing touch which instantly glams up a garment and turns it into something eye-catching and unique. It’s also like getting to wear a high neckline without really having one…cut-outs keep skin in eye sight. Outlining the cut-outs is a very bold touch that I would never on my own have thought could have worked so well, at least visually. I can almost picture how the original dress has its contrast applied, but then I can’t imagine my attempt turning out that professionally. My method was to have the neckline cut-out facing to be in the light baby blue with the tiny bias tape top-stitched along the very, very edge. Many times I either gave myself a crick in the neck for leaning into the stitching (intense sewing sucks me in) or I would fall off the furthest edge (like walking a balance beam) while top-stitching the tiny bias tape. Am I nuts or what? I’ll do what I takes to be happy with something I sew, and that is frequently a hard order!
Now the pattern was technically not hard, just finely detailed work, in my opinion. I also think its instructions are both well laid out and the method it is made ingeniously designed. The top edges of the neckline cutouts get matched up with corresponding notches in the tiny bias strip which becomes the contrast neckline. This way I knew how wide the tops of the opening needed to be. However, the skirt front with its shirring and wing pockets is mostly the part of the design that I enjoy the way it gets made. The skirt details were what mystified me about the pattern from the first I saw of it – how do the gather stay so nice and the pockets drape out? The secret is an inner panel that fills in over the belly between the pockets. By bringing together the pockets from inside, all the details of the skirt front are kept unstretched, the shirring gets a layer to anchor to, and the oversized pocket edges (stiffened with seam tape) then flare out.
This dress is the first time I’ve come across several different features, most of which I’ve already mentioned except for the sleeves. I know they are out there, but this is the first kimono style with a full sleeve that I’ve seen in the decade of the 40’s. I usually have a hard time keeping the inner curve of my kimono sleeves from wrinkling and bunching, even with precautions like snipping and such, but these sleeves turned out great. Tacked inside are giant ½ inch thick shoulder pads to help define the shoulders, sculpt the silhouette, and give the impression of a defined sleeve seam. I find it so curious that such bulky shoulder pads work so well and look so good with 40’s styles – maybe it’s just that I have the body type that (I think) can handle over-exaggeration of the shoulders which the 40’s does best.
Now my belt was entirely self-drafted, and it merely two strips of fabric with a layer of “Stitch Witchery” bonding web ironed in between for a stable, one-piece of material. Then the bias binding was sewn over the edge and the closure added. Now, Peggy’s original dress as designed by Gigi Melton had as its closure a black buckle in what looks like leather. I was inclined to use Vogue #9222, view B, since it looks like a carbon copy of Gigi Melton’s design (lacking the lacing over the edges, of course). However, again, I went with my taste but still stayed a bit true to the original by having no buckle. My belt has a ½ inch bias strip sewn to the inner center of one rounded edge, then about ¾ inch space away the other rounded end of the belt latches onto a sliding, waistband-style hook-and-eye.
I usually love making my own bias tape (no irony, really I do), but tiny ¼ inch single fold bias tape was living hell. My hands received some very painful injuries from the steam of the iron and every seam line only made the folding even harder. It wasn’t the tool – the Dritz tool worked great. It’s just that the smaller the scale the more difficulty. So my lesson was learned never do this scale bias tape again…until my next “very good reason” to suck up and make it again! The finished look of some custom made bias tape is so worth whatever extra bother goes along.
Check out my shoes – they are so “mathy-matchy” I am a little embarrassed at myself and proud at the same time. They are “Kimmy” ankle strap pumps by “Chase and Chloe” in light blue to match the contrast color in my dress. These shoes are not leather and not that comfy for long periods of wear, but they were on sale for so cheap, have a vintage flair, and they have the same triangular cut-outs as my dress! They are not what Peggy wore with her outfit, but hey, this outfit is for me to wear. How could I resist the call of the perfect pair of shoes? I rarely can…
Our background settings for these pictures are two of the historical theatres in our town. This was meant to match with the “Hollywood Ending” in Agent Carter’s television show. Jarvis drops Peggy off in front of the SSR’s “cover” shop front of a theatrical agency, catty-corner to an old movie theatre. If you notice, our one picture of me has the dual masks of comedy and tragedy over behind me – a subtle hint to Peggy Carter’s nemesis Whitney Frost, a.k.a. “Madame Mask”. The theatre with the masks on the front entrance box office box is the “Tivoli” theatre, built in 1924. Here we were not able to take pictures anywhere other than outside.
However, the theatre in most of our pictures is from 1922, the “Hi-Pointe” theatre, the oldest and the only one built for showing movie films – not vaudeville acts like the Tivoli’s use – and done so continuously since its opening. The Hi-Pointe theatre technically has won awards as having the best urinals in town (not that I would know), but – no really – I love the simplistic Art Deco Look of the front ticket office box with its streamlined metal sheeting. The head employee so kind and helpful to let us explore inside and even pull the curtains and turn on the spotlights so I could have the picture perfect “Hollywood Ending” shot! That’s all, folks! Cue the happy finale…