Hubby’s Vintage “Non-Smoking” Jacket

With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw.  Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion.  They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines).  Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes.  As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees.  Ah, men deserve better.  I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.

A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute).  My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title.  Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness.  What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode.  This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets.  The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem.  My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials.  Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples.  However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste.  He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it!  I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved.  Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket.  I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2172, year 1947

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 40 plus hours to make and was finished on September 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  What insides?  This is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!

At-home Robe (Banyan) with Matching Waistcoat France, 1720s

It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947.  The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related.  The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place.  Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading.  By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.

At-home Robe (Banyan) England, circa 1880

However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century.  Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing.  “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.

In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets.  They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes.  Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times.  At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes.  Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.

Whew!  As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming!  Every detail counts on a smoking jacket.  This one has full body lining.  There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie.  The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket.  The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him.  I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.

Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge.  Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was.  At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before.  Those kinds of makes are the best kind!

For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’.  It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found!  I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining.  Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic.  I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased.  It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!

What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose.  It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see.  Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be.  The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process.  Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times.  Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going!  I really don’t want an answer to that…

Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease.  I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity.  He wanted “to exist beautifully”.  There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing.  I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.

Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man.  See this page for some serious eye candy.  The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo.  Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty.  No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.

A picture from the exhibit “Reigning Men”, with (from left to right) a May’s Co. Dept. Store short jacket from 1948, a Victorian-era engraving, and a Smoking suit in satin from ca. 1880

Easter Backup – An Easy Sew, Late 40’s Peplum Blouse

Do you ever listen to that “just in case” voice reasoning inside your head?  Well, maybe I was just needing an excuse to whip up another pretty outfit.  You see, I had started this late 40’s peplum project last year’s end of summer and realized (after I cut this blouse pattern out) that I was running out of warm weather time to make it worth my while to sew. Sigh – each season never lasts long enough for all the plans I have.  Nevertheless, I had a project ready to go, just waiting for a few hours’ commitment and nice weather.  What if I didn’t really need another, second Easter outfit?  Whatever…don’t mind if I do.

Now, as my title alludes to, the peplum blouse is the only item I am featuring in this post.  The skirt is something I did make myself, but it has already been blogged about here as it was the bottom half of my 1946 Agent Carter suit set.  It was basically the same pattern as the skirt in with my peplum blouse pattern and this brown one was a great fill-in because it happily matches!  My wide platter hat (definitively bringing this into the late 40’s Dior era), my purse, and gloves are all true vintage items, with my earrings in particular from my Grandma’s old jewelry box.  My fabulous shoes (if I do say so myself) are Miz Mooz brand.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an all-cotton pink printed floral, lined partially in a polyester anti-cling lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8463, a year 2017 reprint of a 1947 pattern (originally Simplicity #1928)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  basic stuff here – a little interfacing, a zipper, and thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together in the blink of an eye.  It took about 6 hours and was finished on March 30, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The blouse only took just over 2 yards and I used a remnant of lining (free in my stash) so with the zipper (the cotton being about $5 a yard) my total is only $15.

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed I have had a renewed fascination with the late post-war 40’s since about 8 months ago.  Anything between 1946 and 1949 has frequently been blogged about here lately.  What has also been going on in the background for me since then, is a new fascination for peplums, as well.  I mean I’ve had an interest in peplums so bad it has been almost like an addiction.  Don’t worry – it’s under control now, after a couple vintage dress purchases later, ha!  However, when it came to sewing something that would relieve my ‘fix’ this 1947 Simplicity re-issue was one that of course had to pop up as it ticks both post-war and peplum boxes.

Now, what makes a peplum?  According to the basic google dictionary definition, it is a “a short flared, gathered, or pleated strip of fabric attached at the waist of a woman’s jacket, dress, or blouse to create a hanging frill or flounce“.  However, I find the technical use of it much broader than that.  Especially in vintage fashion – particularly in the post-war 40’s when fashion styles were easing out of rationing into the full-skirted, sumptuous 50’s silhouette – a peplum was frequently only a small detail that emphasizes the hips by evocation (much like this 1949 dress I have made).  It doesn’t always have to be as obvious as the blouse in this post.  What matters is the prominence a peplum places on the hip line.  A peplum achieves that through excess fabric artfully added in the area between the waist and the upper thigh.  That – pure and simple – is a peplum.

I did change the pattern slightly.  I wanted to taper the back half of the peplum into a slightly lower hem with a point at the center because I don’t have anything like that.  Possessing so many different peplums now, I guess I’m starting to become picky!  I also took or just two inches out of the peplum gathers coming into the waistband.  Other than these two customizations, I made the rest of the pattern as designed and didn’t even need to adjust the sizing, which I found spot on.

Yet, there was something I added to help the peplum hang better.  Ideally, this blouse should be made out of something draping or flowing, and that wasn’t this cotton…but that wasn’t going to stop me!  I cut and extra double of the peplum out of my lining to go underneath.  This way it slides over whatever skirt I wear under this top (because it does also match with about two other skirts, anyway).  Another layer, no matter how lightweight, adds a little more heftiness to the peplum helping it hang straight, also making the formerly ugly wrong side so pretty and cleanly hemmed now.  Lining a peplum is definitely the way to go when sewing such a style.

Most of the times I ditch fiddly facings in lieu of bias edging or full lining but I kept them here.  This blouse has cut-on sleeves – kimono shoulders with a cap (as it’s called) look – which dip very low.  This style is very comfy for me with my larger upper arms and give a soft shoulder widening emphasis.  Such an arm opening also makes however you finish the sleeve edges visible…why I stuck with the self-fabric facings.

I love the bust shaping on this top.  This is not the first time I have experienced such drafting.  It is also on my 1951 dark purple slip (posted here).  For this 40’s blouse, though, there is more dramatic shaping, not for any flat chested or very small busted woman.  I didn’t change the neckline depth, and find it a nice in between – not showing cleavage yet prettily open enough for showcasing a necklace.  My little simple single diamond is something I am happy to show off, anyway.  It is quite special to me.  I received it as gift for a special occasion when I was about eight.  So much of my outfits are tied up with memories…

Before Easter is yet another distant memory for this year and summer is upon us, I just wanted to share my other very spring photos of my latest make.  I realize I have been posting so many 1940s creations here as of late and I will share more variety soon, I promise!  If you are on Instagram, I hope to be posting on that platform more of my true vintage original peplum dresses that I have acquired.

Do you have a particular style of peplum that especially appeals to you?  Have you not tried peplums yet?  Is it just me or does my 40’s purse somehow look like an Easter basket?  Let me know – I love comments!

Being a Spectator

“Being is always a two-way street: as soon as you are aware that you can see, you will also know that you can be seen – and judged.” (From “Why is Caring About Fashion Considered So Unserious?” by Madison Moore.)  Now this is a rather harsh way of looking at a basic human reaction, and it does make us sound rather vain and self-conscious, but it’s unavoidable.  All the way back to Adam and Eve in the Bible story, who covered themselves because they were afraid of being seen by God, clothing ourselves is intertwined with self-awareness, personality (hidden or manifested), inner or outward expectations, and scrutiny under the sight of others.  This is all the more prevalent today, in our world of Instagram and Pinterest, which feeds off of and provides a seeming endless sea of images.  There’s no harm in such digital age resources, in my opinion, provided one gets out to see and experience real people in real life more than one spends the time to observe remotely via a computer or phone screen.

Public events happen to be the best places for bystander watching.  This sounds bad, but let’s face it – we’re a curious race.  It’s where people come to be entertained by the main attraction of the moment as well as find amusement in turn watching those who are present.  Everyone’s a spectator.  This makes me think – is there a style for being a spectator?  Why don’t many people even bother to dress our best anymore when going out in public, especially for fancy, special events?  How much do we dress for ourselves compared to how much we dress for others or for society?  Whatever does this have to do with my normal fashion-history-sewing blog postings, you may be wondering, too.

Well, there is a style of vintage garments and footwear which is labelled as “Spectator” fashion, and I have taken the Marvel’s Agent Carter interpretation!  In the very first episode of Season Two to the television show, “The Lady in the Lake”, she sets off the plot with a bang in a very striking, post WWII year 1947 rich red dress outfit.  She wears this fully accessorized set to the ultimate place and event for the sport of both being a spectator and watching them – horse racing!  To mirror her location, I had my own visit to a Clydesdale horse ranch.

Most people know the shoe version of Spectators – what we also call “Two-Tones”.  Perhaps the most well-known spectator style footwear might be saddle shoes or the quintessential “Lindy Hop” lace up flats of the Rockabilly 1940s and 50’s youth.  But Spectator styles were for fashion too, mostly in the form of a nice, collared dress, which was comfortable yet tailored and easily fancied up or down as needed.  I cannot find anything more definite than these consistent trait details, besides the fact they seem to have been quite popular in 1950 (here’s one example), petering out by circa 1954 (see this pattern), and are seen mostly in solid colors or low-key prints such as tiny polka-dots, for one example.  I need to do more research digging to be more specific on Spectator fashion, but it was certainly “a thing”.

Each piece to my whole outfit is very much a red and white, two-toned spectator-style item.  My only real variance from my inspiration was gladly changing the details to a more authentic and personally pleasing hat and shoe style.  Yes, I could have done a mirror-image “copy”, but opted not to follow exactly the Agent Carter outfit as seen in the program.  As with the rest of my Agent Carter “copies”, I ride a fine line between adhering to the movie inspiration and being true to history, but being authentic to my own taste for the 1940s always wins out for me.  I work so hard to find true vintage patterns that are strikingly similar, capturing a recognizable essence of my inspiration, and luckily the costumes are generally so good at being authentic themselves I really don’t have to sacrifice much at all to have the best of both worlds!

My Spectator dress is completed by one of my favorite millinery hat making projects.  A dingy, stained, and unwanted true vintage late 30’s or 1940s hat was rescued, refashioned, and spruced up into a new, bright life as a dramatic late 40’s/early 50’s style to match my outfit.  Hats, after all, are something not to be without when it comes to showing up at the horse races I know, such as Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

My shoes are – of course – spectator style in red and white.  The ones seen on Peggy (of Chelsea Crew brand) are more of a 1920’s style spectator with the T-strap and pointed toes and quite expensive to buy everywhere they are found.  I personally prefer the likes of a true 1940’s heel on my feet, so for myself and for the outfit’s sake I went with a platform, peep-toe, and sling back heel from B.A.I.T brand footwear.  I think these are much more of a power shoe to bring this outfit up to the commanding and flashy woman that Peggy Carter needed to be for the occasion of her visit to the races.

This is my second entry to the “Sewing the Scene” sewing challenge sponsored by the “Unfinished Seamstress” blogger.  After all my efforts to mimic my inspiration outfit, this is still more than just a Hollywood copy for me, and not cosplay either.  This outfit will gladly be worn as part of my vintage-inspired wardrobe because Agent Carter is something which is part of my everyday life.  In fact…I wore this dress to get my official driver license picture for my renewal!  How’s that for bringing my inner Agent Carter into my ordinary duties!?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester suiting fabric from JoAnn’s Fabric store for the dress and a poly felt for the hat

PATTERN:  a “1st Place Prize” mail order pattern No. 1993, which I can date with confidence to year circa 1947

NOTIONS:  I used two zippers I had on hand, a true vintage metal one for the back neck opening and a modern matching red one for the side closure.  I had on hand the interfacing that I needed and plenty of thread otherwise.  The piping I made myself of leftover satin blanket binding and macramé cording!  The satin blanket binding went towards the hat as well as me-made bias tape of dress fabric leftovers.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Ugh!  After way to much hand-stitching to remotely tolerate, about 40 (probably more) hours, this dress was finally finished on July 12, 2018.  The hat was refashioned in one afternoon/evening soon after, in about 5 hours.

THE INSIDES:  All clean in either French seams or bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  about $35 was spent of the dress fabric, about $5 for the hat felt, and $20 to buy the vintage hat.  If I count the $10 deal I got on the shoes and the cost for my other accessories, the total outfit cost is about $100.

The outfit was quite a challenge to make – by far one of the hardest outfits to make, Peggy Carter related or not.  For the dress, I blame the crummy fabric I chose for a lot of my problems.  The fabric was the right color red to be sure, readily available in a local store, with a nice slightly textured finish, and a good multi season weight.  It was just too man-made in the way it acted, as if it was such an unnatural fiber that it was fighting being made into something worthwhile every step of the way.  I had to do meticulous hand-stitching for almost everything to get the dress to turn out halfway decent and not messy or cheap looking…I mean the fabric was rather pricey after all!  I was convinced into believing anew the need to go on a personal strike against polyester and other man-made materials.  For the hat, the main issue was dealing with something wonky and beat up and trying to revive it.  The man-made felt I used is again “man-made”, yet it worked out well for this refashion.  This hat could not be cleaned and it was the wrong colors but the right shape…when looking past all of its faults from the wear and tear of time.  Polyester felt was a weight which was thin enough to not make covering the existing hat too bulky, and I don’t think it is obviously an imitation of wool.  When making one’s dream outfit, sometimes price, budget, and available materials sure does make things more of a challenge than it need be!

The pattern itself presented its own challenges along the way.  From the very beginning, though, a big chunk of the extra time it took to be finished with this set was even before I could cut.  The sizing needed such a major change (it was for a tiny 30” bust).  I traced out the entire dress onto sheer medical paper so I both wouldn’t have to ruin the original and could gradually, in small segments, add in the 4 inches I needed widthwise.  Besides resizing, the only other design change I made was to the reshape the neckline.  I widened out the top angle of the neckline so that it would be more squared off and the two corners would land at the middle of my collarbones.  I raised the bottom drop of the key-hole neckline higher by just a few inches, so it would at least cover any cleavage (unlike Peggy’s dress, which shows way too much in my opinion).  Even still, it turned out quite low.  What would the original neckline have been like at this rate?! 

In order the finish the neckline edge, anchor down the piping, and accommodate the newly shaped neckline, I drafted my own facing accordingly.  This is really a dress about visible facing after all – that is the quickest, cleanest, and reasonably easiest way to do the neckline.  The whole of the dress is about the decorative chest, anyway. I made the new facing a replica of the neckline shape and made it an even 2 ¾ inches wide all the way around.  Then I made my own piping and stitched that along the outer facing edge.  Keeping the curves and corners to this step was so tricky but extremely necessary to the design.  Finally the facing was sewn onto the neckline, wrong side (dress inside) to the right side (visible facing).  This way the edges are finished (as I mentioned) and the piping is both covered and regulated in width away from the edge all in one step.

The finishing to this step was the hardest part because everything was invisibly tacked down with tons of hand-stitching which was tortuous to do.  So many pins were needed to keep everything in place in between the episodes of stitching, and my hands and arms became so scratched up and wounded.  The back neckline zipper was absolutely needed but only complicated things further with the piping ending there, too.  Sorry to complain!  In the end, though (after much steam ironing) I do believe the detailing turned out well, but not as perfect as I had hoped.  All those layers and the piping makes the neckline quite stiff, and it puckers slightly sometimes.  However, I do believe the proportions of the key-hole neckline are quite the same as Agent Carter’s dress, so I’m happy.  Yet, I feel now as if I can say I passed some sort of “trial by hand stitching”.  I definitely have a greater respect for the costume department of Agent Carter, now.

The criss-cross straps that finalize the drama of the neckline are shown to be more like a woven design right at the bottom of the key-hole according to the original pattern.  I merely repositioned them to match with Peggy’s dress.  The X over Peggy’s heart is a recurring theme throughout Season Two, as you can see in another copycat dress I made already here.  It is used when she is vulnerable – caught between needing to finish her hardest mission yet while being emotionally torn at the same time.  Love has come into her life again in a whole new way she didn’t see and didn’t expect. With Peggy however, it often seems that love is intertwined with heartbreak.  So – this dress is a strong statement of her both moving on to another chapter in life yet still staying the same strong woman as before she lost ‘her’ Captain America.  She still seems to receive more than her fair share of grief, in my opinion.  I suppose all it does is go to show just how strong and resilient she can be…though not tough enough to refuse to open her heart.

Only the year before this design, the bombshell actress Lana Turner had popularized decorated keyhole necklines when she wore several in the sultry 1946 movie, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (see fashion pics here).  One of the only times she isn’t wearing white in the film, her black dress has white trim a few inches out from the edge to outline the shape of the keyhole neckline.  It looks all too similar!  Agent Carter was apparently only keeping up with Hollywood to wear this neckline style.

Otherwise, there is not much to say about the rest of the dress.  It has very basic shaping and almost boring darts and seaming.  That’s okay – the body of the dress needs to take a backseat to the neckline.  I kept the sleeves as they were designed, even though they are so different from my inspiration dress, because not only did they turn out cute in my opinion, but they are very easy to move in and provide a great 40’s shoulder widening appearance.  They are quite loose around my arms, but the rest of the dress also had a giant amount of ease to match.  I had to pare off about two inches from each side seams, and take off several inches from the hem.  This brand of pattern company must run really generous.  I guess I didn’t need to do all of that massive resizing after all.

Enough said about the dress – now I’ll talk about the hat!  Originally it must have been quite stunning – to me it has an almost sea-faring pirate feel and the back tassel bumble is an interesting addition.  Many late 30’s and early 40’s hats were similarly obnoxious in style with wide brims.  As I found it, there was an ugly black stain on the crown, and the brim had some rips or moth holes.  The brim edge wire was terribly twisted and kinked, too.  It needed a re-fashion, or else I cannot see anyone wanting it in that condition.

I hate seeing vintage items on their last leg, and I really didn’t want to make a hat from scratch to match my outfit…so I fulfilled both in one step!  Now I know my refashion tuned the hat into the bowl or platter style popular in the early 50’s, but it evokes the post war fashion of 1947, the year Dior unveiled his “New Look”.  It also shows how little details in shape and finishing can change a style so much!

My very first step was to unpick the stitching of the grosgrain ribbon along the edge, to then be able to unpick the millinery wire stitched on the edge.  Next, I took the tassel bumble off and stitched up the back brim slit opening.  Then the hat received an all-over steam ironing!  This flattened out the wavy brim and freshened it up in both smell and shape.  Now the hat was ready to be covered.

I started by covering the bottom underside of the brim using the dress fabric.  I made three rows of stitching from the edge for decorative looks and to keep it in place.  Then the crown was covered by gently stretching out my felt over the existing hat, and my knee was the best thing to put inside to keep in shape while I was doing this.  Stretching the felt made the two layers stick the one another better than stitching the two layers together.  If I was working with a wool felt, I would have soaked it in water before stretching it, but the polyester felt wasn’t going to work like that.

Finally, the top crown was covered with more felt, hand stitched down along the inner and outer edges, then my self-made bias tape, made from the same dress material, was stitched along the edge for the finishing touch.  The last thing was to make a tube of the leftover white satin left over from making the piping, and gently hand-tack that from the inside to where the brim meets the crown.  Agent Carter’s original hat had two different colors and textures of red just like my hat, but I just could not bring myself to copy the trim.  The original hat in the television show hat grey velvet trim with a matching bow, and to me it looks too much like a costume that way, and too over-the-top.  I like the classy simplicity of how I decorated my hat – again, not distracting from the dress, but definitely part of it by sharing the same materials.

It is remarkable how much this outfit forces me into a new outgoing spirit that is almost more than I can handle if I’m not quite feeling myself.  It’s all good stuff, though.  I’ve never really been a girl who is all about a red dress…it comes from reading the book “The Scarlet Letter” or watching Scarlett O’Hare show up at Ashley’s birthday party in the movie “Gone with the Wind”.  Besides, my mom never let me buy outfits in red when I was growing up.  I had only one fancy red dress, and that was reserved for a Valentine’s Day father-daughter dance to attend as a pre-teen.  Now, I’m rediscovering the empowerment of the color.  I even went all out with the color by treating myself to the complete Agent Carter red accessories as seen on television, too – cheaper copies of her Ray-Ban sunglasses, Besame brand “Red Velvet” lipstick (from the Agent Carter collection), her same mother-of-pearl flower earrings, and a true vintage alligator leather handbag.  If I’m going to enjoy the shade of crimson, and go all out in one of my most time consuming Agent Carter outfits yet, then it has to be absolutely awesome from my head to toes and everything in between.

Now I am truly a classic spectator…dressing up in my best, decked in a flag-your-attention set of red, sticking to two tones, and definitely realizing I am seen.  I may therefore be arbitrated, too, but then I am not afraid of it because I feel great in what I wear when I make it.  Besides – I am not afraid of others judgment in this outfit in particular.  I have a sneaky suspicion that it will get favorable opinion from others anyway.  I’ve already had someone drive buy and offer a compliment to me the very first day of putting it on.  There must be something with spectator fashions, because here I am talking about the self-consciousness, personality, and preparedness for scrutiny arising just from what I am wearing.  Clothing certainly adds a necessary complexity and interest to the human existence.

“Hiding Hibiscus” Post War Peplum Set

The sun is now setting sooner and the leaves are just beginning to show some vibrant color, but that doesn’t mean a girl like me can’t take advantage of the lingering warm fall weather to dream of being somewhere more perpetually balmy!  I’ll just wear some fall color in the late 40’s Hawaiian style to reconcile myself with the now fading summer!

This outfit of me-made blouse, skirt, and belt was directly inspired by an outfit worn by the character of Ana Jarvis, from Season Two of Marvel’s TV show Agent Carter.  However, it was also a very good opportunity to experiment with more new-to-me fashion trends – peplums and scallop edging.  I have  seen both peplums and scalloping in many sources for this coming fall, especially scallop edging (check out Talbots, Valentino, Zara, and Nordstrom for some higher-end starters).  I also see this feature everywhere in post WWII 40’s fashion until the early 1950’s (see my Pinterest board on this for examples).  This scalloping is an easy and exciting detail that the home seamstress or anyone who sews can incorporate into any and all existing patterns.  I will show you later on in this post.  As for the peplum of the blouse I am wearing, this was a total dive into something I’ve always been dubious about as to whether or not it could be made to “work” for me.  I believe it does, thanks in no small part to my awesome custom made belt, and I am now a peplum convert.  The best part is the fact I have put a completely new spin on a popular Simplicity vintage re-print, #1590.

A post 1946 to pre-1955 peplum is my favorite interpretation of this style – so far!  I love the bias circle flare.  Peplums from this time slot were sort of like a balancing act of offering what was missing from the peplums of the preceding and following eras.  Peplums of the 30’s were long and lean or short and almost non-existent, during the war years of the 40’s, there were short and frilly peplums, and the 50’s had padded, flared, or deceptively unreal inflated hips. I see post WWII to early 50’s peplums as a subtle transition to more accentuation of the hips, a classic trademark of after the mid 50’s, rather than an exaggerating emphasis on the shoulders as fashion had been doing since the mid 1930’s.  Case in point, Simplicity released an almost identical peplum blouse pattern (with a different neckline and sleeves, granted) in the year 1955 as Simplicity #1344.  The Simplicity reprint I used for my blouse was originally Simplicity #2027, from the year 1947.  Peplums nowadays are fun and varied – they experiment with anything and everything in between…long, short, half, bias, paneled.  Have you learned to love peplums yet?

Speaking of what I love, it’s no secret (if you follow my blog) how much I adore the fashions on Agent Carter (both seasons), and I had to branch out and try more of the fashion of the indomitable wife of Mr. Jarvis.  (Here’s my first and second Mrs. Jarvis outfits.)  Ana Jarvis’ personal style was strongly Hawaiian, with some Tyrolean influence of the late 30’s as well, so I figured on going for “the real thing” if I was to channel her and be authentically true to both the 40’s and the island culture.  Kamehameha, the largest commercial manufacturer of Hawaiian garments, began in 1937 using tropical floral cotton prints from a dominion of the United States rather than importing Japanese textiles.  After WWII, when tourists again flocked to the islands, the Hawaiian garment industry flourished (info from Forties Fashion by Jonathan Walford).

I have used tropical and Hawaiian prints before, but they have been rayon printed imports (see here and here).  The Hawaiian garment industry still deserves to flourish and be respected for their individual culture as an important part of America’s history.  That’s why the fabric for my skirt was ordered directly from the island of Hawaii!  Yes, I ordered it direct from “Barkcloth Hawaii” and it is so soft and luxurious, in excellent quality.  Besides, I knew the fabric was meant for a Mrs. Jarvis outfit when I saw the fabric that was the closest match to the movie skirt was named “Ana” and a vintage print!  Some projects are just meant to be.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is a 100% cotton sateen bought from “Barkcloth Hawaii” online, while the blouse is a basic 100% cotton, American made, bought from Jo Ann’s.  My belt is light grey vinyl also bought as a remnant from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERNS:  My skirt and belt were self-drafted by me, while the blouse top was made using Simplicity #1590, a year 2013 re-issue of a year 1947 pattern, #2027.

NOTIONS:  I used everything that was already on hand to make this set – I had all the thread, bias tape, hook-n-eyes, and everything.  I bought a big pack of metal eyelets a while back for corset and belt making (like this one), so two more were not a problem!  The belt’s ties are actually 3 mm macramé cord…I bought a large spool of 50 yards of this stuff.  (It’s great for making one’s own piping, fyi!)  The skirt’s side zipper is a vintage metal one, but the blouse’s closure is a modern 22’’. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about an hour, and the belt took me about 1 ½ hours.  The blouse was made in about 5 hours.  Everything was made in July 2017.

THE INSIDES:  For the skirt, selvedge edges are along the side seams, and the rest are bias bound.  For the blouse, most all of the seams are bias bound, too, but the side and peplum dart seam are merely edge stitched raw.  The belt is double layered, so it’s self-faced.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric for the Hawaiian fabric cost just under $30, the fabric for the blouse cost about $12 from Jo Ann’s, and the belt was a remnant which was about $8.  Thus this outfit cost me about $50.

Making this set was really pretty easy, no matter what it looks like!  It was just time consuming to make all three pieces and a bit overwhelming to remember all the self-drafting intricacies and adaptations I was doing.  I made the skirt first, and found that if goes with a number of my already existing tops – oh yeah!  Then I made the blouse, and I felt like it was okay, but not striking me immediately as awesome as I’d hoped.  After the third step, making the belt, the whole outfit was instantly brought together in a way that I LOVED!  It made all the extra effort to make a whole outfit so worthwhile.  This happens frequently for me, most recently with this 1914 set.  So often an outfit or even just a garment a missing a certain “something” to turn it from “meh” to “Wow!”  This is why taking that extra effort to make that little detail or bonus piece pays off.  Your outfit can give you the opportunity to respond to others with, “Thank you, I made this!”, best modern fast fashion by your individuality, and make you feel like a million!

Starting in the order they were made, the skirt began with only 2 yards of fabric.  I cut the length into two one yard cuts, and sewed the seams up on the sides along the selvedge.  Then, I folded along the same spot along the other side of the “stripe” just where the floral section begins.  The center front is an inverted box pleat, while the center back is an outward box pleat.  The rest of the skirt is shaped of knife pleats that go in the direction toward the centers.  This free form pleating, while making consistent folds, was brain blowing and took a tad over an hour to achieve…fold, pin, think, then take it apart and fold, pin, and think some more about sums it up.  Completed, the center back and front pleats were top-stitched down for 5 inches down from the waist, while the rest where left free.    From authentic images of some pleated 40’s skirts, and someone I know that has researched the decade well, I was told that folding a vertically directional print like this is quite historically authentic, besides being fun and making it relatively easy to be consistent.  Fashion in to 40’s had some truly inventive “peek-a-boo” fun when pleating with stripes and directional prints…here are hibiscus flowers hiding behind hanging branches of bougainvillea on my skirt!

As it turned out, the two yards folded the way I liked just barely fit me…I couldn’t have cut it any closer.  This left me with no extra fabric for a waistband like I originally intended.  I suppose I could have cut the waist band off the skirt below, because there is a very wide 8 inch hem along the bottom.  The wide hem helps to weigh down the poufy skirt, though, as does ironing the pleats.  I didn’t really want a contrast waistband, either, so a sewing friend recommended none at all!  A wide strip of bias tape was stitched on the top waist and turned under.  This waist makes it hard to tuck in a top and wear a belt, but I can’t win ‘em all!  For this outfit, the waist is not seen anyway.  I also ended adding in small 7 inch zipper along the left side, as well, with a hook-n-eye that attaches the pleats to one another from the inside.

The blouse was a real breeze to whip up, and had excellent fit and construction.  It’s no wonder this pattern has been in print for a while and is used by so many!  This blouse really is a winner.  I absolutely love the flat front peplum with its interesting capitol T made of a combo dart and seam lines!  The peplum is slightly longer in the back than it is in the front.  I made my “usual” size in Simplicity for the front half and the back I went a size up for ‘’reach room”.  Otherwise, believe it or not, I really didn’t change anything else besides cutting the center front on the fold rather than with a button placket, adding a zipper (with a seam) down the back center, and stitching the sleeve and neckline edge differently.

I started making the neckline and sleeve edges by originally cutting them out as a straight edge.  Then I drafted my own wide facings for the neck and sleeves and drew out the scallops with an invisible ink pen.  Ana Jarvis’s original blouse had wide, deep, dramatic scallops, and I even counted out six around the front neckline, one straddling the kimono shoulder seam, and about 6 for the back neckline.  The only item that I had on hand to use as a tracing guide which would equal the amount of scallops on the original was what I use for pattern weights… ¾ inch washer (which you can find in the hardware store).  Using only half of a washer to make each scallop, with ½ inch in between each, made for two inch wide, 1 inch deep half circles.  The scallops are just a tad smaller where the seams are, so my experiment turned out “perfect” (…what I was hoping for…) but still more amazing than I’d hoped.

If I learned anything to change next time for self-drafting this kind of edge, it’s that the scallops might lay better if they had been made shallower than a complete half circle, but large scale looks good on this blouse in the end, I believe.  I also learned the facing for scallops turns inside easily and keeps its original stitched shape if the seam allowance is trimmed to ¼ inch or less.  This sort of adaptation can be done to any plain edge or even seam line, on any pattern, too.  Just make sure to be precise and remember the seam lines if the scallops straddle them dead center.  Then go to it with adding scallops anywhere!

The belt was basically a wider draft off of this belt which I made for my Agent Carter “Hollywood Ending” dress.  It is merely two layers of vinyl with no interfacing.  The toughest part was hands down turning the two layers of vinyl right sides out after it had been mostly stitched up into a long tube…pure torture.  Never do this unless you sew wax paper inside…this would’ve helped the vinyl from sticking like glue to itself when trying really hard to turn right sides out.  After about a 45 minute “fight” turning the vinyl’s good side out and edges rolled out, the whole darn thing was then top stitched down ¼ away from the edge and two metal eyelets in the center edges.  Add the ties, finish the cut ends, and all is done!

As ecstatic as I am with this outfit, the episode from which this outfit comes is admittedly a very tense, tragic, and sad one.  Ana Jarvis wears this blouse, skirt, and belt set for the whole of Season Two’s episode 7, “Monsters”.  This luckily gave me the best chance to study and re-make versus many garments (from several characters) that get seen in short snippets.

I am impressed and happy that (as has happened before) Marvel’s Agent Carter series has help me enjoy a new-to-me, completely different style and silhouette of the 1940s and early 50s and make it work for myself.  No doubt it helps me like it when I know I can wear something as seen on the screens, straight from Hollywood, and be true to the era!  Besides, now I have a little (very little) part of Hawaii to bring into my life, no matter where I live or what the season.

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India’s independence, 1947

What better way to celebrate 70 years since India’s independence than with a culturally-influenced vintage 1947 dress which commemorates that momentous year.  Not only did I find a lovely, symbolical, amazing border print rayon challis for my India’s tribute dress, but I came up with (what I’ll admit) my most creative use yet of both a sewing pattern and fabric print.  More often than not, the ideas that pop in my head surprise myself,   especially when they come out as planned!

This dress deserved the trip to visit and appreciate our town’s Hindu Temple, one of the largest of its kind in our country.  It is a stunning piece of architecture and the most appropriate place I could think of locally to observe an event that impacted the religion and culture of India.   For those of you reading that know about this point in history, yes, I know it technically wasn’t just India that received independence (due to Jinnah), and yes, I am fully aware of the strife, turmoil, genocide, and hard times that both preceded and followed August 15, 1947.  I enjoy history and learning – it is the opposite of a chore – so I have read and researched an overwhelming amount of information regarding all areas relating to India and Pakistan’s freedom.  But don’t worry – I will not fill up this post with all of that here.  I only want to let you know how much depth and appreciation for a culture and an event from their past has went into this dress.  Designing, sewing, and posting about my Indian-influenced 1947 dress is not just about a creativity I am proud of doing, it also a manifests my deep amazement at what determination and a belief in one’s convictions can do for people…in this case, India 70 years ago.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis, bought from “Simply Fabric of Oakland” Etsy shop

PATTERN:  a Marian Martin pattern #9208, year 1947

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, a bit of interfacing in the form of cotton broadcloth scraps, and a zipper – noting odd or out-of-the-ordinary, so it was all on hand already.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not to add in shoulder pads!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 15 hours and finished on September 2, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Nicely French seamed

TOTAL COST:  As you can see on the site, 3 yards of fabric (I bought plenty extra to have more of the border print) cost me $18 – so reasonable for as silky the quality is and how unique the print is!For some reason this pattern seemed to run very large.  Most of the mail order and now-defunct companies such as Du Barry, Hollywood, etcetera, frequently seem to run generous, but this pattern was technically an inch smaller than my real measurements (32 bust), and it sewed up as if it was a 35 or 36 bust with a very long waist.  I had to take out almost a whole two inches off of the bodice bottom just to have the waistband come close to my true waistline…and it still is not as high as I would like.  Of course, rayon challis is so drapey and flowing it can make a garment seem a bit bigger than if the same was sewn in a cotton or some such stable woven.  However, this one was a true oddity I believe, and as cool as the design is, the sizing and some of the balance marks were just plain off.

Mail order patterns I see are rarely officially dated.  Most of the times I go by postage stamp codes and style lines, with the occasional notes scrawled down which sometimes have a date.  From my research, the postal stamp is mid to post-WWII, with this asymmetric paneled style being so very specific to circa 1947, as well as very frequently used for Marian Martin line.  (See my Pinterest board “Asymmetric” for examples.)  There are some dresses and patterns similar in the years 1946 and ’48, but the average year comes back to ’47 and with my India-theme going on, I am going with 1947 for this project.  Besides, the silhouette is lean and elegant to this dress, and the full, quarter circle bias skirt in the front only (yes! so lovely) is something obviously later post WWII, when fashion was gearing up for a whole ‘new look’ of the 50’s.  The ‘straight off the heels of rationing’ patterns of 1946 would never have a skirt like this one…the likes of which are not to be seen since pre-WWII, year 1939 (such as my Whitney Frost “Superior” dress).  I originally had the notion of making this dress pattern a full wrap-around button down designer-knock-off design, like this one in the book “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford.  But, no, not this time around…This dress is sneakily not draped even though it looks like it – it is actually asymmetrically paneled, sewn like that with the borders facing in.  The only true drape is in the back – a separate sash attached and hanging down from the one shoulder to anchor at a loop in the opposite side’s waistband.  This I added…it was my own idea both to use extra fabric (practical level) and to make it closer to a true Indian garment, one that would be appropriate for religious occasions (culturally respectful level).

My fusion of western and cultural influence in my dress is not just something from me – it is something that the most well-known (native, non-British) ladies were doing at the time in post WWII India.  One of the most inspirational women of our modern times actually gave me the idea for this outfit – Maharani Gayatri Devi, princess of the Indian princely state of Jaipur.  Many of her most well-known pictures (such as the early 40’s ones by Cecil Beaton or the one I’m including from The Calcutta Telegraph, 1945) show her wearing a sweetheart neckline dress, with a sari sash across the front, a look I sought to imitate by having the border print swoop directly parallel with one angle of the neckline.  She was a successful politician (winning in a Guinness recorded “world’s largest landslide”), and a supporter of the cultural arts and learning for girls, so she was much more than just a pretty face, although she was known for her beauty and fashion sense.  Also, post 1946 saw a boom, a resurgence of the already steamrolling Bollywood business and famous actresses such as Nargis all could be seen post WWII wearing dress styles very similar to my own – especially in the 1949 movie Andaz.

The border to this fabric was lovely – multi-layered like a sedimentary rock and therefore very useful for many purposes and fun to play with.  The border started along the selvedge with the dark green strip, which I used as the waist band for high contrast.  Small snippets of the green can be seen on my one shoulder and at the bottom asymmetric hip seam, but I didn’t want that color to stand out as much anywhere else besides the waistband.  Next, come layers of dizzying, fanciful, decorative scroll work and relief images, such as one would find on a building.  These layers were lined up with one side of the sweetheart neckline, and the asymmetric front dress panels.  Boy, was this step tricky!  I actually miss cut, and luckily I had just enough extra fabric to make a new bodice piece.  The border on the upper bodice piece dissipates down, while the lower hip panel has the border going up towards my head, making the whole of my front middle appear as if it’s a swath of a sari wrap.  The only full border is on the long sash that I made.  This sash come from the one shoulder which has the border print, and it can hang down loosely, but I mostly like it when it drapes across my back, made possible by looping into a small bias tube casing I added in the waist of the opposite side, where the side zipper closes.

The fabric’s background is equally as lovely and intricate, but the toned down colors of khaki and white hide the print which adds to the symbolism of the dress.  If you look closely there are ceremonial decorated elephants in white!  Elephants definitely one of the animals of importance to the culture of India, partly – no doubt – due to the fact Ganesh, one of the best-known and most worshiped deities in the Hindu pantheon , has the head of an elephant.  However the pachyderms on my fabric are so fancy they are they look like the ones paraded through festivals, such as the Dasara festival at Mysore or the amazing Tysar Purim festival.  Elephants are at the entrance of the temples and were heavily used for construction of large structures such as temples and palaces.  They represent some wonderful attributes, such as strength and prosperity, and the rare white elephants (like on my dress) actually represent rain to India’s culture.  Luckily, it wasn’t inclement weather for our pictures, only a lovely sky to match the “Krishna blue” on the Hindu temple behind me.

To match the rich, dark colors in my dress, I wore my B.A.I.T. “Violet” peep-toe heels in forest green.  This is a killer 1940’s style heel that is synonymous with Agent Peggy Cater, used (in a navy blue) for the first season of the Marvel television show Agent Carter.  These are not that comfortable at all, and the ball of my foot aches and my toes sort of go numb after only several hours of wearing…not good, I know.  However, I got a good deal for these and they do match with a lot in my 40’s wardrobe, so, for relatively short periods of wearing, these shoes are awesome.  I put a lot of thought and detail into my hairstyle, too, although you can’t really see it in the pictures.  It is a mix of ethnic and 40’s, just like my dress – each side has a twist up which ends on top my head, with victory rolls and pompadour rolls front and back, sort of like this picture of the actress Brijmala.  With my ethnic brass hoop earrings, my outfit is set!

Sadly, I do not have enough places or reasons to wear my Sari inspired dress as often as I would like.  It is not something that fits many general occasions.  I think I will just have to put it on and wear it when I want to – there is no sense making something I love otherwise!  Often times, the vintage pieces I wear get people I meet and even random bystanders around me to make comments, ask me questions, and get a conversation going.  I like this, even welcome it – it is an opportunity I enjoy.  Hopefully, this dress will give off the same mojo as my other vintage outfits (whatever that is…) and get me and others talking.  We do have some very good friends that are just like family – they have parents who lived through the years of change in India, as well as distant relatives still in India – so this dress, and my research associated with it, will hopefully lead me to have an understanding of their culture like never before next time we talk.

I hope this post has inspired and informed you a bit regarding a little known facet of history which has had so much to do with making the modern world be as we know it today.  Please take a few moments on this anniversary of India’s independence to look up some extra info if you’re really motivated!  Let me suggest the short and sweet “Rarely Known Facts About India’s Independence and Partition” or the chock full of videos and pictures “Five Things You Didn’t Know About India’s Independence” for starters.

As always, thanks for reading!

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