Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

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“Remember…” a 1960’s Button-Back Blouse

Here is my lovely but late post of the garment I made for the 1960’s Challenge (week of November 25th). I actually made this on time for the challenge, but, sometimes life gets in the way of sewing and I couldn’t find time to muster my writing skills and add my post. Better late than never, I suppose!

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I really enjoy wearing this blouse much more than I originally expected. I can always tell by the fact it has frequent trips through the wash machine.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: 100% polyester silky print in a psychedelic mix of mostly black and magenta with light blue, white, and green in between ($10 or under); small remnants of cling-free lining (to avoid using static guard at every wearing) in a pastel rose colorSimplicity 5617 cover

NOTIONS: One pack of light blue buttons (50 cents) was all I needed to buy; I already had leftover interfacing, black thread, and also leftover lavender bias tape to use.

PATTERN: Simplicity 5617, year 1964 (paid about $3 at an antique shop for this)

FIRST WORN:  I wanted to show the ladies at the fabric store from which I bought everything for my blouse (Hancock Fabrics) what I did (do you blame me?!) and do a night time photo shoot afterwards.

TIME TO COMPLETE: 8 or 9 hours; finished on November 27, 2012

I bought and then made this pattern within a window of a month or two. Usually it takes me LOTS longer to get to a specific pattern, as I have plenty of patterns, many matched with fabric, and ready to be sewn together. There were four reasons for my promptness: 1) it would be my first true blouse with a collar and buttonholes and the whole bit; 2) it looked super easy with only 3 pieces for the blouse; 3) my mom said she remembered having a blouse with a backwards collar like this when she was my age; and 4) it was perfect for the Challenge! Actually, I had a hard time sticking to just this pattern, since just the week before I had the opportunity to buy 35 patterns, dating from 1955 to 1970, all for a few dollars! Now I can’t wait to make more 60’s styles from my collection.

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Sewing this pattern together was so easy I almost didn’t need the directions. I had read through the part about the back button placket several times, but it still was unclear and rather confusing…at least for me, so rather ignored it and went rogue. My husband has a self-placket shirt (the kind without a separate piece to be sewn where the buttonholes go), and it was easier for me to look at his shirt and just make my back placket exactly similar.

The long, bias bust darts were easier than expected. Even the collar points and collar interfacing came out better than I hoped. It was quite hard to sew the collar to the blouse – the polyester was not ‘stretching’ well and I really had to pull and clip it to fit nicely. Another favorite feature of this blouse is the sleeves. They are loose kimono style and very comfortable for my larger upper arms with the lack of conventional shoulder seams. The bias tape sewn along the sleeve hem (then turned under as per instructions) makes a stiff, round look which compliments the design. It’s a shame you can’t tell any of these details by the envelope picture. The drawings show the jacket on the model, except for an almost worthless tiny right corner shot of the blouse worn on its own.

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Making the buttonholes down the blouse back required a sort of “field trip” to my parents’ house. I needed to use my mom’s Bernina sewing machine because at this time I do not have the ability to do them on the machines I currently have. She has the fancy Swiss-made machine with everything on it and my old Singer only does straight stitch and zig-zag. I think this might have been my first buttonholes made, at least since many years, and…WOW…it was fun! The critic in me wants to say I could’ve somehow done better (such as sewing in cord or better interfacing), but the buttonholes seem strong enough, so, I’m really proud at my new accomplishment.  The buttons aren’t even that hard to close on myself by reaching behind.

When I finished the blouse, I realized the bust was huge…and I mean really big, so that I wondered if it was the wrong size. As a fix, I promptly sewed up the sides a bit, and re-sewed the darts into generous concave darts so as to grab in more from the front.  Two long, back bodice princess darts were also added later.  However, it was still big. The front, under the collar also looked strangely plain and lacking something to me. Bingo! I had a light bulb come on! I thought of a favorite turtleneck on mine, one that is a “ready-to-wear” but it has some lovely gathers, only a few inches long, centered under the front turtleneck. I made only 2 or so inches of horizontal gathers about an inch or so down from the collar, then tacked it in place with bias tape behind (inside) to keep it from coming undone. Doing my gathered neckline fix did wonders for the blouse. The gathers hide the long darts in front, pull in the excess fabric right where it was too big, and totally liven up the look, making it more modern with more interest.

DSC_0472a-comp,wMy post’s title is a reference to one my absolute favorite songs of the 60s decade, “Remember…Walkin’ in the Sand” by the Shangri-Las, released in 1964 on of the top 5 hits for that here (listen to it here). I grew up with this song, hearing my mom sing to it and play her vinyl record of it since I was little. We often had fun with the “Remember…” chorus by adding our own phrases to suit any occasion. Seeing the pictures of my photo shoot outfit does remind me of the Shangri-Las with their “tough girl” reputation and their preference to wear leather pants and vests for performances.

When I found out how popular they were in ’64, I enjoyed reading up on the Shangri-Las. The 2 twins and 2 sisters group had no major moral shocks to relate – just a career with the best music of their era. There is a rather funny story of how they got in trouble with the FBI for ‘transporting guns across states’-supposedly for self-protection while on their tours. They were, after all, only minors of 15, 16, and 17 when their popularity started…and they had problems with a crazy devotee crawling in their hotel window. The two twins died too young, but Mary Weiss (the blond) and her sister have moved on to other successful careers. I would have never imagined Mary doing what she is currently doing – working as a New York architect and self-business owner!

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My leather skirt (no, I didn’t make it) is my favorite match with my blouse.  It is actually a Tommy Hilfiger brand skirt bought at a steal of a price at a thrift shop.  This is something I can’t see myself making, at least this de-luxe with a zippered pocket, lining, and all, and I couldn’t afford it new.  I love the dusty dark blue tone of it…so unique.  However, when I don’t want to raise any eyebrows, a “ready-to-wear” black corduroy skirt with my high heeled boots matched fine, as well.

DSC_0479a-comp,wNight time was a challenging way to take pictures, but fun and completely my idea! This way I can also test out how warm this blouse really is…and it is a good wind chill buster. The non-breathable polyester keeps out the wind (as does the leather skirt, especially) and the high neck is cozy without being suffocatingly confining.  Our first night shots were taken at the local bus terminal, to take advantage of any extra light.

I have just under a yard of my blouse’s fabric leftover still.  I am thinking of making a modern bias cut mini skirt from it, something small and hot.  I also think I have enough fabric to make the hem reach my knees.  This skirt project is going in my “future sewing” pile for now.

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