There is safety in numbers…mathematical equations, that is. The consistency and assurance of having a logical way to figure out a problem is helpful in other spheres of life because, as we are taught in school, math is not just pointless numbers on paper. Mathematics can be found in science, space, biologics, industry, fashion, and more. Games especially call for math skills. Out of all the games to be played, there is perhaps nothing else that calls upon the exacting perfectionist in me, awakens my inner competitiveness, and leaves no room for my sense of graciousness to my opponent quite like a game of chess. (Those are also all the reasons for me avoiding playing it.)
However, that doesn’t mean I and others like me don’t have a great respect and fascination for those you enjoy and excel at the game. Thus, it comes as no big surprise that such a powerful, mind provoking game loved worldwide could make related statement in fashion, yet the influence of “The Queen’s Gambit” came just over a month ago like an unexpected global storm. It has become Netflix’s most watched scripted series to date. Granted, “The Queen’s Gambit” is fiction loosely based on history, and sadly doesn’t really teach novices a whole lot about the game. Nevertheless, the fashion for the time period it was supposed be set in (50’s to late 60’s) is spot on, visually stunning, and (most importantly) still very wearable for today. So those of us who will not be playing the game more because of the show (raise your hand with me) can certainly copy the mid-century fashion.
Say ‘hello’ to crisp angles and opposing colors, chic short dresses and straight lined silhouettes. My mom says I look like Emma Peel (as fashionable as she was a smart espionage agent) from the 1960s British television show “The Avengers” in this dress! I do so love the bold, mod fashion 60’s and forget that fact after so many other projects for other decades in between. I am all here for a reason to jump back into the era headfirst through “The Queen’s Gambit” outfits!! There will be more in the works very soon…this bow neck, babydoll dress will be next up for my early 2021 sewing.
FABRIC: heavyweight 100% linens for both the exterior black and white fabric, yet the black is a smoother finish while the white is a textured (slubbed) hopsack; lined in a lightweight 100% cotton muslin
PATTERN: Simplicity #8588, year 1969
NOTIONS NEEDED: All I needed was one 22” long zipper for the back, lots or thread, and bias tape to finish off the inner edges and hem.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was whipped up in 4 hours and was finished in the afternoon of November 26, 2020.
TOTAL COST: in the remnant clearance bin at JoAnn Fabrics, I only spent about $6 on this dress!!!
Both linens on this dress were something I had bought about 3 years back now. Yes, as on point as sewing this dress may seem in the light of “The Queen’s Gambit”, I had the idea for making this much earlier. Pierre Cardin is a long-standing fashion icon for me and his creations are the epitome of the power of the avant-garde (next to Elsa Schiaparelli). Only now, it took an entertainment fad of today to give me a very good reason to pull my needed supplies from my storage tubs and finally make room in my sewing queue to transform them into something wearable. Amazingly, I only needed one sole yard of each color linen for this project…60’s era mini dresses aren’t much to wear so they don’t need much material, ha! This is yet another one of my many “remnant” projects. They never cease to amaze me – how good you can look on scraps!
In the final episode of the series, Beth proves her dominance in a chess tournament in Russia. The nail-biting competition sees Beth don an array of elegant and high-fashion outfits to communicate she is a woman in control. Among them is the black and white “I’m Chess Dress”, made in viscose material inspired by mid-1960’s London design. Like many of Beth’s other outfits, the two-tone coloring, and strong lines subtly reflects the pattern on a chess board (from here). I immediately recognized the series’ dress mimicked the idea that I had a few years back! Beth’s dress in viscose has more drape than many such 60’s era dresses, which tend to have a soft structure like stable knit. Linen is similar in quality but a bit more of a call back to timeless quality I adore. So I suppose this is all me working at redeeming a slight ‘fault’ I saw I the series’ fashion. I like my version better – it’s more wearable!
I felt a pattern from the year 1969 was a perfect place to start. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon. It was the dawn of true “Space Age” and the imaginations of designers were wandering very futuristic. Pierre Cardin took his space travel seriously: In 1969, he went to Houston and quizzed officials at NASA headquarters about how to stay stylish on the moon. Like his colleagues André Courrèges and Mary Quant, Mr. Cardin proposed a sleek, forward-dawning fashion. This was the height of the “mod” fad. As I thought about it afterwards, my mom’s reaction to refer to Dame Diana Rigg from “The Avengers” (which series ended in 1969) for my dress ticks all the right boxes. Rigg (as Emma Peel) wore the most avant-guade and Op-art fashions of any Steed sidekick, frequently toned in black and white. Costume designer John Bates outfitted her in clothes influenced by the 60’s trio – Cardin, Courrèges, and Quant. Ironically, series 4 of “The Avengers” had a chessboard opening intro, too (for American broadcasts)! This “Avengers” dress for Dame Rigg is strikingly similar to this “On the Cross” on Beth wears in “The Queen’s Gambit”.
Besides the serendipitous dating, the clean, angular lines and chic thoughtfulness in the design lines drew me into this particular pattern. Don’t judge a pattern by its cover. Just because a pattern seems simple at first glance doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy little complex variation waiting for you once you pull out those tissue pieces or study the line drawings. The detail of note here is the lack of true side seams. The side front panel technically ends a few inches over into the back half of the dress. It is so subtle! Also, there are no bust darts. The dress is strongly A-line yet some slight bust shaping is cut directly into the shaping of the side panels. Most 60’s era patterns have sleeves which fit my larger upper arms terribly but these are so comfortable and generous in ‘reach room’ right out of the envelope. I am very impressed with this pattern, unlike any other 60’s pattern I’ve used so far. I appreciate a design which seems suited to my body type but more importantly I enjoy finding a pattern seems to have a touch of higher quality. Everyday wear in the era of the 60’s is not particularly known for it’s complex, meticulous tailoring in the anxiousness of the younger set to depart from the classiness of the decade before.
The common pairing for the popular black-and-white color combo of 60’s dresses seems to be having the dark color on the sides and the light color in the middle. Check out my Pinterest page here on this topic for more inspiration and to see what I’m saying. I realize the color layout I used on my particular dress is the opposite. However, I just have to prefer what will suit me accordingly. Black down the center is more slimming for my body type (believe me, I experimented with draping it differently on myself before cutting out). The black emphasizes the angular qualities to this design. It also makes this more of an all season dress in my opinion. I am wearing thick ribbed tights with this – just as any 1960s gal would do – but bare legs and metallic sandals or even tall go-go boots would be just as perfect of a pairing in other seasons. White on a dress may not be a popular color for winter but when color blocked intentionally yet minimally, it works.
However aesthetic my choice of color layout was, my heavy use of black over white visually voices my lack of dominance in the game of chess. If Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit” wears all white as the reigning victor, well I am more of the ‘dark horse’ kind of player. It is said that the person who plays the white pieces (and therefore starts the game) has the advantage. I am certainly not the champion type because if I was, I wouldn’t be enjoying the game anymore…no one wants to see me that serious and obsessive, not even me.
I couldn’t ask for a better backdrop for our pictures than the local World Chess Hall of Fame. In front (and behind me in many pictures) is the world’s largest chess piece. Just a year ago (October 2019) we attended the opening night for two very relevant chess inspired fashion exhibits, which were apparently ahead of their time.
Firstly, Michael Drummond, a multi-talented artist and veteran of “Project Runway” Season 8, put on the exhibit “Being Played”, described as “thematically marrying the issues of climate change and the stress the fashion industry places on the environment”. See the online version of the exhibit here! Drummond was inspired by the noted chess fan Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi film “2001: Space Odyssey”. There was an amazing dress completely made of chess pieces as well as reclaimed remnants of sewing and art supplies reinvented into wearable art with a deeper message. No wonder Drummond was interviewed by the New York Times regarding where to find clothes inspired by “The Queen’ Gambit” (see article here).
The second exhibit from back then was “A Beautiful Game”, showcasing the World Chess Hall of Fame’s artifacts of “chess-inspired beauty products, photographs, posters, and advertisements while illustrating how the sophistication and brilliance of the game have been celebrated and revered in chess and popular culture. Also highlighted was new, interactive artwork by chess champion and author Jennifer Shahade as well as Pinned! fashion designer Audra Noyes.” The online exhibit can be seen here. It had the most appealing posters and glamorous chess sets from the last 100 years that made me want a perfume bottle or lipstick tube player set for myself (yes, for no real reason)! The exhibit also taught me that the power of the queen piece was elevated to the status of “chief executioner” circa 1500 after a string of powerful female monarchs.
My husband and our son both enjoy the game of chess at least, with the occasional addition of my dad as another opponent. One our son’s Christmas gifts from last year was the coolest ever variety of chess that has mirrors and lasers! Nevertheless, I’ll just stick to chess inspired fashion for myself, thank you. Sewing has the math and the strategy that I enjoy.