Finally…at long last, I have made my first jumpsuit and I love it like I never thought I could! Wearing this, I have mostly got over my feeling that I am wearing either a grown-up’s baby onesie or nightwear pajamas, and am loving how comfortable a jumpsuit is…although it does feel weird to have both a top-and-bottom without two separate pieces (besides being even weirder to use the toilet)! I went for the Disco era as my source and inspiration for this…the era when the jumpsuits were killer and at the height of their perfection, in my opinion. A jumpsuit of the 70’s was the body-conscious and fuss-free dressing option preferred for superstars like Abba, Cher, Bianca Jagger, and Diana Ross…so many also flaunted their look that decade!
I wanted a slimming, detailed, and utilitarian option classic to the 70’s era which had a slight nod to the military reference in this garment’s history. The pattern I used had everything I wanted, it was bought for 25 cents locally, and yet it made my first dive into jumpsuits so much more challenging than already was the case! It was very petite in height as it was for teens, and in a very small size proportions, so it needed dramatic work on my part to even consider it being usable. I am not only impressed with my re-grading and re-sizing (I can’t help but pat myself on the back here), but what amazes me is how this pattern was a “Learn to Sew” project for teens…complete with a visor-style hat! This would probably be labelled an intermediate pattern, or even an advanced one, today. This helped me gain further respect for the sewing skills expected of even the modern 1970s.
My outfit is completed with my mother’s vintage sunglasses bought in 1969, new old-style leather platform sandals, and my husband’s guitar! This was the era of peacefulness compared to the tumultuous 60’s so here I am hanging out in a city park, on a calm Sunday afternoon. The 70’s, dubbed the “ME Decade”, were focused on equality, self-expression, personal betterment, and awareness…so I even hugged a tree in its honor!
PATTERNS: McCall’s #5421, year 1977
NOTIONS: I needed very simple notions, everything which was on hand already – thread, some interfacing, bias tape, and a long vintage metal zipper down the front.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This was made in about 20 hours (not counting time to adjust the pattern) and was completed on May 17, 2018.
THE INSIDES: Every seam edge is individually bound in pastel yellow ¼ inch bias tape for a neat and clean inside.
TOTAL COST: A few yards of the twill cost me about $23 (including shipping) from the Etsy shop “Fabric Genie” in California.
I’ll admit, I was ready for a failure here when I started this project and am ecstatic that it is a success. Not that this was expensive fabric, but it is very nice material that I was terrified to waste both money and time as well on something I could not estimate how it would end up. I do think that the sizing and design for the pattern are really good (so it wasn’t all my pattern re-sizing work), and some notes that whomever made this before me wrote down were extremely helpful. The written note to make a 3 inch hem was just what I needed. Overall, I had to add in 4 inches vertically around the body and two inches horizontally between the chest and the waist. Usually I re-trace out patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper when they need cutting and splicing, but I worked on the original pattern this time. There was no way I was going to retrace pattern pieces so overwhelmingly one-piece.
You see, for my jumpsuit, the design has not one horizontal seam so the pattern pieces were skinny and just seemed to keep going when laid out. The neck down to the hem is one long 60 inch length! There is a front princess seam that runs the length of the side fronts, starting from the armscye seam, over the bust and down through the hips, waist and thigh. This was a very wavy princess seam on the pattern and I knew that was a good sign for a nice curvy fit. Otherwise the back was in a basic right and left paneling.
The deep hip pockets and the belt that grazes over the top of them both run into the front princess seam and are attached there so that the middle is left beautifully smooth, lengthening the appearance and focusing on the zipper. This is why I ‘splurged’ (in my mind) and used a long 20 inch vintage metal zipper from my stash of notions which came with the cabinet for my vintage 1960 Necci sewing machine. Metal zippers are so sturdy compared to the modern plastic ones, and give a vintage garment an authentic feel when they are added to a sewing project using an old pattern. Yet the longer the length, the harder to come by…at least in my experience. Thus, I wanted to do things right. The instructions more or less had you slap it on the seam edge, but I wanted things to look nice so I buried the zipper in between the front and the inner front facing so that the top 6 to 10 inches that I leave unzipped below my neck would be cleanly impeccable.
This military-esque jumpsuit needed a metal zipper. I possess an authentic WWII flight suit (jumpsuit) and it has a long front metal zipper, even though such a thing was still a novelty at the time. There was no beating around the bush when it came to making uniform of quality back then – manufacturers made these long metal teeth zippers only for government use so mine is probably post-WWII yet older than the 70’s (with its all-cotton twill tape on the edges).
Besides cleaning up the way the zipper is added on, the only other change I made (not counting re-sizing as a change) was to add binding along the outer edge of the sleeveless armhole. I needed to bring the top shoulder seam to take out about an inch in the body, and this left the armholes a little more open than I wanted. In order to not make them any smaller than they would be by facing them and turning the edges in, I made strips of fabric and had these be both the finishing and interest along the edge. I think that going sleeveless will help this jumpsuit be a real seasonal transition garment, good for spring and fall with a blazer and summer as it is, especially since the fabric color is muted.
I think I owe a good part of my success to my happiness with the fabric I picked out. This fabric in particular is a novelty pinstripe so it is much more interesting, fun, and ornamental, but nevertheless – I am so sold on a stretch twill for a jumpsuit. It is stable enough to feel pretty close to a lightweight denim, but stretchy enough to be forgiving in a garment like a jumpsuit that can always benefit from some body-hugging fabric properties. The whole garment moves along with you when you move, there is no blouse to come untucked! Of course, this struck me as the style of jumpsuit that was meant for a sensible and durable fabric, after all – not a slinky, fancy, or luxuriant material. I think either an older vintage form of a jumpsuit or at least an extravagant evening version will be in order in my future projects now that I have made my first one!
In today’s fashion industry, a jumpsuit, playsuit, romper, dungarees and pantsuit are all the same terms used to mean a one piece outfit. This is rather confusing and not true, technically…even though all but the last are all-in-one piece. A playsuit has short pants legs and is normally only the base part of add-on garments pieces (such as a skirt) to transition between adult play and career time; a romper is a loose-fitting children’s version of a playsuit; dungarees are in heavy material and a coverall for construction work or painting; a pantsuit is generally a trousers with a suit coat (two separate items). What is a jumpsuit is commonly considered long length pants connected to a one piece body, with or without sleeves or a collar.
Sadly, what is not even considered to be lumped into the ‘all-in-one trousers garment’ inclusion are the wrap-on, easy, breezy and chic beach ‘lounging’ pajamas that were so popular during the 1930s for the warmer seasons while holidaying. I see them as distant yet distinct relative to jumpsuits. After all, the first fashionable pyjamas were actually invented for a very somber purpose – for citizens to wear to bed during the First World War in expectation of being roused out of bed (and home) at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to go find public shelter when there was a zeppelin raid. WWI air raid pyjamas were an amazing organic item, being created and taken up by the populace as “civilian armour” (before any designer claimed fame for them) and started out as two separate pieces which quickly turned into one for many reasons. They might not have been for jumping out of planes, but they were originally meant for ease in wearing during war…and war is the human tragedy that has claimed a portion the jumpsuit usage ever since.
From there, fashion pyjamas, or the early jumpsuits, became a fashion forward option for relaxing. From the color-blocked or crazy striped bright and bold versions in cotton, linen, or crepe, to the elevated status of the elegant versions for evening at the hands of Chanel (as early as 1922), Schiaparelli, and Vionnet (see pattern no. 15, year 1937, from the Betty Kirke book), all of whom offered silk satin or jersey options in very full pants legs, the likes of a chic vintage pyjama has not been seen since the emergence of 1970s palazzo style jumpsuits.
A Florentine artist and designer who went by the name of Thayat has the popular claim to fame for creating the first ever jumpsuit in 1919 as a practical piece of clothing worn by parachuters and sky divers (quite literally a suit for jumping!) as well as race car drivers and aviators. During WWII of the 1940s, it seems as if the jumpsuit had a sole purpose of being for paratoopers or women in service. Following conflicts, such as the Korean War and especially the Vietnam War, continued and established the jumpsuit, in a very utilitarian and very literal sense of its term. A jumpsuit used during war is specific to the needs of those who are jumping into unknown situations and require a garment which will stay on, protect, and cover the body as naturally as a second skin, but better, with pockets and straps and handles to be there for your every need. After all, when preparing for or fighting a war, clothing is the last thing that should get in the way!
In the same breath, jumpsuits have the amazing adaptability to be for every other human need, fashion or otherwise. In 1937, while studying at Reed College in Oregon, US, fashion designer Emilio Pucci designed a jumpsuit for the college skiing team and ten years later they were featured in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, afterwards quickly ordered for sale in New York’s Lord and Taylor store. The famous actress Katharine Hepburn gave the jumpsuit a touch of Hollywood glamour when she wore a monogrammed silk one-piece in the 1937 film Stage Door. The white jumpsuit, embellished with rhinestones, worn by Elvis in his performances during the 1950’s might just about be the most quintessential and commonly recognized, however! We are so used to it, most of us might not even think of it as a jumpsuit. The 1960’s youth trend and rebellious societal undercurrents picked up the jumpsuit for the liberated woman, the hippie peace movement, or the man who wanted to be the stud on the dance floor alike. The panache the 1970s continued to have for jumpsuits was somewhat lost with the exaggerated silhouette, futuristic versions in the 80’s, and the naughty, sexy versions of Madonna and Britney Spears of the 90’s. Today it seems as if a jumpsuit encompasses anything under sun. For being such an unusual garment, it sure is versatile both in history and design!
Perhaps the oddest use of a jumpsuit that encompasses all of the garment’s uses and purposes is to be found in the old original Star Wars film trilogy. Their costumes were the main inspiration to my choosing this design jumpsuit (with pockets) from the decade of the 70’s and in a military olive green. Did you know that jumpsuits were used liberally in all the three original films as the base for many of the costumes, from the Empire’s stormtroopers (who had plastic ‘armor’ attached to bodysuit-style stretch jumpsuits) to the fighter pilots (whose flight suits were jazzed-up copies of those won by the astronaut crew of Mercury 7 mission, from 1961), to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his father Janga (their outfits are fiberglass and aluminum parts added to military surplus jumpsuits), and finally Chewbacca (whose costume was a knitted wool jumpsuit base with 15 pounds of yak and mohair sewn on). I learned all this upon visiting the exhibit “Star Wars and the Power of Costume”, and it was a real eye-opener in many ways. One major surprise was realizing the secret yet smartly handy jumpsuit usage that blends in so well as a starting point for costumes that send a message of a future that is not that far removed from our own times.
Have I helped you see jumpsuits in a whole new light or at least a bigger picture? Are you a jumpsuit lover already (if so, what is your favorite style?). Are you in the “I hate them” camp, or are you on the fence? Did you Simplicity just came out with a new pattern this week for Star Wars/military inspired flight suit (#8722)? Can a jumpsuit be considered a garment utilitarian enough to actually be anti-fashion, which is why they have lasted so long in so many incarnations (read the full article discussion here)? Let me know your thoughts, and in the meantime I will rock the 70’s in my new and only jumpsuit!