Just as a mirror has two faces or a coin has two sides, so is there symmetrical inversion in botany. I have channeled this natural state of balance into a vintage wrap dress for the ultimate challenge in forethought and clear-headed pattern planning. I do normally gravitate towards asymmetrical designs.
However, I was directly inspired by the dual personality of the Marvel villain Madame Masque, as seen in my favorite television series Agent Carter (Season two of 2016) as the stylish Hollywood starlet Whitney Frost, set back in the time of the 1950s era. The last scene for Whitney sets her up for the future villain she becomes. Watch it for yourself here on YouTube. She is shown as unhinged, delusional, and desperate to live her old life even as she is disfigured from the power she found searching for a new way of existence. However, we are viewing her situation through the lens of a mirror image which distorts her reality.
Her dress was appropriately two-faced, with a pleasing feminine floral on one side for her Hollywood alter-ego and a deep purple on the other side to reference the Dark Matter which resided in her. This beautiful ruse is the scene that I sought to imitate. As short as it is (only 1 minute) the clip is very telling – Whitney Frost’s sadistic and selfish ways left her with the opposite of everything good that her gifted intelligence could have achieved.
FABRIC: The solid portions are a cotton and poly blend broadcloth, while the other half is an all-cotton handmade block print direct from India, fully lined in a thin bleached muslin cotton for opacity
PATTERN: Anne Adams #4803, from the year 1952, labeled as a “Wrapron” jumper-dress-apron, vintage original pattern from my personal stash
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread and some bias tape for finishing the edges…that is it! No zippers or interfacing, or buttons – pretty simple!
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress was made in about 30 hours and finished on June 13, 2021
TOTAL COST: Two yards of the floral block print was ordered from DesiFabrics on Etsy for $26. The rest of the fabrics came from my local JoAnn Fabric shop – 2 yards for the purple and 3 yards for the muslin. My total is about $45.
There has been a semi-intentional year 1952 spell lately on my blog. This is the third post in a row to feature something I have made dating to that year in fashion history! 1952 saw the full transition of women’s’ fashions away from the last vestiges of late 1940s influence and took on the styles which would be the classic silhouettes and design lines for the rest of the era. This third consecutive post of a 1952 dress combines a sample of the predominant fashion trends for that year (mentioned previously) into one project. I will explain!
My last post – a Cinderella inspired dress – had a simpler version of the same inverted floral look as this post’s frock. The latter was my test project for gearing up for a full interpretation as the one in this post and diving all in to the challenge of trying out some tricky mirror image paneling. What I learned along the way is that there is no secret technique to help make the process easier. Everything is in terms of opposites and cut single layer. This kind of inverted paneling of two fabrics is just plain craziness to sew and plan. My best advice is to work on such a project when you have a clear head and limited distractions. Write out ahead of time which pattern piece will go to which fabric so as to have a visual guide. Also, have some extra fabric as a little ‘wiggle room’ in case you mess up figuring which pattern piece to cut from which fabric. Trying to create a two-fabric dress was easier for my Cinderella dress as the McCall’s pattern I used was clearly printed. Unless you’re looking to make things harder for yourself, do not try such a style when working with an unprinted tissue pieces, which was the case for the mail order pattern I used for this Whitney Frost dress.
In the princess-themed post mentioned above, I spoke of how 1952 had some definitive fashion trends that are easy to spot, but I’ll now add wrapped dresses to the list. Before Diane Von Fustenburg got credit for popularizing wrap dresses in the 1970s, they had been a creative “craze” in the 1950s. Notice how this post and the former of my last three (my Charles James look-alike) both are 1952 dresses that wrap closed in some such way!
1952 was definitely a benchmark date to the prevailing wrap trend, as evidenced by an overwhelming amount of that particular style for that year. Butterick even had a specific tag line for their popular wrap pattern #6015 of 1952, calling it the “Walk-Away Dress” (reprinted as Butterick 4790), but all the other pattern companies of the time came up with their own version over the following few years afterwards. It seems rather clever to me that Anne Adams took the “it can be a full body apron or a dress” creative approach to tagline and market their wrap dress and keep if different from Butterick’s offerings. Advance also came out with another apron-dress wrap in #7811 (see it here). McCall’s had rather fashionable wrap dresses for the time, but they did offer their “Instant” wrap-around apron dress in pattern #2104. Simplicity Company even came out with their wrap dress in #2466 which was tag lined as the “Answer” dress so you can look presentable enough to answer the door in a matter of seconds. Simplicity’s “Answer” dress is surprisingly similar to my Whitney Frost dress in the way it has both a print and a solid at contrasting sides.
The first reason I chose the Anne Adams “wrapron” dress pattern for Whitney Frost’s inverted floral dress was for its basic design lines. It was the only early 1950s dress pattern in my stash that had center seams both front and back and a similar overall style. Sure, I realize I could have just thrown in extra seams but I wanted my base pattern to be just what I wanted from the start. With so much figuring to account for already, I didn’t need to add one more alteration for me to think about. I have also been aching to try one of the many early 1950s wrap dresses, and this one seemed to me to have the best chance for success. It seems as if every vintage sewist has tried Butterick’s classic “Walk-Away Dress” and been deeply underwhelmed – I was not going to walk into that trap. Even still, every wrap dress – including the most successful – is a frustrating beast to sew. They are shifty things that do not have one set way of fitting and tend to have a mind of their own. Their adjustability is to their benefit at the same time. Bodies are not static and fluctuate quickly – even from the morning to the evening my body has different measurements. A wrap dress accommodates all of those changes!
I was hoping for a rousing victory out of this project, of course, and inspiration from the Agent Carter show has not once let me down, always spurring me to create my wardrobe’s best pieces. I have found that this specific wrap dress turned out to be perhaps my best fitting wrap and amongst my all-time favorite dresses. It was quite an experience to sew (as expected) but most of that was simply the combination of mirror imaging the two fabrics and the fact that vintage mail order patterns run roomy. If you want the same look as my dress without dealing with an unprinted, fickle sized, true vintage original like what I used, I have noticed that the modern reprint Simplicity #8085 is a strikingly similar pattern. However, I have not tried this reprint for myself. Using that pattern, nevertheless, you would need to draft in a front V neckline and a center front seam. Then, you could add in some sleeves, just as I did.
For some reason it seems as if most of the 50’s wrap dresses do not have sleeves. They are easy to add on where sleeves are wanted but missing and help keep the garment anchored nicely on the body. Depending on the design, make sure to add in at least an extra inch to the inner armhole edges to a sleeveless frock if you are going to sew in sleeves. I drafted my very own sleeve pattern here because I wanted exactly what was on the original Whitney Frost dress which was my inspiration. They have pleated top caps which almost give the illusion of a puff sleeve from a decade or two previous to 1952. The hem is also pleated in but with half the number as on the cap. I love how cute and comfy these sleeves turned out to be, and how they enhance the overall dress and level up its elegance. The dress looked very casual and was clearly an apron-derived style before sleeves. With them, it is 100% Whitney Frost’s class and suddenly a refined dress that is low-key hiding the fact it is a wrap. I love the little epiphany moments that every step of making a garment reveals.
The scene of Whitney Frost hallucinating at a vanity dresser’s mirror only lets us see her dress from the chest up, so it left me a lot of creative license to imagine the full frock for my imitation. I ended up primarily basing my dress off of similar extant dresses, content with only a strong reference my inspiration garment. However, I found an interview of the actress Wynn Everett off screen (click here to watch it for yourself) which gives a waist up view of the inverted floral dress she wears in that last scene for her character. In the interview, the shine off her dress and semi-transparency of the fabric tells me it is a lightweight satin, perhaps silk in content. Finding a remotely matching satin print was exhausting and fruitless after several years of intermittent searching, so I went for something that would guarantee to bring me joy – an Indian cotton “buti” block print.
These fabrics always have the most beautiful floral stamps and are the most luxurious cotton to be had. Through this route, I easily found more than one option that would easily mimic the print on Whitney’s two-faced dress. Looking at the extant 1950s dresses that encouraged my inspiration, they were all cotton, and using such a material would keep this dress practical and wearable for many occasions, after all. Summertime is much more pleasant when one is wearing Indian cotton…and India’s Independence Day is coming up August 15th!
In the understanding that Whitney Frost and Agent Carter are very much alike in many ways despite being each other’s nemesis, I have merged a hair accessory that matches with a Peggy dress into this outfit. Season Two occasionally has Agent Carter vested in purple, Whitney’s trademark color, depending on where she stands in the plot or how her actions have affected others. There is scene in episode 2, called “A View in the Dark”, where Peggy is glamorous and acting according to her own designs (both of which is tied to Whitney’s character). This is also when Peggy is garbed in all purple. I made my own copy of her jeweled, floral purple hair comb to complete my copy of that dress from the episode. To get a good view of Peggy’s hair comb, please go watch this short clip for yourself here. More details about this yet to come, though! That hair comb really seemed to fit in all too well to the character development I see tied into both leading ladies. It fancies up the dress, too, since I had to go with a string of pearls as my necklace – pearls are Whitney’s most common jewelry choice.
Peggy always wore her Nana’s 1940s watch, just as I do, but she gravitated more towards a gold tone whereas Whitney wore silver metals. I again blended in both characters by wearing one of my Grandmother’s special watches, her only one in a silver tone. I have done what research I can and estimate it to be from circa 1952 – how perfect, right?! It is in a 14 carat gold with tiny diamonds set into the sides of the face, so I wonder if this was a wedding gift piece, as she was married about that time. As you can see, this was indeed a special outfit for me to bring out such special accessories.
For starting off with a basic looking wrap-apron design and some cotton fabrics, I think I really pulled off this idea better than I ever expected and turned into a very fun and appealing dress. Wherever I go in this dress, I always get a number of compliments and positive comments, so apparently it is something which others would like to have as well, if ready-to-wear offered such a thing. Please go view my Pinterest board on “Wrap-on Dresses and Tops” for a plethora of inspiration.
I hope I have given you some encouragement to give wrap dresses a try or maybe try them anew if you have been disappointed in them before. This mirrored paneling of two different prints is a great way to use up two smaller cuts of fabric and makes it seems creatively intentional. I find it unexpected that wrap dresses seem to have been a popular medium for such a dual fabric style in the 1950s. I hope you agree that the character of Whitney Frost was a good choice for me to channel for this project idea because I feel wonderful wearing my finished dress…every bit as pretty as a summer flower!