Agent Carter’s Color-Blocked Slacks Suit

Slacks suits of the 1940s – when the blouse and the pants both matched as a set – are such an admirable yet interesting piece of fashion history which is under the normal radar what we think of WWII clothes for ladies.  No doubt it has to do with the fact they are an extremely rare item to find extant, especially with both pieces together.  They were an avant-garde statement of women’s empowerment.  They always have great design lines and wonderful styling when they are to be found either in person or in magazine images.

A slacks suit was nice clothing, and not just for working the garden or at a factory assembling war supplies like dungarees.  They were also day wear, or for home leisure, when they were out of nicer materials with finer details, but always practical by offering great ease of movement and practicality for the busy, multi-tasking woman of wartime.  Any way they were styled or worn, though, wearing pants was still not a societal accepted norm for women.  Many young women or ladies with confidence and a sensible disregard for public opinion took to such fashions.  It totally makes sense that a character such as the indomitable Agent Peggy Carter would wear such a thing when she came to sunny Los Angeles in 1947 (Season Two)!   What a better way for me to channel a 40’s slacks suit than to take cue from Miss Carter and make my own color blocked version!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a burgundy colored apparel weight polyester challis from Uptown Fabric shop on Etsy along with an old cotton knit t-shirt

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Simplicity #4762, year 1943, for the blouse; I acquired this pattern as part of a trade of vintage goods with Emileigh, the blogger behind “Flashback Summer”

NOTIONS:  thread, some interfacing, and a set of true vintage 1940s buttons out of the inherited stash of hubby’s grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me 30 hours to complete, including the necessary re-sizing of the pattern.  It was finished October 30, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  All I needed was two yards and this cost me only $14

To make things a bit easier on myself –so I thought – I bought the pants RTW from a company that remakes vintage style garments (Unique Vintage‘s “Ginger pants”).  These pants are made of the hard-to-find, soft, and wonderfully sturdy rayon gabardine so I couldn’t resist them, especially as they have a true high waist, pockets, and a good 40’s style wide leg.  I love that these pants are the next best thing to something I would sew myself.  They are a saturated, true burgundy and I thought that should not be hard to match…boy was I wrong.

It took me a year’s worth of browsing every so often, both in person at fabric stores and over the internet (which is much harder to do due to screen variations), to find a color which would match my existing pants AND be a proper blouse weight material.  So many burgundy tones either were too blue toned, too red, or too purple and then the fabric was either a quilting cotton, a silky print, or a duck cloth.  I would have preferred a natural material, but sometimes ya gotta go with the best one can procure for sewing projects.  At least this challis is high quality polyester which is surprisingly quite nice and –besides the surface shine – really not an obviously man-made in content.  Occasionally that dream material is too hard to find, especially when I was so impatient to be able to wear my completed dream project!  The two different contents of the pants and the blouse play tricks on the camera in the sun, but in person and through pictures in the shade, the two pieces really do match up.

Speaking of another challenge in color matching, I also had a really hard time also finding a material to match the rest of my set which was a true dark-toned spruce green.  I was tired of the searching so part of this outfit is also a refashion.  I chose the practical “made-do-and-mend” route and used an old printed t-shirt from on hand which no longer fit me.  It was in the right color green, only a completely different fabric – a cotton knit.  I was thinking (rather hoping) that the contrast in type of material might be passable because it is a contrast color to the rest of the set as well.  Also, I do love a sleeve that is easy to move in.  Against my better judgment, I went ahead and used the tee for this slacks suit’s blouse…and I am pretty pleasantly surprised at how well this refashion turned out.

I kept the original sleeves as-is from off of the t-shirt and transferred them directly onto the new blouse I was sewing.  I cut out the front Christmas print because I liked it (and might applique it to a new tee in the future).  The majority of the back body of the tee went towards the new blouse’s contrast shoulder panel and under collar piece, while the bottom hem was used to lengthen the sleeves a bit by adding faux cuffs.  I interfaced the shoulder panel and the under collar piece because, being a rather thin and stretchy knit, I thought the green tee material needed to act and feel stable like a woven from the rest of my set for it to ‘fit in’.  It seems my idea worked well.  I was afraid that using a knit for the shoulder panel – the spot on a blouse which has practically the most stress from movement – would be a terrible idea yet between the interfacing and lining that panel with more of the blouse fabric…my blouse is staying in its intended shape.  The sleeves were the only part from off of the tee that I kept fully stretchy.

Between the knit arms and the full, gathered lower back bodice panel, I now have a vintage blouse which lends itself to some extreme butt-kicking wrestling moves, such as Agent Carter was wont to exhibit on men who needed an awakening at the hands of a woman.  Luckily the scene in which we see Peggy first wearing this outfit (“A View in the Dark” episode) was a very active one, and all the different angles shown of her slacks suit were very helpful in seeing what details there were.  Out of the TV series’ original outfit, I kept the small pointed collar, the dark green buttons down the front, the back blouse fullness, the combination of colors, and the general placement of the contrast color.

However, as I have done for all of my other Agent Carter “copies”, I like to both personalize the clothing according to my taste and base it more heavily upon historical accuracy.  My bought trousers align with WWII-time standards with smaller pockets, no hem cuffs, a side metal zipper, and rayon gabardine – the classic fabric for a slacks suit.  I started with a 1943 pattern because when the war effort hit the home front in full force, slacks suits began a strong showing in fashion catalogs and shopping magazines.  All I needed to do was make just a few tweaks to make my outfits closer to extant originals that have caught my admiring eye.

I feel so much better about trying to copy a garment when I change up the design according to my own ideas.  Doing so is my way of respecting the original artist that was behind the garment which is my inspiration!  Yet also, I do want to stay true to that self-realization of knowing what will look best for my body shape, height, and proportions.  I want everything that Agent Carter wears, yes – but I also want to like myself in them rather than forcing something which might not be ‘right’ for me.  This is the only way for me to naturally incorporate a bit of Peggy Carter into my everyday wardrobe.  I like to wear my Peggy outfits as something other than a special occasion cosplay item, but to each her own.  This is why I opted for a belted overblouse style to my slacks suit, unlike the way Agent Carter originally wears her set.  Just like her, I dare to be different!

My main 1940s inspiration sources were both color-blocked jackets (with skirts) and extant matching slacks suits as seen through vintage selling sites.  Many of these include burgundy color.  My favorite set is a 40’s “California Sportswear” set made in Hollywood monotone set, sold by FabGabs, which is remarkably close to Agent Carter’s TV one.  Otherwise, I drew heavily from the two-tone “American Spectator” blouse sold at Boswell Vintage.  I made a separate belt and added it to my blouse, then adjusted the look to match my inspiration.  I imitated the front (below the belted waistline) pleats of the blue hound’s-tooth overblouse and the full gathered back of the burgundy “American Spectator” blouse.

The detail of the button going through the middle of the attached belt is everything to me here.  It’s a sharp detail so very much in tune with the tailored 40’s era and complimentary to my waistline, a big plus.  It keeps the general idea of Peggy’s set with – dare I say – better details and a better classic 40’s sportswear air to it.  My blouse is sans faux chest pocket flaps because they struck me as a detail which might only become a fussy distraction.  Combining my smaller frame proportions with the faux belt detail seemed like just enough of a balance although I do feel lost in any outfit that is lacking true pockets!

Matched in both fabric and color, slacks suits were frequently color-blocked – no doubt because each piece would be easy to mix and match separately with other items in a wardrobe.  Like most clothing meant to be an everyday item or at least supremely useful, they do not survive like special occasion clothing, says “The Vintage Traveler” (as in this post here).  She had been highlighting her collection of slacks suits on her Instagram (see these fantastic sets).  The more I see of slacks suits the more I agree with “The Vintage Traveler” and admire how casual did not mean sloppy in vintage style.  Yet, such dressing – women in pants, in particular – has lost its novelty over years.  What was informal for back then now appears quite refined by modern standards, but at the same time what was daring then is now often only thought of as a conservative approach to everyday wardrobe staples.

True instance on many an occasion – my hubby tells me to be casual for running errands and I reach for my vintage sportswear.  Then he says he needs to dress up to match me because I still look so nice!  This slacks suit is my sharpest version yet of 40’s pants based sportswear and has no complaints when I channel Peggy.  Luckily I ordered more burgundy challis material before Uptown Fabric sold out.  My hope is to extend my slacks suit to have a blouse and skirt matching combo at some point in the future.  I love how I can make something killer but still have it versatile and practical at the same time when I sew vintage…especially Peggy Carter…styles.  Now I have something new in my arsenal of creations, another box ticked off – a 1940s slacks suit.