A Smock-Frock from 1938

Today, a smock is understood as a variant of an apron – it is a loose over-garment worn to protect one’s clothing.  A frock is a now outdated term for a dress of any length or style.  Both terms may sound like something quite frumpy to wear.  Yet, I have the contrary to show as proof that a smock-frock can be fashionable.  Our modern understanding of many items we take for granted in common living are often sorely lacking in a realization of full historical context.  “Dig a little deeper” is my intuitive response after being an academic researcher for many years! 

In sewing, using vintage patterns is a good practice for opening one’s eyes to facets of fashion history previously either unknown or forgotten, as they leave enticing trails of interest in bygone definitions.  Recently, an old original 1938 Marian Martin pattern design I acquired and used for my early spring sewing has made me realize a new term – the smock-frock.  For as simple and unassuming as this newest dress project is (daily wear vintage clothes in comfy cotton are so handy to have in my wardrobe), it has certainly led me to discover yet another aspect from the annals of fashion.  Nevertheless, whether or not this dress taught me something along the way to completion, any dress that ends up being as easy to wear as a nightgown yet looks street worthy chic – with pockets as big as a small purse – is a winner in my estimation!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed cotton

PATTERN:  Marian Martin #9602, year 1938

NOTIONS NEEDED:  all I needed was thread and some bias tape for some simple neckline finishing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a quick project, made in about 7 hours and finished in February 2022

THE INSIDES:  I merely stitched over the edges a few times to prevent any fraying, and trimmed any fly-away threads from the fabric for clean but semi-raw edges

TOTAL COST:  On sale at my local JoAnn Fabrics store, buying 3 yards of this fabric cost me about $27

Happily, the seller that I purchased from studied up for the listing and included information from an old newspaper ad which was selling my same pattern.  Thus, that person’s amazing preliminary research is the only reason I know why Marian Martin no.9602 is called “a smock-frock” design to begin with.  Now, to appropriately continue my terminology tirade from above, a smock-frock is basically a centuries old garment primarily worn by British laborers and working class people.  Only in the last 150 years did it turn into a comparatively decorative garment to wear on its own for children’s play and ladies’ housework.  Smock-frock garments often had extensive embroiderd hand stitched work (for an alliteration of the word) to control the overall generous fit in precise places  on the garment.  This type of embellishment became highly decorative between the Victorian times and the 1930s, being more ornamental than a pure design element, and its popularity muddied the understanding of the term smock-frock.  

To make things more confusing, in the history of the clerical world, a frock is an outer garment…but so is an apron.  The Wikipedia page says, “It is uncertain whether smock-frocks are ‘frocks made like smocks or ‘smocks made like frocks’ – that is, whether the garment evolved from the smock, the shirt (or underdress) of the medieval period, or from the frock, an over garment of equally ancient origin.”  All this boils down to the fact that this late 1930s smock frock was a meld of the words, besides being a relatively modern take on two very ancient type of garments.  I am surprised this garment-related form of the term was even still in use enough for 1938 to add it onto the pattern description.  It is so close to what I would term a plain housedress, or even a hostess dress (which I explain in this post here) if sewn up of a decently nice material.  Smocking – as a style of stitch – has continued to be popular beyond the 1930s primarily on cultural inspired clothing or novelty designs as well as children’s clothes.

I am wondering if the use of this term here is because Marian Martin designs were something catered to smaller, rural town residents even though the parent company to the pattern line was based in New York City.  Living away from a big town can be someplace where old terms are still commonplace, so a smock-frock would have been well known amongst agricultural worker’s families of the 1930s. I do take note that the cover illustration portrays a young woman modeling.  I wonder if the design of this pattern would have been something that the older generations would have gravitated to before the youth of 1938 would have.  You can clearly see the Depression Era thrifty sensibilities in the fact that this pattern could be used to make several different designs – dresses with two differing necklines and closures, or an apron.  There are many possibilities here!  Marian Martin is a distant cousin to the lines of Anne Adams, Alice Brooks, American Weekly, and Laura Wheeler (needlework) – all patterns were owned by the same parent company at one point or another (see more info on that here). 

Having sewn a handful of patterns from this group of mail order patterns (my previous Marian Martin posted here, an American Weekly dress posted here, and an Anne Adams pinafore posted here), I have found them to generally run on the larger fitting size.  This one did not disappoint.  It was marked as a bust 32”, hips 35” and so I graded in 4 inches to bring it up to my size according to the instruction’s chart.  As it turned out, I had to pinch out a total of 4 inches overall as I was fitting this dress to myself during construction.  The realization of that blows my mind at just how large this pattern’s size was…lucky thing I was able to save this project from drowning me in fabric!  The hemline even came down to the ground on me according to the “dress length” as given by the pattern.  Refitting all the princess and side seams, as well as re-cutting the neckline and armscye made this easy-to-make design a bit more time-consuming.  It was still pretty simple to sew these adjustments because there was no pattern matching to worry about and I was fitting it along the way to completion. 

I knew ahead of time that the busy print would conceal the smock-frocks details, but they are simple and few so I was okay with that happening.  There are princess seams which divide the back and the front into a six panel dress.  There are big, generous pockets tucked in between seams to the front side panels just at hip length.  Then, the sleeves have puffed caps and a box pleat at the outer centered hem.  Finally, two ties come out from above the front princess seam just above the pockets so as to bring in the waist and shape the dress by tying in the back.  The attached ties make this dress reminiscent of a hostess dress, as I mentioned above (and posted about here).  It is the fact I have the ties – and the way I gave up fitting the dress to me any further after bringing it in by 4 inches – which lets me get away with no zipper or buttons or closure.  Contrary to the pattern, I cut the center back on the fold and lowered the V neckline so that this was an easy-peasy slip-on garment. 

A word or two needs to be said about my ascot neck scarf.  I made that, too!  It was cobbled together into being a long, tapered rectangle of two scraps leftover from making this sheer chiffon 1950s redingote.  A small French seam goes down the center to connect the two scraps, then went to my local sewing room and used their serger (overlocker) to stitch a tiny rolled hem edge finish.  I love making my own scarf!  It is yet another little but very useful outlet I recently discovered to use up scraps of lightweight material.  My neck is often chilly in both air conditioning and cool spring or fall days.  Also, my hair styles need protection from wind and rain, so I use sheer scarves a lot in all seasons.  This handmade version was just the thing I needed in lieu of a necklace or contrast belt to give my dress a splash of something extra.  It kept my neck cozy for these pictures, too, as the sunshine was warm that day but spring is still slow in coming here.  The neckline is pretty basic otherwise.  A vintage stick pin keeps my scarf in place on my dress, here tied in the manner of an ascot.

My fabulous shoes bring my dress way above its original humble smock-frock designation, but they are such a fun pairing here I couldn’t resist!  They are part of my latest and greatest shoe splurge purchase.  Miss L Fire Company was going out of business a few months ago so I *had* to snatch up several styles I have longed under deep clearance prices.  These are the popular Miss L Fire “Clarice” heels, made of color blocked leather suede panels with tie ankle straps.  These color blocked beauties make me forget I have heels on, but really elevate my outfit, as well as anything else I pair with them.  Just as I did with my scarf, I wanted to channel everything I love about the panache that 1930s street wear displays with killer accessories.  Even if this is just a homely cotton dress, I can show how versatile it is my making it fancier than it really is!  A great pair of shoes always helps in such a situation.  Believe me, there is no better company for statement footwear with high quality and superior comfort. Miss L Fire’s offerings are so well made and so comfortable but so standout chic, it is a true loss that they are relegated to the second hand market now. 

There is so much more I could have written in regards to smock-frocks, but I didn’t want to end up boring anyone and end up with too long of a post.  I have just found so much depth of interest in the history behind this basic little dress I whipped together!  What I didn’t mention above, is the irony of how it combines the masculine (through the working man’s shirt smock) with the feminine (a frock dress) in such a unique way.  Even still, the supreme mockery to my 1938 incarnation of a house-frock is the fact that it turned out so appealingly cute.  It is meant to be so utilitarian as to not give a darn about keeping it pristine yet I will be sad the first time it gets marred.  I don’t want to destroy it too quickly, but I also don’t want to let that hold me back from enjoying this dress whenever I want.  This is why I made it – to be worn, appreciated, and practical.  The print is so busy it shouldn’t be too noticeable when I do eventually end up staining, tearing, or otherwise using my dress as the pattern intended.  If this was going to be a true smock-frock, it was going to have to live up to its name and be a practical, work-horse kind of piece for me.  I always need these kind of clothes.  They truly do take a beating, though, but I think appear none the worse for their wear.  This mid-1940s dress is my go-to well-worn housedress, next to this cranberry cotton shirtdress, and my “Dust Bowl” Burda dress.  I am happy to have a real-deal 1930s house dress now, as I have only had ones from the 40’s until now!

I really hope to sew with this pattern again in the future using yet another charming cotton print, so this is not a one-hit-wonder here.  Perhaps next time I will choose the short, hip-length smock version that buttons down the back and has the Peter Pan collar.  Maybe I will just sew another dress version because it so handy and darn comfortable.  I also want to try out the “Edith Smock” from “Pattern Union”.  It is a zero-waste design with amazing details and a style strongly reminiscent of working smocks of old, only with large roomy pockets and billowy sleeves for the modern romantic in you.

I hope you enjoyed this little post on my smock-frock, and learned about a new facet of fashion history.  Please, give this post proper credit if you share elsewhere what you learned about here.  Also, remember to stay inquisitive and keep finding answers to the interesting questions of your own making.  Perhaps you will uncover something that will fascinate, teach, and entertain you just as much as I have found in the process of creating and wearing my smock-frock!

Effervescence

A dictionary definition says there are two sides to my title word.  It is defined as “bubbles in a liquid; fizz” or “the lively quality of vivacity and enthusiasm”.  Well, the word also happens to be the name for my dress’ fabric print…and it is every bit as lively as its name. 

I am pleased it is also a play on the two Pantone colors for 2021 – “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” (bright yellow) – in a manner as trippy as a psychedelic Ishihara eye test.  This works perfectly for the decade of the 60’s.  I had to oblige my inspiration by using a vintage pattern to make this dress a reality soon than later.  I need the mood boost this color combo promises!  Pantone explains it thus, “”Illuminating” is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming shade imbued with solar power. “Ultimate Gray” is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”  Such a summary makes my dress sound like a grounded, tangible interpretation of effervescence to me, and I like the sound of that!  Add in a dash of turquoise – just about my favorite color – and I am a happy girl.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton “Effervescence” design print in the “Riviera” color way by Amelia Caruso for Robert Kaufman  

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8591, re-issue of a year 1961 Simplicity #3782

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, one 22” zipper, and some bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress would have been even quicker to sew if I hadn’t had fitting problems…as it was this was a reasonable 5 hours to finish.  It was done on June 18, 2021 and ready to go with me for a weekend getaway!

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  For 1 ½ yards at 45” width my total price was $18.  My fabric was bought from “Bits & Pieces” shop on Main Street in downtown Hannibal, Mo.  I highly recommend their shop – it has high quality offerings at reasonable prices and excellent service!!

This is yet another experiment with a border print fabric.  This time I had the border run up starting from along the bodice waistline.  With this layout the border ends with its vertical stripes across the bust line.  The remaining overall print is used for the skirt as the border runs along just one selvedge.  I have seen this layout in mostly 1950s era dresses, and I feel that a pattern from the very early 60’s wouldn’t be too far of a stretch.  The perks to such a use of a border print is that it visually slims down the hips by overly emphasizing the bust and shoulders.  Granted, this dress has a full skirt that sort of negates that benefit, yet I did greatly pare down the gathers from the original design in my own version.  This was equally due to being short of fabric as it was because I wanted the skirt more manageable.  I only bought 1 ½ yards of material because I originally planned on making a blouse.  Soon however, a better idea presented itself, as you can see.  I’m glad I chose to sew this up as a fun, simple frock. 

I think the crazy print and the fact this is above my knee in length, as well as sleeveless, helps this dress has a slight 60’s air.  Yet, the classic bodice and the gathered skirt, even if it isn’t very full, helps this dress be a call-back to the 50’s decade.  I wanted this to be an example of what the fashion of the early 60’s was…a thorough mix of both decades.  Styles didn’t change overnight.  What we think of being the stereotype fashion for a decade in the 19-something era is often a fad that came later on at the end of those 10 years.  The mod youth fashion of the 60’s wasn’t a widely adopted style until after ‘65.  Before then, there were a lot of deceptively 50’s looks.

Let the ‘vintage’ labelling be darned here, nevertheless, because the bodice is pretty close to having design lines of a basic two dart bodice block, also called a sloper, and the skirt is self-drafted by me to accommodate my lack of yardage.  Thus, I truly don’t know how 1962 it is on paper at this point.  It’s all about the styling here I suppose.  I almost always have a vintage influence in my choice of accessories and the way I fix my hair, so there’s that.  I do love how versatile this dress is – it can be vintage looking or not as I choose.  Either way, it’s a comfortable, sensible dress that will work for several seasons, too.  Adding a grey blazer, fun tights, and booties might creatively make this dress work into the cooler temperatures of fall or spring.

For being so basic, though, the bodice of this retro re-issue fits horribly.  For me, the torso length was very tall (long), the bust points were high on the chest, the shoulders were generously tall, and the armscye openings were very tight and restrictive.  I needed to do lots of tweaking and try-ons, including cutting several inches off of the waistline length, which only made me crabby such a “simple-to-make” dress wasn’t living up to its promise.  Yet, if you do the work at the pattern stage to perfect this bodice to your measurements this would be good shortcut to having your own sloper bodice block to use to future self-drafting.

This is a fussy pattern, but once I found the original to the reprint, I feel comfortable surmising the reason why.  Simplicity #3782 was originally a teenage and junior’s proportioned design.  I’m wondering if in re-sizing it up to adult woman proportions, they drafted it badly and threw the fit completely off.  How Simplicity allowed this to be printed this way is disappointing and beyond me.  What about standard sizing and quality control?  In whatever way it happened, something is wrong with the new #8591, and I might not be coming back to use this re-print again.  If you do try it, make sure to be prepared for some fitting frustrations along the way to completion.  

In all else, though, I love how this turned out.  I achieved a very good zipper insertion despite doing it by machine, bias bindings were much simpler than facings, and self-drafting skirts is such a joy for me.  The circumference of my skirt hem is the whole of the 1 ½ yard stretch of material and I took advantage of the other selvedge to avoid having to sew a hem.  From the waist down, my skirt is about 22” because the border at the other selvedge edge went towards the bodice.  As I my fabric was originally 45” width and I had to use extra inches along the border to match the stripes, this shorter-for-the-50’s-style skirt was all I could eke out…but I like it, after all as I said. 

A fully gathered skirt would not work I knew, yet at first I gathered only the sides over the hips.  This did not look right – it was much too poufy.  I unpicked the gathers and made a few 3” long half inch wide tapered darts on each side to ease out the total at the waist without taking any out of the hips.  This way I get a lovely bell shape to the skirt and an appearance of fullness to the small yard plus bonus length around.  Ah, isn’t the best part of sewing the way you can make the most out of what little material you may have?!?

Ready to walk down the famous Beale Street in Memphis!

I keep surprising myself at the amount of dresses I can make out of just over a yard.  This one has a full skirt to boot, though!  It was a happy last minute creation that was whipped together so it could have its grand promenade on a trip out of town.  Memphis, Tennessee was hot as blazes that day, but I was staying cool and looking good.  What is there not to be ecstatic over here?  I would say the print is very aptly an energetic word of life and activity the way my dress finally turned out, but then again most all of my handmade wardrobe gives be that happy confidence as well as this one. 

Have you specifically tried to wear the two Pantone colors for 2021, separately or together?  What do you see in my dress’ print – bubbles in a fizzy drink or a color test for your eyes?  Do you believe along with me that there is a special “effervescence” which exudes from someone who wears something handmade? 

The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!