“Wallis” Chic

I always suspect that a good amount of the appeal of the 1930’s fashion is the flaunting of elegance with chic, completely accessorized outfits.  I can’t think of a better face for this in the late 1930’s than the famous Wallis Simpson.  As she was already gracing every news headline in 1937 for her marriage to England’s former King Edward VIII, she became the woman that the most talented designers of the times jumped at to clothe…and boy did she ever wear the fashions!  She is quoted as saying, “My husband gave up everything for me. I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.”  Whatever her reasons, she inspired my latest 1930’s outfit.  So many details of my outfit make this a very specific 1938 garment, with a heavy nod to ‘Wallis’ in my accessories. I’m not out to overdress, just dress “to the nines” in killer Tyrolean era, late 30’s style!

DSC_0544a-comp,w

Not only did I make the dress of this outfit, but I made the hat as well, and even broke out my prized 30’s gloves and vintage shoes to boot.  This is the kind of outfit I hate to take off!

Simplicity 1736, year 2012 hatsTHE FACTS:Hollywood 1647, year 1948, front cover-comp,w

FABRIC:  The dress – a 100% cotton print, with a selvedge marking of ‘“Nana’s Quilt” by Joan Pace Baker, Designs by Logantex’; the hat – a lofty and thick polyester felting

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1647, a Maureen O’Sullivan pattern from year 1938, for the dress and Simplicity #1736, year 2012 pattern, for my vintage-style hat

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – buttons, ribbon, thread, and bias tape.  The buttons are authentic vintage from the stash of my Grandmother’s.DSC_0559a-comp,w

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 10 hours and finished on May 14, 2017.  My hat was finished on May 19, 2017, in only 2 or 3 hours…easy-peasy!

THE INSIDES:  Half French seams and half bias bound (in red, too, for fun) on the dress while the hat is raw edged inside – it’s felt, after all.

TOTAL COST:  I’m counting this as free as the supplies were on hand and the fabric has been in my stash for so many years!

In the year 1937, Simpson made more than headlines, though.  She made fashion history Wallis' gown designed by Mainbocherin two dramatic ways – she wore the then shocking but now famous Schiaparelli-Dali “Lobster Dress” as well as sporting the “Wallis Blue” wedding gown designed by the Chicago-born designer Mainboucher.  Hollywood brand patterns were well known for imitating the rich and famous, bringing their styles to share with the masses, and there is a trickle-down effect which puts the newest fashion in the hands of those masses at a delayed time.  Thus, it makes sense for me to see details of Wallis Simpson’s influence in the Hollywood dress pattern I used to make my dress from the year afterwards – 1938.

Hollywood patterns that I see almost always stick with sweet princess styling, which can Hollywood 1647, year 1948, back cover-comp,crop,wbe complimentary in the way of thinning the body lines, yet overly youthful and conservative with Peter Pan collars and high necks.  Not for me – not with this dress!  Sure, there’s princess seaming to the front, but I changed up the neckline of the original pattern for an open, adult style, while the dress back (as designed) does have a very 40’s appearance (different from the front) with its darts and defined waist seam.  This is a dress which breaks both consistencies of the conventional Hollywood pattern!

I’m tickled at how I found a way to complement the original styling and make my dress more ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated by a mere change to the neckline.  A good friend of mine helped me realize one of the neckline shapes that are very specific to 1938 – an upturned curve to be the third ‘leg’ of a square neckline.  The late 1930’s frequently borrowed from historical garments for new features, particularly those that were severe or heavily restricting, and this type of curving squared neckline, which was popular in the mid to late 1500s 1, had a widespread use on women’s dresses of 1938.  See this Butterick Spring 1938 news flyer for a small example of this.  Period revivalism combined with modern touches was especially popular with one of Wallis Simpson’s designers, Elsa Schiaparelli – see her designs from winter 1937 to 1938 2 and many are strongly influenced by historic clothing from around the world.  If you read up on history, all that is old become new again at some point, it seems!

DSC_0517,p,a-comp,w

Anyway, this 1938 neckline adaption coordinates perfectly with the likewise arching bust detail.  Wallis’ wedding dress had the exact same upward curving side panel bust gathers!  It is such a lovely, subtle, and slightly-tricky-to-sew touch that I don’t really see that much (whether on an extant garment or pattern).  If you would want to snag your own true copy of Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress, good news if you can sew! There is a reprinted pattern of it as Superior #114 (year 1939) up for purchase here at the Etsy shop “tvpstore”.  Go and drool over it at least, like I did!

Besides the redrawing the neckline change and making the bust gathers, the rest of theDSC_0520a-comp,w dress was a cinch to sew together.  The lines are really simple for the rest of the frock.  I did have to grade up to over the amount I really should have needed, and it’s a good thing I did!  Most 1930’s era patterns I come across run small, besides the fact that a full button front dress cannot be snug, and so I made sure to have extra room rather than too little. I ended up being able to have 5/8 inch seam allowances, rather than the original pattern allowance of 3/8…too little!  The modern sized seams allowed me ‘wiggle’ room to make clean finishing French seams and give myself space (if needed) to take it out if I need to in the future.  I want this baby of a dress to last me a good long while ‘cause I love it!

The cotton print is a rocking awesome re-print of an original 30’s print.  Sadly I do not remember where it was bought.  I do have proof of historic authenticity for it, though – see this original dress, sold over at Dorthea’s Closet Vintage.  Seeing that original dress ‘sold’ me on the idea of actually using this prized fabric which I had been hoarding…I mean saving for the perfect pattern.

DSC_0513a-comp,w

For as cute as the print is with its cheery daises and red contrast, my cotton is not the softest…it is actually quite stiff.  For once, a stiff cotton actually comes in handy!  The stiffness lends itself wonderfully to the puff sleeves and the button front as well as keeping the long princess seams smooth and non-wrinkly.  Anything softer and I would have had to use some powerful interfacing, with would be too noticeable to look great, I would think.  As it was, I used only a small strip of lightweight cotton interfacing down the front buttoning self-plackets and zero supports for the sleeve caps to do their glorious late 30’s obnoxiousness.  I had just enough material, too – 3 ½ yards of fabric to work with, which seems like a lot to me, and I just barely fit all the pattern pieces in on it.  Whew! Talk about making the most of what you have!  This was obviously a serendipitous match of pattern and fabric.

DSC_0509a-comp,w

What do you think about that two-at-a-time button placement?  Now that I see it done, it was worth all the bother, time, and trouble…and boy, was it ever!  It took me 3 hours just to make the buttonholes, cut them open, match them to the other side, and sew the buttons on… all 13 of them.  But like I said, so worth it, so unique!  The buttons themselves are vintage of a mystery era, but amazing nonetheless with their deep-set wells for the stitching spots and the faceted shiny outer edges.  They had been a set that I have been itching to use from the first I set eyes on them from in my Grandmother’s stash.  They make the bits of rich red in the fabric pop a little better.

I know what also adds to the red contrast – my lobster pin!  Again, I’m not sure what vintage era this is from, but the back pin mechanism is so rudely simple, I’m assuming it’s 50’s or older.  I’ve had this as long as I can remember so I don’t know where it came from or who gave it to me.  I’ve always seen it in my jewelry box ever since I first had such a thing.  Finally after all these years of keeping the lobster brooch and having mixed feelings about the combo of weirdness, ugliness, and cute quirkiness of it, I like that I have now found a way to enjoy and wear a time honored piece from my jewelry collection.  I feel it properly ties together the colors, the historical significance dating my outfit, and the ties to famous personas of the past.

1938 Dobbs womens hat trends make headlines & German 1938 vintage millinery adSpeaking of famous persons, too many past Hollywood starlets and fashion designs have included a killer fedora to their ensemble like this one!  And this was so easy to make, and it turned out so well, it is ridiculous.  This pattern is like a hidden gem, because everyone seems to make the View E 1920s style cloche hat (they are all awesome) but I only found one other version of the fedora style on the internet.  It is the perfect style for anything late 1930’s into the early to mid-40’s, and really should be labelled as retro or at least vintage.  Just look at how it matches up to these images from 1938!  Find this pattern for yourself, and please do sew this hat!

The design of the hat is like a hidden surprise.  It wasn’t until I began to make the fedora that I realized its lovely tailoring, something that isn’t even apparent from the line drawing even.  Every panel to the crown is its own specialized piece, cut once, and once sewn together, all of them have an elegant effect of motion by the way the seams are on the diagonal around the brim.  Even the top of the crown adds to the wonderful shaping by being a unique, long, oblong oval.  The brim accommodates to the overall drama by being shortest in the back, short on the one side, and longest in the front – again, very specialized shaping for a lovely final, finished hat.  I did make the front of the brim ½ longer just to make sure to give my face full sun protection.  The pattern doesn’t specify lining the hat, and I didn’t since I wanted my hat to be for the summer.  It didn’t even say to sew an inner sweat band or ribbon or anything to the inside of the crown/brim seam…rather odd.  I merely sewed a wide, cotton, bias band to the crown/brim seam inside for comfort against my head and a clean finish.  I played around with the ribbon placement for quite a long time, and had some bold, different experimental ideas (as many hats of those times had fun, unexpected decoration), but ended up going with a rather basic hat band treatment.

DSC_0522a-comp,w

Part of my success with this hat, I suspect, is the great quality felt I used.  I’m not meaning to brag – I don’t even remember where it came from, it has just been in my stash since I’ve been in this house.  I know it is polyester, at least 1/8 inch thick, but from the look and the feel of it, and the way it holds its shape so well, it acts like a nice wool felt.  Awesome!  This gives me the best of both worlds – and my hat is even crushable and washable yet still holds its shape…believe me, I tested this!  But really, for best results, find a material that has body for this hat, something easy to work with, washable, and that doesn’t need lining to make it oh-so-practical yet stylish at the same time – like mine.  You won’t find that combo with a true vintage hat, and even if you did, you wouldn’t want to treat it like that, so come on, sew up your own fedora!  I love this hat.

There is a tinge of nautical (ahem, cue the lobster, especially) and summer luxury-themed undercurrents to my outfit and our amazing background building for our photos is the icing on the cake!  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is was designed by a local architect, Eduoard Mutrux (an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright) in 1936 or 1938.  It is a very strong, very odd but wonderful combination of Streamline Moderne and International Style.  This masonry building has all the best of the avant-garde forward thinking that the 1930s did best.  However, this building sneakily looks like a lovely white cruise ship when you go and look at other views, as if it had just moored on the parking lot and been swallowed up by asphalt and ground, with its sweeping front facing the busy street below.

DSC_0546,p,a-comp,w

The Streamline Moderne architectural style is after all about movement merging with stationary objects.  Originally intended to cut down on drag for cars, ships, planes and trains, Streamline Moderne designers and architects wanted a classicism to their buildings so they would last and span the test of time.  This is the kind of buildings you see in all those vintage travel advertisements of the 30’s that are so enchanting and appealing.  Streamline Modern buildings are also almost strictly inspired by movement (visit this Flickr group to see what I mean).  The International style is a friend of stark simplicity – form has to follow function and ornament for its own sake is an outrage…to the point of harsh sterility. Cubical balance and proportion was key, along with white being an important color.  This style of building was rare in Missouri before WWII. International is a major style that re-blossomed in the 1960s as Mid-Century Modern, and it was also the founding idealism for our modern business spaces made of metal and glass!

My sewn outfit is the best of combo of architecture and fashion I could ask for – ornament with a purpose and message, streamline shaping, comfortable practicality, and chic styling which looks good no matter what era it technically originated from.  The light and fun bright colors are perfect for reflecting my current summer mood.  Hello fun!  I have the perfect outfit for you…

Footnote links :  #1.) Detail from Mary Magdalene, 1519.Oostsanen Van (1475-1533); Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen (Flemish, 16th century); Queen Catherine Parr reproduction gown; and info on sporting carcanet necklaces

#2.) Woman’s Evening Jacket, Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937-1938; Silk Cape, Designed Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937; An Elsa Schiaparelli couture black velvet ‘highwayman’ coat, circa 1935

A Fancy Feed Sack 1935 Dress Set

Something as commonplace as a vintage feed sack print gets an upscale upgrade when it came to planning and making my Easter outfit of the year 2014. I had made a number of 30’s era garments earlier than my 2014 Easter outfit, but an authentic and all-out-beautiful classic of the mid-1930s (one of my favorite fashion era years) was in order sooner or later in my plans. Here is my post about a sheer, flowing, silk chiffon afternoon tea dress with a under slip which has Art Deco lines. This 1930s silk set was quite time consuming to finish perfectly, but very fulfilling to make and even more lovely to wear.

100_2792a-compMy Easter dress for the year before this one was a design from the 1920’s (my 1929 hankie-hem dress made in 2013; posted here). For 2014, I merely went up a decade to the 30’s, to have some continuity of progression through the upcoming years.

THE FACTS:100_2800-comp

FABRIC:  The sheer feed sack printed over dress is an “Anna Sui Vintage Floral Silk Chiffon” (close-up at right) from Mood Fabrics. The under slip was made using a “Kiwi Color Solid Silk Chiffon”, also ordered from Mood.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of the notions that went into making my 1930’s Easter set. I had to buy several spools of thread, a package of stay tape, the buttons, and a skein of embroidery floss. I did have on hand the few snaps which were required. The belt buckle is a very old Art deco piece that I also had on hand, bought a while back from a vintage shop. PastPatterns#2303 SummerPartyDress ca1935

PATTERN:  My outer dress is a pattern from Past Patterns, #2303, “Summer Party Dress: Circa 1935”. The under slip pattern comes from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, pages 46 to 49, the “1930’s Silk Slip”.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The outer sheer dress came together quite quickly considering, about 20 hours stretched out over 4 or 5 days. It would have been even less if I hadn’t caused more work for myself when it came to the sleeves (I’ll explain this down lower). The slip took…oh, my, very much time! It took long enough to get the slip wearable with the dress in time for Easter (April 20th), but much longer to do the final fitting, seam finishes, and embroidery details. I worked on the fine finishing details on and off for the next few months until it was finally done in August of 2014 (for a total of maybe 30 hours).

100_3408a-compTHE INSIDES:  All the inside seams for the sheer over dress are done in French seams, except for the bottom skirt flounce inserts, which were lapped on, and the skinny ¼ inch hems. My under slip had the bodice panels lapped on, similar to a flat felled seam. All the other seams to the slip were made in clean finished seams covered with a strip of stay tape for sturdiness (see left picture).

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 3 yards of the Anna Sui Feed Sack Silk Chiffon, at a sum of $38.40. Now the Kiwi Solid Chiffon was $39 for my cut yardage of 3 ½ yards, but I only used a yard and a half for the slip ($19.50). My total cost for the outfit fabric comes to $58, but…I didn’t have to pay for it! It was free as part of $100 gift credit, my prize for winning the “Butterick to the Big Screen Contest” in June of 2013. All I really paid for then was the notions, which might have been $10 or less! Score!

This was my very first time sewing with silk this fine and expensive. Boy, was I intimidated! I was so afraid of messing things up or having something in some way going wrong. But I knew I just needed to dive in and start learning and progressing. I did use my hubby’s Grandmother’s old Brother sewing machine because it has a smooth run, predictable stitches (besides, my favorite tried and true work horse machine was needing repair). I also started out with brand new “sharps” needles, and replaced one or two more needles on my machine throughout the outfit’s construction to eliminate any possibility of getting runs in the silk chiffon. Besides these basic steps, and just plain old being careful, thinking clearly, and taking my time, sewing with these silk was a truly a wonderful dream.

100_5771a-compI am still amazed at how easy the Anna Sui silk chiffon was to sew…much, much easier than polyester chiffon, with less runs and fraying than a poly imitation, too. Now I did find the thicker solid Kiwi Chiffon to be a bit more of a problem, but I think maybe it was just because I “wrestled” with making the slip work for so long, I may have a bit of prejudice towards it. At first, I also experimented with some scraps to do the method recommended on a few tutorials and blogs – keeping a layer of wax paper between the feed dogs and the chiffon. It was not working for me nor worth the trouble. All I did was stitch slowly and evenly, feeling out the bias of the fabric and being extremely careful to not stretch it in the least.

100_5786a-compUsing stay tape really helped add some body and help the feed dogs grip the fabric better, as well as stabilizing the seams for wearing. Stay tape was even sewn into every dart, and on top of the slip seams, because I didn’t want to rip or tear anything from the movement of wearing the dress. Look carefully in the picture at left of the dress’ insides and you can see the stay tape netting strips.  This was the best idea for my dress – the stay tape holds and helps all the seams, does not itch against the skin, and is just as perfectly soft and flowing as the silk. Thank you to the wonderful employee at my Hancock Fabric store for giving me the idea.

The Past Pattern for the over dress seemed to be close to my size, just a tad larger all over than what I needed. Knowing that, from my experience, many 1930’s patterns run small, I cut it out as is and it turned out just perfect. The one single change I made to the construction was to make single darts on each right and left side (a total of two) for the waist back instead of making them in pairs on each side (for a total of four) as the pattern instructs. Everything else for the pattern was made unaltered.100_5784a-comp

Believe it or not, there are only 4 easy pieces to make the afternoon dress. All the pieces fit and matched together perfectly. The sleeves and the skirt flounce inserts are cut on the 100_5776a-compbias and all other pieces (the front and back dress panels) are cut on straight grain. As you can see, I did choose the square neck option (over the V-neck). I love the gentle fit of the tiny double bust darts on each side of the front panel. What the pattern calls “cape sleeves” also have a tiny dart along the top of the shoulder coming from the neckline for a small touch of added shaping. There is a small opening a few inches in for a snap closure at the right neckline of the raglan seam of the sleeve, so the dress goes over the head easily.

I decided to add the sleeve hem ruffles, and it took several hours to do their hemming, gathering, and stitching down. After, the ruffles were on, I just could not like them. So…off they came after some serious time spent unpicking. My hubby generously did a good amount of the unpicking while I worked on the waist belt. I did end up having the trim a bit off the edge of the sleeves after the ruffles were out, just because the silk is too fine to not get affected by sewing and unpicking, so they are a tad shorter than intended. The belt 100_2805-compcame out wonderfully, but I wish it was a little longer. It was supposed to be my size but only hangs out a handful of inches past my old amazing Art Deco buckle. Oh well – as long as it makes it around my waist. The belt is lined in the same fabric as the under slip, making the belt pretty much reversible and similar in color tone as the rest of the dress.

The side closure is a simple button and loop style. I used the same “President braid” trim leftover from making my scalloped collar “The Artist” movie dress for the loops, and sandwiched them under some more stay tape for support along the one opening edge. On the other side of the side closure edge are tiny light pink heart shaped buttons to go with the feminine theme and pastel colors of my dress set.100_5773a-comp

Jill Salen book coverMy under slip pattern, coming from the book, had to be enlarged 200% in order to become full sized and usable. I had a local print shop do this step for me instead of my doing the re-grading by hand and ruler. I did my best at measuring the proportions of the slip to find out what size it might be. The patterns from the book were not made from other patterns, but from old vintage pieces themselves (I suppose whatever the author had access to or owned herself) so each piece in the book is a random mysterious size. Every time I use a pattern from this book “Vintage Lingerie”, it’s like taking a gamble. From what I could tell, the slip would be close to my size, so I added on seam allowances (5/8 inch) and cut it out as is. The entire slip is apparently and early 30’s design and meant to be worn under a bias dress, that is why it has such long lines and all straight grain pieces. The only bias to the slip is on the curved shaped edge of the upper bodice panels.

100_3517a-comp

My little dachshund is that dark thing on the floor at my feet!

Once it was finished, the slip was tried on and, yes it did fit but – wow – it was tight! My hips are about 35”, with my waist about 8 inches smaller than that, so I’m assuming this slip would comfortably fit someone smaller than me. My closest size estimate is that, unaltered, this 30’s slip is for a size 30” – 32” bust, 25” waist, and 33” hips. I was hoping to make the slip go on and off without needing a side closure so I needed to make extra room somehow. After some brainstorming with hubby, we came up with the idea of cutting out another two center front panel pieces from the slip pattern and adding it into the side seams. The center front panel is skinny with a slightly wider taper at hem end giving just the little bit of extra room I needed much like a godet. Adding in the side panels did add more seams for me to finish off, but so it had to be. I do wish the slip was a bit longer on me, and I think I’ll write a note to adjust the pattern, but I‘ve done enough work on it so I can’t complain.

100_5789a-compIn our pictures of me wearing just the slip, it actually fits tighter than originally when it was newly finished. This is because I didn’t wash the silk first before I assembled and wore it for Easter. It was washed later and now has a snug and complimentary body forming fit, but this was not intended. From the feel it, I am supposing the silk might act similarly to denim blue jeans: the fit is tighter once newly dried and out of the wash, loosens up again as I wear it, until the next time it gets cleaned when it shrinks up again. On the opposite side of things, the outer sheer overdress was not washed before the pictures were taken and it didn’t shrink much at all from washing it. The chiffon did change its finish, though, going from smooth and flat to looking like a seersucker after it was washed. The seersucker look is not a bad thing to have, and I like it enough to not iron it out…it was just unexpected. I normally wash every fabric before using, but now I know to make no exceptions (not even for silk, wool or linen) if I don’t want surprises.

100_3522a-compThe original blue slip shown in the book had more fine details, such as fagoting, drawn threads, and eyelet embroidery, than my own version. Making the slip was hard enough the way it was. However, I’m not really complaining, just happy the extra effort I put in comes to such a unique and special finished garment, even if (besides counting myself) it only gets seen on my blog! I don’t know if the front panel detailing was meant to be a monogram, and I was tempted to design my own, but it had a nice Art Deco design to it so I hand-stitched it exactly as the original in the book.

Afternoon Tea dresses have a style and beauty all their own. Soft flowing fabrics created a free-flowing, feminine, and comfortable garment – for summer it would be rayon, sheer cotton, and silk (if you had money in the 30’s), and for winter, wool crepes, rayon, and satins be in order. The swinging silhouette of mid 30’s afternoon dresses was achieved with flared bias panels and simplicity in design, like my own dress set, compared to day dresses which often had pleats and details like embellishments. Day dresses’ necklines had a utilitarian style, such as collars or front zippers and buttons, while afternoon dresses had simple, beautifully shaped necklines. Day or afternoon dresses were both quite decent as far as covering, but the “day” style was more utilitarian (for shopping or working at a job) while the “afternoon” style was for out of the home leisure, eating out, and other nice occasions. (Info from here.) A slim and sleek silhouette with wide but softly shaped shoulders is period appropriate for the decade of my dress with a belt necessary to define the waist, since the early 30’s drop waist look (of the 20’s) was definitely gone by 1935. My Easter dress set is indeed the perfect “tea” length which is mid-shin, iconic of the 1930’s…an odd length really, but quite complimentary once worn (so I think).

100_2787-compAfternoon dresses came from a time when there was a garment for different times of the day and occasions of life – day wear, afternoon “tea” outfits, house dresses, evening elegance, leisure gowns, negligée sets and nightwear. This did not last much longer past the 1940’s, but it sure provides an interesting variety of styles and garments to suit any person’s taste, body type, and need. History provides such a variety of vintage fashions. This variety enables “vintage” to be easily re-made (whether from a pattern – reprints and originals – or an old original piece) and worn in our modern times than many people realize. Try something new, and you might just find a new favorite!