“No Chance! No Way! I Won’t Say It…”

…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is!  (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)

Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project.  The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s.  This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here).  Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era.  Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager.  Ah, what am I turning into!?  This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  

Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s.  My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length.  Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress.  I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck.  Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways! 

However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”.  A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style!  Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality.  (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too).  They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise.  They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds.  Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental.  Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”.  This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.

Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology.  In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman.  Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny.  I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara.  Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno.  Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno.  That not all, however!  At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld.  After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.

I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did.  Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand?  It always feels so remarkably serendipitous.  She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together.  Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)!  Good things happen when sewists unite! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets

PATTERN:  New Look #6306, year 1994

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.

TOTAL COST:  practically free!!! Read on…

How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story.  Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale.  The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets.  Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house.  I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free!  At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away.  The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.

It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static.  The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling.  Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me.  I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it.  1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child.  My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion.  I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime.  I am not the only one, though.   

Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York.  Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”.  I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content.  It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.”  (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.)  What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”. 

“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says.  Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls.  The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.”  So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way?  The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.”  Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects?  This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era.  “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly.  Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past?  It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp

No wonder I appreciate the 90’s!  It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make.  Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so.  I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion.  Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage.  This might not be your view and that is fine.  After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation.  If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog.  I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.

That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge.  I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it.  Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces.  I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s.  My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles.  I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years.  My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.

Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend.  Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater.  The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era.   The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though.  My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion.  The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion.  Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with.  The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.

After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew.  It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required.  Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction.  I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper. 

Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie.  I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper.  Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back.  Yes, I feel terrible about this.  There were tears involved.

Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress.  I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all.  The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular.  My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy.  I garner so many compliments when I wear this!  I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer.  Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too. 

The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers,  the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song!  There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus.  The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period.  This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!

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…

Staunch in Scarlet

I am normally not in the mood for wearing red unless I want to channel Agent Peggy Carter. That is just me.  It is such a strong statement color, and it is the one bright tone I am truly still not accustomed to yet!  A classic red I reserve for her, my stalwart heroine, in my way of thinking.  Christmas and Valentine’s Day are my only exceptions, as well as any patriotic occasion…which in its own way is related to Peggy Carter via her beau Captain America.  It’s cool that there is a holiday in February (for the United States) where I can tick more than one of my ‘stipulations for me wearing red’ boxes.  President’s Day comes in February on the heels of Valentine’s Day and is close to the anniversary of the first release of the Agent Carter television show.  So here’s a post about a great ‘new’ me-made WWII era dress, sprinkled with a bit of blue and white for good patriotic measure, in an unusual red tone that works for many seasons and celebrations!

My accessories really carry this outfit, I think, and I am very happy how they complement my dress together.  I am proud the hat is me-made at the last hour before these photos.  Understand it’s not a proper ‘sewn’ kind of hat, but neither is it a permanent creation either.  It’s whipped together in a sort of very resourceful 40’s era ‘make-do’ idealology.  I will talk more about it later on in this post.  My shoes are a fabulous true vintage find I bought for only $5 (yes, you read that right).  I have been able to pin their style down to the late 1930s or very early pre-WWII 40’s, due to the heel shape, materials used (woolen fabric and leather), and the high vamp (where it cuts across your foot at the front).  My gloves as well are a true vintage late 30’s or early 40’s cotton twill pair. 

All these items tweak the year on the pattern I used to make it seem (from a historical standpoint) as if this is a style of dress earlier than what it really is for a 30’s spin on a 40’s pattern.  By adding inches to lengthen the dress, as well, I ended out with an overall late 1930’s look, instead.  Usually historical vintage fashion anticipates the upcoming era during decade transitions, but not too often can styles go back in time.  This is an interesting and successful experiment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon challis for the dress and a sheer chiffon for the hat

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4949, year 1943, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was what was on hand – thread, a 22” zipper, and a bit of bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished in September 2019

TOTAL COST:  I bought the under two yards cut of my dress’ material on clearance in my local JoAnn store for only $7.00.  The blue contrast is from remnants leftover from this Burda Style 50’s dress.  The hat’s chiffon was on hand, bought years back for another project not yet made.  I’m counting the scraps and the chiffon remnant as free.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that this dress is so wonderful it is my ultimate go-to 40’s dress.  I actually had to put it downstairs for the time being because I need to give my other dresses some love by wearing them, too!  The lack of a set waist (with a seam) is somewhat unusual and oh-so-comfortable.  The dress is one piece from shoulder to hem.  Added to that is the stretchy side panels cut from a knit.  Combined with the swishy rayon and midi length, this dress feels and wears like the loveliest nightgown.  I added a center back zipper to keep this dress easy and stress-free to put on, as well.  With the side panels in a knit, I didn’t really have a choice but to move the placement of the zipper anyway.  Sneaky loungewear which can also be dressy enough to wear out and about is a gem, especially today.  The colors work for all seasons too, as my grey, navy, or dusty blue blazers and sweaters pair well over this dress.  For only $7 spent and some easy sewing, I really received the most bang for my buck with this project.

Besides changing up to a back zipper and adding length to the hem, I slightly altered the pattern to both make it work for my under 2 yard cut of material and also not break up the floral print on the dress’ front.  There were only four main pattern pieces for this dress so I took the easy way to grade in an extra inch or two anyway and changed up the layout of the tissue pieces.  I didn’t even bother with cutting out the fussy neckline facings, either, opting for simple bias tape finishing.  My fabric was restricting me at only 45” wide.  Luckily, the dress is not bias cut but straight along the grainline.

Instead of having a seam down the front, I cut that on the on the fold.  Yes this eliminated the curvy shaping, but kept the print undisturbed.  In lieu of the original lines, I added a “fish eye” style dart vertically down the front center from the bottom dip of the neckline to taper off into the skirt body at the waistline.  The dart also nicely raised up the originally very low V neck.  The back half was cut as the pattern wanted, and was laid out on the fabric with the wide skirt portion at the opposite end as that of the front.  The short sleeves were barely squeezed out of the portion in between the side seams to the front and the back dress pieces.  There were scraps left which were no bigger than 4 inches.  As I have done time and again, I just made my project idea work out with an inventive tissue piece layout. 

Speaking of pattern layout, I also went rogue when it came to cutting out the side triangular panels.  I barely had scraps of my chosen fabric leftover big enough for the two side waist panels.  It was all that I could manage to cut out the side panels on the bias.  Not that it matters all too much as I was using a 4 way knit, yet it is always important to follow grainlines.  Oh well.  The fact that I kept the seam though the center actually helps keep the knit from stretching overmuch.  I stabilized the seam with a three solid rows of straight stitching while not letting the knit distend under my machine.  Furthermore, I did some small, decorative hand stitching along the seam to help the inside allowance lie flat but still add some subtle beauty.  

The knit panels help this dress hug my curves in a way I adore.  When I was looking through what scraps I had on hand to use which would be the nicest contrast to the rayon print, this dusty blue knit was really the best, most versatile match I came across.  The fact it was a knit was secondary to my choice of color, but I figured that it may help shape this dress into a body-hugging, comfortable, slinky little number.  I was spot on, apparently.  The fact the side panels are in a contrast really do so much to make this a dress which slenderizes a figure.  Seriously, if you want a dress that automatically makes you look like you lost weight, this is the one.  Just imagine if this was in a solid tone for some color blocking.  It deceives the eye to see an hourglass figure smaller than what is really there.  You see the side panels, but the mind centers on the main body of the dress, which at its smallest point, is only a third of what the true waist of the wearer is.  It’s a deviously simple successful design and incredibly fun to sew – the perfect detail to make use of fabric scraps, too!

Now, this style of dress seems to be relatively easy to find.  Since both before and after I have sewn my dress, I have found similar styles both in Hollywood costumes, designer styles, extant vintage garments, as well as through several sewing patterns, some of which are available to buy as reprints today.  If you like this post’s dress, particularly, than you’re in luck because the pattern I used for my own dress can be bought through Eva Dress (see page for it here).  

Yet, the 40’s era side panel dress pattern of the moment through the vintage sewing community seems to be Folkwear Company’s #233 “Glamour Girl Dress”.  However, I just do not see it having the same size-reducing effect as the Simplicity #4949 I used.  Perhaps it’s because of the way the panels connect in the middle into a tie.  I do not have this pattern myself and do not intend to, but the tie front seems to cause too much bulk and excess of material around the waist.  It is lacking the thin, smooth band of material through the middle of my dress which fools the eye into seeing an impossibly tiny waist.  Besides, so many ladies seem to have both fitting and sewing issues with the Folkwear dress, from what I have read and heard first hand from others.  The midsection to the Folkwear dress becomes more of a belt-like feature for ease of wearing rather than a flattering design element as on the Simplicity dress I made.  I will stick with something I have tried already and know I like.  I hope to revisit this post’s pattern in the future to make it in a different way, inspired by the many varieties you see in my collage image.

My hat is actually something I whipped up after seeing some tutorials for such a thing on social media several years back (which is why I no longer remember where it originally came from).  It is only a one-something yard length of sheer chiffon wrapped around two foam styling rolls (like a modern version of a vintage hair “rat”).  I used my “Hot Buns” hair tool, since I had it on hand.  Then I connected the two of them together to form a circle (there are snaps built into the ends so this was easy to do).  I was tempted to buy something a bit more defined in shape such as a Styrofoam ring (used for wreath making).  However, the Velcro-like outside to the “Hot Buns” grabbed a hold of the fabric nicely, just the same as it does to my hair, to help this impromptu hat idea work better than I expected.  I left enough of a ‘tail’ on each side of the ring for this to tie around my hair much like headband.  Otherwise I wrapped the rest of the fabric closely around the “Hot Buns” ring with no pinning or tacking needed to keep in place. 

I think a knit would have worked better than the chiffon for this accessory project, but I’m just happy to have a new, era authentic hat for no cost and no effort, using things from on hand.  I’m practical enough to know I don’t currently have any more room in my hat boxes, so this little head decoration suits me perfectly.  This is a very late 30’s to early 40’s style of hat that can be seen everywhere between that time – from Hollywood, such as the head of actress Ida Lupino in the 1939 “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” movie, to a home fashions, like this page out of a Sears Catalog from 1940 (see bottom right).  It seems as if such a hat can be also termed as a turban, especially if it was knitted or a soft velvet.  With that in mind, it makes total sense now that it would come together quite easily, not be a permanent millinery piece, and be comfortable, practical glamor to wear. 

Now I suppose it is time to ease off of the fascination for red that the February holidays have brought upon me…at least for now.  Although scarlet tones are not seasonal (I do realize), it’s time to catch up on some more of my Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” outfits next!  I will return to something more appropriate for the chilly weather we are currently having.  I’ll meet you ‘just around the river bend’…and let me know if you catch the hint!

Peony Blush

Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado.  The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems.  It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity.  This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too!  So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.

This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item.  There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by.  You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!

Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought!  Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel.  Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them.  As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended!  I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.

The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me.  It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project.  It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print.  As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please!  There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base.  It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1356, also sometimes numbered as S0567.  It is reprint from 2014 of an original Simplicity #8125, year 1969

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on May 3, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? All raw edges are encased by the cotton second dress I sewed inside lie a lining.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember.  I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!

Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual.  A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006.  Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline.  A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern.  I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment.  If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started.  This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over.  For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline.  It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing.  Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt.  The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it.  Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt.  But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out.  Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose.  Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.

The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves.  Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge!  I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside.  For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing.  I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body.  It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.

As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin.  Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out.  Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside.  I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way.  I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another.  The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.

The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline.  The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust.  I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions.  So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve.  I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays.  Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them.  Those turned out just as nice as I expected.  Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect.  Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!

The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties.  If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang.  If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back.  I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern.  To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half.  They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties.  They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.

The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed.  I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem.  Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original.  After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back.  This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties.  The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.

Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back.  The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort.  I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too!  I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite.  Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn.  However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes.  That is life.  I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.

To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress!  This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer).  I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother.  The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it.  I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask.  Yes, here I go overthinking again.  Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!

They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one.  I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit.  Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts.  If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders.  My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now.  Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine.  Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.

This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?!  I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’.  It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward.  It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway.  After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!