Being a Spectator

“Being is always a two-way street: as soon as you are aware that you can see, you will also know that you can be seen – and judged.” (From “Why is Caring About Fashion Considered So Unserious?” by Madison Moore.)  Now this is a rather harsh way of looking at a basic human reaction, and it does make us sound rather vain and self-conscious, but it’s unavoidable.  All the way back to Adam and Eve in the Bible story, who covered themselves because they were afraid of being seen by God, clothing ourselves is intertwined with self-awareness, personality (hidden or manifested), inner or outward expectations, and scrutiny under the sight of others.  This is all the more prevalent today, in our world of Instagram and Pinterest, which feeds off of and provides a seeming endless sea of images.  There’s no harm in such digital age resources, in my opinion, provided one gets out to see and experience real people in real life more than one spends the time to observe remotely via a computer or phone screen.

Public events happen to be the best places for bystander watching.  This sounds bad, but let’s face it – we’re a curious race.  It’s where people come to be entertained by the main attraction of the moment as well as find amusement in turn watching those who are present.  Everyone’s a spectator.  This makes me think – is there a style for being a spectator?  Why don’t many people even bother to dress our best anymore when going out in public, especially for fancy, special events?  How much do we dress for ourselves compared to how much we dress for others or for society?  Whatever does this have to do with my normal fashion-history-sewing blog postings, you may be wondering, too.

Well, there is a style of vintage garments and footwear which is labelled as “Spectator” fashion, and I have taken the Marvel’s Agent Carter interpretation!  In the very first episode of Season Two to the television show, “The Lady in the Lake”, she sets off the plot with a bang in a very striking, post WWII year 1947 rich red dress outfit.  She wears this fully accessorized set to the ultimate place and event for the sport of both being a spectator and watching them – horse racing!  To mirror her location, I had my own visit to a Clydesdale horse ranch.

Most people know the shoe version of Spectators – what we also call “Two-Tones”.  Perhaps the most well-known spectator style footwear might be saddle shoes or the quintessential “Lindy Hop” lace up flats of the Rockabilly 1940s and 50’s youth.  But Spectator styles were for fashion too, mostly in the form of a nice, collared dress, which was comfortable yet tailored and easily fancied up or down as needed.  I cannot find anything more definite than these consistent trait details, besides the fact they seem to have been quite popular in 1950 (here’s one example), petering out by circa 1954 (see this pattern), and are seen mostly in solid colors or low-key prints such as tiny polka-dots, for one example.  I need to do more research digging to be more specific on Spectator fashion, but it was certainly “a thing”.

Each piece to my whole outfit is very much a red and white, two-toned spectator-style item.  My only real variance from my inspiration was gladly changing the details to a more authentic and personally pleasing hat and shoe style.  Yes, I could have done a mirror-image “copy”, but opted not to follow exactly the Agent Carter outfit as seen in the program.  As with the rest of my Agent Carter “copies”, I ride a fine line between adhering to the movie inspiration and being true to history, but being authentic to my own taste for the 1940s always wins out for me.  I work so hard to find true vintage patterns that are strikingly similar, capturing a recognizable essence of my inspiration, and luckily the costumes are generally so good at being authentic themselves I really don’t have to sacrifice much at all to have the best of both worlds!

My Spectator dress is completed by one of my favorite millinery hat making projects.  A dingy, stained, and unwanted true vintage late 30’s or 1940s hat was rescued, refashioned, and spruced up into a new, bright life as a dramatic late 40’s/early 50’s style to match my outfit.  Hats, after all, are something not to be without when it comes to showing up at the horse races I know, such as Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

My shoes are – of course – spectator style in red and white.  The ones seen on Peggy (of Chelsea Crew brand) are more of a 1920’s style spectator with the T-strap and pointed toes and quite expensive to buy everywhere they are found.  I personally prefer the likes of a true 1940’s heel on my feet, so for myself and for the outfit’s sake I went with a platform, peep-toe, and sling back heel from B.A.I.T brand footwear.  I think these are much more of a power shoe to bring this outfit up to the commanding and flashy woman that Peggy Carter needed to be for the occasion of her visit to the races.

This is my second entry to the “Sewing the Scene” sewing challenge sponsored by the “Unfinished Seamstress” blogger.  After all my efforts to mimic my inspiration outfit, this is still more than just a Hollywood copy for me, and not cosplay either.  This outfit will gladly be worn as part of my vintage-inspired wardrobe because Agent Carter is something which is part of my everyday life.  In fact…I wore this dress to get my official driver license picture for my renewal!  How’s that for bringing my inner Agent Carter into my ordinary duties!?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester suiting fabric from JoAnn’s Fabric store for the dress and a poly felt for the hat

PATTERN:  a “1st Place Prize” mail order pattern No. 1993, which I can date with confidence to year circa 1947

NOTIONS:  I used two zippers I had on hand, a true vintage metal one for the back neck opening and a modern matching red one for the side closure.  I had on hand the interfacing that I needed and plenty of thread otherwise.  The piping I made myself of leftover satin blanket binding and macramé cording!  The satin blanket binding went towards the hat as well as me-made bias tape of dress fabric leftovers.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Ugh!  After way to much hand-stitching to remotely tolerate, about 40 (probably more) hours, this dress was finally finished on July 12, 2018.  The hat was refashioned in one afternoon/evening soon after, in about 5 hours.

THE INSIDES:  All clean in either French seams or bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  about $35 was spent of the dress fabric, about $5 for the hat felt, and $20 to buy the vintage hat.  If I count the $10 deal I got on the shoes and the cost for my other accessories, the total outfit cost is about $100.

The outfit was quite a challenge to make – by far one of the hardest outfits to make, Peggy Carter related or not.  For the dress, I blame the crummy fabric I chose for a lot of my problems.  The fabric was the right color red to be sure, readily available in a local store, with a nice slightly textured finish, and a good multi season weight.  It was just too man-made in the way it acted, as if it was such an unnatural fiber that it was fighting being made into something worthwhile every step of the way.  I had to do meticulous hand-stitching for almost everything to get the dress to turn out halfway decent and not messy or cheap looking…I mean the fabric was rather pricey after all!  I was convinced into believing anew the need to go on a personal strike against polyester and other man-made materials.  For the hat, the main issue was dealing with something wonky and beat up and trying to revive it.  The man-made felt I used is again “man-made”, yet it worked out well for this refashion.  This hat could not be cleaned and it was the wrong colors but the right shape…when looking past all of its faults from the wear and tear of time.  Polyester felt was a weight which was thin enough to not make covering the existing hat too bulky, and I don’t think it is obviously an imitation of wool.  When making one’s dream outfit, sometimes price, budget, and available materials sure does make things more of a challenge than it need be!

The pattern itself presented its own challenges along the way.  From the very beginning, though, a big chunk of the extra time it took to be finished with this set was even before I could cut.  The sizing needed such a major change (it was for a tiny 30” bust).  I traced out the entire dress onto sheer medical paper so I both wouldn’t have to ruin the original and could gradually, in small segments, add in the 4 inches I needed widthwise.  Besides resizing, the only other design change I made was to the reshape the neckline.  I widened out the top angle of the neckline so that it would be more squared off and the two corners would land at the middle of my collarbones.  I raised the bottom drop of the key-hole neckline higher by just a few inches, so it would at least cover any cleavage (unlike Peggy’s dress, which shows way too much in my opinion).  Even still, it turned out quite low.  What would the original neckline have been like at this rate?! 

In order the finish the neckline edge, anchor down the piping, and accommodate the newly shaped neckline, I drafted my own facing accordingly.  This is really a dress about visible facing after all – that is the quickest, cleanest, and reasonably easiest way to do the neckline.  The whole of the dress is about the decorative chest, anyway. I made the new facing a replica of the neckline shape and made it an even 2 ¾ inches wide all the way around.  Then I made my own piping and stitched that along the outer facing edge.  Keeping the curves and corners to this step was so tricky but extremely necessary to the design.  Finally the facing was sewn onto the neckline, wrong side (dress inside) to the right side (visible facing).  This way the edges are finished (as I mentioned) and the piping is both covered and regulated in width away from the edge all in one step.

The finishing to this step was the hardest part because everything was invisibly tacked down with tons of hand-stitching which was tortuous to do.  So many pins were needed to keep everything in place in between the episodes of stitching, and my hands and arms became so scratched up and wounded.  The back neckline zipper was absolutely needed but only complicated things further with the piping ending there, too.  Sorry to complain!  In the end, though (after much steam ironing) I do believe the detailing turned out well, but not as perfect as I had hoped.  All those layers and the piping makes the neckline quite stiff, and it puckers slightly sometimes.  However, I do believe the proportions of the key-hole neckline are quite the same as Agent Carter’s dress, so I’m happy.  Yet, I feel now as if I can say I passed some sort of “trial by hand stitching”.  I definitely have a greater respect for the costume department of Agent Carter, now.

The criss-cross straps that finalize the drama of the neckline are shown to be more like a woven design right at the bottom of the key-hole according to the original pattern.  I merely repositioned them to match with Peggy’s dress.  The X over Peggy’s heart is a recurring theme throughout Season Two, as you can see in another copycat dress I made already here.  It is used when she is vulnerable – caught between needing to finish her hardest mission yet while being emotionally torn at the same time.  Love has come into her life again in a whole new way she didn’t see and didn’t expect. With Peggy however, it often seems that love is intertwined with heartbreak.  So – this dress is a strong statement of her both moving on to another chapter in life yet still staying the same strong woman as before she lost ‘her’ Captain America.  She still seems to receive more than her fair share of grief, in my opinion.  I suppose all it does is go to show just how strong and resilient she can be…though not tough enough to refuse to open her heart.

Only the year before this design, the bombshell actress Lana Turner had popularized decorated keyhole necklines when she wore several in the sultry 1946 movie, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (see fashion pics here).  One of the only times she isn’t wearing white in the film, her black dress has white trim a few inches out from the edge to outline the shape of the keyhole neckline.  It looks all too similar!  Agent Carter was apparently only keeping up with Hollywood to wear this neckline style.

Otherwise, there is not much to say about the rest of the dress.  It has very basic shaping and almost boring darts and seaming.  That’s okay – the body of the dress needs to take a backseat to the neckline.  I kept the sleeves as they were designed, even though they are so different from my inspiration dress, because not only did they turn out cute in my opinion, but they are very easy to move in and provide a great 40’s shoulder widening appearance.  They are quite loose around my arms, but the rest of the dress also had a giant amount of ease to match.  I had to pare off about two inches from each side seams, and take off several inches from the hem.  This brand of pattern company must run really generous.  I guess I didn’t need to do all of that massive resizing after all.

Enough said about the dress – now I’ll talk about the hat!  Originally it must have been quite stunning – to me it has an almost sea-faring pirate feel and the back tassel bumble is an interesting addition.  Many late 30’s and early 40’s hats were similarly obnoxious in style with wide brims.  As I found it, there was an ugly black stain on the crown, and the brim had some rips or moth holes.  The brim edge wire was terribly twisted and kinked, too.  It needed a re-fashion, or else I cannot see anyone wanting it in that condition.

I hate seeing vintage items on their last leg, and I really didn’t want to make a hat from scratch to match my outfit…so I fulfilled both in one step!  Now I know my refashion tuned the hat into the bowl or platter style popular in the early 50’s, but it evokes the post war fashion of 1947, the year Dior unveiled his “New Look”.  It also shows how little details in shape and finishing can change a style so much!

My very first step was to unpick the stitching of the grosgrain ribbon along the edge, to then be able to unpick the millinery wire stitched on the edge.  Next, I took the tassel bumble off and stitched up the back brim slit opening.  Then the hat received an all-over steam ironing!  This flattened out the wavy brim and freshened it up in both smell and shape.  Now the hat was ready to be covered.

I started by covering the bottom underside of the brim using the dress fabric.  I made three rows of stitching from the edge for decorative looks and to keep it in place.  Then the crown was covered by gently stretching out my felt over the existing hat, and my knee was the best thing to put inside to keep in shape while I was doing this.  Stretching the felt made the two layers stick the one another better than stitching the two layers together.  If I was working with a wool felt, I would have soaked it in water before stretching it, but the polyester felt wasn’t going to work like that.

Finally, the top crown was covered with more felt, hand stitched down along the inner and outer edges, then my self-made bias tape, made from the same dress material, was stitched along the edge for the finishing touch.  The last thing was to make a tube of the leftover white satin left over from making the piping, and gently hand-tack that from the inside to where the brim meets the crown.  Agent Carter’s original hat had two different colors and textures of red just like my hat, but I just could not bring myself to copy the trim.  The original hat in the television show hat grey velvet trim with a matching bow, and to me it looks too much like a costume that way, and too over-the-top.  I like the classy simplicity of how I decorated my hat – again, not distracting from the dress, but definitely part of it by sharing the same materials.

It is remarkable how much this outfit forces me into a new outgoing spirit that is almost more than I can handle if I’m not quite feeling myself.  It’s all good stuff, though.  I’ve never really been a girl who is all about a red dress…it comes from reading the book “The Scarlet Letter” or watching Scarlett O’Hare show up at Ashley’s birthday party in the movie “Gone with the Wind”.  Besides, my mom never let me buy outfits in red when I was growing up.  I had only one fancy red dress, and that was reserved for a Valentine’s Day father-daughter dance to attend as a pre-teen.  Now, I’m rediscovering the empowerment of the color.  I even went all out with the color by treating myself to the complete Agent Carter red accessories as seen on television, too – cheaper copies of her Ray-Ban sunglasses, Besame brand “Red Velvet” lipstick (from the Agent Carter collection), her same mother-of-pearl flower earrings, and a true vintage alligator leather handbag.  If I’m going to enjoy the shade of crimson, and go all out in one of my most time consuming Agent Carter outfits yet, then it has to be absolutely awesome from my head to toes and everything in between.

Now I am truly a classic spectator…dressing up in my best, decked in a flag-your-attention set of red, sticking to two tones, and definitely realizing I am seen.  I may therefore be arbitrated, too, but then I am not afraid of it because I feel great in what I wear when I make it.  Besides – I am not afraid of others judgment in this outfit in particular.  I have a sneaky suspicion that it will get favorable opinion from others anyway.  I’ve already had someone drive buy and offer a compliment to me the very first day of putting it on.  There must be something with spectator fashions, because here I am talking about the self-consciousness, personality, and preparedness for scrutiny arising just from what I am wearing.  Clothing certainly adds a necessary complexity and interest to the human existence.

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…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!

Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, which I sewed myself as well (post for them here).

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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Transformational Knitwear: My “Modern” 1920’s Shawl Collared Dress

One of the milestones to fashion history came when the much loved knitwear came into being. I tried to channel the innovative qualities of both knitwear and the 20’s style in this project.  A resale store purchase of a RTW dress, with a ‘big box’ store label, was transformed into a new vintage style dress reflecting the height 1920’s fashion.

100_2544     Thanks to two great personalities – Coco Chanel and Jean Patou – the populace were able to enjoy the freedom and comfort of knit fabric at an earlier date in history than many people realize.  In 1916, Chanel was using jersey in her hugely influential suits for women, thereby popularizing the feminine association with knits.  However, in 1919, French fashion designer Jean Patou, had come back from 4 years of fighting in WWI (The Great War) and re-opened his couture studio.  He soon became known  for designing what we know as sportswear, and is considered the inventor of the knitted swimwear and the tennis skirt. He also was the first designer to popularize the cardigan, besides being known for his cubist-inspired, color-blocked knits.  Jean Patou did wonders to move fashions towards the natural and comfortable, accommodating for the healthy and athletic lifestyle which was the “new” ideal for women starting with the ditching of constrictive corsets in the 20’s.  Coco Chanel is quoted as once famously saying, “I want women to eat and laugh without fear of fainting,” and knitwear for the newly independent and working women helped achieve Chanel’s desire all the way into our modern times.

ParisFrocks1930-12,Bertha collar refashion     I have found conflicting reports as to the proper titles that were used for the type of collar made for my black 20’s dress.  Technically, I believe this collar style should be called the “shawl” or “capelet” collar.  Nevertheless, I have found a few old original reprinted patterns, such as Past Patterns’ #2425 or Vintage Vogue #2535, and old prints from sewing books which refer to shawl collars as “Bertha” collars (such as the left picture drawing from a 1930 Butterick Delineator book; link here).  Whatever the real ‘official’ title for this type of collar is, it seemed to be used very widely throughout the 20’s and 30’s. Most shawl or capelet collars were recommended to be made out of soft, drape-friendly chiffon-like fabrics. I will explain below how I made my collar work with my knit fabric. By the way, I’m sticking with the shawl collar name..just because 😉

THE FACTS:

HISTORICAL FORTNIGHTLY CHALLENGE:  Innovation

100_2141FABRIC:  The main body of my shawl collar dress started out as an Old Navy item bought at a resale store (see the original dress in the picture at left).  The Old Navy dress is a Modal (rayon type) knit with a small percent of polyester, and is sort of thin but very soft with a brushed feel.  The fabric I bought (for the add-ons to re-fashion my dress) is a cotton/rayon knit with a small percent of spandex included.  The spandex made this knit less than favorable for a historical dress, but it was the best match color wise and similar to the knit of the Old Navy dress.  The shoulder bow is a rayon knit and comes from a top that was bought at Target (on clearance) about 10 years ago.  The bow was taken off of the top and has been in my “bone yard of extra stuff “for a decade, waiting for the right project to finally come along!

PATTERNS:  1) the Bertha/shawl collar came from view B of Vogue 8907, year 2013;  2) the longer second skirt that went under the Old Navy dress’ skirt came from Simplicity 2614, view A, year 2009;  3) the long sleeves came from an OOP Vintage Vogue #2354, view B, year 1999. 

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NOTIONS:  The only thing I bought to make my dress was one skein of “Snow” colored cross stitch floss to decorate the shawl collar.  Black thread was the only other notion I used, and I always have plenty of that on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 10 to 12 hours from beginning to end.  I was finished on November 12, 2013

THE INSIDES:  the original dress I re-fashioned had serged seams, which I left as is, except for the sleeves, of course.  Everything I sewed was done in French seams or self-covered.

TOTAL COST:  I spent only $4.00 for the original Old Navy dress, and around $20.00 for the fabric to refashion it, but with only 30 cents for the skin of cross stitch floss, I figure on a total of about $25.00.

HOW HISTORICALLY ACCURATE IS IT?  Quite accurate in everything except the small percent of polyester, spandex, and Modal in the knits.  Polyester has roots in the 1929 writings of Wallace Carothers, but it and spandex weren’t actually around ’til the 50’s.  See The Dreamstress’ post on “Rayon and other manufactured naturals” for an explanation on Modal and rayon’s historical stories.  Otherwise, the dropped waist of my dress is very classic of the 20’s, as are the new skinny sleeves I sewed and added.  The double skirt can also be found in some 20’s patterns and posters, while the shawl collar’s accuracy has already been proved.  

100_2539     My first step towards making my 20’s dress was to cut off the too tight short sleeves and sew in my new long sleeves.  I used my Vintage Vogue 2354 mainly on account of the skinny sleeve look, but also because of my intent to sew up this 1947 dress soon for an event, and I wanted to experiment and see how they would fit.  As they turned out, the VV2354 sleeves fit me great, but they are SO skinny!  The part around the wrist barely stretched over the free arm of my sewing machine.  I made a paper note to keep with the pattern, so when I make my VV2354 out of my satin, I will remember to hem the sleeve cuffs before I sew the sleeve length together.

Next, I sewed the front and the back the two skirt pieces together for t100_2536he under skirt I was adding.  The skirt of Simplicity 2614 is cut on the bias and has a beautiful gentle flare which complimented well with the skirt on the original dress.  The second under skirt was added to help prevent any see-through issues, to add length, and to give my re-fashioned dress extra authenticity and character.  The original pattern had to actually be shortened about 5 inches since I wanted the dress to be knee-length and, remember, the waistband is at the hips.  As you can see, my dress stays at that ‘borderline-to-shocking’ length for the late 20’s – short enough to show the knees at times but also long enough to cover them too.

The skirt was hemmed, the top folded in onto the ‘good’ side, and pinned then sewed to100_2569 the inside top of the hip waistband (see right picture).  My skirt addition does wonders for the dress’ hip waistband; it is now much more sturdy and it doesn’t roll or bunch up like it did without the second skirt underneath.  You bet I’m wearing my handmade 1920’s tap pants underneath!  It’s the perfect opportunity to go all out vintage in and out.

100_2127     The shawl collar was the 3rd part of my re-fashion.  The pattern I was basing my shawl collar on actually reminds me of “Superman”. It is the type of shawl which starts on the left shoulder, drapes across above bust length in the front, but comes all the way down the back and gets sewn under to the back bottom hem.  This design had to be adapted and re-drawn.  I began by pinning together the small shoulder shaping pleat on the right side of the collar pattern.  Next, I folded the collar pattern in half at the shoulders so I could trace the shape of the front collar onto the back half (see picture at left).  Technically I made the back just a little lower hanging than the front, but I did dip the center front down lower to make sure it would cover the open neck of the dress.  Besides re-drawing the pattern I further adapted it by double layering the shawl collar.  The instruction sheet merely says to do one layer and make a tiny hem on the edge, which sounds great for a chiffon or something lightweight.  However,  I knew one layer of my knit would make a flimsy collar, nor did I want: 1) a raw edge hem too be that obvious, 2) a collar which would stick to my dress or blow in my face.  So I cut out two collar pieces (which were quite large), sewed the front pleats and the left shoulder seams (the only shoulder seam), and sewed the collar pieces with right sides together along the outside edge.  Now the collar could be turned right sides out and there was a clean seam along the outside edge, ready to be top stitched, and later hand decorated.  The collar’s inner neckline edge was then pinned together, as well as under, so it could get sewn down to the dress finally.

I realized I needed to draft something to fill in the low, plunging U neckline on the original 100_2558adress (finished inside picture at left).  I had been waiting to do this step until the collar was done so I could measure everything and get as exact as possible.  I put the dress on, then placed the collar over myself, pinning at the shoulders.  The back of the collar seemed to match up exactly with the back neckline of the dress.  For the front, I measured the difference from the collar neckline down to the dress neckline and traced out the scoop neckline shape on the collar with white chalk.  After both items were off of me, I got out paper, stuck it inside the neckline of the dress as it was all laid out nicely on the floor, and began to trace out a filler neckline.  When I was done with my drawing, I compared it to the shape that was chalked out on the front collar, made some minor adjustments, and added seam allowances before it was cut out.  Once I had the fabric cut out in the shape of my neck filler, I turned the edges in, towards the right side, since I lapped the neckline line piece under the original neckline.  With the neckline ready, I turned in the neck edge of the shawl collar, and sort of lapped the neck and collar together in a stable double seam.

100_2538100_2564     My stitching along the edge was a fun and relaxing thing I got done one Saturday afternoon.  (See close-up at left) Every so often I do decorative hand-stitching techniques, and I feel I did quite a good job here doing even widths and choosing the right stitch.  The bow, all ready sewn in it’s shape, added a perfect last touch.  It is sewn down just on the front side of the left shoulder seam.  The old McCall 5313 envelope cover picture at far left shows a bow finishing off a sheer shawl collared dress.  One of my favorite movies, “Manhattan Tower”, from 1932, has the secretary character Mary wearing a large scarf bow on her left shoulder, too.  See it for yourself, here, at about the 5:30 time counter, then go ahead and watch the whole movie yourself at some point – it’s quite interesting.  ManhattanTower1932-mccall pattern combo

Originally, my main inspiration and idea for making this dress came from and outfit worn by the character Peppy Miller from the 2012 movie “The Artist”.  Peppy wears two different types of shawl/cape collar dresses in the movie, but the one that inspired my sewing can be seen in the combo of movie still/costume drawing at right.  Her dress was worn towards the movie’s beginning, the day after she makes headlines, and she is getting off a trolley car to try for a job as a movie extra.  Looking closely at the movie dress, I began to see a few ways to make my interpretation closer to historically authentic.  This is the second “The Artist” movie inspired dress I have made recently, the first can be seen here.  I plan on making two more dresses from the movie as well.

leaving trolley combo  In honor of “The Artist”, we still HAD to take our photo shoot at an old trolley car in front of our town’s History Museum.

I’d like to put a few captions to the pictures below.

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“Did I lose something back there? I think I’m clear of the trolley door. Tell me ’cause I can’t see…my bum sticks out in this dress, doesn’t it?”

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Hubby caught me doing a ‘Peppy Miller’ dance when he snapped this one.

Both pictures, while fun, also show how nicely my shawl collar lays.  Hubby seems to think the collar, together with everything about the dress, has a modern, fashion forward look.  All I know is I love wearing my dress!  It’s incredibly comfy, fun, and I feel like it has a classiness that isn’t trying too hard.  20’s meets modern in so many ways with this new dress of mine.   Talk about getting a “leg up” on fashion.

I have to let you go…I need to catch this trolley.  However, the ‘trolley car’ of innovations in the world of fashion never stops and always keeps rolling on, changing what we wear and how we wear it.  At the same time, when I make something like this 20’s shawl collar re-fashioned dress, I tend to think that some things just never change.

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