Peggy’s Faux Bolero Dress

It was the day after that terrible, unexplained explosion at the Isodyne Energy Facility.  She was fighting through so much internally and externally – confusion, loss, blame, and a gut suspicion of a truth that she cannot prove.  At least she was the only one who had the humanity to get to know the missing scientist, no matter what his skin color.  Although she did not have the time to establish the connection she was inherently hoping for, she did understand him enough to mourn that he was only another senseless innocent in the long list of persons she seems to be the cause of their destruction.  Rightly or wrongly, those are her feelings.  Yet, the rest of the world around her only wanted the ‘facts’ about last night tied up in a nice little package, so that the truth for them was what they expected to hear.  SHE was the one needed by those in power to sign off for their lies – willingly or not was the threat.  What might our heroine wear for such a scene?  How can her fashion translate her strength showing through her weakness, her conviction to stand for veracity as the sole woman among a sea of lying, well-connected men?

Luckily, Peggy did have some true friends to turn to in such an hour.  Fortunately, also, the wonderful costume designer Gigi Melton has already come up with the perfect, amazing, and striking answer to a scene such as this, as well as other incidents just as powerful.

The heroine, Peggy Carter of the “Strategic Scientific Reserve”, dons the signature color of her female adversary – purple.  As someone who perennially wears blues, reds, and browns, she combines it with a new-to-her tone from the other end of the spectrum…green.  A professional looking faux two-piece outfit becomes a convenient one-piece dress.  Bold but sensible courage is manifested in Peggy’s fashion as well as character. Now, with my sewing capabilities, some fabric remnants, and an old pattern, I have my very own copy of Marvel’s Agent Carter’s dress for the above described scenes from Episode 3 of Season Two, “Better Angels”.

I love how Peggy’s words perpetually cut through the crud around her and are searingly direct, like a hot knife in hard butter, especially for this scene.  Truthfulness with others is what she is best at, and those scenes in which this memorable dress is worn, she oozes an assertive yet feminine, complex yet simple, and full on 40’s look!   “Better Angels” episode helps demonstrate why I have such respect for her and why I admire her character – an everyday superhero capability is tinged with a very relatable humanity and touching empathy.

April 9 is the anniversary of Peggy’s birthday, and it’s annually a day to celebrate a character that has brought so much into our lives by taking part in the “International Agent Carter Day”.  This is one of my favorite days of the year!  For such a day this year, I will post one of my very favorite Agent Carter outfit “copies” I have done.  It also happens to get the most compliments everywhere I go wearing it!  All this was made in one yard of deep eggplant purple gabardine and a few scraps of bright China silk leftover from a past project.  I adapted a true vintage 1946 pattern to both keep to the era and find the real historical version – thus I’m not just copying a Hollywood garment.

Of course, anyone who knows me knows I love a great pair of shoes, especially one that perfectly matches a color in my outfit.  Thus, I set out to find some true vintage shoes which would parallel the olive green B.A.I.T brand heels in the show.  There are some more modern decades, such as the 60’s or 70’s, which mimic 1940’s shoe styles, with slightly different heel shapes.  They are frequently much more wearable because of their not-so-fragile-as true-40’s footwear, however.  So, after much searching, I found a pair of lovely suede and polished leather, woven front, peep-toe heels in my size, in the exact matching green as my center bodice!  These are so comfy and really complete the outfit, yet they sadly blend in too well with the grass to be seen when I’m in a yard!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon/cotton blend gabardine, combined with china silk (leftover from lining this 40’s jacket-style blouse) for the contrast, and full lining in the bodice with all cotton broadcloth.

PATTERN:  McCall #6377, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and I used interfacing scraps and a zipper from on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on September 10, 2018, in about 10 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The one yard of purple gabardine was a remnant found for about $5 at Wal-Mart, the silk was scraps (I don’t count the cost of such small pieces), and the “American Classics” cotton was yet another remnant, this time found at JoAnn for a few dollars.  This dress cost under $10!!!

Faux boleros on a one-piece garment or even just color-blocking – like this dress – seemed to have been a ‘thing’ starting in the late 1930s through 1940s, from what I have found so far through extant garments and similar sewing pattern designs.  This collage is only a small portion of what inspiration I have come across.  These are all a very smart – perfect for using small cuts of fabric, but nevertheless make the most fun out of fashion as well as the most streamlined outfit ever!  The bottom right extant late 1930s dress is the one that I specifically channeled here with my tweak to add a bit of Agent Carter my vintage pattern.  That inspiration garment had the arched, faux cummerbund mid-section as well as the shiny silk contrast bodice panels which worked perfectly with my need to fit every pattern piece on small remnants.  The more concise the pieces, the better to fit onto scraps!

Getting my bodice to look like a faux bolero required me to retrace it out onto paper, cut out that copy, and re-draft it into a few extra pieces.  Yet, to keep all of those pieces together nicely – besides validating the accuracy of my re-drafting and provide a clean interior – the bodice lining is the one-piece design of the original pattern.   I was so happy to be using my lovely leftover silk in a project which would highlight it.  As I had only used it for interior lining in the project before, this silk literally now has its opportunity to shine.  Yet, the silk is so much lighter compared to the substantial thickness of the gabardine, it sometimes appears quite wrinkled.  China silk is not the best at holding its own on a fashion design.  There’s exceptions to the rule as you can see here, but it really is best as a lining.  I wouldn’t trust the China silk to not rip or tear apart on its own if I hadn’t lined the bodice.

The best part of sewing a two-tone dress (total irony here) is having to switch between colors with the spools and bobbins of thread in my sewing machine.  It is a real pain!  This is why I did the side zipper and several other sections by hand.  Not to brag, but I can use whatever color of thread on whatever color of fabric and make the thread invisible!  Such a technique is a very useful skill, just sharing a heads up!  I kept the machine top-stitching to the purple portion of the bodice only because gabardine doesn’t look as terrible showing thread as silk would.  Silk is such a fine fabric, I feel like it deserves better (most of the time) than machine stitching!  I know, silly me!

There’s something to be said about dressing in character.  When you try to copy someone else’s wardrobe, no matter how much you like it on that other individual, you are not dressing for yourself until you own it and make it yours, whether through a tweak to the garment or a change of mental outlook for example.  I – and many other wonderful women who call Peggy Carter their heroine, like me – find that Captain America’s “Best Girl” only raises us up and makes us stronger and more confident in ourselves when taking on her persona through wearing her wardrobe.  Agent Carter is such a special character to emulate.  She is so relatable and inspiring in so many ways that to imitate her is like manifesting a braver and bolder version of yourself, which needed Peggy’s help to show itself.  Let’s all “know our value” today and every day!

One Shot

When you finally have the chance you’ve been waiting for…when you have the opportunity to be what you aspire to be…when you have one try to get something right…that ‘one shot’, or trial attempt, out into the dark of the unknown can mean failure or success.  If you have to wait for an answer, not knowing which of the two will be the result of your effort is agonizing.  However, being bold enough to follow your heart and do what is right for you is an answer enough…whether or not the truth shines through.  The worth that was already there is in its full glory so own it.  I’ll just sit back and completely own this me-made Agent Carter suit with a maker’s pride, and be a second Peggy for a time!

April 9 is International Peggy Carter day, her “birthday” per se (which in fan fiction is in 1921), and a day to celebrate in our own individual ways a character from Marvel Comics that has brought so much into our lives.  I celebrate by dressing like Peggy, even if it’s just adding some little detail like red lipstick.  Most importantly, though, it is seen as a day of confidence, empowerment, and compassion.  Believe in yourself today, and have confidence that you are beautiful inside and out – worthwhile in every way.  Have empathy for others and treat them like an equal human being, and feel the courage to say or do what needs to be done today or in the future.

Speaking of having guts, this post’s outfit required all the dedication and enthusiasm I could muster because this was my first attempt at full-fledged, proper suit tailoring…and I couldn’t be happier with the result!  My patience was tested and proven by this seriously complex, two-piece project made from a true vintage pattern.  The fabric and design I chose was directly inspired by Peggy’s fashion on the pilot episode of “Agent Carter” called “One Shot”, a short story (fifteen minute) release to American audiences in September 2013 on the Iron Man 3 DVD.  (Please, go watch it for yourself here.)  It was Marvel’s successful test run of an idea on the heels of Captain America: Winter Soldier, showing them there was (and still is) overwhelming interest in Peggy receiving her own screen-aired storyline.  As she was shown competently taking upon herself a solo mission in the face of extreme sexism and underestimation, I cannot think of a more appropriate example for me to channel on International Peggy Carter Day.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton flannel plaid, underlined in a cotton broadcloth, stabilized in loose cotton canvas (light interfacing weight) for the main body of the jacket, lined in poly cling-free lining (on hand); the skirt is an all-cotton heavyweight twill (almost a denim), with the jacket detailing being the same material

PATTERN:  McCall #6638, a Junior’s Two-Piece Suit, year 1946

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread (which I had), a zipper and waistband hook for the skirt, iron-on interfacing, and a set of vintage plastic but carved-horn look-alike buttons from my husband’s Grandmother’s collection of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the patterning, the skirt took only 2 hours to make on was finished on February 4, 2018, while the jacket took me 40 plus hours to sew and was finished on March 14, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt total cost me about $15, the jacket total about $45 ($30 for plaid flannel from “GSM Designs” on Etsy, $15 for the extra padded layers) so the overall price is $60.  Not at all a bad price for a suit set like this, much less a customized fitting, vintage-style one!

There are several cool coincidences when it comes to this outfit – I revel in things falling into place just so!  This always tells me that I’m on to something good that is meant to be.  First of all, the “One Shot” episode takes place in the year 1946…the same as the date on the pattern I used to make my look-alike suit!  This pattern was something I already had in my stash so it was super convenient, practically the only Agent Carter outfit I have needed to hunt down a design for specifically.  Also, the skirt half for this is so very versatile and an easy choice.  It is made of exactly the same wonderful favorite fabric as my two pairs of 1950s skinny jeans (red one here, pink one here) and it is super reasonably priced so I kind of knew it would be a workhorse of a piece, but I didn’t expect it would become something I now wonder how I lived without.  This basic, brown, slight A-line, skinny, straight skirt completes a true vintage early 1950s blazer that I have, many of my blouses, as well as a post-WWII peplum blouse I have recently sewn (yet to be posted)!

The only reason I dove into this long admired Agent Carter set was because I happened to come across a small lot of the perfect matching plaid online.  Well, yes, this plaid does have an undertone of olive green (which I love) that is actually not on the original Hollywood costume, buy hey…I do need to make my project my very own.  So – I had the perfect opportunity in my hands…with no extra fabric in case I didn’t make this project perfectly.  My “one shot” at this luckily turned out nearly perfect…but I blame it on a great pattern and following in the steps of something amazing in the first place.

It was tough just reaching the point where I had a usable pattern to start with because this suit was for junior’s sizing – it was for young women very petite with tiny proportions.  I had to retrace AND resize every freaking pattern piece…and there were so many!  This was the ‘make or break’ step that might ruin my efforts or make them worthwhile.  It was a bit stressful to realize that.  I did the patterning step a few months before even beginning to make my suit set.  I wanted the pattern fresh in my mind yet needed a break first, too.  I did try a loose pattern tissue fit and after a tweak here and there I had to leave it well enough alone or I would overthink it forever and never actually start sewing.  Post-project, the only fault I see to my grading was making my jacket sleeves ½ too long…but that’s not bad, is it?! 

The skirt came first in my ‘battle plan’.  Ha – this is a reference to my favorite joke!  “How do you make a jacket last?  You sew the bottom half first.”  Yeah, sorry about that.  Anyway, it was an easy make that gave me preliminary confidence that my grading might just be right on.  I left the skirt on the longer side for a 1946 design but I liked this better on myself and I wanted to make it clearer that it is a post-wartime set.  The skirt is pretty simple, but it has great shaping and I love the pointed tab closure!  Making the skirt first also left me free to know that I had enough to use for some details on the jacket.

It was dizzying to even figure out how many times I needed to cut the same pattern pieces out from different fabrics.  That is the whole idea of a proper suit jacket – structure comes from layering, layering works with pad-stitching, which pulls it all together.  One layer of the plaid flannel was laid over the stiff, canvas-like cotton, then the panels sewn together and all seam allowances opened up and ironed down.  Then the same body was sewn out of the tight cotton broadcloth and this was ironed the same way and layered wrong sides facing over the stiffened flannel body.  The whole darn thing was pad stitched together, not sewing through the flannel to the right side, only catching the loftiness of the underside.  All eight of the curvy, princess seamed body panels blend almost seamlessly together (boy were they tough to match up in a one way plaid, by the way!).

Pad-stitching is defined as a running stitch…your basic stitch anyone who hand sews starts with, right?  The stitching stays in and is permanently part of the coat and all of the layers combined between became one, substantial, new fabric, completely dictated by the direction and density of what is applied.  Usually, the best benefits of pad-stitching is a nicely rolled collar or study lapels (which I needed with my suit because the collar was on the bias).  It is an age-old technique, mostly for menswear, one that modern tailors leave out, mostly because of the dedicated hand work it requires, although there are machines which can remotely do such a thing.  Something as loose and soft as flannel needed a major structure change to become a suit, anyway, so I pad stitched a layer of light cotton canvas to all but the sleeves of my jacket.

I would have preferred to work with wool to begin with, but you gotta make do with what you have!  I chose the ‘wrong’ textured side of the flannel to be the “good” right side because it was less fuzzy.  Even still, this particular flannel was twice as thick as any that I have seen, so it had hope…obviously, as you can see!  Over the course of a week, for a few hours a day, I did some pad stitching segments.  My stitching was wide, loose and not as structured as it should have been, but I did see that I became much more regular with all the practice!  I know just how to do even better next time.  I only took one or two in-process photos and was almost sad all that handiwork was covered up by the lining (hand sewn in place, I might add).  The jacket needed the lining, nevertheless, as it did also need those giant ¾ inch shoulder pads I added (oh-so-very 1940s)!  Both helped all that bulk glide over my under blouse and convey it with its last touch of gentle, secret structuring.

When it came to frilly little extras on the jacket, I kept them low-key by being complimentary or just plain leaving some out.  I did help myself out in the only way I could with the jacket by leaving out the pleated panels to the back “peplum” of the original pattern.  That looked way too complex and mind blowing to add with something already that level for me…and Peggy’s suit did not have such a feature.  I adapted the pockets to be more Peggy-like and also snazzier in exchange.  Peggy’s suit had rectangular slot pocket flaps (just like on my pattern) but with a rounded drop down spot for the button.  They were in the same fabric as the skirt, which both matches yet contrasts to add a depth to the plaid.  I felt the rounded shape of the Peggy pockets did not match all the other lines to my suit so I pointed the drop down bottom of the flap.  It matches with the sharp, notched sleeve cuffs, also in the same fabric as the skirt.

Making bound buttonholes are always quite a project in themselves, but I also stitched on regular buttonholes for the inside self-facing half of the front, as well.  I was merely following directions, here – they told me to make two different types of buttonholes and was really doubtful about how it would look and turn out.  I was terrified the two lines of buttonholes would not match together or line up when I folded the front in…but they look fantastic and give a very sturdy closing, I must say.  It’s a good thing my buttons are heavy duty, too.

My efforts have given me a suit that is everything I adore about true vintage suits.  Now I know a bit more about what once was an absolute mystery…but there is so much yet I desire to learn in this field.  During construction, though, I was quite terrified to see if it would finish awesome, mediocre, or disappointing.  I mean, I could tell along the way it should be just how I hoped, and the skirt was by far the faster of the two to make, but there are so many layers hidden inside the jacket that I couldn’t fully tell the result until the end.  This one of the reasons I took my time like no other project, slowed down my expectations, and reveled in every detail.  However, you know how you want a sewing project done, or need visible progress, else you grow tired of it?  I expected that to happen with this, but no – I found a real reason for an extremely slow fashion project without even hunting for it.  Once I enjoyed the realization of the depth of what I was learning along the way and that this is all just the tip of a bigger “iceberg” of couture tailoring techniques…well, time kind of disappeared as I would do my hand stitching or patterning.  I found my work so very peaceful, calming, and worthwhile.

There is an art to tailoring that is its own world of sewing – it is a world of enjoying every moment in a time honored craft of creating something beautifully customized with lasting quality.  It is a world of building sculpted “body makeup” which gives the body an idealized definition that becomes your own.  It is all something I cannot wait to do all over again because it’s downright amazing.  I’ve planned out my next suit jacket already – it is going to be a knock-off of the classic 1947 Dior “Bar Suit”, all in silk shantung, just like the one worn by Peggy’s arch-nemesis Whitney Frost.

Peggy dons this cherry red and dusty brown suit set on two very memorable occasions that are a turn of fortune for her.  In “One Shot” she dons her red suit when she is victorious, proven, and validated, with her chin up…and then in episode 3 of the Season One television show “Time and Tide” (at left) she again wears the same suit when she is at a loss, with the guilt of a fellow Agent’s murder heavy on her, and now a wanted woman entrenched with a friend’s secret.  I always appreciate it when garments are shown on a Hollywood character more than on one scene.  It makes them so relatable to me, like they themselves truly have a wardrobe of favorite pieces and are not just for show at the hands of the costume department.  It is interesting that in the Season on episode the whole outfit does not fit her quite the same in “One Shot”, but with a white blouse underneath she makes it work.  To similarly style my set, I chose a RTW favorite of mine – an Irish linen blouse with decorative stitching.  Did anyone notice my S.S.R. (S.H.I.E.L.D.) lapel pins before this mention of them?  An old late 30’s Art Deco police station was the very suitable and fun photo shoot location.

Any of us can “be Peggy”, and not just on April 9, and not just because of what we happen to have on ourselves.  It is what is inside that counts.  She was an imperfect superhero with no powers beyond a conviction, perseverance, and strength that is human.  She is not afraid of a bit of hard work and she is intelligent to know her value does not rely on other peoples’ estimations.  Fictional character or not, together with her killer vintage style she is my kind of gal.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop channeling her with my wardrobe, off the silver screens or not, so – yes, there’s definitely more Agent Carter fashion still to come here on my blog!