I know this year’s official Oktoberfest in Munich is over for this year. Actually, though, the 12 to 17 of this month marks the very first occasion of this celebration, something which evolved from repeating the festivities surrounding the 1810 wedding of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Interestingly enough, the Brothers Grimm published their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which included “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen“ in German) as story #53, around the same time in 1812. What better excuse to post my outfit inspired by the legendary apple-biting princess with the most traditionally German background? Let’s dive into my Snow White “rags” work dress, made of a 1937 design, the same year as the release of the first Disney animated film by the same name. This post’s outfit is yet another installment in my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.
I am proud of how I incorporated the heritage of the Snow White story together with the year of its Disney film, especially when it comes to the fact that this entire dress was cobbled together from my scrap bin. What we first see Snow wearing at the beginning of the Disney film (when she meets her prince while singing into the wishing well) has the title “rags” dress after all. I both interpreted that dress literally and opened up room for storing more scraps – ha! Snow was yet another princess who’s an unloved daughter working as the domestic servant in the house of her stepmother, much like “Cinderella”, and so it makes sense that her garb seemed cobbled together in tattered condition. For my dress, my “rags” are all very nice material to begin with, so it might be scrapped together too, but it is still a very nice and comfy dress! It also happens to happily be one I don’t have to keep perfectly clean and proper in while wearing (I don’t have many of these kind), or clean and proper in my grade of construction, as well, for a strange change of circumstances.
The location for these photos is a testament to the enduring, strong presence of German immigrants in the history of my Mid-Western American hometown. It is a landmark for our city and called the “Bevo Mill”. The Dutch-style mill was built by August Busch Sr. (of Anheuser-Busch fame) in 1917. The story goes that August wanted a halfway point between his brewery near down town and his home in the county. It was later opened to the public as a restaurant. “Bevo” is supposed to be derived from the Bohemian word “pivo,” which means “beer”. During Prohibition (1920-1933), Anheuser-Busch brewed a non-alcoholic beer named that he also named “Bevo. The place has a very Bavarian lodge kind of feel to it which was perfect for pictures! I have many, many great memories of coming to this place since I was old enough to remember for good food and music with special friends and family.
FABRIC: 100% linen – all leftover from my past projects. The skirt was a hacked up one-ish yard remnant from this 30’s skirt, the collar and sleeves came from this 1910’s era suit, and a rich brown soft vintage linen napkin set became the bodice and pocket for the dress. Scraps of silk leftover from this blouse became the second contrast pocket and headband
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread and one zipper
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress came together in about 6 hours and was finished on July 21, 2020.
THIS INSIDES: This is a “rags” dress made from scraps…it would be weird to be cleanly finished inside, right?! The seam allowance edges are left raw.
TOTAL COST: This dress cost me nothing! I normally do not count the cost of material when I am using seemingly insignificant scraps, so this covers most of the dress. The vintage table linen set was picked up for 25¢ and the zipper was on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting my dress as an ‘as-good-as-free’ project!
Women’s fashion for the year 1938 marked a widespread Germanic and Bavarian cultural influence that was unmistakable, frequent, and easily recognizable in late 30’s fashion for women. A Germanic folk style had been creeping into women’s stylish street fashions before then because of nationalistic, racialist, and expansionist ideas stemming from both the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy during the First World War and Hitler becoming Chancellor. “The traditional dirndl (a tracht) was also promoted through the Trapp Family Singers, who wore folk fashion during their performance at the Salzburg Festival (1936), and later on their worldwide tours. In addition, the film “Heidi”, with Shirley Temple in the lead role, became a hit in 1937. By that year, the dirndl – and Germanic influenced fashion – was considered a ‘must’ in the wardrobe of every fashionable American woman.” (Quoted info from Wikipedia here.) No doubt the influx of immigrants fleeing pre-WWII invasions and takeovers helped bring a new cultural influence into American style as well. Folk fashion of central Europe had spread way beyond Germany but the fascination in the United States had dissipated by 1942 to be replaced by a craze for all things Polynesian and South American.
There is a darker side to the German influence on late 30’s fashion, often called “Tyrolean”, which needs to be addressed. The women’s League of the Nazi party promoted a “renewal” of the traditional Germanic designs, reworking them into a more attractive version of their folk costume which might easily entice women to adopt the styles outside of festivals. The Nazi women’s League added short puff sleeves, a more form revealing bodice, and shorter skirt length…all scarily close to how we know the dirndl of today. To me, Snow White’s “rags” dress seems like a hybrid, bared down version with no lacing or apron. The way its bodice is a different color from the rest of the dress is reminiscent of an old-style tracht over-bodice with a conservative coverage over the chest, high rounded neck, and little collar. Yet, there are the puffed sleeves and the shorter skirt. However, this is enough of my rambling – I will dive into this topic deeper in my next post on the other Germanic fairytale princess…the one with magical hair who was imprisoned in a tower. So stay tuned! Until then, visit my Pinterest page here on dirndls (modern and traditional) for some eye candy.
I suppose the most obvious choice of pattern to make a vintage Snow White outfit would have been Simplicity #8486, a vintage re-issue for the 80th anniversary of the Disney film in 1937, but as I keep saying for my princess series projects, I do not want a costume. Simplicity #8486 is indeed a ‘37 design in its lines when you just look at the technical drawing, but it just seems a bit forced to make it in such a way that is a Snow White outfit. Sure it works, but for my purposes it is too obvious of a character reference sewn like that. I couldn’t see myself wearing these pieces otherwise, so I will come back to that pattern when I have a non-Disney inspired idea for it. (I have made the pattern’s hat, posted here, and highly recommend it!) Now I will explain at the end of this post why I gravitated to Snow’s “rags” dress rather than her princess one, but it was also an easy choice when another 1937 reprint – Simplicity #8248 – was an almost line for line ‘copy’. This shows just how much Disney’s styling of Snow White makes her very much a product of the times. I have been aching to sew Simplicity #8248 ever since it came out, anyway, and I was so happy to finally have a reason to do so!
Before diving into my Snow White dress, I checked out a few reviews on the pattern and immediately saw one constant warning – this pattern runs small and short-waisted. I can now attest that this is 100% true. Heeding the warnings (‘cause it’s better to be safe than sorry), I cut out one whole size bigger than what I needed (according to the given chart) and gave myself an extra inch in the bodice length. It was a good thing I took these precautions – the dress just fits, and couldn’t be any smaller. Any tighter in the bodice and I would have been restricted in reach room or my bust would’ve been smashed. I do wish I had widened the shoulders more because they are too far in towards my neck. However, the puff sleeve tops fill in for this fitting mishap. I did have to take out the seam allowance from the waist down because the hips in the dress were snug enough to wrinkle and ride up on me. I wholeheartedly recommend this dress, though – it is a cute design that lends itself to many differing interpretations. The details are top notch (omg…the angular darted sleeve caps I chose from view B = love). It was easy to sew. It is a classic example of late 30’s fashion. I will be coming back to this and making another dress from this pattern, maybe even color blocking the bodice panels. It’s a winner – I hope you try this dress out for yourself.
That being said, I did slightly change up the pattern, not by altering anything in the design, just by adding in extra seam lines to accommodate the small fabric pieces I was using. The four napkin squares that I had were just barely enough to work – only wide enough to fit half of my body at a time. Luckily the bodice was in two pieces as well because This linen was dense, super soft, and luxurious – understandable as it was intended to be napkins – and in the perfect color for Snow’s bodice. I was determined to make my idea work. The entire front and center bodice is supposed to be cut on the fold, but I had to add a center seam to all the pieces because of linen napkins I was using. Even the collar pieces had to be seamed together as well because the two biggest scraps went towards the sleeves. Since there was a seam down the front anyway, and since a collar that is tight around my neck can feel stifling for me, I added a long 22 inch zipper to make my dress fuss-free and adjustable for my comfort. Of course, the double, overlapping, two-tone pockets are my idea as well, and the cutest way to flaunt something so utilitarian!
There was a chunk cut out of the almost perfect one yard left that I needed for the dress’ skirt. No problem – I was being forced to do the natural thing to make an accurate rendition of the “rags” dress…patches! It’s not just decorative for looks alone…I really used up the few pieces I had left to barely cover the hole in my skirt material. It couldn’t have been any more perfect, it was laughable – I would never do this to a project otherwise!! This was a fantastic case of serendipity. I left the dress bottom raw, fraying and unhemmed to complement the “rags” look. Even still, I did use decorative, basic embroidery (a chain-stitch and feather stitch) to sew the patch panels down so at least they would look well-done. The patch work goes against my ingrained sewing style but the embroidery made it palatable.
I realized something important here – just because clothing becomes mended doesn’t mean it is ruined or on it’s last life. My husband, my son, and I have been wearing out our clothes, socks, etc. at a far quicker pace than ever before since the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the rate of repairs I have been doing is quite constant. I suppose it’s all the extra time and work we are getting done at home – I don’t really know. Anyway, this Snow White dress is a good example of the visible mending trend I am trying to lean into anyway. I have always been about reusing, refashioning, and recycling what we have on hand for a new purpose here at home. Sure, it would be easier to just pitch or recycle such items and buy new, and in some cases we need to do just that, yet change in the fashion industry has to come from somewhere…so it might as well start with me. I’ve just never tried to incorporate mending so intentionally into something vintage, much less newly made. As I said, it’s weird for me…in a good way.
As much as I love this dress, and as happy as I am wearing it, Snow White’s story is troublesome to me, mostly on account of the many questionable and problematic elements to her tale. One young woman to keep house for seven men she just met? At least the Grimm Brothers’ version makes the Disney interpretation seem so much better than it is on its own. Don’t get me wrong, though. The Disney movie version is fantastic in its own right, particularly as a landmark achievement in animation history, and charming in its presentation. I love how Snow was animated, I enjoy her songs, and relish the humor intertwined in her movie. Even still, as a person, I find Snow White to be one of the hardest Disney princesses to associate myself with or understand…she is too naive and gullible, for my taste. Even the messages of both the Grimm tale and the Disney story is sort of confusing…physical beauty will save you and find you love? Be kind to the point of overly trusting of strangers? I know it was the older “scare” style of teaching lessons. Yet, seriously, folks…how the antiquated fairytales were for children, I’ll never fully understand.
I like to ‘see’ a better message from Snow White’s tale, which is why I gravitated towards the “rags” dress in the first place. Beauty is not dependent on the clothing you wear or the manner of styling oneself. Marilyn Monroe put a spin on this belief in the most fantastic, hilarious manner in recent memory by wearing a potato sack for a photo shoot. Beauty is what’s on the inside. I know this may be a cliché phrase by now, but it’s worth repeating so we can remember what’s important in a world that’s driven by image-centric social media ‘perfection’.
Furthermore, on a practical level, I can completely relate to Snow White’s working song, “Just Whistle While You Work”, which I why it’s my post’s title. I do like a bit of merry, energizing background music while I do chores or sewing (but not fabric cutting…too much to focus on). Believe it or not, I sometimes even like my favorite tunes playing on the side when I do my blog post writing. However, such a setting only applies when my “comfort” music is played, the kind that I know by heart and places me in a great mood! Now if only I can get all the squirrels, rabbits, and birds that we have around our yard to actually help me get things done, as well, I suppose I would be ecstatic enough to whistle about it, too!