Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!

Conifer Night

Conifers are the mysterious ones among their fellow hard woods, the trees – they stand fully clothed when others go naked in hibernation.  They jealously kill the grass over their ‘feet’, have unfriendly prickles for ‘leaves’, and cast mellow, unholy shadows when they are planted in a huddle together.  Their perennial greenness is cheering, though – providing color and shelter outdoors in winter, the resiliency they represent ends up decorating our living quarters at the holidays!  Combining an overcast rainy evening with a patch of winter green becomes embodied together in this comfy set of viridescent and navy hues.

After my last 1940s suit from post WWII times, I’d like to share another focused on a slightly earlier time frame of the late 30’s to early 1940’s.  The now past holidays for all things green (St. Patrick’s day and Christmas) originally inspired me to keep to a certain color scheme linking each piece together.  This set is sans jacket, but at least it does have a statement hat!  This is also put together (like the last one I posted) with a mix of re-fashioning and sewing from scratch.  Just the same, it is also for winter, again composed of a span of years and fashion influences, and has a blouse pattern from 1941 as its common separate.  A vintage look, or a new outfit is only a re-fashion or a simple sewing project away!  This was relatively easy and fun to whip together, with only one pattern needed and lots of inspiration.  I do like to keep my styling connected to the past for the best practical glamor.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a semi-sheer 30% silk/70% cotton blend for my blouse, a cotton flannel for my skirt, and a poly felt for my hat

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse.  The skirt was made with no pattern. The hat is loosely based off of Vogue #7464, view D

NOTIONS:  I bought the base for the hat at Wal-Mart (sounds weird, but I’ll explain down below), but everything else cane from my stash – the buttons are vintage “Schwanda” brand from the 1950s, the zipper is vintage (metal teeth), the wire for the hat came from hubby’s workbench, the interfacing was scraps on hand, and matching thread was already here.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 15 hours and finished on December 18, 2017.  My skirt’s re-fashion took me about 6 hours, while I spent no more than 4 hours to make the hat – both finished only days before Christmas 2017.

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the blouse, bias finish for the skirt

TOTAL COST:  The hat cost me a total of $5; the blouse cost me $6 for two yards; I’m counting the skirt as free as it had been on hand for so long.  Thus my total outfit cost is under $12 – how awesome is that!

Although this is a winter outfit, these pieces are quite versatile on their own, especially the lovely blouse in its soft silk blend ordered direct from China!  The way silk breathes and adjusts to one’s body temperature makes it fabulous and perfect for any and every outdoor or indoor climate.  When combined with the easy care and softness qualities of cotton, it is such a winning blend (would be perfect for some heavenly bedsheets!).  This blouse can definitely be dressed up but also be quite casual, especially when used as a layering piece under a sweater.  Having semi-transparent sleeves keeps me covered in a very lightweight, yet dressy way that also both keeps me at a good temperature and are easy to roll up to short length for summer.  I am slightly obsessed with its creamy celery green color and loving what it does for my light olive skin tone.  This blouse is really the one new piece of my outfit that will be a dependable workhorse in my wardrobe, besides being the one linchpin which inspired the whole set’s idea.

The rest of my ensemble is from items on hand – even my true vintage gloves and earrings but especially in regards the skirt!  Originally, it was something I haven’t put on in years, though I did wear it many times when I was in my early to mid-teens.  I was more of a wall-flower then, not as comfortable in my skin, and was always cold in the winter.  If I went out in the cold, I liked my skirts long so I could wear boots and pants underneath, and I liked them basic because I probably preferred to keep my coat on (whether inside or out) and not be seen anyway.  The skirt was ankle length, A-line shape, with a wide elastic waistband and in-seam pockets on both sides.  Yet, it was not worn enough to pill up or look as well-loved as it was…prime for a refashion.  I know the skirt is definitely for cold temperatures being a flannel, yet it’s lightweight enough to not completely be a one season piece, either…which makes my sewing the most bang for the little time spent to freshen it up.  A good rich toned plaid is one of the many fabric weaknesses of mine, and perfect for the 1940s, so a basic WWII era skirt it was going to be so it could match with my silk-blend blouse.

The pattern for my blouse has been used twice already, for my basic brown version and my “Leave Her to Heaven” look-alike.  I have this pattern down pat, but I love it no less for being the third time around…it’s a winner.  However, I did decide to tweak it a bit.  I spread the fullness of the thick single shoulder darts into three tiny darts of descending lengths which get shorter as they get closer to the sleeve caps.  It is an understated detail that feels very feminine and tailored.  I also added a bit more length in the sleeves with a little more fullness.  The sleeves are single layer of fabric so they are slightly sheer and delicate, perfect for the puffier shape.  The main body of the blouse has been double layered so that it would be both opaque as well as darker in color.  Instead of cufflink holes, as I do on most of my dressy blouses, I chose some wonderful pastel flower shaped buttons from my Grandma’s stash.  They really emphasize the creamy, bright color of the fabric in a way that cheers me up in winter and makes it perfect for summer, too.

My skirt was a pretty basic re-fashion, all I was basically doing was reshaping it.  I cut off the elastic waist first (keeping the side pockets), then chopped of only enough from the long hem to make a new, wide, interfaced waistband.  However, I needed to tailor the waist before adding that waistband!  This was the tricky part, trying to figure out how to take the waist in and how much to bring in.  This step took way too long and caused a lot of unpicking.  I had plenty of other more interesting ideas (pleats, a placket) that I tried before I settled for the basic, darted straight line skirt style you see.  Just a simple hem made, the zipper and waistband set on and my refashion might not look that dramatically different from its the original state.  It was merely fine-tuned and I hope classic enough to not just be a “vintage” style item.  Just imagine my skirt paired with tights on my legs and platform shoes or slip-on mules topped with a modern oversized sweater and a big belt…yup, it should be pretty variable.

Now, my hat is definitely and unequivocally old-style.  I have long admired the late 30’s (see this article) and early 1940s oversized drama hats.  This hat style seems to go by several names – most frequently called either the pancake hat or beret.  It just kind of subconsciously seeped into my realization to just start with a placemat. It’s round and lightweight and the perfect base for that kind of hat, but then again this is not the first placemat hat I’ve made (see this one here).  First I covered the hat in felt, but that was way too plain.  I had to spice it up.  I pleated the felt in an Art Deco style throwback in three tiny pintucks that angle in to disappear before they reach the other edge.  Art Deco details persisted through the 30’s into the post-WWII times, mostly in the built environment, so the pintucks call to mind my love of architecture.  A sculpted hat is sort of like architecture the way they are structured works of art, sometimes reaching for the skies, and craftily perched on the human head the way buildings cling and hold onto God’s good earth no matter what the angle.  I actually need my giant hat pin to keep this one on my head.

I wanted to make sure the placemat kept its shape, so, before I sewed the bottom half of the hat to it, I hand tacked an electrical wire to the underneath edge.  This was a good idea that ended up being a bad idea.  Electrical wire was the scrap I most immediately found on my hubby’s workspace and it was much too heavy for the job…why I need my hat pin.  I should have used my lightweight floral wire instead (as I don’t have any proper millinery wire).  We live and learn, and although this was not the best success, it is neither a failure.  It is a very wearable experiment that I love.  It turned out 100% better than my husband had expected and cost me pittance so what could be more awesome than that?!  I now had the perfect finish to my outfit and tried a new hat style I have long admired, besides learning what to do the next time!  The little silly hat front décor is straight out of my head, also made out of the same felt, and merely something cute and decorative to break up the overwhelming shape.

I love practicing the idealistic challenge and thrifty, global conscious practice of taking my wardrobe from years past and things on hand to use with my talents to update it for my current life and fashion tastes.  It’s not because it’s the new “in” thing to do, though…neither are we on that tight of a budget.  It’s purely because I want to.  I have been doing this for so many years, way before it was a trend, I am used to looking for what is on hand before I buy.  My husband calls it a version of shopping…where I go downstairs and rummage through my stash of unworn, but sentimentally attached garments I no longer want to wear the way they are to find something “free” to rework it and feel like I end up with a “new” piece of clothing.  Add in a fully new, made-from-scratch item, like my blouse, which was easy and fast to make in a natural fiber, and top it off with a luxurious statement hat made from ridiculously simple home decorating supplies on hand…and I get my fashion and overall creative fix satisfied.  You don’t need much money or supplies to be crafty and start sewing.  There’s a bounty of stuff nearby somewhere just waiting for a second chance.

 

Hermes Helmet

Hooray!  This is my 300th post!  To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest.  This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat.  My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label!  Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on.  This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit!  More about that later.

For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.”  She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story.  Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.

The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s.  I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption.  There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive.  My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!

Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”.  I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes.  However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from.  We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi.  Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked!  One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.

Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead.  The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam.  The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam.  Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing!  There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out.  It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper).  Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist!  She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself.  The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.

The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress).  The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar.  There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front.  The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece.  There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself.  However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric.  The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check.  I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.

Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents

PATTERN:  McCall’s #1571, year 1950

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 4 or 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50!  I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).

This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined.  The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash.  I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet.  Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage.  Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.

At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap.  It completely covered my ears and hair.  Bummer!  Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly.  It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand).  The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.

My solution was to work with what I already had.  The side curves had “wings” cut out of them.  The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge.  The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips.  This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.

You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of.  An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it.  Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim.  He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him.  My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this.  Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor.  I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.

Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be.  Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is!  I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others.  Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.

There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations.  I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up.  As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to.  Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!

I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you.  Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way.  I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace.  Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!

Come Into My Web…

With the amount of vintage fashions that I make and wear, you’d think I’d have enjoyed Halloween in some wearable holiday-themed outfit from one of the popular decades of the 20th century – but no!  I always seem to do a fictional costume, or something historical, or just plain fun.  I haven’t ever done anything quite spooky ever, either.  In all, nothing is ever really a garment that I can include as part of my everyday vintage wardrobe.  All that has changed this year with a circa 1949 sultry femme-fatale outfit!  Using Gertie’s newest print, reproduced from a true vintage fabric, and scroll-work felt combined with raw buckram to make a curiously detailed hat, my ensemble is perfect for a jaunt out in the dark, rainy, and mysterious evenings of fall!

This is one of my very favorite, luxurious, and completely unique garment projects.  It was so fun to make a novelty outfit which is not just for an event but also for a season of the year.  The hat was super-easy make, and should work well for other outfits of any season, but truly compliments this set in a way far better than I had imagined.  However, if it wasn’t for the roses in the dress’ print, however, there is probably no way I would be even so much as trying anything with a spider theme.  The buggers creep me out!

The irony is that I added to what the webs were missing with my jeweled brooch – a vintage-style “Webster” pin ordered through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  He is not hair-raising, but rather cute (weird for me to say) and definitely glam.  After all – a web without a spider is a home without a tenant, right?!  All other accessories are true vintage items.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton sateen, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 2018 print from Gertie with a sheer black chiffon for the neckline and a sweet pink broadcloth for the bodice lining; Hat – a felt placemat, buckram hat base crown, and black tulle netting

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4696, circa early 1950s for the dress…self-drafted hat

NOTIONS:  I had all the black thread and bias tapes I needed, and the modern tiny ball buttons (not vintage) were already in my stash.  I only had to buy a zipper for the side seam waist closure!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took about 15 hours to make and the hat was made in an hour and a half.  Both were finished on October 26, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  a combo of French and bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  About $35 was spent on the Gertie fabric alone, $5 on the chiffon, $2 on the zipper, and $8 for all the hat supplies (placemat from the arts and crafts store Michaels, and the buckram base from the Etsy shop “DanceCostumeSupply“).  $50 is my total.

This is my second time working with an Anne Adams vintage sewing pattern and what I found out from the first time rang true again.  Their designs seem to run quite small.  Just like before, my Anne Adams pattern was a size too large for me according to their chart, but it tuned out fitting me perfectly with 5/8 seams rather than the instructed ½ inch.  As unpredictable as vintage patterns are regarded by many to be, there are benchmarks to be found the more you sew with differing companies and various decades.  I’m not for certain that all Anne Adams will have their sizing off, but two times around is a pretty good confidence booster to know what I’m working with!  Size up with this brand, just in case.

Now, I did start with an early 50’s pattern, but I slightly adapted the design lines to make it more like a 1949 silhouette.  Post WWII fashion is remarkably similar between 1948 and 1952, minus slight differences.  All it basically took to change the date to this dress was eliminating the three paneled skirt front as designed and cutting out a slimmer, swinging, bias cut one instead.  The longer and leaner lines with a longer hem are trademarks of1949, whereas after 1950 there was more emphasis on a tiny waist and full hips (below the bust).  I was mostly copying off of an Aldens Department Store advertisement from 1949 (dated using the 60th anniversary emblem) by doing my adaptation, but nevertheless – the defined spider web print needed as few seams as possible anyway.  This pattern could certainly give what the fabric needed in my mind, which was minimal seam lines with no compromise on lovely shaping for a sultry air to the whimsical vintage print.  This dress sure delivered!

I can’t believe the neckline on this is original vintage.  The cheeky and bold taste that was around back then is much more alluring and lovely in my opinion than the modern baring-it-all fashion that leaves nothing to mystery.  The pieces for the bodice were so very basic, early on I was so doubtful that they would work out at all.  At the waist of the bodice, there are two sets of three stitched-down pleats in the front, and two small open pleats in the back but somehow they do their job turning odd shaped rectangles into something special.  There are small gathers at the shoulders too, though it’s not very noticeable in the sheer material…it just sort of helps to wrinkle up the front neckline a bit.

French seams are the strongest seam possible in such a lightweight and unsupportive fabric as chiffon, so that is what is holding the shoulders – and the body of the dress – together.  Fully lining the bodice not only gives body to the soft fashion fabric but also is a great way to cleanly finish the wide arching neckline where the sheer and the printed cotton meet – with no seam there, it lays nice and smooth.  A little sneak peek of pink that can sometimes be seen of the inside makes it so worth it, too.

The upper bodice from behind is, to me, a very slight call back to Victorian times, when the necklines were high, severe, and replete with a multitude of tiny buttons.  During Halloween, Victorian times seem to be what is stereotypically associated with haunted mansions and creepy, cackling women in frilly black dresses.  There are only 5 buttons here, but still – the difficulty it presents to dress yourself is a goth reference to decadence and stuffy society.  I hand sewed thread loops along the edge to catch the buttons.

I suppose now is a good a time as any to talk about what’s on my head, now that you can see the full details from the back of my hat!  Yes, as I mentioned above, I started with a placement to decorate a dining table, but in my defense it was thick, dense felt after all, too similar to hat material to ignore doing some Halloween shopping one night.  It was on clearance too!  I have always admired the wide hats of the mid to late 1940s which have decorative ‘windows’ or fancy cut outs in their big brims.  Such vintage hats I have seen are either too costly for my wallet or disappear too quickly to act on buying them.  So, as I do with most else in my wardrobe, I make my own version!

The place mat was slightly oval but so is the buckram crown (luckily on hand…I do keep a stock of hat bases “just in case”).  Luckily the crown was just enough to replace the skeleton head cut out of the center!  Before hand-stitching the place mat’s inner edges to the wired crown edges, I did add a double layer of tulle to the top (upper) side to stiffen it up.  The tulle adds a mesh look that compliments to raw buckram plus it makes to hat brim flat and not wavy along the edges like a 70’s slouch hat.  I merely hand tacked the tulle halfway through the felt all around the outer edges, kind of like a very tiny pad-stitching.  Most of the time, the tulle and the buckram base used for my hat are only foundation materials which are not meant to be seen, only hidden under other, better, fashion fabrics to achieve a final end.  By leaving the raw supplies I used exposed, the effect reminds me both of the fragility of a spider web and the physical decay we frequently revel in around Halloween.

Spider web prints seem to have exploded in the vintage fashion scene.  They are incredibly popular and collectable today, so it’s no wonder that several retailers are reprinting such fabric.  It’s a good thing for those of us who sew because we can provide ourselves with what we cannot get our hands on – vintage spider web dresses!  These prints can be found starting in the 1940s, or very late 30’s at the earliest.  Spider web prints seem to have had their high point between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s, but still quietly persisting through the 1960s and 70’s through the work of some bigger named designers.  For some reason, though, the form of stylized web-and-roses print that I have used from Gertie is the one that is most frequently seen.

Although I and the world of today tend to automatically associate spider web anything with the holiday of Halloween, if you look closely at the old original vintage advertisements for such spider web print dresses they specifically are for spring, yet also mention that it is an “all year design”.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to “Spider Web Clothes Vintage and Modern” so please visit there and look closely to read for yourself.  It is so interesting to look at the primary sources for this new vintage trend, because when you do, you realize we are looking at it quite differently than they did.  Spider webs for spring?  As lovely as my own dress and hat turned out (if I do say so myself) and as wonderful as it feels to wear this swingy and sexy little number, I think I’ll take any and every excuse to wear this as much as possible!

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.