A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!

My 1946 Cotton Dress – It’s a Wrap!

There is faux fur, there’s faux leather, and a multitude of other imitation items, among which I have made myself a faux wrap dress.

This dress is made from one of my vintage original patterns, still in good condition for the year 1946.  I am proud of how well I redrew/re-graded this pattern to my size measurements – it gave me good practice in drafting and fits like it is made for me, which is true.  Another great point for this dress is the on trend color scheme (it has the Fall 2013 Pantone colors of ‘Linden Green’ and ‘Carafe’ brown), which makes it an excellent season transitional piece for my wardrobe.  All this ‘wrapped’ up into a soft and comfy cotton gives me one winner vintage 40’s creation!

100_1939bTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  3 yards of quilters 100% cotton, in a green floral ‘JoAnn’s exclusive’ print, which has been in my stash for as long as I know, so I’m counting it as being free;   1/2 yard of a mint green 100% cotton broadcloth, coming from a gallon bag of scraps bought at a resale store

NOTIONS:  I bought two spools of matching thread and a zipper;  I already had interfacing, snaps,  and the tan mini rick-rack, which was a great vintage original find (I’ll tell you more below).

McCall's 6724 -year 1946PATTERN:  McCall 6724, year 1946 (is it just me, or does the lady in black look like she’s wearing a bracelet around her neck?)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  no more than 5 hours of sewing…it went together in a blink of an eye!  I finished it on September 3, 2013

THE INSIDES:  they are done the old fashioned way: merely zig-zag stitched along the edges.  There were too many  corners and curves to do French seams.  Look at the back waistline detail of the V-point – so unique, pretty,  and dramatic as well as tricky.100_1987

FIRST WORN:  to my dad’s birthday party on September 9th

TOTAL COST: about $5

One of the things about finding and buying vintage patterns is the disconcerting fact that it might not be in your matching size.  I’ve been putting off sewing up my ’46 mock wrap dress since last year’s Spring on account of the re-grading and re-drafting which needed to be done.  Now I am happier that I’ve finally completed this dress.  Notice how the envelope drawing shows an insanely skinny “wasp” waist, not to mention it being two sizes too small for my body.  Using brown paper grocery store bags (free!), I traced the original pattern pieces, with all markings, against the glass of a window during the daytime – a natural light box.  Then I measured and redrew in the right amount of ease for the hips, waist, and bust to fit me.  Now I have a “new”, not-as-fragile copy of my old pattern plus the good feeling I get from both the perfect fit and knowledge learned.  Not a touch of fitting was needed which means I might be gaining confidence in my own pattern drafting.  This is the third project I have redrawn and resized for myself.

The layout of the pattern pieces was arranged a bit strange and complicated according to the instruction paper.  Leave it to me to find my own way of doing things!  I spent 3 hours trying to figure out the best way to fit all the “on fold” pieces in as well as all the others.  Very difficult, I must say, considering the enlargements that I needed to add to the pattern.  The large, strange shaped front drapery piece was throwing me off – I would arrange everything on my fabric, study it, then walk away to do stuff around the house while thinking if my figuring was correct.  The only way all the pieces fit in was by shortening the dress length so the hem ends right where the drapery ends, which look I like much better anyway.

100_1942     A mint colored scrap of broadcloth which I had on hand went towards lining the back of the bodice and was used to make the  fabric belt, also.  Why did I do this?   I lined the back bodice so I could have something to tack the neck facing onto and also eliminate any see through issues.  As far as the belt goes, I made the belt out of the mint broadcloth scrap because I literally could find no way to fit the pattern piece in on my floral fabric.  Besides, a matching/contrast color seems better for a belt with this dress anyway.  On account of only having scraps to use, I had to cut out the belt in two halves and sew up a center seam.  Talk about making do!  I really like how the belt ends fan out – what a fun design lacking in modern patterns.

The mock wrap has some smart design elements.  The two front bodice pieces had three tucks at the one end, which together made a dart which matched with each other as well as matching to the back bodice.  My dress’ front under skirt section has darts sewn in at the waistline for shaping, just like any pattern.  But the drapery is cut on the bias and as it gets stretched across the waistline…voila!  The darts matched up perfectly and the drapery fits nicely over the tummy, using the bias of the fabric to achieve a nice fit and hide the under skirt darts.  Notice there are three darts sewn into the side of the skirt drapery too.  All edges have facings sewn on them for a nicely finished look but – oh – were those facing pattern pieces were a bit unexpected.

100_1943     In the close-up picture above, I hope you can see some details.  Soft greens are highlighted by subtle touches of a Carafe brown in the printed fabric of my dress.  You might notice my small tuck sewn in vertically along the side of the bodice darts.  Ah, yes, I suppose I did do a slight fitting alteration – I took in the wrap part slightly so it would lay nicely across my chest instead of poufing out.

As I mentioned earlier, take note in the picture of the tiny rick rack along the front edge of the mock wrap.  They just don’t make rick rack that small easy to find anymore.  How it got on my dress was a happy circumstance.  Without a front decoration my dress seemed more like a nurses uniform.  This tan tiny rick rack matched so well, better yet, is a vintage find that was bought at THE SAME STORE from which I bought the pattern used for my dress!  The rick rack was truly dated, wrapped around the piece of an old cereal box.  It seems the notion and the pattern were just made for one another!

100_1949     I’ll tell you one thing, I am DONE with those silly side zips that end a few inches below the armpit and only make you wiggle and struggle just to get your dress on yourself.  For this dress, I extended the zipper all the way up to under the armpit.  A small piece of bias tape was used to make a double snap placket to keep the zip closed and protect my skin. (See picture at right)  Doing full side zips this way is the new normal for my vintage dresses from now on…I love it.  It’s so easy and much more handy to slip into…why not!!!  It’s either this tactic or back zippers.

My automatic reaction to the tricky V of the back waistline was to do a lapped seam.  However, I though better than to change the pattern.  Just reinforcing the point with stitching then clipping to open the point worked out quite well.  To my surprise, neither of these sewing steps were mentioned in the brief instructions…maybe it was assumed the sewer would know what to do. 100_1948

The curve of my lower back is a spot that fits funny in many other patterns, but fits great at the dipping V back waistline of my mock wrap dress.  The picture below may not be the best; however I hope you can see something from it.

Come to think of it, this mock wrap dress is actually the second dress I have made from the year 1946.  My first one was a Vintage Vogue reprint, #8728, with the gathered bodice, click here to view this project.  Both my 1946 projects have good things going for them: great comfort, season spanning, and a simple classy design.  I can now understand why dress patterns such as my mock wrap and the Vogue gathered bodice were popular among women of the 40’s – a lady can look nice and comfy with out necessarily feeling dressed up!

100_1940