“Cross My Heart” Agent Carter Dress Re-fashion

The Marvel Comics heroine Peggy Carter deserved to have more luck in love than heartbreaks, but either way the people she cared for were a major driving force behind her life.  Perhaps no other dress so blatantly shows Peggy’s ups and downs in love with such a fashionable, classy, yet visible way as Season Two’s “Better Angels” (episode 3) frock that I recreated for myself.  I know this is sort of weird to feature such subjects of grief intertwined with affection now that the holiday of love and friendship is here.  However, matters of the heart are powerful things and I can’t think of a stronger (if imaginary) woman than Peggy Carter.  My dress does have a rich, bright red and is elegantly perfect for a night out.  So, happy heart day to all of you and those who are part of your life!

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A quite plain and slightly ill-fitting knit dress had been in my wardrobe hanging unworn for the last few years.  Slackers gathering dust and taking up space are not to be tolerated – we do not have the room for useless items!  It was high time for it to give me a reason for it to stay, and I figured it was basic enough for a re-fashion as it was still in good condition.  I realized it was in a lovely rich navy, one of the colors Peggy wears the most frequently, especially paired with red for a patriotic nod to her dearest Captain America.  The original dress also happened to remind me of a silhouette which would be something I could picture on Agent Carter – body hugging with a lovely bias flared skirt.  Thus, it occurred to me to attempt to make one her bolder garments I’ve long admired, as I had a short cut to easily make something I wasn’t willing to take the time to make from scratch!  Besides…I found a better fit and lovely re-use for something that I wasn’t wearing and enjoying otherwise!  I feel like this one of my best, easiest, and most fun of all my re-fashions so far.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton knit “Land’s End” dress bought about 10 years back with the added bright end panels and contrast being a 100% polyester interlock bought at JoAnn’s Fabric Store

PATTERN:  None!  All personal drafting  

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, and I had that…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was so quick to make it felt almost too good to believe!  It was made in two evenings for a total time of 8 hours.  I was finished on November 17, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The original dress had overlocked seams, which I kept, but the rest of the new seams did not unravel so I left them raw.dsc_0611a-compw

TOTAL COST:  maybe $10 at the most

On a night out together, a girl friend of mine helped me pick the contrast fabric for my re-fashion.  She couldn’t have chosen better!  My navy dress is a matte finish cotton, so together we figured I needed a knit (of course) which had a lovely satin shine for a smartly contrasting perk.  Both of us decided the bright red (which I would never ever wear alone) was the right tone over the deeper shades.  I bought way more than I ended up needing in the end, so I plan on convincing hubby he would wear a shirt I might make for him out of this interlock.  We’ll see what I end up really doing with the leftover red knit.

First of all, the original dress’ fitting problems were the odd placements of both the waistline and the sleeve hems.  The waist was too low to be an empire, yet too high for a natural middle placement, while the sleeves were like a slightly short bracelet length with a bulky, fake button placket keeping them unnaturally below my elbow.  The sleeve fix was easy – I shortened them above the button placket to hem them so they fall above my elbow.  My re-fashion plans also fixed the waistline problem perfectly and immediately by adding in the belt-like panel.  It brought the skirt to fall at the natural waistline and connected perfectly with the weird empire seam of the bodice.  The new red arched front belt-like panel is double fabric layered for stability and top-stitched onto the blue dress.  There is one center back seam to the belt as I designed it.

1940s-dress-w-green-panel-side-pin-fm-augusta-auctions-junior-house-cotton-40s-skirtThe skirt portion was the best part.  Drawing the curve of the red swirl panels was so fun!  I might have gotten just a bit carried away and added more of an arch to the panels than Peggy’s original dress.  My dress panels go from the front right side’s off-center over to the left side seam, while Peggy’s dress has panels that go a straighter down with a slight curve to one side.  I believe my dress panels’ sharp angles are the main reason for the slightly weird wrinkling going on with the red parts, combined with the fact I cut the insert sections on the bias and sewed them in as a double layers of fabric.  However the “faults”, I so love the red swirls on the skirt portion!  They make my dress have such movement when I walk I feel so elegant – static pictures do not do this dress justice.  I have been able to find only a few extant original vintage garments which have a similar bias, color contrast, swirled panels.  The ones I have found have been from the 1940’s but, to me (going with my gut), this dress appears to have a strong late 30’s influence, especially with my 30’s re-make Aerosoles strap heels.  Needless to say I’m a big fan of this fashion detail.dsc_0086a-compw

The toughest parts to this re-fashion was adding on the red interest strips that give the continuous crossed-heart all the way around the bodice.  The fabric is so silky it was hard to pin into a defined, consistent band.  Bias strips of the interlock resisted being ironed into a single fold shape, and I couldn’t use a hot iron, either.  I just had to pin like crazy and do a butt-load of eye-balling in between measuring to check the placement.  The dress was hung up at this step and I would look and look at the bands ‘til I was cross-eyed and I knew I just had to stitch them down soon or I’d never wear it.  I’m still not sure the bands are as precise as I’d like but – hey, if only I would notice any ‘imperfections’ that’s totally good enough!

The bodice bands are continuous around but pieced to apply. I started at the center back above the red waistband and went all the way to the opposite shoulder for each side.  Then, the back neckline band is another continuous piece from shoulder to shoulder.  I probably could have done better had I done hand stitching to the bands, but this re-fashion was not meant to take too long in time so I merely did machine stitching (which was another frustration in itself).

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By time the bands were sewn on, the dress became a bit of a challenge to wiggle into for dressing.  With all the top stitching visible and the looser cotton knit, my dress needed to look dressy as well as keep its shape so I used small straight stitching.  The ease of dressing was something I was willing to give in on for the nice stitching and assurance of stability for many wearings (and washings) to come.  Adding in a zipper was not an option here.  After all, most vintage garments are a circus trick to get into anyway…I’m used to it by now, just so long as I don’t pop any seams.

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I know my dress is not a carbon copy and I want it that way.  The original dress as designed by Gigi Melton is (I believe) wool crepe, with petal sleeves, low V-neckline as well as a bottom hem red band to differentiate itself from my own version.  I greatly respect the ingenuity of Gigi Melton to find so many lovely 30’s and 40’s inspired ways for Peggy to wear her classic colors of red and navy!

There are other bloggers who have done a symbolical low-down of my specific Agent Carter inspiration dress, so I’ll defer to “Hard Boiled Meggs” if you want more of that, and please do visit if you’ve seen Season Two.  Here’s a link to Megg’s specific post about Episode 3 (the one in which my inspiration dress can be seen), but her post on Episode 2 and Episode 9 further explain the crossing over her heart.  Here’s an official photo gallery to see more from the source of some of the screen shots I shared.

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My photo backdrop is meant to mirror the sumptuous, curious, and spacious setting of the Stark mansion where Season Two saw much of Agent Carter’s time.  We went on a visit to the Samuel Cupples Mansion on the grounds of Saint Louis University.  This historic home is the epitome of luxuriousness which its remarkable amount of fireplaces – 22 spread out over a total of 42 rooms and three floors!  This place now serves as a gallery for SLU’s collection of fine and decorative art dating from before 1919.  The ample space inside made it challenging to have the right light so the colors look a bit different in each of our photos.

This dress reminds me of so much.  Firstly, it reminds me of how one can be vintage without going hard-core by taking a mere feeling, an inspiration, or even a silhouette and blending it with what’s out there today for a mainstream form of the past that is beautifully unique.  On a more personal level, by jogging to mind Peggy Carter, this dress further reminds me to enjoy and appreciate every minute of the time spent with the people in my life.  Taking time for someone is a priceless gift that goes both ways, and Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day for doing sweet things.  Cross my heart – take my word for it.

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Hey! I’m featured over on “PopWrapped” for my “Agent Carter”fashion

In honor of the final episode of the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”, the site “PopWrapped” gave the show and it’s staunch followers some of the parting fanfare it so well deserves, called “Agent Carter’s Closet: The Fans And The Power Of Peggy Carter”.  I was happily featured on the “Fan Tribute” as well as over 40 others.  I’m tickled!  Go see the page for yourself here (follow this link) and be prepared to be amazed by the stories and the people.

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Peggy and her friends on the show have inspired others to sew, to find themselves in vintage fashion, to feel empathy with the characters to help them in their real lives, or even to find a way to stand tall.  Here some extra pictures from our photo shoot of my classic Peggy blue suit set.

DSC_0037a-compDSC_0044a-compHere I’m wearing my 1944 “Hollywood” scalloped blouse, an old store bought straight skirt, and a modern jacket which I refashioned into a convincing 40’s style.  The hat and my shoes are both from Target.  Not perfectly accurate, but the outfit feels comfy yet on point with Peggy’s headliner style.

One major question I would like to throw out for everyone is why does she wear so many A-line and pencil skirt styles for the series?  The 40’s did have such skirt styles (A-line and straight), they were just less common. The way Peggy wears them so much you’d think they were typical..not meaning to nit pick, just giving a ‘historical standpoint’ view.

McCall 6278, year 1946, envelope front-comp By the way did anyone else happen to be in some sort of Season Two - cropped pic of Peggy's 'trio of triangular cut outs' dress“dress envy” with me at Peggy’s last outfit before the show ended?  It was such a statement dress and looked so smoking awesome.  Peggy’s dress just so happens to be so very, very similar to an old pattern in my collection, McCall #6278 from year 1946.  I already had a different idea of how I was going to make a dress from this pattern, but now I’m thoroughly tempted to make one just like Peggy’s dress from the show.  It would be easy, after all with such a similar pattern design…but I might stick to my own idea.

By the way, look for some look alike “Agent Carter” outfits coming to my blog in the next few months.  I’m most excited about recreating one specific dress from “Madame Mask”, aka Whitney Frost’s wardrobe.  This includes late 40’s and early 50’s goodness.  Do you like this period of fashion, or do you not know much about it?

My “Agent Carter” Pinstriped Shirtdress

This project is my 1940’s “power dress” – a vintage classic that manifests the taking on of men’s roles which women assumed during World War II. This dress is also directly inspired from an outfit worn by Peggy during the Marvel television series “Agent Carter”, “The Iron Ceiling”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired on February 3, 2015. It is also part two to my previous post, part one, about the matching rayon under slip, also worn with the same inspiration dress in the same airing episode.Peggys pinstripe shirtdress-combo pic

However business-like this 1940’s “power dress” is, it’s also extremely comfortable in pure cotton shirting and plenty ease of movement, yet classy with fine tailored details. I love such tastefully beautiful garments which really have it all going for them! Do you have a favorite garment which you enjoyed sewing and absolutely love wearing, like me with this dress?

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is made from a 100% cotton shirting fabric. The fabric is not the over-wrinkly…it has a nice soft crispness that takes to an ironing really well and yet feel wonderful on the skin and gets softer after each wash. It is in a pastel baby blue color with thin double pinstripes in white.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread and interfacing I needed on hand already, but I bought the zipper for the side. The three front buttons came from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash of vintage buttons. I’m not sure how vintage the buttons are, but they seem quite old. The buttons are in a different, very lightweight material, in kind of a marbled dusty blue and grey color, with a raised square in the middle.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1526, an unprinted pattern from the year 1945

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on April 21, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours of sewing pleasure.100_5046-comp

THE INSIDES:  Just how I like them! I took the extra time to make fine finishes and this dress is worth it. All seams, except the hems of course, are bias bound with a few French seams. The rest of the seams all around the collar and back shoulder panel are covered by an extra panel I added to stabilize and enclose those seams.

TOTAL COST:  Well, I got lucky here. The regular price of the fabric was (I believe) about $10 a yard, but I bought it on sale for only $2.25 a yard. I bought about 2 ½ yards of 45 inch width fabric so, with the added zipper, I suppose I spent a total of just under $7.00. Nice!

My outer envelope to my pattern has some significant water damage, musty smells, and silverfish bug chews, but this time around there was more than just pattern pieces…there was a treasure inside this unassuming package. The previous user or perhaps the previous owner (maybe both were in one) left her personal measurements on the back of a very old blank check. The front of the check has a finely detailed line drawing of the Commercial National Bank of Charlotte, North Carolina in the background (the exact building is now torn down). The measurements are so much larger than the size of the pattern, if the woman who had those proportions made this copy (and I can tell it was used at some point), it would have taken some impressive grading to make a garment to fit her.

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There is and address at the bottom list of the measurements, “1234 Pinecrest Avenue, Charlotte”. According to what I see on Google Maps this is a real address, and Zillow says the home there was built in year 1939. Public records show the home was sold in 2002, and in 2012, and this is significant because I bought this pattern in 2012/2013 from an online shop when I was just getting into vintage sewing. I’m supposing 2012 was when the woman that owned this pattern is the same one who wrote the note inside; then in 2012 had her sewing collection sold, sending this pattern my way so I can rediscover it again. Somehow this makes me feel a wonderful connection to seamstresses through the past decades, in different parts of the world. The internet helps us connect across the world nowadays 🙂

I was dealing with some serious fabric shortage in yardage available – I bought the end of the bolt and was lucky to get what I did. However, I took several hours, spread out over two days, to layout the pattern pieces on the fabric, think about how to squeeze everything in while matching stripes, then notice a discrepancy only to re-arrange everything again and think some more. “Think twice, cut once” was my motto here, except I know thought much more than twice.

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In order to save on space layout and be more creative with the pattern, the back shoulder yoke was cut into two bias pieces so the stripes would chevron into the middle. In lieu of laying the piece on the fold like it should have been, I cut it out on the bias (as I said) in between everything else adding in a center seam allowance. Not mentioned in the instructions but needed in my opinion, I cut out an extra lining shoulder yoke to cover all the inside collar/shoulder yoke seams inside. The lining shoulder yoke is cut on the fold/straight grain so on a practical level it supports the fashion fabric, cut on the bias, from stretching out of shape. It’s a subtle touch that’s not obvious, but just noticeable enough so that it speaks of my extra time and thought. I don’t want my clothes to flag people down, just make (or inspire) them to want to put their own effort and interest in their own wardrobe by sewing too.

100_5032-compI learned how to do the slashed and gathered chest detail when I made my 1940 suit set (post here) but was determined to do better with a my cotton dress, a much lighter weight fabric. This is sure a neat but challenging technique to do…I like it! I sewed a small piece of cotton broadcloth down on top the right side and stitched down then slashed. The facing is turned inside and a loose gathering stitch is put “in the ditch” of the two fabrics only on the bottom half. The bottom is gathered evenly with the top, pulled in and lap stitched down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bound, or “window pane” buttonholes are in the trio of front closures. “Window pane” button holes are fun to make and much more striking when it comes to look but stable when it comes to support. It is a hard call, but every time I look at the buttons on this dress I want to say they are my favorite part. I love the way they are the perfect tint of blue without dominating the outfit, the way they have such details of design not found anymore, and especially the fact they come from the familial stash of notions.  Besides the family connections, there is the classic late WWII restriction amount of “no more than three buttons” as designated by the ration regulations, making this even more of a classic classy 40’s dress.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoing with the menswear theme with this dress, I further altered the pattern by pleating the sleeve fullness into the cuffs rather than simply gathering it. I wasn’t really too precise with my pleating – they start roughly one inch away from the edge, and there are three dramatic ½ inch pleats on the cuff side facing up (where they can be seen better) and two small ¼ pleats on cuff’s underneath side. The smooth way the pleating at the cuffs extend up the rest of the sleeve in controlled gathers makes me determined to do this to more shirts and shirt dresses. Menswear is going so have the only market on pleated sleeve cuff goodness.

Actually this pattern had a few non-dire pieces missing easily replaceable, but the previous owner already took care of some of that for me. The belt was replaced with a different printed piece, the short sleeve was gone, and cuff piece was missing. I “made-do” by using another cuff piece from this blouse and added in the pointed end like the pattern shows. My cuffs are made for cuff links, as is the norm for my garments, but here I made a slight boo-boo which adds some humorous personality. There are two buttonholes on one side of one cuff! I simply miss-measured, putting the button hole too close to the edge, so I made a new one instead of unpicking a tightly made buttonhole. Un-picking stitching is one of my least favorite things to do, and when unpicking tight stitches like on a buttonhole you run the risk of leaving holes behind in your fabric. Yup…no matter how nicely my dress is made, you can tell a home seamstress made it when you look at the one cuff. I smile at it…and like it there.

Stitching down the box pleats fold edges helps immensely towards a crisp looking skirt that doesn’t need constant attention from the iron to be in place like it should. The front has two box pleats, but the back is plainer, in the classic 1940’s triple paneled style.

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I did end up adding in some thin shoulder pads to define the shoulders and fill in the bodice. They are modern newly bought shoulder pads and not as authentically accurate, but I really don’t want to look like a football player even though this dress is supposed to be a “power suit”.

My favorite way to wear my dress is with a belt which closely resembles how Peggy in Agent Carter wore the inspiration outfit. The wide, chunky utility style of my and Peggy’s belt is not as popular of an authentic 1940’s ‘look’, but the decade did love interesting, curiously designed waist cinchers. (See this pattern from my stash for belt designs to make yourself from 1945, as an example.) A tougher themed belt goes with Agent Carter’s personal situation and the mood I wanted with my dress. A woman in a man’s world in the 1940’s had to be strong, confident, self-assured of one’s own worth in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men who had the assumed supremacy of the culture.

scetches of Peggy's power pinstripe shirtdress-my pinstripe dress

Blue has currently the designation of being a man’s color, but it was not always so…in fact, it used to be the exact opposite. There is a Mental Floss article which expounds the historical facts as to when pink started becoming a “girl” color. I love how a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color (derived from red), is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl”, taken directly from the Smithsonian.com. It wasn’t until World War II times that the gender specific colors of blue and pink changed applications, as also did the previous practical practice of gender neutral dressing for children under 7 (see this NPR article). Thus, I love the fact that my dress incorporates a little of all of the color/gender history of azure and rosy hues by it being a masculine styled, shapely woman’s suit dress in a cool, powerful, and assertive blue colored 1940’s garment.

Foundational Lingerie: a 1942 Rayon Slip

Basic is beautiful to me for my new under garment sewing creation. Between being extremely useful and complimentary to a woman’s curvy shaping, this undergarment is now a frequently worn winner in my wardrobe of sewn garments. Believe me, once you make an undergarment, you suddenly realize that a complete outfit is really only achieved my working from the inside out.

100_5039a-compThis is sort of part one of two blog posts, both connected to the same outfit based off of Whoa Nelly for Agent Sousathe same episode from the Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television, “The Iron Ceiling”, Season 1, Episode 5, aired on February 3, 2015. I’ll address at the end of the post about Episode 5 and the way my slip creation is connected to part two post. Inspiration aside, I ultimately made my slip because 1.) I needed it, 2.) I can’t find anything to buy like what I wanted, and 3.) I wanted to have an entire outfit, inside and out which I made and that will co-ordinate perfectly with my vintage as well as modern garments. Besides, it’s always fun to try new things and use up leftover remnants laying in one’s stash bin, both applicable to my slip!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of pure white 100% rayon challis100_4996-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the thread, bias tape, twill tape ribbon, and zipper needed on hand already.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4352, year 1942

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not long at all…this creation was effortless. In all, I spent maybe 4 hours in total and it was finished on April 18, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The inner edges are left raw to do their own thing, merely stitched over. The top edge and bottom hem are covered by sewing down and folding in bias tape.

100_5048-compTOTAL COST:  around $5 (more or less, I don’t remember precisely)

100_4998-compNow just to clarify a few things about the specifics of my pattern, I have not as yet found any record or picture of another version of Simplicity #4352 which is says “Made in Canada” like mine does. This combo must be rarer, but to be more unusual it also mentions in the bottom corner, “Simplicity Patterns are featured in Chatelaine Magazine.” I’m not sure what that magazine was exactly besides a woman’s periodical of the time, but I’m thinking that my find is a bit special. This is my first WWII Canadian pattern.

From what I can tell from the American versions of this slip pattern, and from the styling of the garment together with the envelope lettering, all point to the fact that it is highly probable to be from year 1942. However, this particular design seems to have been reprinted for a few years during WWII (highly common), so if it’s not from ’42 precisely, the pattern would be no later than 1945. Out of a dislike to be vague and a will to be decisive, I’m sticking with assigning to my slip the first year it seemed to surface – 1942.

100_5043a-compThe back guide for the needed fabric amount showed much more than I really needed. As you can see in the facts, I only made this out of one yard. There were a few things that effected this frugality of fabric. The width of the rayon I used was 60 inches wide (helping to fit more of the pattern pieces on the layout), and I did shorten up the slip to be just below my knees, but it was the way I folded the fabric at the layout stage – with the selvedge edges in at the middle to make two fold lengths – which really helped get the most out of a small amount. The pattern pieces were really long and skinny because of the princess seaming, so I also oppositely staggered the pieces…meaning I would place one with the large end towards the left, the next piece towards the right, then back to the left for the bigger end of the next. Extreme, I know, and it’s not that I don’t use my scraps, but a 1940’s thrifty WWII woman would have had the same mindset. Yup, this slip was another exercise in the art of getting the most of every possible free space on a cut of fabric with no compromises on the grain line. This economy at the cutting stage adds to my overall satisfaction/pride with my finished project.

I did have to lightly grade up in size for the slip, and I added it in two increments: at the sid100_5049-compe seams and at the centers in front and back, by moving the pattern away the necessary amount from the fold edge. The long princess seam down the center of the bust was sewn with a seam allowance slightly smaller by ¼ inch to shape the slip better for me. All the long seams were top stitched down for a smooth look under clothes without relying on constant ironing to keep things in place. The side zipper is quite necessary to keep the slip’s close streamlined fit, nipping in the waist, and amazingly not really a problem to me under other skirts, tops, or dresses with side zippers, too.

Using rayon challis for making a slip was the best thing ever! I absolutely love, love, love rayon – its hand, its wear, its ease to work with, and its historical accuracy – so it was a matter of course for me to turn to using it. However, you know that annoying polyester fabric that seems so beautiful and drapey on the bolt until you actually wear it and it turns into a static mess, clinging to your every move unless you spray it to death with static cling or line it with another fabric? Whew. Yeah, it’s a gross and annoying problem for sewers. Well, wearing a non-static, natural fiber rayon slip 100% completely miraculously solves that former curse of polyester. Hallelujah! So simple, I don’t know why I haven’t come across this solution earlier. Cotton would be anti-static, as well, and silk would, too, but it’s expensive and not used during the 1940’s. Rayon flows well, even with similar fabrics like cottons, woolen, and even other rayon, too.

I’m not sure what would be 40’s appropriate for the straps, but I used what was on hand – twill tape ribbon. My mind considered making the strap adjustable, but in the end, they were just stitched down. Hey…I am my own tailor, designer, do-it-all, so if the straps need to be fixed I’ll just unpick and re-fix.100_4999-comp

Check out that small detail line drawing close-up! It has such a tiny spot on the cover, I had to zoom in for you. Now you can see the two different versions to be made. I chose the drop neck version because open necklines will work with it better, and, besides, it’s just so darn pretty with the dip in the back neckline as well! I do love the straight neck version, with all the lace on it, but it’s not so practical for me. The cover is just all over appealing to me, from the loose pigtails to the bow-topped heels.

Now for an inspiration explanation. In the beginning of “Agent Carter” “The Iron Ceiling” Episode, Peggy is wearing a deep teal, white pin-striped masculine-inspired shirt dress. Once she gets the o.k. to fly off on a secret mission, she proceeds to change at the men’s locker –the only spot available – into a Agent Sousa catches Peggy changingcommando, military outfit. Here we see a brief, fleeting glimpse of her under slip in an uncomfortable but hilarious situation for her co-workers. I do own a vintage 1940’s black rayon slip, very much like the one seen briefly on Peggy in “Agent Carter”, and the straps are very skinny and adjustable, with remarkable shaping. However, I wanted to make her outfit from “The Iron Ceiling” Episode, and I intended to sew the whole this myself…both slip and dress. Thus, starting from the inside out like it mentioned earlier, part one (this post) is about my slip, and part two will be my copy of what Agent Carter wore over it – a pinstriped shirt dress.

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My “Trial and Tribute” 1940’s Suit Slacks

I had a lucky happen-stance
To fit into a pair of vintage pants.
I made them “according-to-the-letter”
And, happily, they couldn’t fit better-
The best surprise ever!

I suppose my ditty almost says it all…my very first attempt at making pants did indeed turn out amazingly well. Slacks have always been a great mystery to me and a source of mental terror, feeling like they are impossible to be made perfect. After seeing the plethora of fitting tutorials and reading through tailoring info for pants, I really feel like I bit the bullet and missed a guaranteed failure with these pants by doing not one iota of adjustments and coming out with a great finished pair. There’s nothing better than a success when prepared for disaster! Plus, now I have a new and different vintage clothing item to wear – 1940’s slacks – along with more confidence and knowledge than before! I learn by jumping in headfirst and just getting things done. Those of you who have done pants already might think I’m overreacting, but, hey – everybody has to start somewhere. 100_4212a-comp

badge.80This post is part of my own “Agent Carter” 1940’s sew along.  Join me by leaving a comment to let me know about your own 1940’s sewing project.

Making and wearing trousers was totally out of my comfort zone. I have never found a pair of ready-to-wear pants which actually fit me, stayed up on me, and came at my true waist well enough to actually be comfortable and enjoy wearing. Thus, I have conventionally found skirts to be more comfortable and versatile (probably always will), but sewing my own pants is helping me realize why women of the 40’s wanted to wear pants. I may be on my way to being won over to the Katherine Hepburn/Marlene Dietrich style of feminine menswear. These pants fit too snug for a proper, looser, vintage style, and yet they fit very well for a modern style, so there is more work and fitting to be done with my next pair of slacks. I feel they are a nice in between modern and vintage to introduce me to pants wearing.

Hepburn and Dietritch in pantsNow, maybe you can understand why these are my “trial” pants, as my title says. As my first slacks, too, they are also a “tribute” to (as I mentioned above) three leading ladies of the 1940’s, Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Veronica Lake, all of who made history with their remarkable style and the confidence with which they wore that style. Personally, I am self-conscious about my thighs and rear end when I wear slacks, and I’d like to have a bit of the confidence of Hepburn to not be afraid to feel the empowerment, freedom, and confidence to be one’s self and be a strong woman. Hepburn’s style gave me the idea to pair my suit pants with my basic 1943 power blouse. I love to dress up and go fancy, so I have always admired how Dietrich was able to pull off both dressing in classy gowns and conventional women’s wear as well as wearing menswear while still looking attractively feminine. Dietrich inspired me to add my hubby’s suspenders to my outfit. Veronica Lake is my idol when it comes to the most beautiful hairstyle for long hair – I styled my hair as my best imitation of her “peek-a-boo” waves for this photo shoot. I feel badly about certain parts of myself (I think most people have this, too), and I, as a petite lady, appreciate the fact that, for Ms. Lake being such a tiny woman (only 4’11), fashion was worked in her advantage to compliment her in a way so that they made the most of what she had. Three history making women, completely different, come together in my own way with my pants project.

100_4217b-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a 100% polyester suiting from Hancock Fabrics. The suiting both has a nice texture on top and a basket-weave design between the black and the deep purple colors. Simplicity 3688

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing and hook-and-eyes needed for the waistband, as well as the black thread. Basically, all I bought was a zipper.  I have a deep suspicion I should have used buttons for the side closing, they might be more authentic.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 3688, a 1940’s reprint.  It seems almost every vintage blogger who sews has made a neat pair of these pants 🙂

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with my trial attempt and a few things to fix slightly, they were done quickly, after maybe 4 hours, from start to finish, which was on October 23, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  …basic and raw.

TOTAL COST:  For two yards, I paid half price – $7.50. I set myself up for a disappointment by choosing a fabric I really liked, but didn’t pay too much for it. Thus, if the pants were unable to be salvaged, I wouldn’t be put out (although I haven’t yet found an item I haven’t been able to recover).

I understand that for most people, making a pants pattern “as is” would not turn out a nicely fitting finished project. Thus, I would like to share the sizing I chose and the adjustments made in case it might help someone else. Just to be on the safe side, I ran on the slightly larger size range for below the waist when it came to cutting out. I made the corresponding size for my waist measurement at the waist and the waistband, but for the behind, crouch, and legs I went up a size. The waistband turned out fitting quite well, almost snug, so when the pants were finished I added a second hook and eye further out when I feel like I need some extra room. The inseam fit well but rather snug, so after the pants were sewn together, I decided to unpick the length from where my tailbone is to halfway up the front and slightly adjust. Instead of a wide ‘U’, which is what the inseam looked like originally, I cut a new lower inseam dipping 2 ½ inches lower where the inner pants seam meets. Now the inseam is closer to a curved ‘V’, but now I have just a tad more room – all that I need for my slacks to be just right!

100_4215compAfter briefly wearing my pants for the first time, I felt the waistband to be a bit wide and overwhelming. They tended to sit very high on my torso, even higher than my high waist. I did a quick and easy fix by merely folding the waistband in half inside the pants, and hand-stitching things down.

Hemming the pants was a very hard part for me to figure. Hubby’s help was needed for this step. I kind of felt weird for it to be so hard for me to find the right length to hem my pants, but a skirt or a dress is what I’m used to working with and they are so much easier. You can stand there and figure out where it falls, but for pants, the hem is at my ankles, and I can’t reach that far (no, duh, right?!), nor can I understand how to measure down from the inseam…see…I have to get used to sewing slacks. Every time I move the pants hem changes and moves too – even just bending over to look down changes things. Oh well. I’m just thankful for hubby’s help. Now, with these trousers, I have a sort of “bench mark” to go by to figure out the hem for my next pants.

100_4078Simplicity 322 & 3848 pants patterns comboTrying to do a Google search for the original version of my 40’s slacks, or even similar styles, afforded patterns from the early to mid-1940’s. I have already made the blouse (see the blog page for it here) from the same pattern used for my pants, and I had found out that the pattern (including the blouse, jacket, and skirt) was a reprint from the year 1941. Apparently the trousers were added to the Simplicity 3935 yr 1941 original envelopepattern’s ensemble from another different release. These slacks do not have front pleats and the slightly roomy fit of 1940’s casual bottoms, so I’m assuming they are supposed to be dressy, as I made them. However, as you can see in my post’s picture above, I tried wearing the pattern’s satin blouse with the slacks and thought it looked just so-so, not as great a combo as when worn with my cotton 1943 blouse. I have since made and found other blouses and tops that also work wonderfully with my 40’s dress slacks, making them more handy and versatile than first imagined.

Agent Peggy Carter took advantage of the versatility and convenience of pants many times when her job demanded a highly active, risky, or even professional situation. She owns the “wearing of the pants” with a confidence and realistic fit which is a beautiful thing. I especially love the way her pants seamlessly work into her existing wardrobe, mixing and matching with the blouses and suit jackets I see worn with skirts, as well. Oftentimes, I enjoy noticing that when Agent Carter wears her pants she takes on a slightly masculine touch to another part of her ensemble – like a chunky, leather belt or an over-sized military-style shoulder bag/pouch. Agent Carter’s slacks seem to fit more on the snug side, very similarly to my own. The “Black Widow” villainess Dottie also takes on wearing pants suits, in a very modern way, once she shamelessly shows her evil side at the end of the series. Women wearing pants had a significance in the 1940’s, and it is seen in the quiet undercurrents of both Agent Carter and in true history.

Peggy in pants - ValedictionDottie and the doctor,cropped

Taking photos for this post was an incredible amount of fun – so much so that my little man got into the whole “say cheese” thing (as he calls it).  I can’t help but feel great in these pants…and I think he caught on to my happy mojo.  I am a shorter average height and these pants make me feel tall, slender, and curvy.  How many pants for women nowadays are so tailored they get ironed?!

100_4221compBy the way, pardon all the terms I use for my newest creation, but is it “pants”, “trousers”, “slacks”, …or what?  I know there are several terms for bifurcated bottoms, and although all of the terms used in my post are probably appropriate, I have a feeling certain words are more traditionally suited to a particular use. I read somewhere (sorry I don’t remember) that “trousers” were for designating men’s wear bottoms, and “slacks” for women’s wear. When did the term “pants” come in and become popular, is my question, since this is the term I hear and see the most in our modern days. Your insightful comments are welcome.

Whatever the term, my new suit slacks are another victory over what had been a sewing hurdle, and another new thing for me to try. Now that I’ve become acquainted with pants, there a whole other world of techniques to I’m itching to try – front fly zippers, rivets, and hopefully men’s vintage trousers. The world of sewing seems to offer limitless possibilities, and my “trial and tribute” 1940’s pants just widened that vast realm a bit more. Sewing is indeed a wonderful worthwhile skill to exercise.