Living with Coral

Personally, I don’t ever put much weight or mental thought into the chosen Pantone Color of the year.  I kind of think it is some sort of gimmick or ruse to ‘sell’ a certain dye lot, besides being rather silly, if you ask me.  Fashion chosen for the populace through those companies higher up who run the money and production is not an organic trend by the populace, no matter what advertising makes it out to be.  Anyway, never mind my conspiracy theory rant because I am weirdly head over heels for the 2019 Color of the Year choice…”Living Coral” (#16-1546).

It is described as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”  Subconsciously this color is not a new tone for me to sport, but the chosen Color of the Year has opened my eyes to see it is already in my wardrobe and has been part of my fabric choices more than I realized. (This can be clearly seen in this 20’s style dress, my 1954 qipao, ’57 striped sundress, my convertible 40’s pinafore, or even this 80’s style outfit.)  I do love a good bright color but this 2019 color is something with more pop than a pastel but not overly confident.  I feel a softened orange-borderline peach tone highlights my light olive skin.  So, Pantone’s “Living Coral” announcement only gives me a reason to bring out an old favorite color and find original and absolutely awesome way to wear it with my classic vintage panache – with this post’s dress as my first example.  Made with THE goldmine of rare fabric, this dress’ lovely true vintage rayon gabardine shows a unique and special way circa 1949 to incorporate “Living Coral” into more than just summer frocks (a default item made of the color).

The gloomy side of such a happy shade is the facts that the real world living creature of coral is dramatically dying in growing numbers.  I’m not meaning to be melodramatic here, but nature is the original, pure form of color in all its most breathtaking and inspirational sources.  Fashion is a major world polluter and this year’s color is sadly ironic if it is not also used as a source for awareness.  Man-made colors do not level up the bright and glorious shades of nature.  Just think of a Birds-of-Paradise, a butterfly, and a show stopping sunrise or sunset for only a few examples.  What good is it to have the shade of “Living Coral” paraded in paint cans, on garments, and stationary if the real living coral is becoming so bleached out it is now only drab and sickly?  I’ll step off my soapbox now, but as one who is staunchly emotional about sustainability and thoughtful fashion choices, I had to share my two cents.   Let’s turn this Color of the Year trend around to actually do good rather than just promote sales for once.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and cotton gabardine blend vintage original fabric.

PATTERN:  a New York brand sewing pattern #867, a “Louise Scott” design, circa 1949

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a little interfacing, and a zipper (I used a vintage metal one).  All items were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on November 15, 2018 after at least 25 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  SO nice!  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost only about $20…I got a great deal on the fabric!

What is so special about vintage gabardine?  I don’t really know why it is so rare, but I do know quality modern (as in no polyester) gabardine is hard enough to come by.  Yet I have found some primarily made of cotton over the years and it can be found in many of my sewing projects.  Gabardine fabric is defined as “a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth” and I love how it is durable yet soft and flowing at the same time with an interesting texture when you look closely.  It is one of my favorite fabrics but this vintage gabardine absolutely takes my breath away with its high caliber of excellence…why, it actually has a satin sheen and is not just a solid color!  It is so silky and wrinkle-free.  It was a dream to work with and is fantastic to wear and touch.  The underside is a smooth solid grey and the right side is a very detailed floral pattern with the twill weave showing through.

Looking at the inventory of vintage fabric sellers who can authentically date their products, I have been able to roughly date this material to the late 40’s or 1950s, one of the reasons I chose the pattern I did for it.  Also, American post war fashions did not need the 4-something yards that a Dior style dress would require and I didn’t have much more than 2 yards to work with!  Nevertheless, I did want to pair two lucky finds together – the pattern had been found for a steal of a price during our last trip to the fashion district of Kansas City, Missouri, and the fabric had been a lucky gamble for a reasonable deal bought to support a “Makerspace”.  What went into making this dress could be counted on a “Top 10 Best Finds Ever” list, if I had such a thing.

This dress might look simple at first glance, because it inherently is just that…which at the same time only shows off the smart, quality style of it.  It has details – they just aren’t flashy.  This is to me the lovely epitome of post-WWII New York fashion (and I don’t mean the pattern brand).  American late 40’s styles were so much more sleek, slimming, and subtle compared to the strongly padded, statement silhouettes of French fashion so often used to define this time.  Both had impeccable tailoring and lovely design lines, and I know (as and American) I am no doubt biased, yet to me it seems that there is a great art in being understated.  Dior styles overemphasize both hem width and the hips to create a tiny waist but many American late 40s fashions preferred slimming skirts, longer hems, simple design lines, and relied on details (such as pocket flaps, peplums, pleats, etc.) to softly visually widen the hips.  This latter I see as more universally flattering and working for more body forms versus the former.  I think I can personally work both sides of the post war profiles, but I appreciate the low key appeal and practicality of late 40’s state-side vintage while also enjoying creating it.

So – can we take few minutes here to let me detail the fine points that a camera doesn’t seem to capture very well?  Of course the double hip pleats on each side are the main event, even though you might have glanced over them.  They were drafted as part of the skirt side panels making for two very long and skinny cuts of fabric.  They stand in for a true peplum.  Post war 40s peplums, especially ’48 to ’51 were very low on the body line at and just below the hips much like the pleats on this posts dress.  I was afraid that the print would drown out the detail, so I made sure the hip pleats were not ironed down flat but kept their rolled edge appearance.

The sleeve cuffs mirror the hip pleats.  However the cuffs are slightly pointed under the arm in front of the elbow.  This little drafting point actually helps the cuffs stay folded up and keeps them from catching on things as compared to other cuffs on clothes I have which are straight cut in circumference.  That is smart engineering there!

The skirt is similarly fine-tuned.  I noticed it at the ‘cutting out’ stage when the sides of the center front panel had a concave bottom half, like a very gentle slope outward.  This way the center skirt panel flares out and rolls over the side panel seams from mid-thigh downward…just beautiful and unique.  Such a little difference in pattern shaping does so much!  Not only does this feature make walking elegant and easy-to-move in, but also it’s not every project that the finished garment actually turns out to pretty much have the same drape and qualities as the cover drawing.  Many drawn garment examples (both vintage and modern) only prove to be an idealized or a lame version of the actual draft on paper of a design, and it frustrates my detail-oriented brain to no end that the two don’t match up more often or not.  New York patterns sometimes do get a bad rap (from what I have read) for only offering a colorless sketch on their envelopes, but here, the drawing captured the exact small nuances of this style.  Needless to say, I am impressed.

Hopefully, this dress could fool a fashion historian or curator.  I wanted nice finishings to please myself, but also I felt the special fabric deserved to be made particularly well.  Hardly ever do I sew with true vintage fabric, so I wanted to only use notions and techniques which could be seen on a dress of the era which I was creating.  The only thing glaringly modern is the shoulder pads and maybe the thread I used, the second of which could only be ascertained by someone trained to know.  Otherwise, the French seams, the cotton interfacing, and the vintage metal side zipper do not date this dress as current.  The design certainly won’t!  The edges of the neckline and sleeve cuffs, the zipper, as well as the hem, were meticulously hand-picked for invisible stitching, adding to the subtle high detailing and because the wonderful fabric deserved it (saying it again).  These might also confuse anyone looking to date this garment.  All of this was something of an experiment, and the result brings just making another garment into something at a whole other level.  I actually get giddy just thinking about it.  Reliving the past isn’t old-fashioned or second-rate…it is really fun and a very nice treat.

After all my raving about how the dress turned out, what was not lovely about this was the sizing.  I have made New York patterns a few times now and they have consistently had small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  This dress’ pattern was the opposite fit.  Of course, the difference is they have been pre-mid 1940’s.  But it is surprising that just 5 or so years later could show such a marked difference.  I have nothing to back my theory up, but I wonder if the New York pattern company had new owners or at least new body standards after WWII.  I know the company did make it to the mid-50’s.  The dress had a very long waist (common for 1950’s dresses), very wide hips, and normal shoulders.  I had graded down to my body size but I had to take out in the waist and below what accounts to two sizes smaller still.  Any vintage pattern never ceases to hold a fitting surprise, I suppose.

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything on the purported designer of this dress, Louise Scott.  I did find several other Louise Scott New York patterns (from 1950, some of which I passed up) along with this one, and any Internet search I have tried so far only shows New York pattern envelope covers.  Thus, I’m guessing she might have been an independent, small designer hired by this one brand of sewing patterns to get her fashion concepts out there and help their company, which was in its last years of business, step things up.  She might have just been their in house pattern drafter, too, even.  I don’t know, but it is distressing that for as many patterns as Louise Scott offered through New York Pattern Company we know nothing about her wonderfully classy and meticulous designs.

I wore 1950s accessories to emphasize the fact that it could even be a design from early in that decade, or make it an obvious late 40s style at least.  My Grandmothers vintage 1950s black glass jewelry set (bracelet and necklace) pairs with some older, some modern pieces – mid-1940s gloves, a 50’s velvet beaded head topper, me-made sterling earrings, and my decade-old favorite strappy dress heels in black satin.  I believe my handbag might be from the 1980s but it has that classic 50’s style.  Of course, I had to play up the “Living Coral” color in my dress by tying a vintage 40’s silk scarf to my purse.  It also doubled as very pretty neck scarf that day.

“Living Coral” is such a versatile and cheerful color, more adaptable than many might imagine, almost like it’s a neutral.  Here, it goes with a blue-undertone grey and the black with cream flecks are a complimentary muted contrast.  “Living Coral” tones were often paired with a ‘dove brown’ or ‘avocado green’ in the 1950s.  Of course, I think  bright royal blue pairs well with coral, too, after making my 20’’s style “The Artist” dress mentioned earlier.  Please, just don’t forget that the real living coral in our oceans need to stay just as bright and just as much in the limelight as 2019’s fashion color is!  If you have another interesting color you’ve paired coral with, do let me know because I’d love to try it!

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…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.