“It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way, if we keep on the sunny side of life.” So goes the chorus from the song popularized in 1928 by the famous Carter family, but the song is also known for being in the year 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” This song, the movie, and the general time frame of both have inspired me to make a bright and daily-life type of summer 1920’s dress together with a hat re-worked into a 20’s cloche. There isn’t anything like a great outfit that you love to be in to help brighten up a disposition and add to a great day.
A vintage tractor show in a small town only a day’s trip away was the catalyst behind my creation. The occasion was a dusty, farm-centered, old-timey day of laid-back enjoyment which completely reminded me of something out of the depression-era dust bowl, the general setting of the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” I don’t know what was brighter that day…my dress or the summer sun.
FABRIC: 100% rayon challis in a bright coral with a vintage cotton collar
PATTERN: Butterick # 6140, year 2004
NOTIONS: I had all the thread and bias tape needed, but I had to go out and buy the blue ribbon the day before my dress was worn. The collar is from my stash, as was the hat ribbon and button (which was from hubby’s Grandmother).
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress took me about 8 hours, and was finished the day before the event, July 18, 2015.
TOTAL COST: maybe $15
I had been sitting on the idea for this dress for a while but when we decided at the last minute to go to the vintage tractor show, it gave me the reason to whip this up from off of my sewing table. I am glad I had a reason to wear it because it seemed harder in the thought process than it was to actually make it. This is the cutest loose fitting sack dress I could have ever imagined. My dress being from the 1920’s is (I suppose) the only way to reconcile mentally my wearing something so generous. My cloche hat doesn’t do much for the sun but is a good match for what I believe is a decently historically accurate 1920’s ensemble.
My preliminary inspiration was from a Hollywood source –Bérénice Bejo’s character Peppy Miller in the 2011 movie “The Artist”. Our first sight of her in the movie is when she is wearing a jacket over a dress very similar to the one I made. The movie dress, however, has long sleeves with a sleeveless vest/jacket, but to make my outfit versatile, my dress is sleeveless and a long sleeve jacket will be sewn later. I even tracked down a costume sketch so I could see all the original colors which I stuck to as well in my version. Part of the reason for the use of odd colors on the movie dress was so that things would show up a certain way in grey toned colorless film. Nevertheless, the early/mid 1920’s into the 30’s are classic for pairing and using bright and unusual colors (reflective of the positive outlook of the times, see this as one example), so as wild as a bright salmon peach and royal blue sound, there is a high probability they were matched. Honesty, I love the finished look.
To start with, I used my easy, two-piece, fall-back basic Butterick for my 20’s shift silhouette. It has been used with great success already for two other 20’s era creations – a blouse and a satin dress. This time, I had to do some detailed adjusting of the neckline so it would suit my chosen lace collar. I also opted for the easy and quick bias facing for the neck and arm hole finishing as the rayon is a bit sheer. A deep hem was made so as to weigh down the dress a bit.
With the dress done in a jiffy, I figured out how I wanted the center front skirt insert to be pleated and made a draft from plain paper – a box pleat in the middle and plain knife pleats on each side. Then I made the real version of the pleated skirt insert and top stitched it down before cutting away the dress fabric behind. This process reminded me of opening up a window. That was all! With only some quick hand tacking of the add-ons, my dress was done in the blink of an eye. Many mid and late 20’s dresses have similar center front skirt interest which adds room to move.
My parents (on occasion) pick up vintage items they know I don’t have but are uniquely special, such as collars and unique notions, with the occasional accessory. Making this dress gave me my first occasion to use my now substantial lace collar collection, all found by my parents. I believe this particular collar that I used is not too old, but I really don’t have any idea besides I think it’s hand crocheted. It is so lovely the way it has such detail and I love the pointed dip in the center back.
Adding a lace collar made me rather seriously reluctant for the first time…I felt like I was doing vintage quaintness overload. Now I mostly sew and wear vintage, and wearing the 20’s styles is obviously from the past so I really shouldn’t care. However, out of all the trends that have made a resurgence, lace collars have not strongly come back and in my mind I’ve always seen them as too cute to handle on anything other than little girl clothes or a civil war era dress. However, I did feel like this dress needed that collar, and if ever I was going to try and wear one…this was it. Somehow, I think the plainness of shape and bright color to the dress saves the collar from becoming what I so feared. Whatever it is, I do like it and already have plans for my other lace collars. I’ll be like the anti-trend setter…
The neckline ribbon is merely pinned in place with a safety pin because I really don’t think modern satin ribbons wash well…and I don’t want to try just to find out. After having the rest of my dress be vintage appropriate materials (rayon and cotton), I regret having a poly satin ribbon, but I have limited resources and my dream materials might have to stay that way. The ribbon does have a nice dull shine and it does give my dress the right amount of cheery fun.
My hat is my first attempt at re-fashioning head wear. I don’t think it’s too shabby. My methods were primarily sewing and folding rather than soaking, re-blocking and shaping. It was a cheap basic shaped hat originally, similar to the hat I used for this re-fashion. My problems with this hat are purely on account of me – 20’s hats are so darn close fitting and my hair gets so frizzy on hot, humid days that there is no room to hide all my locks! I can get away with this somewhat with winter cloches because the wool sticks to my hair, but this straw one does not. Besides, I need my glasses to see and for some reason this hat interferes with my eyewear. However, my hat is a success and fills in a niche by completing my 20’s wardrobe for summer.
I did not cut into the hat at all but folded in the back brim into the crown. The sides are folded like tacos and covered up by the ribbon. Everything is invisibly hand tacked own by clear filament thread. Eventually, I might like to rip all this apart and do a better job (because I can) but it would be easier (and more fun) to probably just make a new hat.
Technically, I believe the tractors behind me in most of our pictures are not really my dress’ era but probably 40’s or 50’s. They did have some breathtaking 1910 to 1915 still working steam powered tractors for some historical awesomeness. Although my hat is breathable straw, standing next to piping hot steam engines running in the height of summer was a bit overwhelming, but without the cloche my outfit suddenly had a 30’s aura.
Watching those old machines still working makes me realize how the times before ‘The Depression’ had such a swaggering confidence. 1920’s ingenuity is often overlooked because it is so far back and different than our modern technological advancements but most of what we take for advantage has its roots in the 20’s – television, synthetic fabrics, traffic signals, sunglasses, refrigerators, washing machines, and frozen food, to name just a handful.
The 1920’s definitely has a sunny side…