Ice Skating in Victorian Style!

Before wintertime is officially displaced by spring for my region of the world, I would like to share my grand outing on a snowy day last month.  It was then that my newest historical costume made for a very memorable time ice skating.  This classic winter sport was immensely popular and accessible leisure activity for ladies of Victorian times.  I had to test how that actually worked out along with other like-minded women of the St. Louis Historical Sewing Society, of which I am a member.  My Victorian skirt from December of 2021 acquired a matching bodice and bustle adornment which I stitched together for the occasion.  Along with some new additional accessories, my original skirt had a quite different look that is more mid-1880s this time around…and I am ecstatic.  I was warm in the cold being a fashionable Victorian lady for an afternoon having fun wearing what I had sewn – what could be better?!  We skated at our city’s Steinberg rink, the largest outdoor ice rink in the Midwest (United States).

I did not expect to make a bodice to go with the skirt when I bought its herringbone flannel fabric last year, so this project was a surprise for me, too.  After cutting out the Victorian bustled skirt in an unconventional pattern layout to save material, there was a ¾ yard panel leftover plus some generous sized scraps.  “Why not try something out”, I thought a month before the date of the event.  My silk velvet blouse from my first Victorian outfit was too fancy and fragile to be trusted for ice skating, and neither was it warm enough.  I had nothing to lose aiming for a matching set.  If you know me, it will be no surprise that every scrap was utilized to maximum potential, and now I am pleased to no end that I have a set! 

As much as I liked my first attempt at a Victorian outfit, I am only now fully in love with dressing the “Industrial era” after this my most recent, ascetically coordinated 1880s outfit.  A fully me-made outfit was the proper dive headfirst that I needed to get a good feel for wearing the fashions from Victorian times.  Yet, doing so has left me itching to make a full-out fancy, sleeveless, trained evening ensemble out of moiré fabric…but I am getting ahead of myself.  Please enjoy a small portion of my joy through the photos of my wonderful day out skating in my Victorian outfit!

In case you are wondering, I will clarify that I had absolutely no problem ice skating in this and did not find it difficult, cumbersome, or restrictive at all.  Even though bodices of the Victorian era had little ease and wear close to the body, a garment that is properly fitted and tailored should not be restrictive.  I altered and especially redrafted the existing sleeve pattern to have better upper arm fullness, higher armscye, and more forgiveness by cutting on the bias.  Looking at old Victorian pictures, this doesn’t seem to be the ‘normal’ snug fit, but I am costuming for the 21st century.  While I do aim for historical accuracy, I am going to make my clothes real-world conscious so they work for me the way I want them to, otherwise the best benefit to sewing for myself is negated.   

In contrast, the bodice is more true to the Victorian times than the way I set in my sleeves.  I fitted it perfectly like a snug body double to stay put on me no matter how I moved.  It was always poised and wrinkle free due to its 8 vertical channels of lightweight boning wrapping around my torso from the bust down.  The full range of movement in my arms makes sure to more than make up for the tight fitting bodice, and I was free to dance, throw snow, save myself from falling, or do whatever tickled my fancy.  Achieving this balance of a structured fit that still retains body freedom has similarities to the tailoring practices of couture fashion – something I will address further down in my post. 

I’m skating here with the fabulous Alyssa who blogs at “The Sewing Goatherd”

The short pannier undergarment I was wearing to bustle out my skirt behind me kept it from under my legs and gave a fantastic, impressive swish when I’d move around on the ice.  The ankle length of my sensible, unadorned walking skirt along with my simple, plaid apron drape was unfussy so there was nothing for my skate blades (or other people around me) to catch onto. As an 1889 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal explains, “First of all, a skating costume needs to be short, and next it should be simple.”   I did not fall down once!  I even ran through the snow in this outfit.  Remember – just because my clothes may look old-fashioned doesn’t mean that I am that way personally, nor does modest clothing mean a woman can’t move around enough to still have fun.  Do not read a book by its cover. 

To complete my ensemble, I used several eclectic items from on hand.  First of all I am very proud of tweaking a vintage 1950s hat in my wardrobe to make it passable Victorian.  Bright colors, especially in velvet (if not fur), were encouraged and popular for at least some portion of a Victorian lady’s skating ensemble, as can be read in many publications of the times.  I took off the hat’s original netting and added on a matching red velvet ribbon from my existing notions stash (shocking how well it matches).  This way I could tie it under my chin like a traditional Victorian hat but it also would stay on well without needing a hat pin.  To further decorate the open crown, I pinned on another little bow up at the top.  A lace-trimmed satin pocket square (bought from my trip to Italy so many years back and worn as my neck cravat in my first Victorian outfit) went over my head’s crown under the velvet 1950s hat.  A 1930s era lace collar with an attached descending lace dickey filled in my Victorian bodice’s open neckline over my blouse (again, something I wore with my first Victorian outfit).  I used a reproduction brooch that I have had since I was a teenager to keep that lace collar in place. 

Finally, the most special accessory of all is my beaver fur collar – it had been my paternal Grandmother’s piece.  It gave me a little extra warmth, a bit a rich-looking luxury, and a touch of something extra special.  I was wearing her earrings, too!  I almost never go without wearing something from one of my ancestors at this point – no matter if I am dressing historical, vintage, or modern.  Fur seems to be one of the list commonly seen staples for trimming to a proper Victorian ice skating outfit.  I was so happy to give Grandma’s accessory an outing with me, even if it did cover up my neckline details which took me so long to complete.  In hindsight, I rather wish I would have had my fur muff (posted here) with me, too, but it did not match my overall darker, warmer brown tones very well.  I also did not want to run the risk of losing or staining it.  Oh well – I was plenty warm as things were and had a great time without it.  Other of my fellow Victorian skaters did bring their furs, though, as well as one Sewing Society member even wearing a pair of true Victorian skates!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A dark brown herringbone printed cotton flannel was used for the skirt, a 100% wool twill for the neckline and cuff contrast (leftover from this Victorian apron drapery), and an all-cotton broadcloth in brown for the bodice lining.  A 1 ½ yard cut of rayon white plaid shirting was the front apron drape.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5457, from Andrea Schewe, labelled as ‘Victorian 1880s’, from year 2003

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, lots of mid-weight interfacing, three packs of buttons for the bodice front, several yards of cotton covered feather-lite boning, 6 yards of rolled braid upholstery trimming, and lots of hook-n-eyes

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The bodice alone took me about 50 hours to do – most of it was all the finishing and details which I primarily did by hand.  The bustle adornment took about 5 hours to make. Everything I needed was happily finished on February 3, 2022 a few days ahead of the event.

THE INSIDES:  both bodice and bustle adornment are bag lined for a completely clean and tidy coverage of all raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  The flannel and contrast wool were leftover from my last project.  The broadcloth lining, boning and all other notions besides buttons were all on hand already from a rummage sale purchase last year, so I am not counting the costs for them either as it was negligible.  The 6 yards of upholstery trim cost me about $12, the buttons were about $6 for three cards of four, and the plaid shirting was $13 – all bought at my local JoAnn Fabric store.  In total just over $30!

Charles James, designer Evening gown, circa 1955, from the RISD museum, famously worn by the socialite Babe Paley

This project was not just a desire to improve upon my existing Victorian skirt but also a search for validation as well as answers after making my end-of-the year Charles James inspired bodice.  As I mentioned in my post, it is often said that his creations are inspired and loosely based on Victorian styles.  The more you look at the gowns he made in the 50s decade particularly, it is plainly obvious in the bodice shape and fit, as well as in the skirt drapery.  However, I said this as one who was quoting well-respected fashion historians.  I was also associating the two from the perspective of merely observing construction and design line similarities.  Even still, both come from something other than a hands-on means.  I have studied some X-ray scans and interior detail images of Charles James’ gowns to get as close as possible to personally inspecting such high couture pieces for comparison sake.  Then, constructing and wearing my very own 1880s bodice has given me that in-person confirmation that Charles James’ bodices are indeed very Victorian.  I feel so validated.  I am still so elated over this discovery! 

They are both very stable (can stand on their own apart from a body), multi-layered (composed of an exterior, interfacing, interlining, and lining), boned in many channels, close-fitting, and tapered low in the front but high in the back along the waistline.  Being an experiment, I wanted to try on the finished main body with my Charles James inspired 50s shantung skirt before the sleeves and any details were added.  I wanted an even better idea of how much a Victorian bodice could look like part of a Charles James gown.  I installed a separating sport zipper down the center front because I wanted a secure fit that wasn’t fiddly to close (which would be the case with hook and eyes) but also to help me be able to try this on properly as soon as possible because I was so excited.  The first try on for every single thing I make for myself or others is always so filled with nerves and anticipation.  I knew it would fit on account of my measuring at the pattern stage, it was just being able to finally see this bodice on me that blew me away.

I knew from the get-go that I was not going to be a die-hard for 100% true authentic construction methods as long as it is something not seen to anyone but me, anyway.  I did do clean, structural tailoring techniques that were more 21st century than true Victorian (which often had quite messy interior finishing) and so very much hand stitching.  The inside looks so perfectly finished for my taste and achieves the ‘proper’ look in the end.  Thus, ignore the zipper and you can see that this is indeed what Charles James based his gowns on, especially the Babe Paley one I was inspired by (see picture of red dress above) when making my Tulip bodice (post here).  Look at how great it looks!  The fit feels similar to how a well-constructed 50s evening gown would be (I have tried a few on before).  This is an 1880s pattern, though, remember!  Sewing this bodice was the best tactile research project ever.

Now that I have sewn more than one item from Simplicity #5457, I can heartily recommend it.  The sizing is great and has a fit true to the charts.  I made no other tweaks besides lengthening the hem to the sleeves and adding in ‘reach room’, as I mentioned above “The Facts”.  I love how economical it is, too.  A whole Victorian set – bodice, skirt, and bustle decoration – out of 3 ½ yards (of main fabric) is impressive.  It comes together as easily as possible.  Even still, with all the tailoring, fitting, and finishing this is time consuming nevertheless so be prepared with a lot of patience, free time, and some sore fingertips.  This pattern is super versatile, as well, but that is the good thing about a simple design – you have a base for whatever strikes your fancy.  It is highly probable will be using this pattern again.

All of the detailing finishes were my own idea and design.  This includes the bustle adornment that is the trio of hanging tabs and not the little pleated rump peplum, which is attached to the bodice.  These were not part of the Simplicity pattern I was using for the main body of the bodice, but self-drafted or at least my own addition.  I drew up a frontispiece to cover the zipper and make it appear as if I have some sort of faux button placket.  It is tacked down to the bodice on the right side of the zipper and hooks closed on the left side.  One dozen decorative buttons decorated the frontispiece because Victorian fashions were opulent and extravagant, after all!  Then, the neckline and cuffs received the rope trim and then a thin, visible overlap of the same woolen which went towards my first Victorian apron drape (posted here).  Pieced together, I had just enough woolen scraps to make this idea work. 

I felt these additions added depth, interest, and complexity appropriate for the era.  Yet, as this was meant to be a basic and practical set, these decorative elements add the right touch of finery without any gold work, beading, or embroidery so common for the era – these were all too fancy for my intention.  The rope and woolen trimming were sandwiched in with every other seam’s construction except for on the bodice neckline and cuff hems, where it is hand tacked in place after the edges were fully finished.  I could not commit myself to what I wanted to add until after I could have to opportunity to try it on together with the skirt.

The bustle decoration is all I could make out of a few rectangles of material that were left from the bodice.  I think it is cute and different – totally my design while still convincingly Victorian inspired.  I didn’t want to overwhelm the simple apron drape with a draped booty bustle.  However, I was too short on fabric for that to be an option.  I have seen a few fashion images or extant garments which have basic bustle adornments that are similar to what I crafted for myself.  I lined the underside with matching fabric to cover up the raw edges so the tabs look just as good no matter which way they flap. I added more of the rope trimming (used on the bodice) into all the edges of the three hanging tabs to help them to be more decorative and seemingly intentional.  They were something I just cobbled together, after all!  In lieu of closures, I merely attached all three tabs to a length of brown satin ribbon (on hand, used to stabilize the inner waistline of my skirt) so I can tie it to my waist before I dress in my bodice…easy peasy and versatile!  

Just like for my first Victorian outfit, I was here again inspired by the brown and white dual tones worn by the woman on the far left in an original Godey Lady’s book original hand-tinted fashion page from April 1874 that is framed in my bedroom.  Besides my one book page print, however, I have found a plethora of fashion plates and extant 1880s garments which are in a variation of brown tones, contrasted by gold and/or white. Along that vein, I specifically wanted to complement the white of my blouse peeking out from under my bodice’s open neckline and ¾ sleeves.  My first apron drape was too bulky under the close fitting bodice, also seeming too fussy and drab when the skirt and bodice were matching.  I therefore merely hand draped a plain cut of yardage in a soft rayon to be my new skirt apron.  The plaid weave brightens up my overall brown tones and adds a level of simple sophistication with a touch of bright white, as I had wanted.  The plaid easily adds to the impression that there is more going on than there is (as it was super simple to incorporate it into my ensemble) yet keeps my set relatable.  Plaid was quite popular to use in women’s fashions of Victorian times throughout many countries.

My Indian sari pleating skills came in handy to “make” my skirt’s new apron drape…no stitching required other than to hem the fabric’s cut ends.  First, I asymmetrically tucked in the top half (most of one corner) to the plaid fabric panel into my waistline starting from my left side seam over to the other side of the center front.  Then, I hand pleated the free end, much like is done on a pallu (the decorative end) of a sari to drape it over the shoulder.  Finally, I brought it around to tuck the pleated end into my waist at the center back.  This process is so much easier to do in real life than to describe but it is really that simple – no pattern or sewing needed! 

I see many of such asymmetric apron drapes from the early to later half of the 1880s decade.  I love any asymmetric fashion and I feel that I can relate to Victorian styles better when I see them elegantly, artistically askew than perfectly uniform and proportionate.  The benefit to costuming in the 21st century is here again (as I mentioned above previously) the ability to customize a historical style to my own taste, ability, and budget.  I don’t know for sure if such asymmetric apron fronts were historically sewn or draped, or even something that would have been paired with such an outfit as this.  Yet, whatever seems to work for me and achieves my own interpretation of the 1880s works for me. 

I recognize I have a LOT to still learn about the nuances of Victorian fashion.  Thus, I ask those of you who know what you are doing more than I to go easy on me here.  I love my newest historical set and am proud of my progress in interpreting this era, especially since – up until recently – it has been something I never remotely figured I would ever be sewing or wearing.  Victorian dressing was something I have long been content to admire from a distance.  It seems to be very complicated to understand.  The styles adapted every year or two, especially between the 1870s and 1880s…bustle sitting high, bustle sitting low, elevated hairstyles, cascading hairstyles, short waistlines, long bodices – and all these in different combinations!  Things must have been confusing for women of those times who wanted to stay “on trend”.  At least tailors and seamstresses or even home sewists were probably very busy tweaking hemlines, adding extension panels, and making accessories to keep up. 

This newest Victorian set is a big step further into exploring that well of knowledge which is fashion history but I have a feeling this era will be much more challenging for me to get a hold of fully in my mind than anything from the 20th century.  I will keep trying, though!  I guarantee you this will not be my last Victorian project.  I just hope my next Victorian creation has such a fun time out as this one!  Ice skating in full Victorian garb is an event that will be hard to beat!

“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!

Remembrance Day

“We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poem penned by Moina Michael in November 1918

I’m remembering Armistice Day this year with a French inspired outfit that places me in the late 1910s, so I can observe this holiday dressing the way a woman like me might have done back then.  Worn for a visit to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri to see their exhibits, these clothes helped me place myself in a position of empathy and insight for the experiences of people from those times.  Well done, informative exhibitions always bestow upon me a view through a lens outside of my own.  For me, though, also wearing the corresponding era of clothing is a level up in re-enacting an alternate reality for the purpose of gaining understanding.  I always take our trips wearing my handmade clothes (the greater percent of my wardrobe now), and most often that is in vintage style…well, now I have done my first escapade traveling in historical fashion!  

The blouse I’m wearing is a special teen’s era original “Armistice” style blouse to match the old antique logo pin on my collar lapel which pledges “I will parade – Armistice Day”.  Together, my blouse and pin is a 1918 statement of support for the end of the fighting, and a promise to be there for the enlisted when they come home.   This is worn with my handmade circa 1917 cotton skirt, based off of late WWI catalog images which inspired me.     

For those who wear historical fashions, it is often said that one feels like a time traveler, especially when those clothes are worn in a period appropriate setting.  However, I recently got to thinking – what would I wear if I was actually time traveling?  It struck me, that out of all the pretty, fancy outfits I would like to wear, the most sensible, useful, and, necessary kind of dressing for going back in time would also be the hum-drum, practical, everyday clothing.  I was considering these ideas because our trip to the National WWI Museum included going to the front lines in the trenches of Passchendaele (1917) through the overwhelmingly immersive “War Remains” virtual reality exhibit.  Then, I was also going to see the “Silk and Steel” exhibit as well, and learn about the French fashion for women of WWI…a much lighter topic.  I felt like a nonchalant kind of historical garb – this not the time or place for a flashy outfit.

Both exhibits opened my eyes to a picture that shows the personal trials, heroic acts, and unimaginable sufferings of those who did and did not survive, not just some numbers and dates to remember.  A casualty can be more than just the passing of a life…the veterans who committed suicide in the years following Armistice, the civilians who were collateral damage, or the long term misery of disfigurements from poison gas do not officially get added to the death count of a battle.  Thus, even though Remembrance Day commemorates the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., the lost lives before that time were not the end of the story.  Their sacrifice lives on.  Their legacy is beautiful, complex, terribly tragic, and of the utmost importance.  This is what makes the poppy such a powerful, simple, silent witness for such an overwhelming bequest.  Wearing one is such a small gesture, and so easy to do, but it means so much!

Also, I would like to recognize the “le bleuet” cornflower badge that is the French equivalent to Canada and Commonwealth nations using the poppy as a symbol of WWI remembrance. After all, one in three French men died between the ages of 18-30 by 1917 alone.  What is so sad to me is the way many soldiers on all sides thought that they would be comfortably settled back home by the Christmas of that year.  The Armistice did not come as soon as expected.  I waited to have my picture taken in these faux poppy fields (on the front lawn of the National WWI Museum) until after our virtual reality “War Remains” experience so as to have the full realization of that symbolic flower hit me… and wow, did it ever!  I let myself be emotional invested into the living exhibit and it left me ready to bawl… but I heartily recommend it, nonetheless.  As the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele’s last living survivor had said, “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”  It was a battle of mud, blood, and futility through Belgian fields, with 500 thousand casualties, making it one of the war’s most costly battles of attrition.  So whether you choose a poppy or a “le bleuet”, the Remembrance Day message is the same – the legacy on the living to honor the sacrifice of the heroes who are gone but not forgotten.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  lightweight 100% cotton plaid, lined in a cling-free polyester, with a hem extension of a cotton knit leftover from this Burda Style dress project

PATTERN:  None!

NOTIONS USED:  four fabric covered button blanks, one metal vintage zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This skirt was worked on in 2019 for a few hours and halfway completed, but finally finished up after a few more hours’ time in August of 2021.

Gosh, look how basic the skirt was originally!

TOTAL COST:  My only cost was for one yard of eyelet material – $12 – otherwise all else was free on hand items from out of my stash

Not only is this unusual for being a historical outfit that traveled out-of-town with me, but this was a refashion project of a dated ready-to-wear item from my old wardrobe, as well.  Both factors combined give this skirt a historical appearance, but not when it comes to my manner of making.  This is one of those “what you can’t see won’t hurt” kind of sewing projects that I almost never make.  Not that this is a messily finished refashion – on the contrary, everything is cleanly serged (overlocked) insides…see what I mean?  I usually never use a serger.  It’s just that I was making-do with what I had, using up scraps together with some unwanted garments on hand to create something that gives an authentic late WWI era appearance.  What was underneath to create that look is not something exactly true to the era.  Simplicity (as in straightforwardness) was my key word here.  I wanted to travel without the need to bring the proper era undergarments (such as this slip I made) which I usually wear to create the French ‘tonneau’ barrel skirt shape (widest from mid-thigh to the knee) so classic for the late 1910s.  

Fashion ads and catalog images I was inspired by for my skirt refashion

The “Silk and Steel” exhibit made several interesting points about the barrel skirt silhouette.  The woman who wore the ‘new look’ of 1917, started by French couturiers such as Jeanne Paquin, was deemed as a fickle woman, one easily turned by the whims of fashion, by some public opinions.  A steadfast woman was expected to be constant, waiting for the return of her husband, boyfriend, brother, fiancée.  Her clothes were to reflect such qualities.  It was feared that the changed silhouette would be a shock to the soldiers returning home after the war, making it clear they were out of touch with the life back at home.  Thus, out of consideration, many postcards and images for the enlisted show a constancy of style in women’s wartime garb (yes, a small propaganda campaign). 

New and exciting fashion was also considered tasteless when 1917 was the hardest WWI year for the French, with bloody battles, mutinies on the front, economic inflations, increasing food prices, rationing, and widespread shortages.  Fashion was crucial to whether there would be a wedge or a bridge between the sexes at home and on the front.  Barrel (or ‘tonneau’) skirts were, however, pushed as being economical, needing less fabric with its shorter hem and lighter petticoats, thus it was popular with the middle class as well as those who bought from designers.

My skirt, with its hem extension, very well could be seen as a conservative attempt of a woman of modest means in 1917 to keep up with the popular fad.  A plaid like this was not high fashion, after all, even if it was in a very French combo of blue and white.  Truth be told, I really was cobbling this together, trying to make a 1917 style out of a year 1997 casual skirt which had a shot elastic waist and overly basic shape.  I did wear this skirt a lot as a teenager.  Back then, I preferred long cotton skirts for the summer more than shorts…they kept me from getting too much sun, were breezily cool, and made me feel pretty.  However, the passing of time for both me and the skirt rendered it no longer wearable, but that didn’t mean I was done with it by any means!  I’m way too thrifty, practical, and imaginative to just give up on it now.  I had been looking for a good plaid to make an everyday teen’s era skirt anyway, so I might as well use what I already had on hand!

There was no way to save the disintegrated elastic – it was sewn as part of the waistline – so I merely used the skirt as-is…no unpicking, no cutting, no re-sewing needed.  There was still a bit of gathering in no-longer stretchy waistband and I liked the stability its thickness would provide, two reasons for my not cutting it off.  I did not want my skirt to become shorter, anyways.  I merely made two pleats to the front sides at the waist so I could bring it in to fit as well as add more shape and definition to the skirt.  That was all there was to it, and everything else was the details and finishing.    

Here’s a quick run-through of my remaining steps. I cut a 7 inch slit and hid a vintage zipper in the fold of the left waist pleat, which gives me just enough room to put it on.  Two hook and eyes help keep that zippered pleat closed.  As the cotton plaid is whisper thin, it needed a lining.  I keep all my poly lining fabrics in their own drawer in my stash (yay for being organized), and there I found a dark navy skirt lining draft I made from about 20 years back.  It was a basic A-line shape, with an opening slit about 10 inches down from the waistline, and was just the perfect length.  I hand stitched this liner into the waistband of my refashioned skirt.  It was slimmer than the skirt itself so there was no room for historical undergarments, but I wanted an easy travel skirt, after all, as I mentioned above.  Thus, I added a couple rows of ruffled cotton eyelet (made by me, cut from rows of fabric) directly to the lining under the plaid skirt layer to fill the “tonneau” shape out better.  The layers of ruffles weigh down the flimsy lining, happily keeping it from creeping up on my body. 

Finally, I added a bit of contrast (and length extension) with the solid blue cotton knit.  I had one ½ yard remnant of it left, just enough to make a band to wrap around the bottom visible part of the lining.  Little odd shaped scraps left from the hem band went towards making four fabric covered buttons to decorate the waistline pleats.  They unify the solid fabric hem extension, and (I hope) make it appear as it my waist pleats are buttoned down (which they aren’t, though, ha).

The rest of my outfit is put together with (as I mentioned at the beginning of my post) a true antique Armistice blouse and whatever else I had on hand.  My old blouse should be taking the center stage to this outfit, more than my skirt, but that is part of the beauty to it.  Such a maze of intricate details gets lost to all but me, the wearer, because they are best appreciated up close and personal.  It is a wonder it has survived over a hundred years to still be strong and stable enough for me to even wear it (delicately, I must add…I do not want the guilt of being the one to destroy this in any way).  Its details are mind blowing – that complex handmade Irish lace, those impossibly tiny 1/8 inch French seams, and the amazing delicate yet durable traits of the sheer linen are a lesson in themselves to appreciate the lasting, artistic quality that clothes once were.  All else to my outfit is modern – my sash belt is a rayon scarf held in place by a reproduction brooch (also blue).  My earrings are 1950s from my maternal Grandmother, my hair comb is a new re-make, and my suede heels are vintage style from Hotter. 

This 1917 outfit was every bit as easy to wear for the day as anything else I might have worn.  I was so happy to wear such an outfit for my visit back to WWI.  I will be the first to admit many of the housedresses of the 1910s era are almost too quaint or cute for my taste.  They still are much more appealing to me than the sweatpants, t-shirt, yoga leggings, and sports bra of today.  I myself can feel more comfortable in the older type of ‘everyday’ clothes much better, oddly, and can’t help but wonder what place our daily wear is going to have in the regard of history 100 years from now, in comparison.   Stuff to consider!     

Behind me is the National WWI Museum’s exterior “Great Frieze”,
one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world at 148 x 18 feet.
It represents the progression of humankind from war to peace.

The National WWI Museum educator Camille Kulig says “clothing is a barometer of change.”  I hear fashion experts of today also applying the same phrase to what we wear in these times following the craziness of 2020.  The changes that prompted the transition of fashion from the 1910s into the “Roaring 20s” does have its own parallels to what we have so far experienced of our own decade – inflation, widespread illness, rationing, as well as changing roles for men and women, to name a few matches.  Nevertheless, for as much as I love to enjoy studying history, I do realize it is so much easier to look back than forward.  What helps me is to see history as merely the story of people much like you and I, much like your neighbors or your friends, only placed into a different setting. 

I love Remembrance Day for the opportunity to stop and reflect on all of these points.  Today, or any day, remember the humanity of our collective history and give thanks for those who are serving, have served, or those who have passed on from their service for their country.

London Logo Plaid

As this is a follow-up to my Disney-inspired Pocahontas outfit, made for my “Pandemic Princess” series, it is aptly tied to the songs from the 1998 sequel “Journey to a New World”. To Pocahontas in the sequel, that new world is Britain, specifically London – “What a Day in London” song.  With her visit (following her marriage to John Rolfe in real life), her history became even more deeply linked to both Britain and America – “Between Two Worlds” song. I couldn’t think of a more glaringly ironic match (in many ways I will address later on in this post) than for me to make a trench-style coat made of cheap but iconic English Burberry plaid fleece.  Yet, the logo plaid must not have been out of place in the forest as a wild deer was photo bombing me throughout, totally edging in on my spotlight – “Things Are Not What They Appear” song.  Beyond adding a watermark, these are real, unaltered pictures!  How can I brag about my coat when the deer has an even prettier, more useful one on her back?!?

This was yet another one of my many remnant stash-busting projects.  I only had one yard of Burberry plaid fleece, half a yard of black fleece, and leftovers from other projects to help me finish this one off.  Yay for a smart use of fleece, the fabric I love to hate, in a print I very much enjoy!  This coat is a very versatile and a breathable weight of warmth.  It was a quick undertaking which ended up looking much better than I imaged it might.  My projects which use up scraps really make me inventive in a way for which I am proud.  In conjunction with that incentive, my “Pandemic Princess” series is also inspiring me push my Disney dreams farther than just one outfit per leading lady.  Oh, what have I started!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: the exterior black and Burberry plaid fabrics are polyester fleece, the inside lining is burgundy polyester crepe (leftover from sewing this 1930s lounging robe), the inner layer is pre-quilted cotton covered batting, and the under collar together with the front facings are cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1320, year 2014

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already – interfacing, a few buttons (ornate brass ones, leftover from this historical skirt), and lots upon lots of thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This coat took me about 25 hours to make.  It was finished on February 19, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  any raw edges inside are cleanly concealed by the full lining.

TOTAL COST:  As I have had the two fleece remnants on hand for the last 10 years, and the all other supplies were leftover from past projects, I’m counting this coat as free!!!

The prestigious Burberry Company began in 1856, but found its home in London by 1891 when Thomas Burberry opened a shop in London’s West End.  Thomas Burberry is credited invented and patenting gabardine in 1888 – the breathable, weatherproof and hard-wearing fabric revolutionizing rainwear – which up until then had typically been heavy and uncomfortable to wear.  Then, its fine, waterproof outerwear happened to make the term “trench coat” an anchor in fashion history by having an adapted version of his “Tielocken coat” the standard issue for officers during World War I.  The recognizable Burberry logo plaid was then introduced in the 1920s.  Afterwards, in the 70’s and 80’s, the brand’s tartan print suddenly was no longer solely worn inside their garments as a lining when it turned into a preppy U.K. elite symbol (aka, the “Sloane Rangers”).  It became a visible status symbol.  Yet by the next decade, it was also one of the most widely counterfeited brands of the turn into the 21st century.  Over the years, Burberry has evolved and today it’s much more of a lifestyle brand that you can see on catwalks and fashion shows – no longer just known for making a trench coat.

British soap opera star Daniella Westbrook in that infamous head-to-toe Burberry outfit of 2002

In the late Nineties, the Burberry print began a trendy revival courtesy of the “logo wave”, which was all about sporting Gucci belts to Chanel bags and Louis Vuitton wallets.  As a teen at that time, I was one of the biggest fans of the tacky, over-the-top usage of the knocked-off Burberry tartan on anything under the sun.  (Oh, what was I thinking!?!)  Now, I am much more restrained but still enamored by the fashion plaid print.  All I ever bought of the Burberry brand as a teen was an expensive Pashmina Burberry neck scarf at a fine retailer and the brand’s classic eau de toilette.  Now, I am breaking out of that shell by making of this coat.  I’m returning back to my teenage fascination and half reliving something I never got to do growing up…only half because this is not a true, trademarked Burberry material.    

I am not one for brand flourishing myself – of course not, when I sew my own clothes.  Yet, a Burberry plaid is my long restrained weakness.  At the same time, however, it is so gaudy in my mind that I never knew what to do with it or how to pair together with a pattern.  I figured to tone it down with a darker contrast remnant on hand and – even though both cuts are only cheap fleece – treat them like a finer coat fabric to hopefully end up with something which might not be tacky.  At least the coat turned out better than I expected while being nicely tailored and cozy warm!  This was a successful experiment and yet also a weird one to see finalized after all these years.

I sort of blended the lines between a trench and an over coat, just for practical purposes. A trench coat is designed to protect you against rain while an overcoat is designed to protect you against the cold. A trench coat is lightweight while an overcoat is heavyweight.  For my coat, the fleece outside is fluffy polyester, so it really doesn’t get wet easily even though it is not waterproof.  I tested this truth out later the night of our pictures when I played in our son’s snow fort, which was beginning to melt.  I stayed warm and dry and most of the wet snow either rolled off or could be brushed off of me.  Usually one has to layer up to be warm in a trench coat because it is merely supposed to be waterproof appropriate gear for all seasons.  Yet, I am a person sensitive to the cold so I upped the game on my version with the cozy quilted cotton layer between the exterior fleece and polyester lining.  It is a coat which is in between lightweight and heavyweight, as all materials are pretty lofty load individually. 

This is still double-breasted like a proper trench coat, with a large stormproof collar that can be turned up enough to completely protect most of my face from the elements, if I so need.  However, my coat’s collar is wonderfully modern in the way it is asymmetric and the tailored princess seams and color blocking reflects the new fitting and color options which the new Burberry line has to offer.  The length of a trench coat is traditionally to just below the knee. However, nowadays one can find trench coats in various lengths: full, knee, three-quarters and short.  So I suppose I can call this a very personalized, updated version of a 90’s Burberry inspired trench coat.

Amazingly, this was a very easy coat to make, even with complicating the construction by fully lining and layering it.   There are no darts, no chalk markings to make, and every seam is straightforward with first rate shaping drawn into the seam lines.  The fit was spot on, too.  I went up one whole size because I was planning on adding extra layers into the coat and that was to right move.  I have full and unrestrained freedom of movement.  More or less, I cut out 3 whole coats – fleece, quilted cotton inner layer, and lining poly – so I was happy the two pieces for the front (doubled into four) and two pieces for the back (double cut sides with one center on the fold) were simple.  The facings and the under collar had sew-in interfacing to back them up as they were a thinner material in key areas which got double-breasted and needed structural support. 

I did sew each layer to the coat separately, but hand tacked the quilted cotton inners to the eternal fleece plaid along their matching seam lines “in the ditch” to eliminate shifting of the layers.  It was important remember to shorten the sleeves and the bottom hem of the quilted inner layer by cutting off 1 ½ inches.  It is very difficult and bulky to hem quilted cotton and thus I wanted to account for the turn-under hemming to the fleece and lining only.  I also had to make the seam allowances ¾ inch to the quilted cotton and poly lining so the inner layer fits inside as slightly smaller than the eternal coat layer.  I found out some these tricks of how to work with pre-quilted cotton material (as well as how breathable but pleasantly warm it can be) as I made this 1940s jerkin vest for our trip to Denver, Colorado back in 2019.  I also knew from making this 60’s cocoon coat how shifty fleece could be when you try to sew it into something structured.  So, I combined both of what I learned from two separate winter past projects into this newest, latest, dare I say, just about the best coat I have finished so far.   

I like the unusual and slightly easier route of making handmade chain stitched thread loops along the right front closing edge in lieu of buttonholes.  The fact it is black on black color along the front is the only way I like this feature, otherwise I think thread loops would be too weirdly obvious.  The instructions called for fabric loops.  However, I know how those sort of things are fussy to add in a seam and more often than not pull out of a seam anyway if not anchored to a base of some sort (seam tape, bias strip, etc.) along the seam allowance.  I used heavy upholstery thread for making my coat’s thread loops and attached the loop bases to the interfacing inside the coat edge, so these closures are definitely stable. 

For some weird reason, my last Pocahontas inspired outfit finally gave me a decent idea as to what to do with long hoarded, one yard remnant of Burberry looking fleece.  Luckily, I was able to sew it together quickly enough to take advantage of the same photo shoot against the breathtaking backdrop of my favorite creek after the most recent snowstorm.  This coat’s earthy colors pair nicely with my Pocahontas separates (in the previous post), but also work well as an item from the era of the release dates to the Disney films.  All the elements I desired for this project were fulfilled, only Pocahontas’ Disney story is the opposite of everything this logo plaid stands for.  At the same time, it suits her aesthetic so well at the same time.  Let me explain.

I like using irony to drive home a point.  Pairing an overworked fashion print with the raw, pure beauty of nature is amusingly contrary enough.  Yet, modern fashion is synonymous with the throwaway culture severely detrimental to our world of today, threatening the very existence of living things, and fleece is one of worst offenders being a petroleum-based product which will not break down.  Thus, I only use fleece when I do because it is already on hand in my stash from before I became more conscious of the environmental impact of what we wear.  For many years now, fleece is something I will not buy and love to generally hate (ugh, plastics).  However, I am a firm believer in making use of what one has, and doing that effort well enough so that item lasts.  I believe this is the most sensible thing to do with questionable products such as fleece.

Hopefully what I have done here would be Pocahontas approved if she knew where I was coming from with my reasoning.  It does have colors I believe she would like – after all, a deer I met out in the wild didn’t seem to mind one bit!!

“For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains…

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind”