“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”

Anne Klein Design

“Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

This is a very famous fashion quote which is attributed to the American designer Anne Klein.  Coming from someone whose talent and livelihood revolved around creating fashion that has influenced women around the world, this is a beautiful, powerful, and impressively truthful statement.  It celebrates the women that bring to life clothes, which carry no personality on their own until they are enlivened by the charisma coming from inside the body.  Just as her clothing is timeless and visionary, so also her quote is still so very touchingly appropriate today.

All of this I have mentioned – and inspired by the Anne Klein trends at the recent New York fashion week – are reasons why I am ecstatic to present something I made using a vintage Anne Klein designer Vogue pattern.  Unfortunately, my sewing project is not one of her famous separates but more a symbol of the year 1987 date on the design – a one-piece jumpsuit.  Vogue American designer patterns seemed to offer many chic and on-point jumpsuit styles in the mid-to-late 80’s, and this one seems to be a common-to-find release by the number to be found for sale over the internet.  It is a very Anne Klein version – classic yet a product of its times, tailored yet simple, and complimentary yet comfortable.  I absolutely LOVE having this piece in my closet!  Also – it has pockets!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight rayon/cotton/spandex printed knit. It is about 1/8” thick, printed in the black and blue plaid one the right side while plain white on the wrong (inside) side, and a tightly stable weave.  It has a wonderfully soft feel and supple ‘hand’ that reminds me of a cross between a scuba knit and a brushed flannel.  I did use some leftover black poly scuba knit remnants for the neckline facing.

PATTERN:  Vogue American Designer pattern #1871, year 1987

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some strips of interfacing, and a long 22” zipper (which is of the vintage metal variety)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 6 hours, and was finished on July 6, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  This knit does not unravel so I left the edges raw

TOTAL COST:  The plaid printed knit was from JoAnn, and was about $40 something for 3 yards.  The scuba knit scraps for the facing as well as the zipper were all on hand so are as good as free. 

There is so much that can be said about the life of Anne Klein and the way she impacted history, but I will only give you an overview.  “Anne Klein designed classic casuals with every woman in mind.  She was a visionary designer who originated the concept of a fully coordinated closet, providing a uniquely American point of view to the global fashion industry. Her trademark separates became the hallmark of a purposeful and stylish wardrobe – one that has informed trends for decades” (from anneklein.com).  “Recognized as one of the groundbreaking designers to put American fashion on the map, Anne Klein wasn’t just a designer, she was a champion of authentic style and empowered the way women dressed. 50 years later, her legacy continues to influence contemporary elegance and inspire the modern woman.” (from the Harpers Bazaar article “Anne Klein: The Legendary Designer Who Changed The Way American Women Dressed“)

Anne Klein was born August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, as Hannah Golofski

It was while studying art at Girls’ Commercial High School (now known as Prospect Heights High School) that Anne discovered her talent for design. Within a year’s time, she was employed at her first job in the garment industry with Varden Petites. There, she worked to redesign the firm’s collection and introduced a new style of ready-to-wear clothing for young, smaller figured women that would come to be known as “Junior Miss”

She spent the early part of her career creating petite-size clothing, elevating the category from girly frocks with Peter Pan collars into sophisticated sportswear.  This was in 1937 when she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Traphagen School of Fashion, which led to her first job as a sketcher for dress firms on 7th Avenue.

Anne Klein in her studio, 1950s

In 1940, Anne Klein began making a name for herself as a designer. She first began designing for Maurice Rentner at his business, Maurice Rentner, Inc., which produced ready-to-wear designs for men and women.

In 1944, Anne Klein joined with the two great women of fashion, Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell, to form a female design trio who laid the foundations of American sportswear.

In 1948 she married clothing manufacturer Ben Klein and they launched the “Junior Sophisticates” label. “Junior Sophisticates” offered elegant styles to younger women with smaller figures.  Anne Klein was the principal designer at Junior Sophisticates until 1960.

In 1964 she was awarded the Lord & Taylor Rose Award for independent thinking, an award first given to Albert Einstein.

In 1967, she patented a girdle specifically designed for wearing with the miniskirt.

She co-founded Anne Klein & Company in 1968 with Gunther Oppenheim, with a focus on separates, not suits – an innovation at the time – and within ten years her designs were being sold in over 750 department stores and boutiques in the USA.

In the 1960s and 70s, Anne Klein set the standard for professional, grown-up style. The company didn’t just dress women for the workforce. It epitomized their independence, confidence and multifaceted lives.

It was during this time (late 60’s and 70’s) of ready-to-wear fashion, “modern” designs for women, and an increase in the number of women in the workplace that Klein was one of the first to introduce, and to become known for, “separates”: individual pieces which work together as a whole, as opposed to dresses.

March 19, 1974, Anne Klein died of breast cancer at the age of 50.

After Anne Klein died in 1974, Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio took over the design direction of the company. Donna Karan, who had been Klein’s assistant, preserved the company’s aesthetic voice for a decade. But in 1984, Karan set out on her own.  Today, it is still an American company (privately held as of July 2019).

(Above information from this wikipedia article as well as this “Saving Anne Klein” article from the South China Morning Post.)

Now, after reading this timeline, it becomes obvious that this jumpsuit pattern I have sewn from comes after the death of the real Anne Klein, and also after the direction of her successor Donna Karen (who kept the company quite true to brand).  However much the designer line has lost its direction in the decades after Klein’s death, luckily, this pattern seems to be very much in a matching idealism of her namesake.  How often can a design from the decade of the 80’s be a classic wardrobe staple?  How often can an 80’s garment not be identifiably dated?  Since when does something from the 80’s not include an outrageous style, bold colors, and memories you’d rather not relive?  When it is done by Anne Klein design.

I think the saving grace here is two-fold – the tapered leg pants and the softened shoulder line.  The pattern recommended adding rounded shoulder pads inside, but I haven’t so far…I might come back and add them in for a change in the future.  The only thing I found is that the booty and the back shoulders were only generous in room, but some of that may be because of the supple knit.  The deep 4 inch hems to the sleeves and pants were handy at shaping and weighing down the jumpsuit at strategic places, and I stitched them down by hand for a nicely invisible finish.

For being a designer style, this jumpsuit was incredibly easy to make.  Of course, that is partially due to the fact I greatly simplified the construction by eliminating a full body lining.  When working with such a soft yet stable knit as I was using, I wanted to take advantage of feeling the luxuriousness of the rayon material and not over complicate it by adding the lining.  If I had been using a suiting material or some sort of wool blend, then yes – I would have totally lined the jumpsuit.  Even with a full body lining, sewing it would have been relatively easy because there are just a handful of pattern pieces, a few darts, a few pleats, some smartly strategic seam matching, and voila!  That is all!  I found the sizing to be spot on and I didn’t have to do any fitting tweaks so that also saved on time.

Eliminating the button back bodice placket in lieu of an exposed zipper back made me sad (I liked the look of it) yet it also saved this project in many ways.  I avoided the extra stress of figuring out a way to support several large buttonholes in this supple knit.  Sure, interfacing will always help stabilize such a spot.  Yet, the knit I was using didn’t seem to take well to small detailed stitching, so I was glad both that this was a simple design overall and that I found another way to close it besides buttoning.  Using the zipper helped keep the surrounding knit in the proper shape, which is important since for a jumpsuit the center back seam receives the most stress due to movement necessary upon wearing.  Besides, a back zipper is so much easier to handle when it comes to having to take bathroom breaks than the complicated possibility of both a zipper up the waistline and several button closings behind ones back.  That sounds so fiddly to accomplish on one’s self but looks great in the line drawing!  I guess that is the flair of designer fashion…to be a bit superfluous for the sake of visual aesthetic.

I suppose I might have downgraded the design by merely adding a zipper down the back but it is a really good one, though – true vintage, with metal teeth, a self-locking pull tab, and a blue cotton twill tape base.  I am guessing it could be as old as the 1940s.  Finding one in the wilds of a rummage sale at this 22” length is not that common, thus it has been a true gem in my notions stash that I have been so reluctant to use.  What good was it going to do me saving it when that zipper was just what this jumpsuit needed, and was going to give it a really great way to have a moment to be worthwhile?  Vintage zippers – even with their metal teeth – are much more pliable and bendable than any modern metal zipper.  This old notion was going to be much more comfy to wear and flow much better with the rest of the jumpsuit than any modern one could.  Sometimes you just have to take a breath and go use the good stuff for those really good sewing ideas.  When the right project come along, splurging on the good vintage notions usually ends up being worth it for me.

The only major change I made to the pattern design was the relatively small step of eliminating the sewn in belt-style waistband.  I am on the shorter side, not quite petite technically, and so getting rid of the extra few inches that the belt would have had gave me the perfect proportions.  Also, I did not want to define the jumpsuit with a contrast color for the belt waistband piece, nor did I want to complicate it with more of the plaid.  I prefer to add in whatever color and interest I feel like for the day through my choice of belt, shoes, necklace, and earrings.  I sometimes like this with beige tones, sometimes black and silver, but here I paired it with brown leather and gold (all vintage belt and earrings, by the way, and Charlie Stone brand flats).  I would not have had this versatility with an attached belt piece, but most importantly, I would not have had the proper fit.  I know I could have just taken some inches out of the body of the dress at the pattern stage, but this little change up was easy and catered to my taste all in one step.  This might be a designer style, but if I’m the one sewing it, I am going to personalize it, for sure!

For these times in which casual (aka. lounge attire) seems to be the 2020 work wear, fancy wear, and everything in between, chic sportswear is just the thing we need for today.  This jumpsuit is as comfy as wearing pajamas, but much more stylish.  No matter if I haven’t a reason, I refuse to forget the joy of dressing up, the delighting in fashion, and the creativity behind sewing.   I need all of this and daresay so many others do, too, no matter what the circumstances of the day.  This knit jumpsuit is as close as I have yet come to spending my day in yoga pants and oversized tee.  This is my kind of parallel.  I am so glad I could find out more about the great designer Anne Klein along the way to finding my interpretation.  Women of today need clothes that are as empowering, adaptable, multi-faceted, and 100% as capable as we are.  Sweatpants do not do any of that for me.  This jumpsuit is one of the many me-made pieces in my wardrobe that can, though.  Please, find yourself that perfect garment that can help you can the world – big or small…every little bit counts.  Remember – “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”