Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!

Merry Mary…Quite the Contrary!

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well, for Merry Mary, who has been passed over, forgotten, and unwanted for her 30 something years of existence, that is a tough pill to swallow.  Sure – she might be a bit gloomy and not the most striking upon first sight.  It hurts to be called ugly, though.  However, Merry Mary had faith that just the right ‘beholder’ would eventually come across her lonely life and see her inner potential…make her feel beautiful…wanted…fulfilled.  She was waiting for someone to tell her, “You are special to me…let’s make memories together.”  Ah, happy endings do and can happen.  Otherwise, Merry Mary would not be having her glorious feature story here on my blog!

You have just read the true yet dramatic story…of a fabric.  Call me crazy (don’t let me hear you say it, though) however anyone who has sewn long enough can understand that fabric can speak to you in curious ways.  This vintage fabric is copyrighted to 1988, carrying the name “Merry Mary” along the selvedge, and was a practically free find in a rummage sale.  It was too good of a deal to pass up – especially being a soft and harder-to-find rayon poplin weave.

Between the unusual print (looking so 90’s in 1988!) and the very useful two yards length, I soon found I was actually excited to sew something of it right away.  A general idea came quite effortlessly.  Of course it was much too tempting, but I paired the fabric with a year 1988 sewing pattern to end up with a project very specifically tied to a certain moment in time.  My first public wearing of the completed modern-vintage dress I made of the fabric completed in my mind the general emotions and background to such a long forgotten material.  Merry Mary’s story until now might be as drab as her muted colors, yet even if I’m the only one who likes it, that’s all that matters!  Beauty is in the eye of beholder and we should not judge others.

Of all the unusual and vintage styles I make and wear, I happily generally garner a pleasant, friendly, or at least curious response and attitude from those who see me.  It’s not that the feedback is what I am seeking when I choose to make what I sew.  I march to the beat of my own drum and create my own clothes to be true to myself and inner creativity.  However, the positive vibes I receive back certainly do help matters.  This 80’s dress is the first garment I have made which is obviously polarizing to passersbys.  Apparently, Merry Mary does not rub off the same way to others as she had for me.  ‘Too bad, so sad’ I independently think, because it is such a comfy dress that has just the right amount of a hot low neckline and a satisfying use of scraps.  Yeah, the gaudy 80s jewelry from my wonderful Grandma might be appropriate to the dress, but doesn’t help people love my look any better.  What can I say…I like to live big!  Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to try and figure out why those sour reactions are the case.  Revisiting the 80’s seems to be so polarizing.

Related to that, I’ll just come out with some personal info for sake of context.  In 1988, I was only just coming into the age when you start to remember life’s big events and exciting occasions.  Looking back at old pictures recently, I never realized my mother wore really classic 80’s fashions back then!  She sported all those wide and padded shouldered looks with the skinny skirts, power sets, and occasionally a wide collared dress.  Of course I am partial, but I think she rocked them quite well from my perspective today.  I do remember, coming from a non-judgmental child’s perspective, all I thought of back then was ‘how pretty my mom is’…no realization of what she was wearing (other than learning from and admiring her ability to fix herself up and put together an outfit!).  Perhaps we need to look at more of the 80’s fashion through more of that innocent perspective and stick to re-imagining it for the people we are today.

I know there are many right now who are all grown up and were children in the 80’s (like me).  I sense that the era is too ‘new’ for that bunch to do anything but find a gag reflex to those styles.  It is common to hate the era you feel is associated with your childhood or awkward teen years!  There were some bad fashion decisions then, I know, I’ll be the first to admit it, and yet I like to keep an open mind.  Check out what the great designers were creating.  Take a fresh outlook on it like I do, interpret it how you would like to have it instead, and own it for our current times.  Look out for the details in 80’s clothing which originated from past decades you do like (such as the 40’s or 50’s).  Realistically, it’s now 40 years since the 80’s and it is due for a refresh to be popping up at some point of this 2020 decade’s ‘fads’.  I’m just sayin’!  Nowadays, what comes ‘in style’ isn’t always what people want – things become popular out of social circumstance and Hollywood influence.  When that does happen, I’m already here for it.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon twill for the floral and poly faux suede remnants (leftover from making this 70’s jacket and sweater vest) for the front and back middle contrast (I used the satin side out)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8736, year 1988

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed, which was nothing special – thread, interfacing, a 22” zipper, and bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 18, 2019 after spending a total of about 8 to 10 hours to make it.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished in bias tape

TOTAL COST:  A total of only $2                                                                             

This was a total experiment kind of project that I’ve ended up liking because it’s different, it’s comfy, doesn’t look at all as terrible as I was worried it might be on me, and also on account that I took the time and thought to make it in the first place.  If I saw such a dress on the rack of a vintage store, I confess, I probably would not be appealed by it, as it really only comes to life once on a body and fully accessorized.  I took the dive for this design mostly on account of knowing a plastron works on my body and is yet another feature of the 1940s which the 80’s refreshed.  My curiosity of fashion history frequently can only be appeased and sorted out if I create the object in question.

Making my dress was so unexpectedly easy.  It helped this experimental project not place too much stress on being a big success because the time investment was low.  There is no lining, minimal facing, and it is loosely fitting so no precise tailoring was needed.  Also, I was somehow able to make this out of two yards when the envelope back grid suggests to use 3 yards!  Every single piece was butted up against the other, with no room for error, but I did not have to compromise on grain lines at all, luckily.  I only had to shorten the hem line by a few inches.  The front contrast just barely made it out of the remnants I had from using the faux suede twice before, which was very lucky.  Many times I think ahead and plan to leave space around my cuttings for what I might be using in the future…such foresight was not here.  There was nothing but inconsequential shreds left over of both fabrics after some extreme pattern Tetris.  I do love it when a project I don’t hope to revisit doesn’t add to my scrap bin at all!

Due to the loose fitting design (such as those ah-mazing batwing sleeves!), I made a straight size, despite usually grading between sizes for the bust-waist-hips for most other patterns.  The only thing there is to fit is to make sure the hips were no too tight and find a comfortable elastic waist length.  Yes – it has an elastic waist…eww, right?!  That’s what I thought, too, until I realized it is not seen, only covered by the attached waist band which comes out of each side to the pointed bottom of the plastron.  I can deal with that!

It was quite tricky to make sharp, cornered points at the bottom of the plastron because the waistband, the front skirt pleats, and the elastic casing all ends at the same spot on either side, as well…so there was a lot going on there!  I had to do some stitching of those spots by hand to be precise and avoid frustration from trying to lay my dress under the machine just perfectly.  If the rest of the dress came together in the blink of an eye, I don’t mind spending a bit more time on the only detailed spot to the dress.  I didn’t have to deal with a installing a zipper, after all, as this a pop-over-the-head dress.

I found a photo shoot location setting which calls to mind the American suburban shopping malls.  They sure saw their heyday in the 80’s.  Those were the days when you could do more than clothes shopping there – does anybody remember the game rooms, toy stores, pet shops, very Punk-Goth looking “Hot Topic” stores, and “Glamor Shots” photography studios which were in malls during that decade?  Don’t forget the hanging out with friends, and the great people watching!  Ah, those were the days.  That is what I love about re-making the clothes of the 1980s, it brings back good childhood memories I can reminisce in.  I can image myself back in the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s wearing my older vintage outfits based on what I know and have learned, but I personally did not relive those decades like I did the 80’s and 90’s.  First-hand experience is everything.

I hope I’m re-creating the 80’s in such a way that makes it more appealing than the initial go-around of the decade.  This was a project which stays true to its original date more so than many of my projects, and yet by making it – in what felt like a flash, too – I felt that I owned it in my own way.  I loved letting my full head of hair and dated accessories go towards my advantage to channel the full 80’s effect!  This is probably only a late fall or winter dress due to the colors and suede material, which is good because my cold weather wardrobe is significantly smaller than my current amount of warm weather clothes.  I want to fill up the yearly slots on my decade page for the 1980s anyway!

Stay tuned for a look-alike outfit to follow on the heels of this post’s dress.  As I mentioned above, this style calls back to the 1940’s, so I will be sharing a WWII era twist soon!