Free From My Tower

I suspect that many of us can now empathize (or commiserate) to some small degree with the fairy tale girl Rapunzel, who was locked up in a tower for the whole of her young life.  Being kept from social situations, apart from friends and family, as well as seeing the same limited spaces all too frequently during the pandemic has been very trying for me…I can’t dare to imagine a 16 year solitude!  Thus, I am here portraying a Rapunzel liberated from her tower, barefoot and free amongst nature, wearing my interpretation of a Bavarian Edelweiss dirndl to honor the Germanic version of the fairy tale.  My hair may not be blonde, nor is it remotely long enough to be comparable Rapunzel’s tresses, yet I was really feeling the part here nevertheless.  Enjoy the fun vintage spin with cultural heritage that I wove into my dirndl for a Bavarian take on this popular character – yet another installment to my ongoing Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” blog series

The classic “Rapunzel” is a fairy tale that Friedrich Schulz printed in 1790 in Kleine Romane (Little Novels), followed by the Brothers Grimm publishing it in 1812 as part of Children’s and Household Tales.  Tied to the witch of the story, Rapunzel’s name is given to her because of the German word for a salad vegetable.  Although the Grimm’s recounting of the fairy tale is the most prevalent version of the “Maiden in the Tower” in the western literature, the basic storyline has strong origins to French and Mediterranean tales rather than to Germanic oral folktales, as once believed.

However, the only version that I particularly enjoy is Disney’s “Tangled” from 2010. It’s a 3D animated film loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale with an added, appealing twist – she’s born a princess with magical hair whose ‘rescue’ is tied to the character redemption of the handsome scoundrel Eugene, aka Flynn Rider. 

Do not be confused though, as I am posting this just before Halloween – it is not meant to be a costume!  I am of German ancestry myself, and esteem and appreciate wearing a garment which is intrinsic to the story of my heritage.  Cultural attire of any kind is NEVER a costume for misinterpretation or joking about.  I made this as a true dirndl, attempting remain authentic to its heritage while also being modern enough to be very wearable for me to enjoy outside of Oktoberfest or ethnic settings.  If you go by past standards, yes, I am channeling someone that I am not – an unmarried girl of the Alpine region – with my choices of color and style inspired by a commercial Disney retelling of an old German fairytale.  Yes, I am sadly missing and apron here, too…I normally do follow a more old-fashioned expression for this kind of clothing.  This is only a ‘costume’ for me in the older, sensible, “uncountable noun” term of the word – a set of clothing, just like anything else in my wardrobe, for expressing who I am in this time and place, not a characterization of another race or culture.

Dirndls of nowadays, however, are not as confined to older traditions that designate them to be a visual statement on your state and condition of life (I will address more on this topic further down in my post).  Today we have to freedom to wear what we want, how we want.  Nevertheless, cultural clothing like a sari, a kimono, a kilt, or a dirndl (for just a few examples), always needs to be worn with proper context, understanding, and respect.   I have sadly seen way too many ‘influencers’ on social media this month wearing a dirndl has a costume, especially for “Lord of the Rings” themed Hobbit parties.  History has many deep tales to tell and perspectives to teach, along with amazing people to hear about, so let’s open up to all those lessons by respecting garments that express cultural identity.  Is there a garment for you that signifies your ancestor’s’ heritage?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton Alexander Henry fabric dated to 1999 (seen on the selvedge) in the “chloe” floral print, with solid color jacquard woven cotton for the contrast front and sleeves, a sheer matching colored poly chiffon for the ¾ length undersleeves, and fabric leftover from sewing this vintage hat went towards making the tiny tubing which is my front dirndl lacing

PATTERN:  Butterick #6352, a vintage inspired Gertie design

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, lots of interfacing (for the entire bodice), one zipper, and a set of traditional dirndl hooks

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours and it was finished on October 7, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  practically nothing – this fabric was picked up at a second-hand thrift sale where fabric is sold for $1 per pound.  The 3 yard cut of this thick, substantial fabric was kind of hefty, so it was probably just a few dollars.  The rest of my supplies was all items on hand for longer than I remember or leftover from another project, so I’m counting that stuff as free!

I loved being able to start off this project with such a high end cotton with starting place tied to that of Disney and a date that reminds me of just how long “Tangled” was in the works before its completion. The concept of an animated film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Rapunzel” originated from Disney supervising animator Glen Keane in 1996.  Keane pitched the idea in 2001 to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who approved it, but requested the film to be computer-animated. 

My 1999 fabric hits right in between those preliminary dates for the film.  Alexander Henry is a premier textile design house, producing original cotton prints for product manufacturers and home sewists alike from their talented artists who hand-paint each design the line produces.  Their business is located in Burbank, California which is also the corporate headquarters for Walt Disney Studios!  We drove through Burbank on our way in to Los Angeles a few years back, and it was so nice, with great shopping opportunities!  I love weaving in little details and cool correlations to my outfits, but especially so when they all come together without even trying, such as for this dress.  It also happened to be the perfect purple-pink orchid tone for a Rapunzel frock!  It was such a soft, thick, and fabulously lovely cotton!  I love how serendipitous this project came together.

Now, knowing that Disney’s story base was the German version of Rapunzel, I looked beyond the artistic license of the animation to see that her dress was intrinsically a dirndl.  It was the laced front, the puffed sleeves, (faux) apron, and the neckline shaping that give it away for me.  This would make total sense, anyways.  Dirndls are an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, for Bavaria, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and more.  They are not just for Oktoberfest.  “Fashion With Renée” relates that back in 1626, the Bavarian Prince, Maximilian I created a ‘dress code’ to show people’s rank in society. The law separated people into seven groups and noted that farmers (and the lower class workers) were not allowed to wear imported clothing…and thus the dirndl was adopted for women, just as the lederhosen was for men.  The Bavarian Alps are located in what is now Germany (since 1945) near the southern border of the federal state of Bavaria and continue across the border into Austria.  

“Girl Sewing”, 1869 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is a great example of the romanticism of the peasant life that brought the dirndl to the consciousness of the aristocratic class. Our picture is of an original oil painting, from a 2019 exhibit at the Memphis, Tennessee Brooks Museum of Art.

Beginning in the early 1800s, aristocrats, upper classes, and even artists romanticized rural living of the Alpine regions.  That eminent Habsburg the Archduke Johann of Styria (briefly Regent of Germany in 1848 to ’49) sported traditional Tyrolean styles in his coats and jackets, and his famous nephew, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, was a great hunter of the Alps who also was an aficionado appreciative of the rustic designs of the region.  In 1900, two Jewish brothers, Julius and Moritz Wallach, opened a clothing store in the Bavarian city of Munich and had the clever and successful idea of marketing dirndls and lederhosen as a kind of urban “rural chic”, transforming them into a fashion trend.  The Wallach name was renowned for their famous custom printed folk textile prints, even offering fashion shows of Bavarian and Austrian wear in their cloth.  (See this excellent blog post here for more info on the Wallach history.)  Thus the dirndl (and lederhosen, too) became both more universally adopted and overall more vibrantly fashionable.  Much of this energy and growth was snuffed around the time WWII began, only for Germanic clothing to find a comeback for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.   Today in 2021 they are having a moment in popularity again with an exhibit “’Dirndl – Tradition Goes Fashion” at the Mamorschloessl palace (former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I) in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.

Vivienne Westwood dirndl on display at the “Tradition Goes Fashion” exhibit in Bad Ischl, Austria, 2021.

On a local level, in the 150 years before the 1940s, many new, organic traditions were evolving around the dirndl to make the wearer’s marital, economic, and regional status be something visibly recognizable by the every detail of one’s manner of dress. For example, an apron knot tied on a woman’s left hip meant she was unmarried, the right meant married, while the center back meant she was either engaged or otherwise working at her job (so leave her alone).  Married women were more restricted in colors to choose from while single girls were permitted the flowered hair crowns and the prettiest variety of tones.  These are just a few of the many, interesting, and beautiful traditions surrounding an old-style wearing of the dirndl.

The rich pastel colors that Rapunzel is wearing properly designates her as a young unmarried woman while the laced bodice with the dirndl hooks ties it to the Alpine region, which would be the perfect place to hide the tower the witch uses to imprison her.  However, I am so excited to have thought out not just her dress but about the main symbol associated to Disney’s Rapunzel – the golden sun of her parents’ Kingdom of Corona.  I see it as reminiscent of an edelweiss flower, also called the “mountain star”.  

The Edelweiss is such a long-standing Alpine symbol – it’s still on everything from Swiss airline planes, beer cans, club logos, coats-of-arms, money, and certain uniforms for army officials and mountain troops in Germany and the Bavarian Alps.  Again, it was the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I who popularized a renewed passion for the edelweiss flower in 1856, when he made a point of gifting the flowers, picked during a hike in the mountains, to his beloved wife the Empress “Sissi”.  As I wanted a simple outfit without jewelry, the most natural (and practical) way to add this Alpine symbol was to order a set of edelweiss flower dirndl hooks, ordered direct from a shop in Bavaria that sells tract supplies (link here).  The pattern called for loops to be sewn in anyway, so decorative hooks for the front tie was a prettier, more interesting, more authentic to have a laced-front dirndl.  The way they show the long and short petals radiating out in a staggered, wavy fashion perfectly embodies Disney’s Rapunzel Corona sun symbol while still being specifically Bavarian.  I love how beautiful the hooks are on my dress. They bring out the color of the golden flowers in the print and shimmered in the sunset glow for this post’s pictures.  

Lacing is not necessary to the front of a dirndl, but one of the many decorative elements that are optional yet also traditional.  Because it is not a corset, a dirndl normally has a closure on its own separate from embellishments – here the dress has a center closing zipper.  Lacing is a traditional Bavarian feature, but dirndls often have a front buttoning closure instead, especially ones from Germany (such as a “Black Forest” dirndl, which I have posted more about here).  A dirndl has a stable, substantial bodice, which is why it was fully interfaced just as the Gertie pattern instructs.  Most Gertie patterns call for boning, which I thought would have been overkill here, so I did leave it off for my version.  Dirndls have a close fit with little excess wearing ease, which was how the pattern fit anyway after choosing my matching size according to the given chart.  It is not confining, though, but fits me perfectly because of the pattern’s excellent curving drafted into the princess seams. 

The way a dirndl’s front bodice panels (in between the lacing) are often in a different fabric, or at least highly decorative either by adding embroidery or lace, is reminiscent to their old and hazy origins to a corset.  Either way, for my center panels I used a heavy cotton jacquard that alternates stripes with a tiny floral.  It was just a remnant on hand, and it happily matched the Alexander Henry print I used for the rest of the dress.  Disney’s Rapunzel had striped sleeves so I was originally led to choosing this contrast fabric from my stash so I could have a similar look on my dress, but then carried it over into the front panels to incorporate it into the dress, just as many dirndls do.  The open U-neckline is another classic dirndl feature, and such a pretty one for framing the face.  I see dipped U-necklines pop up a lot in the late 1940s (see this ’49 one I made back when I started blogging) into the 1950s, and Gertie herself says this pattern of hers is strongly 50’s inspired, after all.   

Whether or not the skirt is the easy part depends on how much detail and what level of quality you want to achieve. Some dirndls have tiny, even pleats going completely around the waist, and the high end ones are sometimes smocked, but many are merely gathered into a waistband – the simplest method by far. I chose that last mentioned option, using fabric left (about two yards) from cutting out the rest of dress, making sure to have the selvedge be the hemline to save myself some trouble!

My chiffon undersleeves are a custom addition.  Not only do they bring my dirndl closer to a Rapunzel look alike, but they help my dress look polished.  They add a nice touch of color and a differing texture that helps make it more interesting, in my opinion.  They help my puffed short sleeves stay controlled, most importantly.  I did wear my dress for a short time without the undersleeves, and the puff sleeves crept up my arm and ended up looking weird.  I just used a very basic, skinny fitting, long sleeve pattern piece from another pattern (don’t remember which one), sewed it in under the puffed sleeves, and then shortened to the length I wanted.  The two sleeves are tacked together around the cuff of the outer puff sleeves and the hem kept simple by a bead of Fray-Check liquid.

It was so awesome how this Gertie pattern has so many authentic dirndl details under the guise of being a cute, vintage style dress.  This is a great pattern I highly recommend.  Granted, it is a mark of 20th century modernization for a dirndl to suddenly be a one-piece garment, instead of separates – skirt, dirndl (under) blouse, dirndl (vest) blouse, apron, and an optional collar.  Just like any other culture, traditional clothes tend to evolve along with the changing needs and the present history of the culture they are a part of, yet traditional elements still remain.  In the decades between WWI and WWII, the groundbreaking research of Austrian Jewish anthropologist Eugenie Goldstern showed how the Alpine culture has not been static, or overly set in its ways, but has adapted over the centuries since ancient times when King Charlemange was hunting in the region and was impressed by the sturdy, warm Loden cloth of the region.   

Many of the cultural stereotypes for Germany originate from the Bavarian Alps, yet ironically it only composes less than 10% of Germany’s total area.  All too often stereotypes have the facts warped or screwed up to the point that the actualities are understood in a distorted way.  Popular understanding of history doesn’t automatically equal truth.  I love to uncover facts that get overlooked or forgotten for a clearer picture.  I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the history, lore, and traditions surrounding a dirndl – if you fancy more, read my last post on the other German fairytale princess Snow White, as well as my post on my “Black Forest” dirndl interpretation.  Maybe the next time you hear of Rapunzel, or visit an Oktoberfest, I will have given you a different, deeper outlook!  As you can tell, I became totally invested in taking on this particular fairytale through the lens of my heritage.  I do admire a girl who can grow her hair that long.  I’m pretending I’m the Rapunzel who got her hair cut after being free from her isolation, ha!

Make It Blue! Make It Pink! Make it Both, I Say!

Out of all the princesses in the Disney franchise, one of the most divisive topics seems to be the personal color preference for the gown of Aurora, also known as Briar Rose, aka Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It doesn’t help the matter that the fairies who magically whipped up her gown couldn’t decide on blue or pink, either.  If only the third fairy had been the tie breaker in the matter, this would not be a controversy!  I have my own opinion on the “blue or pink” subject which I will explain in another post.  Since Aurora is practically my favorite princess (mostly on account of the movie’s songs, artistry, and overall aesthetics), there will be some follow-up, further ‘inspired-by’ outfit…or two!  Nevertheless, I took a neutral stance with this, my main Sleeping Beauty inspired dress, as it was made as part of my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Thus, I chose a fabric that includes both pastel tones of blue and pink.  This is much more of a fashionable combo between those two colors than the magically splashed version as seen in fairies’ quarrel during the film!

As I mentioned in my flagship post (here) announcing my series, I took the route of interpreting most of these princess outfits through a pattern related to the year the animated film was released.  Disney’s animated interpretations are very much a product of their times, and here the year 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” has the most enchanting medieval spin on a mid-century outlook (explained in further detail in this “Frock Flicks” post).  Looking at design lines, common color preferences, as well as fabric choices of circa 1959 women’s clothing, I easily saw a natural way of interpreting Aurora’s dresses in a way that would be just as dreamy and feminine yet also wearable on an everyday basis.  My finished inspiration dress is perfect for twirling, light enough in weight for summer, comfortable, and in such pretty colors.  It is perhaps my most subtle princess referenced outfit from my “Pandemic Princess” series, but I definitely love the way it is such a practical luxury and a comfortable, useful wardrobe staple.  Its reference is like a little personal secret that makes me a very happy girl when wearing it!  I’ll admit it makes me break off in random spurts of swishing and twirling around while humming the tune “Once Upon a Dream” or “I Wonder”

Pages from my old original Disney children’s book, dated 1959!

Next to Disney’s animated “Cinderella” film from nine years earlier in 1950, “Sleeping Beauty” is also heavy with sewing referenced scenes…and I absolutely love it!  Please follow my link here and watch the whole thing for yourself.  It is a hilarious representation of the trials and challenges of people new to the craft.  “It’s simple – all you do is follow the book!” exclaims Fauna to Flora, who has never sewn before.  She starts with cutting a hole in the middle of the fabric (why yes, do start with the hem) because “…that’s for the feet!”  At least they had proper enthusiasm, if improper approach.  The fairies are so snarky with one another the whole time, I am in awe every time I watch.  When Merryweather, who was told to “be the dummy”, comments that the finished dress looks horrible (and I agree) Flora tells her, “Well that because it’s on you, dear.”  Ouch!  Sewing difficulties can bring out one’s ill-tempered side, that’s for sure.  Sadly, however, the rest of us do not have wands to magically, quickly remedy our troubled projects – which is why I am blogging about my princess creation, sharing its progress steps and related inspiration.  Enjoy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Madras semi-sheer 100% cotton imported from India from “Fibers to Fabric” shop on Etsy

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3039, year 1959, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, interfacing, bias and hem tape, six large snaps, and one hook n’ eye

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 25 hours’ of time, and it was finished by July 1, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The only cost was the fabric, which cost about $15 for 3 ½ yards on a clearance sale…all else that I needed was on hand already in my stash

A classic shirtdress pattern with fine details from 1959 gets the royal treatment here!  Yet, for being ‘just’ a shirtdress, this was quite a long haul of a project to make.  Collars and plackets are not a challenge for me any longer, but they still take time.  Mostly though, there was a lot of fabric to wrangle into a tailored dress.  The bodice, sleeves, collar and front placket pieces together took just under ¾ yard which left me with a full 3 yards plus for the skirt alone.  Even still, I was short on material enough that I had to adapt the pattern for the skirt to be pared down and thereby somewhat matched up.  Buying 5 yards for a shirtdress seems over-the-top to me…somehow I feel better splurging on something fancy.  Also, pleats are time-consuming for me to achieve, since I am the exacting type that wants to mark, fold, sew, and iron them perfectly.  Here are multiple clusters of four tiny pleats around the waist for further details that are amazing once finished but a headache to do.  Finally, hand sewing over half a dozen closures was a whole chunk of time and patience in itself.  Whew!  This princess dress may appear unassuming but it was just as much ‘work’ as any nicer piece.  That’s okay!  A finely made basic is much appreciated and most appropriate for my ideal princess collection.

I chose my pattern because not only was it from my stash but it had the similar design lines in the skirt as Aurora’s.  The quadruple pleats are grouped up into sections between blank, flat spaces so that the skirt has a controlled fullness combined with a detail that fine tunes the look.  It ends up being very elegant and certainly hides the fact there are several yards of material in the skirt alone!  Aurora’s skirt to both her woodland outfit and her princess gown have been drawn so that something similar seems to be the case.  When she twirls with her prince, her skirts open up to an amazing fullness. When at rest, her skirts fall into what looks like concentrated sections of multiple pleats which give the appearance of a slimming bell shape. 

Animation back then was not as literal and uber-realistic as the digitized films Disney releases today (such as “Tangled” or “Frozen”) and so I am filling in with my imagination for the drawn stylized elements.  Although, in the same breath, Disney animators for “Sleeping Beauty” did draw from live models in full costume (see this article for more info), and actress and dancer Helene Stanley in her woodland Briar Rose outfit (see video here) does have pleat clustering to her skirt just as I was supposing.

A plaid is great to pair with any garment which is pleated.  I knew that 50’s decade had a lot of plaid dresses, and such a print is a great way to combine colors which normally do not go together, such as a soft pink and blue.  Then – without looking for it – I just so happened to run across an Indian Madras plaid cotton which was exactly what I had hoped to find.  Don’t you just love when a project idea starts to come to life before your eyes?!  It’s always so exciting.  The best part about going with a plaid is the mathematical aid it provides when you are pleating.  For the quadruple clusters, I could depend on the first pleat being folded on the beginning of the grey vertical stripe, the second folded through the middle, and the third on the other end of that color strip.  The fourth pleat was folded at ¾ inch into the pink tone.  Plaids help pleats be precise and predictable and this way can give a very sharp look.

This leads me to explain how I adapted the skirt.  As I mentioned above, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be almost a yard fuller and I pared it down to keep this garment manageable for me to wear and make.  Making the skirt smaller in width messed with the pattern’s pleating layout so I reconfigured it myself.  This step literally hurt my head, but I knew it was just a matter of mathematics.  I knew what finished waist size was needed because I had sewn the bodice first, and I chose how many clusters of pleats I wanted.  Then I chose how deep I wanted the pleats.  I mostly worked with the plaid to help me make some of these decisions, because (as I mentioned in the previous paragraph) that I wanted the pleating to be aided by the predictability of the lines to the geometric plaid.  If you notice, I have the pleats fanning in towards each center for some slight visual drama!

The simple, more deeply folded center back box pleat was my favorite part to my personal choice in drafting this skirt.  I hate the way complex pleats which are at the back end of a garment become so messy in a hot minute.  By the first time they are sat on, especially in a soft cotton garment like this dress, pleats over the booty become frazzled and wrinkled.  Here, I simplified the center back pleat to the point that doing something necessary like sitting doesn’t ruin the overall look of the dress.  The folds are deep enough to reach over to the next pleat cluster so that everything back there stays in place.  I tend to either floof my skirt up around me when I sit, which takes up half of our couch or all of a seat and makes me totally feel like a princess, or I do the old fashioned, prim and proper thing where you use your hands to smooth out the back of your skirt as you sit down. 

After all that thinking which went towards figuring out the skirt, my use of snaps rather than buttons down the front was a matter of indecisiveness.  I could not find buttons that I liked enough to commit to, nor did I want to break up the crazy plaid.  I merely couldn’t make up my mind anymore regarding anything for this dress.  I was tired but excited it was almost done, and so snaps were chosen.  At least I find oversized snaps so much easier to sew and match up than tiny ones.  If I were to consider a technical take on my chosen closures, this would no longer be a shirtdress because of its lack of both buttons and belt. If I ever find my ideal buttons for this dress – ones that are clear with inlaid roses in their plastic or acrylic – then I’ll make buttonholes.   

For my accessories, I am wearing some ceramic rose earrings, Charlie Stone brand  sandals, and the Bésame Cosmetics “Sleeping Beauty” pendant locket that they released back in 2019.  I love the novelty of wearing my makeup’s case as part of my accessories for the day – it makes something pretty and handy out of something which would clutter my purse.  It is also a useful combo of either crème rouge or lip tint in a whisper pink color, contained in a rose gold mini book that imitates the one seen in the intro of the film for a further reference to my inspiration.  I am wearing the crème on both my lips and my cheeks so I can take my slumber in royal fashion.  Hopefully my prince will wake me from this rose garden!  Oh wait, he’s busy taking my picture at the moment…

Modern Beauty

Superficial standards for beauty are fickle beasts to follow – they come and go, change and go out-of-style, caring nothing for humanity.  I prefer appreciating the more meaningful qualities.  When it comes to princesses, Belle from Disney’s 1991 animated fairytale movie, has the spunk, self-confidence, intelligence, love of learning, independent spirit, concern for family, and loving heart enough to be beautiful in more ways than the frivolous!   Now that I’m older, the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” seems weirder to me than when I was little, yet Belle is still “my” princess nonetheless.  The fact she loves to read, has brown hair and eyes (both like me), and is of a different breed of Disney “royalty” always has resonated with me.  Goodness, my parents bought me the special “New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast” comic books, the dolls, and handheld game when I was a child because I couldn’t get enough of Belle’s story!

Thus, her iconic golden yellow dress was the first creation I made for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  My mom had sewed me a version of that dress for a beauty pageant when I was little.  This time around, Belle’s ball dress was my birthday present to myself in 2019, and it became the catalyst to all the rest of the Disney outfits which have followed since.  My birthday is always my day to feel like a princess, anyway, so being able to wear this gloriously swishy, glamorous dress was a dream come true!  As I just had my special day come around again, I thought it appropriate to post this particular dress now.

This is also my most recognizable ‘copy’, where you can easily see my inspiration.  Yet, as I have said in my flagship announcement for the series (posted here), many of my princess inspired are channeled through the lens of the year the movie was released.  In this case, I found a pattern from circa 1991 which had a similar silhouette, neckline, and shoulder details to Belle’s dress, with just my kind of interesting tweak to the style.  I always have to take an original interpretation to be happy and this is why I call this my “Modern Beauty” dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the exterior is an all rayon twill, with the body lined in an all-cotton, and the sleeves lined in a golden tan polyester; several layers of pre-ruffled sheer golden organza become the attached petticoat to the dress’ lining

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5999, year 1992

NOTIONS:  one 22” invisible zipper and lots of thread, with a bit of embroidery floss for some hand stitching

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took about 25 to 30 hours to make and was finished August 1, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are covered up by the full body lining

TOTAL COST:  Each yard of the rayon twill fabric was on closeout for $6 through Hobby Lobby, and the cotton was the basic broadcloth from JoAnn Fabrics.  The ruffled chiffon was a remnant on clearance from JoAnn Fabrics for $10 at one yard.  Altogether, this dress cost me about $50.

First off, you have no idea how I fussed over finding the right golden color to create this dress!  When searched for a “golden” color, I found tones of beige, yellow, and orange.  Even then, one cannot trust the accuracy of what a computer screen is showing you will receive.  What I see in Belle’s dress is primarily a very orange toned yellow, though, one that will go with beige tones well.  My rayon twill outer fabric was originally (on its own) much brighter than I wanted.  However, the fact is was semi-sheer gave me the opportunity to turn the shade into just what I was looking for by having the lining be darker.  The true color as it turned out was hard to capture in photos…whether I’m in full sun or the shade changes the tone.  Yes, I know I am a perfectionist but I think it pays off in the end. 

As this is a princess seamed dress, it is not only appropriate in theme but also a very big fabric hog.  The pattern needed much more than the 3 yards of both the rayon and its lining that I had on hand, but I was feeling cheap and didn’t want to buy anymore.  A midi length dress was my ideal, as it is less formal but still elegant.  I trimmed down the width of the flare to the skirt from the hips to accommodate my shorter yardage yet still keep the length.  Even still, the skirt is so very full, making the dress quite heavy, and I’m glad there isn’t any more than 3 yards to each layer.  Yes, that means there are six yards in total, not counting the yard of double layered ruffled trimming to the hem, whew! 

As much as I like an open shouldered look, I reconciled myself to something more sensible for my version of Belle’s hallmark gown.  A dress this substantial that is also strapless sounded like a nightmare to turn out successful unless I added a fully structured bodice much like what was done to couture gowns in the era of the 1950s.  This is a 90’s dress that – though well shaped to my body and fancy, too – I intended to be wearable by being effortless and casual.  A structured body would counter that. 

Neither did I want to do the ‘’work” and once a sewing project becomes drudgery to me, it is no longer enjoyable, and that completely defeats the intended purpose of my sewing, especially when it comes to fun princess outfits.  The hem ruffles are added to the lining to eliminate the need to wear a crinoline yet still softly shape the skirt…easy, right?  Along this vein, the shoulder straps were added to support the heavy dress without needing an internal structured bodice.  I can pop this dress on then zip it up without any specialty lingerie, fussy closures, or restrictive shaping needed.  I was wanting a princess dress for modern times, and I kept it that way.  There’s no use to even making this dress at all if I’m not the one ecstatic about it!

Of course, I still have the dropped, off-the shoulder sleeves, just like the inspiration gown.  Of course, if I was to get technical, Belle didn’t really have sleeves – just a shoulder drape that is part of an extended neckline decoration which to me looks like a home décor sash.  My dress’ sleeves are so much cuter and easier to wear than I already expected.  They are joined under the arm only up to the nearest princess seam and merely float over my arm.  I absolutely love this feature although it does fool me into thinking that the sleeves are going to fall off!  (Silly me, I forget they are attached.)  It made for some interesting sewing that I haven’t done before, that’s for certain.  In the future, if I want a ‘closer to the original’ kind of cosplay piece, it would be easy to add to my dress some sort of shoulder/neckline drape (as well as skirt draping) like what was on Belle’s gown.  

As I couldn’t bear to just plainly top-stitch down the sweetheart neckline or leave it blank, I did some simple decorative hand-stitching across the front.  I made a stitch that calls to mind some sort of chain because I was thinking about how weird it was the way Belle transformed her captivity under the Beast.  We tend to forget that she was a ‘prisoner’, in one way or another, for most of the movie.  Belle had many good qualities, but her honest regard for her life situations wasn’t one of them.  Just one small touch in the details of my dress alludes to my current adult outlook on the animated film. 

There are several significant pairings with my outfit which help me fully immerse myself into Belle’s world.  The most important of any accessory is the red roses I’ve included.  The real roses I am holding were part of a dozen which were gifted to me as a birthday present from my Aunt on my mom’s side.  The necklace rose is a memento piece from my Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mirror – like my roses – might not be magic, but still special.  The mirror is part of a sterling silver dresser set (including comb and brush) that I received from my parents as a present when a young girl.  Yet, it was my background setting which is what really helped me feel totally in character for these pictures.  It is an old abandoned stone church that has been shored up and overtaken by ivy but left to become a now popular photo location in the city.  It completely reminds me of the stately but derelict atmosphere of the Beast’s castle. 

I hope you too can relate to my Belle inspiration here because I know “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most popular fairytales and has received many other iterations other than through Disney.  The original story is even more enchanting than any Hollywood version, though.  Nevertheless, it is great to relive a childhood memory in a tactile way, especially when it’s a good memory.  So far, this is not my most worn princess creation, but it might be my favorite just because of the treat that it is and the way I interpreted it.  I wish for such a euphoric garment on everybody…especially on their birthdays!

“Under the Sea”

Let’s ‘dive’ back into the 1980s decade with yet another installment to my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” series!  My title gives away the royal fairy “tale” subject ahead of time here.  This is inspired by Ariel, from Disney’s original “The Little Mermaid”, with an outfit dated to the year of the animated movie came out – 1989.  My Pandemic Princess series was something I worked on throughout last year (2020) during the pandemic, and this outfit was one planned out at the end of the year for a wintertime visit to the new downtown Aquarium.  Thus, this becomes a conservative, bifurcated version of Ariel’s mermaid look with a purple blouse and greenish trousers made for an 80’s interpretation.  This is my only Disney Princess inspired outfit, too, which will not be a dress.

I wove so much symbolism, high quality, and love into all the details of what I’m wearing…Ariel was my first big deal, mega favorite Disney Princess, after all!  Proof in point – my parents were somehow able to get me (as in bring it home to keep) the oversized window display which was at our local Disney store for the release of the movie.  I remember dressing in a little purple bikini top and a sparkly mermaid tail to stand inside the 3-D display after they had set it up for me in the living room.  I was part of Ariel’s world that day!  So, please don’t mind if a grown up me obsesses over every little aspect to crafting her very ocean princess outfit, he he. 

Be prepared for a “part two” follow-up to this post, also dating to 1989 and with more matching pieces to make this outfit a complete set.  As big a fan as I am, one Disney’s “Little Mermaid” inspired outfit is not enough!  I might also do a third Ariel inspired garment – a dress – in the future, but I know I need to curb myself in at the moment.  For now, I felt it was important to channel the underwater princess as a woman with legs because, after all, her main longing was to walk, run, and dance on land!  I also enjoy the juxtaposition between her wearing only seashells as her top becoming a very fun but conservative long sleeve blouse in my hands.  All the blouse buttons are carved abalone shells instead!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Pants – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a soft but tightly woven cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s “NY NY The Collection” #4537 pattern, year 1989, from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, interfacing, several hook-n-eyes, vintage rayon tape for hems, and vintage buttons from the collection of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces received much hand stitching, but the pants more than the blouse.  Even still, the blouse took me 30 hours and the pants about 40 hours (not counting the pattern re-tracing I needed to do on paper to re-grade the sizing).  Both pieces were finished by January 15, 2021.

This is a tank with both the “Leafy Sea Dragon” and the “Weedy Sea Dragon”

THE INSIDES:  Most seams are covered by vintage rayon seam tapes, but the long pants seams are zig-zagged over along the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  This set cost me next to nothing – just a few dollars – as I bought everything except the notions (which were on hand already) at a garage rummage sale. 

This set might have been practically free but don’t be deceived – it is not lacking in quality.  The blouse fabric is very nice cotton, to be sure, but it just so happened to be the same purple as Ariel’s brassiere shells. What seemed like the perfect find was not even 2 yards in length (at 45” width) so I was able to just barely make this blouse work out with its long sleeves and peplum.  Even still, my blouse’s cotton is a pretty basic score compared to the amazing find that was the fine woolen used for my pants.  It is a very greenish turquoise perfect to complement the purple, but also a mermaid appropriate tone. It was a soft, supple, and fabulously textured cozy wool.  Yes, there were 6 yards of the material in total. 

However, those 6 yards were perhaps the most moth chewed piece of fabric I have ever seen…quite a freaky mess!  There was barely a solid swath which didn’t have a hole in it from which to cut my pants.  With that fabulous selvedge marking, though, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to try and salvage what I could from off of it.  Whenever you see a stitched on ‘label’ on the selvedge of material, that’s a clear giveaway that it’s something high-end, especially when it says “Alta Moda”!

Many people may not recognize designer material, so I’ll decipher why the selvedge marking here is so important.  “Alta Moda” is an Italian noun for the world of Italian high fashion, Italian fashion designers collectively, and Italian couture.  It is their equivalent to “haute couture” in French.  “Traditionally, Alta Moda or Haute Couture is the creation of unique tailor-made garments made mainly by hand using high quality fabrics, decorations, applications and embroideries with extreme attention to details” says The Accedemia Costume & Moda in Rome.  Dolce & Gabbana is most often associated with the term “Alta Moda” nowadays, but as a designation for the industry, the words mark the difference between Milan and Rome – the former is more known for everday wearable clothes (pret-a-porter) where the latter is known for extravagant high fashion (says “Dave’s Travel Corner”).  This is significant because there is the name of Florence based fashion designer Enrico Coveri behind the “Alta Moda” designation.  

Enrico Coveri 1988

Enrico Coveri was born in 1952 and studied at the Accadema delle Belle Arti in Florence.  In 1973, he began working as freelance designer, creating knitwear and sportswear lines, while making his mark by being one of the first designers to use soft pastel shades.  He moved to Paris in 1978 to work at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, and the year after he debuted with his first women’s collection in Paris. Shortly after that, he returned to Italy to establish his own company in 1979.  “You Young” is the name of one of the several seasonal Enrico Coveri collections. It is also perhaps the best description for his bold, unpretentious, and fun-loving fashion: strong, vibrant colors and striking, witty designs that have always been clear and intelligible, with zany prints and knits often incorporating Pop Art designs and cartoon characters. Although he excelled at casual clothing, even his eveningwear exuded a young, sporty, wearable feel. Coveri enjoyed shocking and going out on a limb with design. 

It is noted that in Coveri’s styling, attention was always given to the particularity of the materials and fabrics.  His favorite fabrics included stretch satin, superfine linen, silk, cotton poplin, and sequin-covered knits.  Journalist Hebe Dorsey to dub Coveri the “Italian Kenzo” in the Herald Tribune.  Coveri died in 1990, at the young age of 38.  (This and the above paragraph’s information is from The Fashion Model Directory, Made-In-Italy.com, and Encyclopedia.com.)  Please hop on over to my Pinterest page (here) for his work and check out how full of life Coveri’s designs were in his too-short career.

This line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns are supposed to be designer drafted, after all, so using a fabric most probably leftover from Coveri’s work and then channeling his style to interpret my version seems so appropriate.  Now, I’m not intimating this was his pattern, but after reading up on his life, it suits his exuberance and love for details.  It also means this wool is from before 1990…bingo.  I couldn’t have chosen a better designer to incorporate into my Disney “Little Mermaid” outfit!  How this vintage Italian Coveri fabric got here in the Midwest of America and why it became so moth chewed is another mystery I won’t even entertain unravelling.  I feel he would appreciate the animated character influence here, as well as welcome the color tonality, but I would hope Coveri would especially like the unexpected details to the blouse and the pants of my chosen pattern.

The most obvious special detail is the front waist of the pants which have a strong mermaid-reminiscent shaping.  With the dipped center and the flared, pointed sides, it calls to my mind the common way to portray the joining of the human body to the fish tail at the waist of a mermaid or merman.  It’s not just all design lines with no utilitarian purpose, however – these pants are a unique “fall front” opening!  This is scarce on so many counts.  Not only is this style of pants closing something relegated to menswear, but besides maritime military uniforms having a buttoned fall front closing, it is primarily a historical fashion point.  The “fall front” means there is a panel (sort of like a bib) which is flapped up (after stepping into the legs of the pants) and either hooked, tied, or buttoned down to cover both an inner waistband underneath and the exposed lower groin. 

This style of pants is most widely seen today on the handsome gentleman and their roguish compatriots of popular Jane Austen novels and early 1800 era stories in television and screen adaptations.  The end of the Regency and Napoleonic eras were the last of the fall front’s common usage in trousers, excepting certain military uniforms (as I mentioned) or ladies Victorian “split” skirts for riding. Brann mac Finnchad has an excellent terminology post here on his blog “Matsukaze Workshops” as he explores drafting and sewing his own regency fall-front trousers.  Modern pants are a basic form of the “French fly” closure style, also called “split-fall”, and this has been dominant on men’s trousers and denims for about 170 years now.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that the “French fly” was utilizing zippers, as we use today, rather than only buttons.  

I have not yet seen a decorative fall front pants, much less in modern times, and especially for ladies.  These are THE coolest pants I now have.  They are not trying to be historical, yet are a fresh take on a style long dead…not dated at all for coming out of the 1980s!  Most importantly, though – the fall front incorporates deep pockets that reach down to my thighs.  This is modern ingenuity combined with practicality for you.  Even still, style aside, I love the way they are very comfy and easy to move in, besides being quite complimentary to my hourglass figure!  Now I just need to make sure troublesome fabric pests do not find my pants…

My fall front trousers utilizes one snap set and a few hook-n-eyes.  A 1 inch heavy-duty snap closes the inner waistband, as Brann calls the “binder”, and large hook-n-eyes to close the sides of the fall front flap.  The original instructions called for me to use buttons and work buttonholes at all these closure spots, yet I wanted the smooth front appearance of invisible-from-the-outside closures.  The amazing seam lines of these pants needed to take center stage without big buttons to distract!  After all, I did not trust two buttons to alone hold the weight and the pull of the fall front.  I want these amazing pants to last me many years.  Not having set button holes will hopefully aid that by giving the versatility of being able to adjust the spacing of a hook or snap.  Depending on how the fabric loosens or what my body is dealing with at the moment, “fit” is something fluid and not static and I sew all my clothes with some option of tailoring at a future date.

Once I graded up the paper pattern according to the given size chart, these pants turned out close fitting yet exactly my size, luckily, so I could focus on perfecting every feature as it was out of the envelope with no alteration.  The pants’ legs are tapered slimmer at the leg hems, the waist is high above the natural line, and the hips are roomy across…all in a nicely subtle 80’s way.  They are dart fitted across the back, unlike Regency trousers which were laced to fit.  The inner waist facings were in many different pieces across the back to accommodate the curving fit.  I kept the pants unlined so they would be more lightweight and therefore versatile for a mild spring or fall season.  The wool is so fine it is not really itchy.  I did finish the hem in a bright, cheerful lime green vintage rayon hem tape.  Only I really see or know it is there, but sometimes it’s those hidden fine details that make all the difference, right?!

Now compared to the pants, the blouse takes second sitting, yet it is still packed with unusual, special details, too.  It is more of a 1980’s classic, though.  As the envelope summary stated, the blouse was designed to be very over-sized, except for the close-fitting hips and wrists.  Combining these features with the dropped shoulder line and lowered armscye, as well as knowing my tiny wrists, I presumed correctly that the only place where I needed to size up was from the waist down.  The size of my pattern was two sizes too small for me according to the envelope chart and yet the main body finished up fitting well yet with a comfy amount of room to spare – just the way I figured it.  Sizing up was challenging as it is a darted one-piece in the front and a separate peplum with defined waist seam only in the back.  I merely slashed and spread the front blouse panel open to the necessary increment starting from the hem.  Then, I came back to retrace in the original pleats again.  When a pattern says “generous fit”, believe it only so far and measure at the pattern stage (as I did here) to see just what is going on ahead of time for a perfect fit in the end!

The pattern calls the back bottom portion a peplum, but I see it as a clever way to keep a poufy blouse tucked in and looking neat.  This blouse is onto something smart – don’t you hate it when you tuck a blouse into pants or a skirt which fits snug over the hips and the top just gets all bunched up and obvious under your bottoms?!  I am glad for the longer, lower hip length of the hem because it not only stays tucked in nicely but also looks great worn untucked, on its own.  80’s oversized blouses can overwhelm a smaller frame like my own, so the slim fit for the waist and hips makes this style work for me, I think.

An unusual part to the blouse is for sure the sleeves, the way they are so deep set and super gathered at the center top ‘shoulder’ seam.  I have not done a tapered sleeve like this before either, nor does one often encounter a smooth transition (no tucks, pleats or gathers) into the fitted, rounded cuff.  I love it!  Even still, one little detail of two carrier tabs at both the back collar and front button placket makes all the difference here.  It keeps a contrast scarf in place (the way I am wearing it), but the pattern calls for an ascot to be made (included in the envelope, too) and worn in a way similar to a man’s necktie.  No wonder the pants had such a masculine influence!  The whole ensemble owes its design to guy’s clothes, even if the details are inherently feminine.  The collar otherwise is pretty much the same as the cuffs, with curved ends, yet was sewn down with a man’s shirt-style collar stand. 

I felt that true shell buttons were the only thing appropriate here to keep “The Little Mermaid” reference strong but subtle.  Abalone shell buttons, if the underside is unglazed and raw, can fall apart easily.  However, I was able to find ones stable and uncracked for my blouse in the amount I needed (a total of 11) out of a good number more (about 18) in the vintage notions stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Shells are intertwined with every mermaid legend it seems, but I figured abalone shells would be Ariel’s preference the way they have an iridescent shine in her classic colors of turquoise, purple, and pink.

The way Enrico Coveri was obsessed with matching, curated accessories, I followed suit with this outfit.  Where do I start?  My shoes are perhaps my favorite compliment to my outfit, but then again I do greatly enjoy matchy-matchy footwear!  My facemask reminds me of the interesting and slightly alien texture of coral and was made by me of the lovely shiny turquoise rosette fabric leftover from this vintage inspired Whitney Frost dress copy (posted here).  My purse might be the most obvious accessory – it is a “Unique Vintage” brand cosmetic case that I added pearl straps to so I can use it as a purse.  My bracelet is really a necklace, but it is long enough to wear around my wrist when wrapped three times.  It has a sterling silver mermaid swimming across it!

My earrings are genuine shell carved in the shape of a starfish. I have had these earrings since I first got my ears pierced as a little girl. I know there is a story to where they came from which I cannot remember yet, so but nevertheless I hold them as special for the reasons I already mentioned!  I could have flaunted off so many of my old original charms, pins, or pendants which I have from when I was little and the movie first came out…but it looked too gaudy.  I wanted to go all out with this princess out, just to let you know, but I kept it tame…I really don’t want to cause any more attention (at times) than my vintage way of dressing already does!  

So, regarding our shooting location, if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, Missouri I do recommend a visit to the Union Station Aquarium.  This is something worth seeing (from a land locked Mid-Westerner’s point of view) plus it makes for the best pictures!  I couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to wear, though…the anticipation of the visit helped spur me to finish sewing it.  My Ariel inspired set totally put in the frame of mind to appreciate the underwater realm in an immersive state of mind…which was easy to do as some of the expansive tanks wrapped around and over between rooms!  Although I will not say “it’s better down where it’s wetter” as Sebastian sings, watching the fish and their counterparts do their ‘thing’ (“just keep swimming”, right?) was incredibly relaxing for us, compared to our working hours up on land.  At least it was fun to pretend to be a grounded mermaid princess for a day!