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.
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!