A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!

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Collegiate Style

Of course, our style and our clothes from the college years of our youth are not the same as what we wear in our adult, professional life, right?  If they are the same, you’re probably younger than I am or are at a different place in life, I suppose.  But I was thinking, especially after sewing this knit top and sweater re-fashion, perhaps they can be the same, only in a different way…

Starting from the outside in, I’ll tell you how I took a circa 1996 “Made in the USA” sweater that my husband no longer wanted and re-fashioned it into a fun cardigan for myself.  Luckily, it is from the 90’s when everything tended to fit on the baggy side for men, so I had a good amount of lovely sweater knit to work with!  I do love how cozy, comfy, and unpretentious this re-make turned out to be.  I feel it is not really overly defined by one era, it is not fancy yet it’s still nice, it is fun without being flashy.  It feels like this is me – deep down the real everyday me, someone who likes to be individually stylish yet conscious of the big picture with what I both wear and make, besides the side of me which likes to bring vintage styles into the modern day.  This is one of my best refashions from a very special perspective.  I mean it is my husband’s sweater after all, and I did not use a pattern!

I was inspired by several vintage sweater styles spanning a few decades when I was considering how to go about with my refashion.  I LOVE the open from cardigans that emerged in the early 1920s for women, most of them striped.  Also, I was inspired by the loose and casual 1950s college jacket styles, (yes, the rockabilly logo ones also known as Letterman sweaters or Varsity jackets) many of them with striping as well, especially on the sleeves.  So I went for a sort of combo of both.

First, I started my refashion by cutting off the sleeves and also the neckline (parallel to the chest striping).  Then, as there were no side seams (this was made in one continuous piece) I cut were there would have been side seams to the sweater.  Now the bottom hem could become the vertical center back side seam to my new cardigan.  What striping had been below the neckline would be the vertical front sides of my cardigan.  I used the sleeves unchanged but I did have to cut new armholes for the sleeves to go back in!  The neckline band was the back neckline.  What was left of the back shoulder panel became two strips of navy which were used as the band facing, covering up the raw edges of the left and right fronts to the cardigan.  Nothing but very tiny scraps were leftover, almost all of the original sweater were re-used and re-positioned.

See?!  Just because what you make is “inspired by” something vintage doesn’t mean it has to be a past style.  You can take what you see that gets those creative juices going and translate that into any era or fashion.  This is a lot of what is going on in modern fashion.  It cherry picks vintage features and melds it in with trends of today.  Sometimes even a direct vintage inspiration can be spotted but it is re-made in such a way that it looks so timeless and up-to-date for today.

The 90’s, which are soon enough going to be technically “vintage”, sadly seems to me to be the last era with relatively easy-to-come-by quality and more “made in the USA” garments.  It also was the last decade in which Vogue Pattern Company offered big name designer sewing patterns to the public.  Sorry, Vogue – it’s not that I don’t generally like the designer patterns you do have to offer and the designers themselves are a decently big deal.  It’s just that I wish we could still have access to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass, or Edith Head designs, but a modern Zac Posen, Miu Miu, or Versace design would do nicely, thank you, for only a few examples!  Oh well, I must admit that even though I thought this would not happen, the era of my childhood is something I am now learning to appreciate fashion-wise…although I’ll never like 90’s velour (yuck!) which is unfortunately back in the stores to buy again!

Make your style change with you…there’s a low probability that anyone else will like those awful 80s 90s or 2000 era fashions without a re-vamp (and I’m not talking about bringing them back as a revamp option!).  So why not renovate it yourself?  We can only buy then ditch, buy again then ditch so many times for so long before this dead-end circle finds the true answer to sustainable fashion for the masses.  This even isn’t taking into account so many other issues that need addressing – worker pay and working conditions, clothing quality, environmental impact, sheer unnecessary quantity, and customer satisfaction to name a few.  This week is “Fashion Revolution Week”, now in its 5th year.  This movement is in direct response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 and injuring 2,500 more in April 2013.  That year was sadly global fashion’s most profitable year to date.

That being said, my top underneath is a testament to this in the way that I salvaged it and realized how my approach at self-made clothes has changed for the better.  I estimate I began this project about 2002 to 2004 when I was just branching out into making dresses and tops rather than the mostly skirts I had been then sewing.  As this was started at least 14 years back now, this is why I no longer know what pattern I used!  The side seams and shoulder seams had been overlocked (Serging machine) together, as well as the some lovely braided neckline piping.  Luckily the cut out (but not sewn) sleeves were still kept with the top when I re-discovered it.  One side of the neckline as well as half of one of the shoulder seams were unpicked already, because I lamely sewed the piping (which doesn’t stretch) into a top made of a forgiving knit.  Wow…is all I can say to this!

So – all the basic possibilities were there for assembly, but my quickie, still-learning approach left this difficult to save.  The serged-overlocked seams gave me no room for adjustments.  This top still fits my adult body pretty well, though more snug than I would like.  It was sized for a teenage me when it was cut.  Still, I see how I was just happy with my clothes being finished the same level as the clothes I had bought, made for the moment with no thought for what I had made lasting me any longer than the clothes from a store.  Now, I only finish in French, bias bound or raw and overcast finishings, leaving me a nice cushion of adjustability for tailoring and fitting preferences, thereby promising me many years of enjoyment.  This is one of the ideals of the “Fashion Revolution” – take good care and thought into what you wear and choose things made with quality that appeal to you so they will last you many years.  I get rid of clothes only in small batches, and even then it’s the ones that I did not make, one’s that are still in good condition to not require someone else to do mending.  My sewing is an investment in myself and if I am not happy with my creations I use my talents to change that, thus making what I have work for me for long term.

To finish off the neckline yet keep what I had, my solution was to have a shoulder button closing.  This turned out rather challenging and more bulky than I wanted, but I like it in the end.  It is different and unexpected, adding a little subtle splash of character to the otherwise plain front top.  I just have to remember not to hang my purse from that one shoulder!  Buttons there are not exactly friendly to over-the-shoulder purse straps.

The sleeves were cut wide and bell shaped, but I felt that such sleeves made the top look too retro, like something from the 1970s, and I wanted something more indistinguishably timeless.  Now, the gathered sleeve cuffs that I went for are a bit odd or dated too, in my mind.  They’re just better than what I started with.  I might yet tone the sleeves down in the future and make them skinny…or quarter length.  Whatever rocks my boat!  My style and my wardrobe are a perpetual work-in-progress.

I love the satisfaction that comes from taking such articles of clothing we loved in our high school and college years and re-inventing them for a new time in our lives.  It’s like keeping a part of us and letting it change with us.  Re-fashioning is so smart – besides being one of the best ways to combat today’s “fast fashion” beast and the evils it generates, this type of garment creating is such a fun challenge which is good for one’s sewing skills – even if it doesn’t work out.  Why refuse the perfectly good resources at our availability just because they are already made into something?  Once around doesn’t have to be the end of the line for garments.  Re-imaging what is already there can be difficult, and demands thinking outside the box.  That’s what we need more of in fashion today.  Individuals thinking creatively and seeing a bigger picture, and wanting to do their part towards it.  “Who made your clothes” is one of the rallying slogans for the “Fashion Revolution”.  If we can keep that in mind and feel comfortable about the answer, then we keep the ready-to-wear business accountable (by home sewing, by our purchase choices, or by voicing our opinion directly), we will be doing our part for the “Fashion Revolution”…because it should be something that carries over into more than just one week!

The skirt I am wearing is posted on my blog here…and even my necklace is me-made, too!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My husband’s sweater was a thick cotton-polyester blend, while the knit top of mine was made from a cotton spandex blend fabric.  Some navy cotton scraps were used for the facing of the sweater’s new neckline.

PATTERNS:  none for the sweater, and for the knit top…I have no idea anymore!

NOTIONS:  Nothing but some thread, buttons, and scraps from on hand were used

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The sweater refashion was made in one afternoon when my hubby was home so he could see his old garment transform!  It was finished November 2017 after 3 hours spent on it.  The top was finished up in the same month after 3 hours.

TOTAL COST:  Nothing!

“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?”  As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question.  I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he!  Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way!  My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.

This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning.  The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable.  The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid.  The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple.  All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources.   Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished.  The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016.  The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape.  The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop.  The owner knew I sew.  She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer.  The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set.  The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining.  She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust.  Ugh!  That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix.  The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well.  The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths.  It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist.  Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading.  The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.

The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left.  I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked.  The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway.  The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face.  I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.

As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again.  With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves.  I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern.  The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same.  Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item.  Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.

The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch.  Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material!  It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty!  I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this.  It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is.  I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell.  As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?!  It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.

There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse.  Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Not your basic dirt shirt here!  Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details.  It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body.  There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops.  Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style.  The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization.  With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style.  This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.

However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything.  Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat.  They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable.  For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it.  I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts.  I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!

The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully.  When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item!  This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make!  I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband!  I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.

To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations.  Don’t judge me here, please!  I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through.  The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well.  In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts.  The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams.  For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.

The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think.  At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric.  However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason!  There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s.  The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade.  The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels.  The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length.  It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.

To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time.  I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era.  In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion.  There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place!  There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.

I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them.  However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way.  Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing.  I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it!  I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later.  1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!

…To Peplum or Not to Peplum Is the Question

One would think that it is only living things that would be able to make up their minds.  In the case of this year 1945 dress, I feel the pattern’s design could not make up its mind whether or not it wanted a peplum, and what styling it really wanted.  Being a pattern for teens and juniors, it totally makes sense to be a bit mixed up…since those of the “in between years” are being overwhelmed by everything!  Now, with some dramatic re-sizing and re-drafting, some cheaply priced wool suiting, and an old unwanted skirt from my basement to re-fashion, I think I’ve hit the right balance to rock this War-time design as a grown woman, ready to flaunt the cold of winter in panache.  Of course, a pair of killer 40’s style ankle strap shoes also completes my power 40’s outfit – they are velvet fabric reproductions from Rocket Dog.

This dress was actually my Christmas outfit for this past 2016 holiday, but I think the plaid has enough small amounts of other colors in it that, together with the navy it is paired with, keeps things relevant for most all of fall of winter, as well.  If I want it more holiday-ish, I can pair my dress with more red items or even browns or goldens.  Women of the 40’s loved to use plaids (especially teen girls), so I’m focusing on that rather than my mental query that I might be wearing some sort of Scottish plaid (which is why my bottom half is in a solid).  Reds and blues were popular colors for teens wear in the 40’s after all, too, so although this is my “adult” dress I am sticking to colors and fabric types “traditional” for the pattern’s intended audience – juniors, that is, those of the 14 to 18 crowd just as they were officially being known as teenagers (see info source here).

This dress is also my first time making a vintage garment where the print (or at least the contrast fabric) is just in the bodice and nothing else.  I’ve always admired those kinds of two-fabric clothes, always wondering if they would work for me…now I know they do!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The solid navy skirt and sleeves are in a 95% wool/5% polyester blend suiting from Fashion Fabrics Club in town.  It has a textured finish much like a gabardine.  The plaid, re-fashioned from an old skirt no longer worn, is a half and half rayon/poly blend with twill finish.  It’s label inside read as “Robyne’s Dream“, “Made in the USA”, and I believe this is from the 90’s.  I have seen this style of red, forest green, yellow, white, royal and black plaid labeled as a “Prince of Wales” design. The waistline and the peplum are lined in a basic, navy blue, all-cotton broadcloth, merely scraps on hand.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6297, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had everything on hand in my stash that I needed here – thread, a zipper, bias tapes, interfacing, shoulder pads.  The three buttons down the front are vintage pieces from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a last minute decision and was started the week before Christmas and took about 20 hours’ worth of time.  It was finished just before leaving for Midnight church service, December 24, 2016.  Whew!  I was ‘cutting’ it close, ha ha!

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound.  Strips of 100% cotton batiste are used as facing for the inner waistband for a lovely smooth feeling against my skin.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the plaid fabric from the re-fashioned skirt and my cotton lining scarps as being free, as well as the notions from on hand, with the wool only costing $2 a yard.  My total for this dress is about $3 for only a yard and a half of the wool I used…how awesome is that!?

This project is one big hooray for re-using and re-fashioning!  As I’ve discussed past posts, my wardrobe is something I consider long term, and if I do not wear or am not happy with an item, it is re-done and cut into so it can used differently ‘til it is 100% what I will use or wear.  Why can’t unwanted clothes be treated as a commodity (defined as in “useful or valuable item”) for creativity just the same as a newly cut piece of fabric, the way I see it?  Anyways, this skirt had been an occasional favorite when I was between 10 and 15 years of age, but for the last 10 plus years it has been in my fabric stash waiting for a new incarnation.  Something from when I was a teen, becomes a new garment for grown-up me, sewn from a pattern catered for teens.  Oh, the irony…

My original skirt before re-fashioning was a simple long bias skirt with a gathered elastic waist.  Thus, I had a good amount of fabric to work with, but the skinny width was restrictive.  This is part of the reason why the plaid is not as perfectly matched as I would have liked and also the fact it is on the bias…although I do like the look of the plaid cross-grain!  Cutting off the two side seams and folding the length over on itself, I had just enough as you can see.  The front half of the skirt became my bodice fronts, while the back half was enough for the bodice back, peplums, and a neckline tie that ended up making piping for instead. So close!

For some reason, the envelope and instructions to this dress are one of the most fragile in my pattern collection, but the tissue pattern pieces are seemingly fine.  Just in case of a damaging accident, but also since I knew I needed to both add in several inches for size (29 inch bust, yikes! so small…) and bring the dress to some adult proportions, I traced all but the skirt and sleeve pieces onto new, semi-sheer medical paper.  In case you didn’t know, any pattern from about the early mid-1930’s up to about 1946 that are marked “Junior Misses” will be every short in proportions and used “as-is” are only sized for an under 5 foot tall person or an under sized teen.  Most of the time I have to add in a good 2 or 3 inches horizontally to bring ‘sleeves-bust-waist-hips’ all down.  It’s kind of what is done to make a pattern appropriate for someone tall, and opposite of what needs to be done to fit someone petite.  Yet, as I demonstrate, these juniors’ patterns are very usable for those are willing to do the ‘work’ of dramatically grading and re-sizing.  However, doing such an effort (in my mind) can only be a good thing – it brings new styles to suddenly be available to use besides teaching bunches about working with patterns.

The original cover drawing is quite cute – and I do not do outright “cute” if I can help it.  Both neckline options are the nails in the “cute factor” coffin (I generally find it hard to like a Peter Pan collar on myself), so they were the first to go and be re-drafted while I was tracing out a copy of the tissue pieces.  I originally figured on making an open V-neckline, and adding in straps that would twist and criss-cross across the chest opening and come back around to button back down on the same side – very military-like and strong, similar to Simplicity #1539, also from 1945.  Well, I guess you can tell I didn’t end up sticking with that idea – not here at least, but hopefully in the future on another project.  My neckline was the very last thing that I figured out before the dress was fully finished.  In the end, I merely took the lapels I drafted as self-facing and made them into a small, slightly pointed, turned back collar instead.  I like the simple subtlety of it, even though it was not at all what I had planned for at all.  There’s enough going on with the rest of the dress, so I felt it needed something non-distracting but still dramatically plunging for a not-as-conservative, grown-up touch.

What is not so obvious but remarkably lovely to the bodice is the way the bust is shaped by a vertical shoulder pleat.  This so completely exaggerates the shoulders as only the 40’s can do – I love it!  It really does wonders to complement the waist, especially since there is a set-in waistband to define the middle of this dress.  The fold of the shoulder pleat on my dress ends so precisely at the seam of the shoulder/sleeve, it was bit tricky to sew around without catching it…a bit of unpleasant unpicking made things alright.  It’s rather a shame that this detail is only in the front (much like the peplum, I guess).  Nevertheless, I still wanted a very defined line at the end of those shoulder edge pleats so there are ½ inch shoulder pads inside.  I always find it so curious how well gi-normous 1980s shoulder pads seem to be made to go inside many of my 40’s fashions.  Except on the occasional dress, I think the WWII years’ silhouettes are just lacking some sort of potent, calculated, confident fullness without emphasized shoulders.  I have seen similar vertical running shoulder pleats on many 40’s patterns circa 1945 – a McCall’s #6102, McCall’s #6902, and Simplicity #1891, as well as a modern (retro-inspired) pattern Butterick #6363, to name off a handful.  Also, for some hard-copy examples, here’s a photo of a mid-1950s wool dress, an extant 1940’s rayon crepe gown, my own Chanel-inspired 1967 linen suit set, and an 80’s chiffon dress, (notice the varied fabrics and years).  This ingenious method of bodice shaping is too good a detail to keep to only one decade.

With such prominent shoulders, I softened the sleeves by not sewing them as set-in.  The sleeves were sewn to the bodice much like on a man’s shirt, connected together at the shoulder so then the entire side seam – from sleeve hem the bottom hem – is stitched in one long continuous seam.  The sleeves are quite deeply cut, similar to this 1946 blouse that I’ve already made.  My sleeve ends taper to being fitted at the elbows but nonetheless these are very easy to move around for full movement and reach room – much appreciated.  Reach room is something I generally do not find modern patterns have unless I alter them in some manner.  Reach room is under respected…if something is good enough to make and wear, accepting being restricted with basic arm movements is something no one needs tolerate.

I was originally very hesitant about sewing on the skirt’s peplum flaps, but I’m so glad they turned out to be something new to like!  Apparently the odd, front, half-peplum design was a quietly popular yet not mainstream style for the mid-decade.  Besides seeing front half-peplums on Juniors’ dresses in my 40’s Sears catalog, the character of Rose from Season Two of the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” is wearing a lovely drapey rayon dress in this same style.  Even Simplicity pattern Company released their own half-peplum the same year (1945) as #1357.  For one more tactile example, here’s an awesome vintage original half-peplum dress, in a wonderful novelty print, which had been for sale on Etsy.  I certainly don’t “get” the “why” of the style, but since before this dress I’d never really tried a peplum before, I figured half of one might be an easy way to acclimate myself to them.  Turns out this is not all that bad because being anchored on all but one edge prevents too much “pouf” of the peplum flaps.  Still, I generally do not like corners being cut, “party in the front, business in back”, or “coffin dresses” (as they are distastefully called when everything is in the front and the back is totally neglected).  However, technically the back of my dress is not neglected at all – it does have the plaid bodice, too, and the lovely classic 1940s tri-panel skirt back.  There is still one extra touch I added that makes sure the details from behind are just as nice as the front.

Self-made, matching plaid fabric piping runs along the bottom seam of the set-in waistband.  This was actually my hubby’s idea…I’ll give him the full credit for this great custom notion for which I was doubtful about at first.  I did not have the right thick cotton cording on hand for the piping so instead I used several strands together of thinner cotton cording on hand that we use to hold plants upright in the garden.  A bias strip of fabric was then wrapped around the piping and stitched down using my invisible zipper foot (just like what I demonstrated in this post).  This piping made installing the side zipper a bit challenging, and it’s not the best closure I’ve done…but it works to close the dress just fine and that’s good enough for me.

I guess it’s not all that surprising that this sweet vintage style for young ladies and teens is so strongly adult in its attribution – in 1945, women on the cusp of growing up were receiving more representation, acknowledgement, and opportunities, all with greater diversity, that year than ever before.  Firstly, 1945 was the year of a historic Miss America Pageant Competition.  That year of 1945 was the first year the winner was offered a school scholarship as her prize, rather than gifts of an item to wear or travel packages.  Year 1945 was also the first year that a young lady won who had been a Collage Graduate, but more significant was the fact that the winner, Bess Myerson by name, was a Jewish American.  She used her fame for so much good – raising awareness to biased prejudice, as well as helping out the last of the war effort, and later as a New York Politician.  Teen-age girls must have been a big enough “thing” in American after all to get a long article in Life magazine for December 11, 1945 (read the whole thing here, pages 91 to 99).

Furthermore, the magazine Seventeen had just begun the October of the year before (1944) and in 1945 were really gaining influence and gumption to speak out for their intended audience, “the age when a girl is no longer a child, yet isn’t quite a woman.”  Periodicals focused only on Hollywood stars and starlets were going out of favor and Helen Valentine, who, after starting out at Vogue, had already begun Mademoiselle: The Magazine for Smart Young Women by 1944. Seventeen was started by her as a magazine meant to be a teenagers’ voice, a benchmark for thought, and a place to bounce off ideas, so much so that they were not scrupulous about mentioning heavy world affairs and controversy.  By the 1950’s, Seventeen quickly moved from Valentine’s original focus on service and citizenship toward themes of fashion, sensuality, and body scruples…more like magazines of today.  See this amazing web page for more early history of Seventeen magazine.

Young ladies of 1945 and after were influencing history like never before.  I hope a lovely dress style like the one I made for this post might be just a small example of that fact.  Teenagers’ clothes of today generally strike me as disrespectful to their potential and distasteful to their capabilities.  Sloppy clothes, ones trying to be overly “on trend”, or the large majority of clothes which have writing or characters in the most surprising places all seem to put them in a box of what society expects them to feel and react – and many end up never growing out of those attitudes and habits.  This is in no small part (in my opinion) to the incidental that what one wears can impact how we think of ourselves.  Not every teen or 20 something is an electronic addicted being with an I-don’t-give-a-blank level of respect.  They need a constructive way to build their own entity.  Let me share a Helen Valentine quote from the book Fashioning Teenagers: A Cultural History of Seventeen Magazine.  After seeing the 90% of teens at the 1945 opening of New York’s U.N. building, she said, “People have an idea that the only thing they’re interested in is their next date, but it isn’t so. They (young people) are really thinking about very important things and we ought to be thinking about them in those terms.”

Vintage clothes for the middle years strike me as giving them a taste of their future in their own special way, with some small detail of the features of the clothes styles they grew out of so as to not forget where they are and where they have been in life.  It’s like their fashion and not just their education was attempting to transition them into the confidence of independent and capable decisions while allowing them the fun and freedom that still part of their life.  Their ideas and habits are the future we all have to deal with.  May teens of today wear clothing that is respectful of their place in the world every bit as much as fashion of the past has done.

“I, However, Am Not Afraid of You…”

On a day that revolves around fear and frights, I can’t help but default to America’s Sweetheart, Peggy Carter, for the self-assurance to have a heroine’s heart!  She was speaking to her nemesis, a woman who almost wiped out all of New York, when Peggy uttered my title’s quote, a perfect mantra for Halloween night.

In those same first five minutes of the Second Season, you can see Agent Carter in a striking suit of the unusual combination of peach blouse and forest green skirt and jacket (see part of that here).  I have interpreted this set into my own wardrobe, and as it has all the colors associated with Halloween, I’ll think of this outfit as a fashionable pumpkin!

There wasn’t a whole lot of sewing needed for me to have this set.  I sewed the blouse, and it is a luxurious everyday basic piece, in a cheery color, which I needed in my wardrobe anyway.  The skirt is something I’ve had in my closet for the past decade, a RTW piece which had been not seeing much wear as of late, so it was time for a simple re-fashion to perk it up.  My optional suit jacket is a true vintage piece that had been given to me by a friend, and fits like it was made for me.  It was that simple – my easiest Agent Carter outfit yet!  Perhaps the style choices of myself and Peggy are naturally on the same page – maybe that’s why I feel the need to have every one of her outfits in my closet as well, he he.  Many of her wardrobe choices have a sensible practicality combined with a panache for a touch of standout details.  Perhaps there is something in your closet, too, that can translate easily into an Agent Carter outfit of your choice?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for my blouse is a 100% silk crepe de chine, from “Printed Silk Fabric” on Etsy, with the front lined in a peach poly chiffon from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  The skirt’s added portions are of a cotton twill suiting, also from Jo Ann’s.

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using Simplicity #8243, a reprint that originally was #2337, year 1948

NOTIONS:  I had the thread needed on hand already, as well as the abalone shell buttons I used, a snap, and a hook-and-eye.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My silk blouse was cut and finished in 5 hours, on October 29, 2017.  The skirt was refashioned in a few hours the day after Halloween.

THE INSIDES:  A nice blouse deserved nice finishing, the way I figured!  The inside is in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  $20 for the blouse and a few more dollars for the extra fabrics from Jo Ann’s.  How much more reasonable could an outfit like this get?!

The blouse pattern I used is wonderful.  It sews up in a flash and has a decently good fit (with a few tweaks) and lovely details.  This silk version is actually the second time I have used it, so I was confident enough about the fit and details to slightly change it up a bit.  My first blouse version using this Simplicity re-issue was part of another Agent Carter themed outfit, and I will be posting that soon so you can get the full low-down on making the blouse as-is out of the envelope.  For now, my second version will come first on my blog!

My tweaks to the blouse pattern of Simplicity #8243 were small.  First, I took out the downward curve that the collar points have and straightened them out so it could be more like my inspiration Agent Carter blouse.  Her blouse had collar points which are more wing-like, more horizontal, pointing straight out towards her shoulders rather than down to the hips as on the original pattern.  In other words, my current collar is now a true “wing collar”, much like the 1950s “Agent Sousa” shirt I already made for my husband!  Secondly, I made the shoulders about 5/8 inch longer.  The first time I made this pattern, the sleeves ended up more on my shoulder than going over it.  This time I corrected the short shoulder line.  Third, I changed up the sleeves to make them more like an early or mid-1940’s style than post war, as the original pattern is from 1948.  I added pleats in between the trio of darts that shape the sleeve cap, creating more fullness as well as a bit more room for me to move.

The original as-is length of the short sleeves is very long – not so that they can be ¾ length but so that you can have room to cuff the hem, as the original pattern shows.  For this blouse, I cut off the excess length from the sleeve hems to have a facing-like binding strip to easily finish off the hem.  I added small triangular notches at the outer center hems of the sleeves.  I love how this little detail adds just enough subtle class without detracting in complexity from the straightforward simplicity of the styling.  After all, there is a wide shoulder-to-bust dart that smoothly and beautifully shapes the blouse without the “traditional” gathers on so many other 40’s blouses.  On this blouse, there are none of the common 40’s hem-to-waist shaping darts, as well, eliminating the conventional “blousy pouf” and making this blouse just as nice to wear untucked as tucked.

I must say, that my main gripe about the pattern is the weird placement of the buttons if you follow the pattern’s markings.  The bottom button is right at the waistline (does it end up as a lump under my waistband or what?) and the top one makes the neckline restrictively high, almost to the point of chocking.  If you make this pattern, you need to change to your own liking where you put the buttons and button holes.  I lowered my top button placement down 1 ½ inches and raised the lowest one 1 inch, with the middle one naturally in between.  Three inches down from the last third button, I sewed on a snap to keep the lower half of the blouse closed.  Sewing a snap below the waistline is something I see on many 1940s original patterns and it makes total sense.  A snap would not show a bulge through the belly of a skirt or trousers like a button would, and I makes the bottom half of the blouse smooth if I want to wear it untucked.  I wonder why this bit of sensibility which I always see in vintage patterns is somewhat lacking when it comes to the instructed closure of this blouse.

The main body of the blouse seems to run a bit snug for me, so I cut a size bigger for the back than the front, and taper a size up for the hips.  As my silk crepe de chine is a bit sheer, I doubled up on the back bodice, but as I only had two yards of 45 inch wide material, I used the supplementary fabric to line the front.  The all-in-one collar and front facing combo can be a bit fussy and not want to lay down well, but between ironing and some small tacking stitches between the layers, I am able to have my collar behave well!

For my skirt, I really didn’t do anything to change the fit – I just added a few things to mostly change where it fit!  The main addition was to give my skirt a true waistband.  This was a skirt meant to sit on hips, with a wide waistband which ends just below the waist.  My waistband was sewn ¼ inch onto the edge, so it makes no real impact to the original skirt, ends just above the invisible back zipper, and I can easily take it off if I ever want to in the future.  The back of the skirt had a high kick pleat-style slit for freedom of movement.  I am not used to showing this much thigh, even if the slit doesn’t open up unless I do some true Agent Carter kick-but moves!  Nevertheless, I unpicked both the fashion fabric and the lining around the back opening to stitch it down like a slit.  Then, I filled in the slit with a small rectangle of fabric I had left over from the waistband to make a box-pleated fill-in piece.  This way the slit closes nicely on its own, but when it opens up as I need it, the fill-in piece unfolds to keep my thighs covered without restricting movement.  My slit addition makes the skirt now look closer to a pattern from my stash – a McCall #6338 from 1945.

Somehow, it seems as if there is always some small ‘something’ I would like to have which is lacking when it comes to RTW off the rack clothes.  Whether it’s a detail (such as “…if only the neckline was different”), or the fit (who hasn’t had “…it fits except for here!”), or even availability (why is it so hard to find nice, solid colored blouses or non-knit bottoms?), relying on off-the-rack can be so frustrating.  If you don’t have the time for sewing every dream item (who really does?!), combining sewing skills with RTW can be a match made in heaven for making your clothes truly speak for you!

Although this is a sort of an after-Halloween post, and an outfit from a “fantasy” character, this is not a costume.  To me, this is something I am bringing into my own persona from a screen heroine that I can closely associate myself with.  That is one of the many amazing things about Agent Carter.  What she wears on screen can easily be worn by anyone today, yet is still very 1940’s chic, and not in the least a costume.  I really do think that is one of the major attractions of Agent Carter – she’s so very realistic yet still as capable as any superhero, and she’s oh-so-empowering.  That’s not even taking into account the fact that she started a whole new interest renewal in the fashions of the 1940’s…yay!  I so want to see more of her story on screen…until then I’ll keep making her wardrobe for myself!

Right now, there’s a petition out there to “Save Agent Carter”, and it’s in need of more people to sign and join in the plea for Marvel to continue Peggy Carter’s story in some form or fashion.  I’ve already signed up…will you consider signing, too?  Let’s let Hollywood know the world is better with the inspiration and bravery of Agent Carter. Spread #SaveAgentCarter!