“Milk and Sugar”

It was just Father’s Day weekend here in America…so it’s time for another one my infrequent but recurring posts on vintage menswear!  My husband’s birthday and Father’s Day are practically a month apart and so I annually take some time between the two dates to sew him a shirt.  This years’ gift was something completely new and different – both for me to work with and for him to wear.  It’s a 1960s era shirt made out of that easily recognizable, and cool-as-a-cucumber cotton we call seersucker.  I equate it to my giving him his own personal air-conditioning.

“Seersucker is the quintessential warm-weather fabric known for its crinkled texture and breezy quality. Seersucker’s texture creates a space between the skin and the fabric that helps improve heat dissipation and promotes air circulation” says Fabric.com.  Yet, “It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed” says Wikipedia, and so it is produced in much smaller quantities than other textiles.  Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together – “slack-tension weave” – giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places…which also means ironing is not necessary (yay).  Many seersucker fabrics are striped (much like butchers’ or railroad workers’ “hickory stripes”), but I have had this shirt’s plaid seersucker in my fabric stash for well over a decade, so no wonder it is on the more unusual side!

Now to explain my post’s title.  “Milk and sugar” is the translation of “shīroshakar”, a combo of Persian and Sanskrit, and the derivative to the word seersucker, which came into English from Hindi.  It calls to mind the smooth rippling of milk poured around lumpy sugar.  I love the picturesque richness of some words such as this!  This reminds me of the beauty of baking and how the ingredients take such differing appearances at every step.

Our picture of a WAVES summer uniform, United States Naval Reserve, circa 1942, from the exhibit “Making Mainbocher” exhibit in Chicago back in 2017.

Unfortunately, both the 19th century old Southern America and the British colonial period of India popularized the wearing of seersucker as a means to stay tolerably cool in the hot, humid climate of those regions.  Yet, post Victorian times, seersucker’s use had expanded to become the preferred material for cooling bed linens or preppy student-inspired fashion.  Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the Second World War chose seersucker for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines.  The designer Mainbocher produced the WAVES summer WWII uniform for the government using blue and white striped seersucker.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ outfit.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ uniform.  This unusual material seems to have a quiet staying power.  It can be a fabric you sleep upon, or one that a suit is made from, but either way it’s an easy-care, attractively distinctive material for warm weather comfort!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  pure cotton puckered plaid seersucker, with the inner shoulder panel lining being an all-cotton broadcloth remnant

PATTERN:  a vintage year 1964 original Butterick #2124 (in my personal pattern collection)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, a bit of interfacing, and a few buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this shirt took me about 10 to 12 hours, and it was made this spring of 2020

THE INSIDES:  The armscyes are French seamed but all else is cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  As this shirt project makes use of a fabric cut which I have been holding onto for at least a decade, I’m counting this as a free and worthwhile stash-busting project! 

This shirt – as is often the case for the majority of vintage menswear from the 1950s and on – is not easily recognizable as originating from an older design.  Most of the time, I do believe that one would not guess the shirts I make and sew for him are vintage.  Mid-Century menswear often lacks standout features to date it to specific eras and generally stays pretty classic, so I feel it is the choice of fabric, the style of the pants to match, and the slight details which give such garments’ true age away.  This shirt (as is the case for many 50s and 60s men’s styles) has a boxy body and a very skinny shoulder panel which does not extend much into the main body.  I can tell this was a pattern meant to help make a dress shirt with the separate collar stand and separate button placket (which I did not include) but I rather brought it down to a fairly casual level by choosing seersucker.  At this point in my husband’s professional life, casual yet dressy shirts are what he will be the most likely to wear on a regular basis, and so I wanted him to get the most use out of what I had sewn for him with my special fabric!

I know I tend to say this every time I post a shirt I’ve made for him, but it is the literal truth – I was so short on needed material for this project.  I had to cut some small ‘corners’ to make this work out successfully.  Yet, I was still somehow able to match the plaid…luckily so, because the analytical and perfectionist side of me would never tolerate anything else, otherwise!  I did not have any extra room for a separate button placket and the layout of the pattern pieces on my under 2 yard cut of fabric was conducive to only the shirt’s bare bones – slightly adapted – and one chest pocket (a must-have because we all love pockets, right?!).  The pattern design already had small turn-under edge down the front closure edges, so I doubled that to be a cut-on, self-fabric facing.  The separate button placket was an extra piece which was easy to sacrifice.  Granted, I did fully interface the newly drafted facing in lieu of stabilizing the add-on button placket, which I was not using.  The switch I made actually avoids breaking up the plaid and gives me less to stress over and match up.  He can’t miss what he should have had on his shirt when it is just as good without it!  Besides, a happy sewing wife is a happy life – don’t I have the phrase correct?

Making this shirt was a nice change of pace in my sewing and totally unique gift, besides.  I just don’t find seersucker in person anywhere anymore – RTW shopping or fabric stores – and I say it should be brought back.  I remember, as a young teen, my mom had bought me a plaid seersucker skirt I liked out of a catalog.  It was in a straight A-line shape, in a middy length, and printed with a plaid which had more blue and brown tones in place of the green and yellow as seen in his shirt (but otherwise a similar sized plaid).  I enjoyed how that skirt always looked good no matter what.  The print and the rough, puffy texture hides stains, and I could stuff it in a backpack to bring it with me as a change of clothes but still not look I was impromptu.  It was so lightweight to wear, it was almost imperceptible to feel it was on (weird to explain, but kind of like the weightlessness of bias cut silk without the cling).  If I did get sweaty, the cotton wicked it away without itself becoming damp.  If I could find that skirt again (I think it might be packed away somewhere downstairs) I would totally wear it or at least re-fashion it so I could!  So I can totally understand why this 60’s shirt is his newest favorite.

I still have not even posted the vintage shirt I made for his birthday-Father’s Day gift from last year!  My blogging proficiency doesn’t always keep up with the speed with which I crank out my sewing projects.  However, I can assure you, it’s another really good shirt which is yet another different and unique make.  So far, though, this post’s shirt is a definite high contender to the previous popularity of that one!  In a world when menswear is generally so very blah, I enjoy seeing him happy and bold enough to wear the singular things I make.  Sewing gifts for others is so amazing – to see someone else get to enjoy my handmade clothes just the same as I makes my gift not just about sharing a present.  It shares a special feeling.

“Laundry Day” Dress

Have you ever had those days where you have errands to run and things to do but you want to be casual and comfy yet not completely dressed down?  No matter how nice it still appears, this is another much needed, throw-on, chore-time dress…yet it’s still vintage!

DSC_0253a-comp,w

Here’s a dress from 1948, something late in the 40’s and not yet 50’s, that now, re-made and sewn with modern fabric, becomes a frock for current times!  The lovely ribbon-like seersucker fabric of the dress is effortless to wear and take care of (it’s meant to be wrinkled, for goodness sakes), making this one of my wardrobe’s go-to, easy-wear pieces for those “laundry days”.  The cream, white, yellow, and green tones are a lovely combo that has a cool mental ‘feel’ for warm weather, yet pairs well with many cardigans and blazers in cooler temps for a multi-season garment.  What more could I want from a dress?!

Betty and Peg Braden - 1948, smaller picTo put the icing on the cake, this dress looks much like one worn by my Grandmother, as seen in her high school pictures.  She was 18 in 1948, and there are several pictures of both her and her sister from that year lounging around the high school campus with her books, both wearing matching, striped, button front dresses.  Her mother, and herself as well, were good at sewing whatever they needed, so I’m DressLikeYour Grandma Challenge 2017 badgecurious as to whether or not their two dresses were made by them.  My Grandmother’s dress, in particular, (on the left) has the most fun with stripe placement, most similar to my dress.  Her dress and mine even have the large, handy horizontally striped hip pockets, too!  This is a lovely knock-around-town dress, so I perfectly understand her style in these pictures now.  I guess it’s no wonder this dress is part of Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.

THE FACTS:

McCall 7212, year 1948 day dress,pFABRIC:  a 100% polyester seersucker, with the bodice facing and pocket lining cut from a scrap of 100% cotton

PATTERN:  McCall #7212, year 1948

NOTIONS:  all that I needed to buy was a pack of buttons, but the bias tapes, thread and hook-and-eyes were already on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  not long – 7 hours.  It was finished on August 23, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Every edge is cleanly and easily finished off in yellow bias tape. (In this detail pic, you can also see my “fake” feature at the waist – there might be a button and a button hole on the outside, but there is really only a hook-and-eye inside to keep things stable.)

DSC_0271-comp,w

TOTAL COST:  This fabric has been in my stash for as long as I can remember (it was in my parent’s fabric stash first).  Thus, I’m counting the fabric as free, so all that this dress cost was the pack of buttons…$2.00!

I actually hated what I saw of this dress as it was coming together.  It did fit perfectly in the size that it was, and it was mildly challenging yet easy enough to be fun.  It’s just that the dress ran so darn long…as in ‘evening length’ long.  I know that fashions from post-WWII were much longer, more mid-calf than the actual early 40’s shorter knee length of my dress.  However, this was the only length that I felt looked good on me and did well for the dress, too.  I’m not one to try to be so authentic to every detail at the cost of sacrificing my taste and my style and happiness with making a garment.  The shorter length also solves a few issues as well.  Yes, there is a deep 8 to 10 inch hem on my dress, and –no- I did not want to cut it off because it makes the poufy, lightweight fabric hang nicely and it also results in a completely no-see through skirt (which would have been a glaringly obvious problem otherwise).  Guess I was ‘taking down two birds with one stone’ as the saying goes!  After all, I did have four yards of this fabric so I might as well keep it on the dress rather than in my ever growing scrap pile…

DSC_0270a-comp,w

The hardest part about making this dress was deciding on the buttons – of all things.  It took me a week to figure that out.  I even ordered matching green buttons…which I didn’t use.  I looked through my substantial and varied button stash from Grandmothers on both sides of the family, and still nothing seemed to be ‘the one’.  This is when hubby came to the rescue.  He enjoys browsing through button collections and frequently has a good eye for my projects.  He said I needed to go with something not distracting from the rest of the dress, but extremely plain, basic, and mundane, so I picked out the cheapest bulk pack of what were labelled as “sweater buttons” at the fabric store.  I think he nailed it here.  Where I would be without his help sometimes, I don’t know.  (Don’t tell anyone that my man goes with me to the fabric store!)

Instead of choosing the high, choking, buttoned-up-to-the-top view, I chose the option that has the slot-type of neckline with buttons starting at the middle of the chest.  However, I still thought it looked a bit confining so I merely have both sides of the neckline flipped back as if they are lapels and only temporarily tacked into place.  Guess it’s a good thing after all that my cotton facing for the bodice matched with the dress so well!  I think the lapel neckline softens and lends more of a relaxed casual air to the dress (which I want) than the proper and perfect drawn cover version on the envelope.

DSC_0260a-comp,w

I sort of feel bad that I did kind of copy off of the cover by using a green striped fabric.  At the same time, I don’t feel guilty.  You see, after looking around at all the versions of this same sort of style of dress (and there are lots of them believe me, dating from about early 40’s to 1950s, at this Pinterest page of mine), I realized that many of them were in a green striped fabric of some sort.  As I figure it, I am going along with a late 1940s trend, not just copying the cover to give me a good reason to use up a long-time occupant in my fabric stash, ahem.  Besides, I did find ‘proof’ that this type of ribbon seersucker was around years back.  Granted they wouldn’t have had a fabric made from polyester in the 1940s, but look at this old original 30’s dress for sale at Emily’s Vintage Vision’s Etsy shop – doesn’t that type of fabric for the bodice seem so very similar to the fabric for my dress?

DSC_0257a-comp,wWe were happy to chance upon a vintage Laundromat in one of our shortcuts to get from one errand to the next.  Funny thing is, I found out that day this dress actually repels water and keeps me dry.  I suppose the tight polyester and rippled seersucker keeps the water rolling right off.  Later on, at a “Steak n’ Shake” for lunch that day, when my dress did get wet from my water glass, the fabric sort of “held” the water and kept my under layers dry.  This is one weird but awesome fabric – I haven’t had another material act like this.  Now, the only problem was making sure my natural fiber wedge espadrilles and braided cord belt didn’t get wet, too…

At the onset of this sewing project, I was aware that I have a similarly styled dress dated to the year before, 1947 (see it here).  It does have the same slashed neckline and pockets, but with the stripes and buttoned front, this post’s dress is different, after all.  This is a look alike to one my Grandma wore anyway, so that’s a big win.  Maybe this is just a trend of the post war that I like.  I know the large pockets are a big draw for me.  Do you have a certain style niche in the history of fashion that you especially love for one reason or another?  Do you too find yourself copying envelope cover images more often that not?

Save

Save