The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

London Logo Plaid

As this is a follow-up to my Disney-inspired Pocahontas outfit, made for my “Pandemic Princess” series, it is aptly tied to the songs from the 1998 sequel “Journey to a New World”. To Pocahontas in the sequel, that new world is Britain, specifically London – “What a Day in London” song.  With her visit (following her marriage to John Rolfe in real life), her history became even more deeply linked to both Britain and America – “Between Two Worlds” song. I couldn’t think of a more glaringly ironic match (in many ways I will address later on in this post) than for me to make a trench-style coat made of cheap but iconic English Burberry plaid fleece.  Yet, the logo plaid must not have been out of place in the forest as a wild deer was photo bombing me throughout, totally edging in on my spotlight – “Things Are Not What They Appear” song.  Beyond adding a watermark, these are real, unaltered pictures!  How can I brag about my coat when the deer has an even prettier, more useful one on her back?!?

This was yet another one of my many remnant stash-busting projects.  I only had one yard of Burberry plaid fleece, half a yard of black fleece, and leftovers from other projects to help me finish this one off.  Yay for a smart use of fleece, the fabric I love to hate, in a print I very much enjoy!  This coat is a very versatile and a breathable weight of warmth.  It was a quick undertaking which ended up looking much better than I imaged it might.  My projects which use up scraps really make me inventive in a way for which I am proud.  In conjunction with that incentive, my “Pandemic Princess” series is also inspiring me push my Disney dreams farther than just one outfit per leading lady.  Oh, what have I started!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: the exterior black and Burberry plaid fabrics are polyester fleece, the inside lining is burgundy polyester crepe (leftover from sewing this 1930s lounging robe), the inner layer is pre-quilted cotton covered batting, and the under collar together with the front facings are cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1320, year 2014

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already – interfacing, a few buttons (ornate brass ones, leftover from this historical skirt), and lots upon lots of thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This coat took me about 25 hours to make.  It was finished on February 19, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  any raw edges inside are cleanly concealed by the full lining.

TOTAL COST:  As I have had the two fleece remnants on hand for the last 10 years, and the all other supplies were leftover from past projects, I’m counting this coat as free!!!

The prestigious Burberry Company began in 1856, but found its home in London by 1891 when Thomas Burberry opened a shop in London’s West End.  Thomas Burberry is credited invented and patenting gabardine in 1888 – the breathable, weatherproof and hard-wearing fabric revolutionizing rainwear – which up until then had typically been heavy and uncomfortable to wear.  Then, its fine, waterproof outerwear happened to make the term “trench coat” an anchor in fashion history by having an adapted version of his “Tielocken coat” the standard issue for officers during World War I.  The recognizable Burberry logo plaid was then introduced in the 1920s.  Afterwards, in the 70’s and 80’s, the brand’s tartan print suddenly was no longer solely worn inside their garments as a lining when it turned into a preppy U.K. elite symbol (aka, the “Sloane Rangers”).  It became a visible status symbol.  Yet by the next decade, it was also one of the most widely counterfeited brands of the turn into the 21st century.  Over the years, Burberry has evolved and today it’s much more of a lifestyle brand that you can see on catwalks and fashion shows – no longer just known for making a trench coat.

British soap opera star Daniella Westbrook in that infamous head-to-toe Burberry outfit of 2002

In the late Nineties, the Burberry print began a trendy revival courtesy of the “logo wave”, which was all about sporting Gucci belts to Chanel bags and Louis Vuitton wallets.  As a teen at that time, I was one of the biggest fans of the tacky, over-the-top usage of the knocked-off Burberry tartan on anything under the sun.  (Oh, what was I thinking!?!)  Now, I am much more restrained but still enamored by the fashion plaid print.  All I ever bought of the Burberry brand as a teen was an expensive Pashmina Burberry neck scarf at a fine retailer and the brand’s classic eau de toilette.  Now, I am breaking out of that shell by making of this coat.  I’m returning back to my teenage fascination and half reliving something I never got to do growing up…only half because this is not a true, trademarked Burberry material.    

I am not one for brand flourishing myself – of course not, when I sew my own clothes.  Yet, a Burberry plaid is my long restrained weakness.  At the same time, however, it is so gaudy in my mind that I never knew what to do with it or how to pair together with a pattern.  I figured to tone it down with a darker contrast remnant on hand and – even though both cuts are only cheap fleece – treat them like a finer coat fabric to hopefully end up with something which might not be tacky.  At least the coat turned out better than I expected while being nicely tailored and cozy warm!  This was a successful experiment and yet also a weird one to see finalized after all these years.

I sort of blended the lines between a trench and an over coat, just for practical purposes. A trench coat is designed to protect you against rain while an overcoat is designed to protect you against the cold. A trench coat is lightweight while an overcoat is heavyweight.  For my coat, the fleece outside is fluffy polyester, so it really doesn’t get wet easily even though it is not waterproof.  I tested this truth out later the night of our pictures when I played in our son’s snow fort, which was beginning to melt.  I stayed warm and dry and most of the wet snow either rolled off or could be brushed off of me.  Usually one has to layer up to be warm in a trench coat because it is merely supposed to be waterproof appropriate gear for all seasons.  Yet, I am a person sensitive to the cold so I upped the game on my version with the cozy quilted cotton layer between the exterior fleece and polyester lining.  It is a coat which is in between lightweight and heavyweight, as all materials are pretty lofty load individually. 

This is still double-breasted like a proper trench coat, with a large stormproof collar that can be turned up enough to completely protect most of my face from the elements, if I so need.  However, my coat’s collar is wonderfully modern in the way it is asymmetric and the tailored princess seams and color blocking reflects the new fitting and color options which the new Burberry line has to offer.  The length of a trench coat is traditionally to just below the knee. However, nowadays one can find trench coats in various lengths: full, knee, three-quarters and short.  So I suppose I can call this a very personalized, updated version of a 90’s Burberry inspired trench coat.

Amazingly, this was a very easy coat to make, even with complicating the construction by fully lining and layering it.   There are no darts, no chalk markings to make, and every seam is straightforward with first rate shaping drawn into the seam lines.  The fit was spot on, too.  I went up one whole size because I was planning on adding extra layers into the coat and that was to right move.  I have full and unrestrained freedom of movement.  More or less, I cut out 3 whole coats – fleece, quilted cotton inner layer, and lining poly – so I was happy the two pieces for the front (doubled into four) and two pieces for the back (double cut sides with one center on the fold) were simple.  The facings and the under collar had sew-in interfacing to back them up as they were a thinner material in key areas which got double-breasted and needed structural support. 

I did sew each layer to the coat separately, but hand tacked the quilted cotton inners to the eternal fleece plaid along their matching seam lines “in the ditch” to eliminate shifting of the layers.  It was important remember to shorten the sleeves and the bottom hem of the quilted inner layer by cutting off 1 ½ inches.  It is very difficult and bulky to hem quilted cotton and thus I wanted to account for the turn-under hemming to the fleece and lining only.  I also had to make the seam allowances ¾ inch to the quilted cotton and poly lining so the inner layer fits inside as slightly smaller than the eternal coat layer.  I found out some these tricks of how to work with pre-quilted cotton material (as well as how breathable but pleasantly warm it can be) as I made this 1940s jerkin vest for our trip to Denver, Colorado back in 2019.  I also knew from making this 60’s cocoon coat how shifty fleece could be when you try to sew it into something structured.  So, I combined both of what I learned from two separate winter past projects into this newest, latest, dare I say, just about the best coat I have finished so far.   

I like the unusual and slightly easier route of making handmade chain stitched thread loops along the right front closing edge in lieu of buttonholes.  The fact it is black on black color along the front is the only way I like this feature, otherwise I think thread loops would be too weirdly obvious.  The instructions called for fabric loops.  However, I know how those sort of things are fussy to add in a seam and more often than not pull out of a seam anyway if not anchored to a base of some sort (seam tape, bias strip, etc.) along the seam allowance.  I used heavy upholstery thread for making my coat’s thread loops and attached the loop bases to the interfacing inside the coat edge, so these closures are definitely stable. 

For some weird reason, my last Pocahontas inspired outfit finally gave me a decent idea as to what to do with long hoarded, one yard remnant of Burberry looking fleece.  Luckily, I was able to sew it together quickly enough to take advantage of the same photo shoot against the breathtaking backdrop of my favorite creek after the most recent snowstorm.  This coat’s earthy colors pair nicely with my Pocahontas separates (in the previous post), but also work well as an item from the era of the release dates to the Disney films.  All the elements I desired for this project were fulfilled, only Pocahontas’ Disney story is the opposite of everything this logo plaid stands for.  At the same time, it suits her aesthetic so well at the same time.  Let me explain.

I like using irony to drive home a point.  Pairing an overworked fashion print with the raw, pure beauty of nature is amusingly contrary enough.  Yet, modern fashion is synonymous with the throwaway culture severely detrimental to our world of today, threatening the very existence of living things, and fleece is one of worst offenders being a petroleum-based product which will not break down.  Thus, I only use fleece when I do because it is already on hand in my stash from before I became more conscious of the environmental impact of what we wear.  For many years now, fleece is something I will not buy and love to generally hate (ugh, plastics).  However, I am a firm believer in making use of what one has, and doing that effort well enough so that item lasts.  I believe this is the most sensible thing to do with questionable products such as fleece.

Hopefully what I have done here would be Pocahontas approved if she knew where I was coming from with my reasoning.  It does have colors I believe she would like – after all, a deer I met out in the wild didn’t seem to mind one bit!!

“For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains…

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind”

Snow Bunny Bomber

There is a certain energy I, my husband, and son all feel when it snows.  It is a cheerful bust of fresh insight and renewed vivacity.  We HAVE to get outside to be in the middle of the weather, too.  However, I for one do not in the least like the cold so I love the challenge of dressing up in the utmost fashion while still staying cozy and warm.  Hubby calls me a “snow bunny” when I am so perfectly put together in my handmade wardrobe for the snowy weather.  All I know is that when I feel fabulous in my chic, me-made items that in itself brings on bonus energy…and compliments from others.  Yes, you really can wear something other than boring, practical clothes for the snow.  After all, it is the prettiest of weather occurrences, in my opinion, for where we live! 

So, here is my latest, greatest, and newest “snow bunny” sewing project for our most recent winter storm – an 80’s era faux fur bomber jacket.  It has an integral scarf feature to keep me ultimately cozy.  The “fur” has a thick knit base for comfort and ease of movement.  The hem bindings and scarf are soft, matching fleece.  It has dramatic batwing sleeves and an unexpected asymmetric closing.  Best of all, it is a designer style from my favorite couture creator, Emanuel Ungaro! 

The soft texture and icy light blue color suits as a proper follow up to my previous post, my Snow Queen inspired “Pandemic Princess” dress.  Not that this is actually a part of that blog series, but I certainly had my recent princess dress still on my mind when I whipped this jacket together, you can tell.  It is related, but separate.  That Snow Queen dress was my last project for 2020 and this related jacket was my first for 2021.  Crown or no crown, the inner modern princess in me delights in the practical luxury of this fun and warm little coat.  The falling snow is the best backdrop visual compliment to it I could have possibly wanted.

If you notice the details, there is a lot of older pieces from on hand which came together perfectly for this outfit.  For keeping my scarf in place, I included a giant snowflake pin, which I have had for many years now.  The beige boots and Isotoner brand gloves are 80’s vintage pieces from my mom back from before my time.  My skirt is something I had bought RTW from the early 2000 decade but has a nice touch of vintage reference to it, I think.  It is almost 30’s style with its fit-and-flare design and suit inspired herringbone acrylic knit material.  Yet, the 80’s rehashed many decades successfully and besides – a slim fitting bottom separate is the best option for a poufy jacket like this one.  I’ve always wanted something me-made and dressy to match with this skirt ever since I got it so many years back.  Finally, that idea has come true and it is glorious.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of a polyester faux fur combined with scraps of a polyester anti-pill fleece leftover from making this 60’s inspired Burda Style cocoon coat.

PATTERN:  Vogue Paris Original Design #1620, year 1985

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Just thread and a two hook-and-eyes, which I had on hand. No interfacing needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in 15 hours and finished on January 4, 2021.

TOTAL COST:  I got the fur on sale and the fleece was remnants (thus free) so the total was only about $10.

I had been holding onto the materials used on this coat for 2 years.  Only recently did inspiration suddenly strike as to what to do with the faux fur and fleece remnants.  I originally though a puffy vest might look good, or a princess-seamed moto jacket.  I only had one yard of fur to work with after all and scraps of random sizes.  Then I suddenly thought of how unconventional fashion choices appear so much more tasteful when using designer inspiration.  There is almost no one designer I favor more than Ungaro for killer coats, jackets, and suit blazers.  This is my second jacket design of Ungaro’s that I have made (see the first one here) from my pattern stash. I have many more patterns of his in my cabinets yet to make, so, after how much I like the two I have sewn, consider this the beginning of an obsession. 

Anyway, I figured, as I wanted this to match with a particular blue skirt (as I mentioned above), I had certain styles to figure which would complement but contrast with its slim silhouette.  I also wanted something new and different, something unlike what I currently have.  This wide and generous bomber jacket style was a happy guess-timate on my part.  I like bold fashion choices and I know it, which is why the 80’s is so appealing to me.  It would be such a relief if only I could get past the crushing self-doubt I have to deal with every time I create such a project. 

This faux fur is really sparse in loftiness or the ‘hair’ and therefore was easy to work with.  It reminds me of the kind of fur that is used for the ‘skin’ of such characters as Elmo, Grover, and Oscar who are on “Sesame Street” or Animal from “The Muppets”.  I only had to do minor parting of the fur at the minimal seams that were on this jacket.  I did no clipping of the fur as I prefer the long nap of it.  I also used a ball point needle in my machine to sew it and that worked out smoothly as there is a thick chain knitted backing.  It is soft underneath and not scratchy so I followed the instructions and did not line the coat.  I don’t need convincing to keep a simple project, well…simple. Amazingly, this is plenty warm being one layer.  

What adds to the warmth of the jacket is a combo of the fact that the front is a double-breasted wrap and there is an integral scarf collar.  My hubby said that the features of this coat reminded him of the 1950s, and turns out he wasn’t far off.  I have found several instances of integral scarf collar jackets and suits coats used on designer fashions of the late 50’s to early 60’s.  I did not interface the collar because you want it to be more like an attached scarf you cannot loose (so handy).  The pattern for it was all one piece that is folded in half, ending in an angled, pointed seam just like all those vintage original examples I show.  I love how the collar scarf follows the asymmetric neckline, closing on the left shoulder.   

The chest of the coat is double layered because it completely wraps around to close at the inner shoulder seam, oppositely of the scarf closing (right side).  I sewed in an oversize hook-and-eye in this spot and it is almost hidden in the plushness of the knit underside.  This way my jacket is just as neat if I choose to leave the scarf neck open instead of closed.  It is kind of similar to a moto jacket when worn with the neck scarf undone, a style I had a mind to possibly choose anyway.  There is a still a little room for versatility here.

One look at the envelope cover and you can see the one major detail I did leave out – the peplum.  Especially when paired with the matching skirt, I just could not like the peplum on the jacket.  I cut them out, and made them, and pinned them to the bottom of the otherwise finished main body.  I don’t know how the models made the original design seem so appealing, but the peplum made my jacket seem to drown me and become frumpy in style overall.  Part of my issue was that my peplum was cut in the same contrast fleece I chose for the scarf collar.  I had no other choice working on such limited cuts of material!  I believe the peplum issue comes down to the fact it added too much of a different color and texture to pair well with the fur of the main body.

This jacket was originally supposed to be a wrap closing at the waist but with the peplum gone, that would no longer work.  I cut off the long ties I had sewn into the side seams and unpicked the longer of the two.  Then I turned it into a hem casing and added a hook-and-eye at the corresponding spots along the new waistline.  (The front waistline pleats match together.)  Later I turned that second shorter tie into something worthwhile, so my tweaks to the design after the fact I were not a complete loss.

As the exterior fur is slightly itchy, I adapted the sleeve hems to match with the new waist hem.  I luckily had some pre-made fleece blanket binding which happened to be the same color as the fleece I was using.  I hand sewed strips of that over the wrist hem underneath the fur.  Just enough of the binding is sticking out to both be noticed and prevent the fur from touching my skin.  Hand sewing was easy because the wrist openings were skinny fitting and the fur covers up the thread nicely.  This is why I also hand stitched down the facing inside along the front jacket openings.  Designer inspired projects always deserve fine finishing.

Ungaro’s year 1985 jacket was an incredibly easy project for being a Designer Vogue pattern. This, coupled with the unused waist tie and peplum, led me to take the extra step to whip up a small accessory for myself out of the leftover remnants.  I made a little headband out of the tubing of the one waist tie left!  I cut the length of it in half, wrapped those two halves around each other, then hand tacked the joining fold where they meet in the center.  Finally, I stitched the ends together to a small cut of brown elastic (to match my hair).  It was easy, impromptu, and fun with no pattern needed!  I can always use a cute winter accessory.  I am still left with challenge of finding a good way to reuse the peplum’s fleece.  Should I try handmade gloves, maybe, for something very different and novel?  Or maybe a pair of 1940s era house slippers?  I have a pattern for almost anything here on hand.

What is commonly seen as inclement weather, is merely an opportunity to for me to keep off the chill in self-made style.  ‘Warm but fashionable’ is a combo I do not see most RTW fashion offering unless it is in a higher end price range.  If you can sew, though, those boundaries do not apply.  I made this on one yard and some remnants.  It was designer made in under 20 hours.  Send your worst, winter.  My wardrobe is prepared for you and my pocketbook is not on empty either.  

I hope you enjoy the snow as much as I do…but perhaps you don’t even get to see it at all where you live.  It transforms the cold into a visual delight (that is only good until you have to drive in it).  If you have made an item to counter your inclement weather, something that you feel great in but is useful at the same time, let me know!  I want to see how others interpret such a challenge of overcoming the elements in style.

Cold Shouldered

An ice queen wouldn’t really feel frigid temperatures, I would assume, so she can dress purely for beauty, aesthetics, and the power of her position, right?  Okay, we have that understood.  It wouldn’t be too assumptive either, would it, for the next step to be automatically suppose that character also has certain affectionless traits of a queen who has the capability to freeze water and produce snow?  Perhaps.  However, Disney’s animated “Frozen” movies both 1 and 2 (2013 and 2019, respectively) counter some of such widely set understandings of such a particular fantasy female character.  Ice queens are almost always given a villainess arc in other related stories and films, yet Disney’s version becomes (dare to say) thawed by love and warmed of heart yet still upholds her powers and magical capabilities.  It’s weird and kind of a disappointing change for me, but hey – Elsa does have some awesome cold-shouldered fashion in common with her fellow more malevolent ice queens, so I can definitely roll with that!

Because I am not really a frosty temperament nor am I tolerant of the cold weather, I am happy to have found a way to make an open shouldered gown warm to wear, vintage styled (of course), and practical all at once for a personal interpretation to an ice queen character.  Of course I needed the proper crown and jewelry to match the part, so I also crafted a crystal crown and ring for my set, too.  This is part two of my newest 2021 blog post series called the “Pandemic Princess”.  Part one can be found here – it is my remake of a dress worn by Anna, the sister of Elsa from “Frozen”, so this is kind of like a sequel post to that one. 

Yet, this princess post’s outfit is inherently different since I do not relate to Elsa (as I discussed at the end of my previous post).  Inspired as well by the old Hans Christian Anderson “Snow Queen” tale, I however, mainly incorporated strong references of my preferred ice queen, one who is just as enthralling as she is scary.  She jumps off alive from the pages of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia…the White Witch called Jadis.  She is a not a true queen of course (those who know the books understand) but she still reigns over her spell of an eternal winter with such an iron hand that there is no Christmas.  She is not a character to ‘like’ necessarily but I find her captivating as appalling in her mystery and importance to the story.  The seven Narnia Chronicles are just about my favorite books ever and the strong character of Jadis has formed my idea of a snow queen.  Disney did do a fantastic job at outfitting actress Tilda Swinton to become a great visual interpretation of the White Witch in the 2005 “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie

One of the White Witch’s trademarks is her wearing of fur to symbolize her ruthless brutality to the creatures of Narnia.  A polar bear may be pulling her chariot one day then become a coat the next…ugh.  (See several examples here.)  After all, Jadis did wear as a collar the mane of the great Aslan the day after killing Him.  My outfit gave a further nod to the character of Jadis in a fair and humane way by wearing either my Grandmother’s vintage 50’s era fur coat collar or a cut of white polyester faux fur, leftover from a coat my mom made me as a child.  These added items were my refuge to keep such a dress with an open neckline warm to wear in the cold, anyway.  Such a style is called cold-shouldered for a reason, but it only becomes literal when the wearer is also frigid in personality.  I was doing my best at looking the part of a stern snow queen in many of these pictures, but it is really hard not to smile in an outfit this fantastic.

Both Elsa in “Frozen” as well as Narnia’s Jadis only wear open shoulder dresses.  The White Witch prefers dramatic, heavyweight dresses though while Elsa of “Frozen” sports lightweight, sparkling, elegant finery.  Both queens incorporate elements of the Hans Christian Anderson Snow Queen, who looked “as if (her dress) had been made from millions of star shaped flakes.  She was beautiful as she was graceful.”  (The classic Anderson Snow Queen also has a chariot and is portrayed in images wrapped in furs like the White Witch.)  All of these ladies gravitate to pastel blues, greys, and white tones (with exception of “Frozen Fever”).

Being worn with bare shoulders, I realized early on that my snow queen creation had to be a dress yet still be closer to a coat.  I wanted it out of a warm and sturdy material to channel Jadis, yet something soft and lovely in sheen to incorporate Elsa.  An all-cotton textured chenille which was found in the decorator’s fabric section on clearance at my local JoAnn store was just the ticket.  It has a white, frosty overtone to the dusty blue because of the fluffy nap (similar to a quality velvet).  Yet the substantial ‘hand’ to it, being a decorator material, is perfect to hold up a strapless dress.  You don’t see much of chenille anymore, both in stores and in fashion today, and that’s a shame.  It is lovely fabric that I remember liking a lot back in the 80’s and 90’s as I was growing up.  This flashback gave me an idea of what direction to look for choosing my pattern design.

Off shouldered vintage dresses are almost every time something super fancy, for evening wear, or not remotely utilitarian.  This was not something I wanted for my “Pandemic Princess” collection, as I said in my announcement post.  I need a “pretty princess” dress I can wear anywhere and everywhere, as often as I want!  I remembered how the 80’s and 90’s (cue the tip from the chenille) were so good at attractive avant-garde fashions which took unexpected creative spins on many ‘traditional styles’.  I found a “New York New York, The Collection” Designer pattern, a McCall’s #4442 from 1989, that hit all the right buttons for me.  It is part body fitting coat, part feminine dress, but altogether powerfully asymmetric enough to suit placing myself ‘in the shoes’ of an intense queen character.  Except for my shoulders, I could be covered up in the cold, too, in the ankle length and long sleeves – just like Elsa!

As weird as the pattern pieces for this looked on paper, the making of the dress turned out fantastic!  The fit was spot on, instructions were clear.  My dress is remarkably easy to move in, as well, and comfy.  It has raglan sleeves.  Pleated darts in the front from the neckline down which shape the bust yet open to give ease in the hips.  There are also pleated darts in the back which are sewn in from bottom to waist to give an amazing bloused back but fitted booty.  As proof, just freaking check out that silhouette the dress gives from behind!  There is a tapered skinny skirt and skinny long sleeves.  The front cover did a horrible job at portraying all of these fantastic details, and the back only gives tiny, limited line drawings.  Under the cover of the loosely sketched fashion illustration, it hides a gem inside.

I made a few slight changes to the design.  An asymmetric closure ends in a pleat which opens up into a walking slit (which I moved from being a kick open style in the back).  After all, Elsa’s “Let It Go” song dress has that infamous thigh-high front slit and sensual fit!  As I didn’t want to deal with closing all those buttons nor try to stitch in buttonholes through the thick fabric, I sewed the buttons down permanently to have the front be a mock closing.  They are silver foiled mock crystal squares to nod to the ice queens who inspired me. Then, I added a left side seam closing invisible zipper to compensate for the faux buttons.  Due to a small lack of fabric (buying an end-of-the-bolt on clearance meant I was ½ yard too short for what I needed) the sleeves are indistinguishably two-pieced along the elbow.

As chenille frays like crazy, all seams are finished inside with a double zig-zagged stitch to imitate overlock stitching from a serger, while the bottom hem and sleeves has vintage rayon hem tape in turquoise.  The instructions impressively called for very fine finishing techniques similar to what I see in Vintage Vogue Special Design patterns or modern Vogue designer ones.  I felt the chenille just couldn’t handle French seams or an additional edge binding, though.  I can wear a slip in lieu of lining and the fabric is not scratchy.  It was important to keep such an odd but fantastic dress simple. 

Speaking of simple, when prepping my supplies for the making of this dress I was prepared to tolerate the possibility of adding in an internal structure (boning or horsehair trim) to either the body or neckline of this dress.  I honestly had no idea going into this if it would just end up a nightmare of a project.  Luckily, it was not – only remarkable easy.  This was so different a style, I didn’t know what to anticipate!  I soon found that as long as I properly interfaced the front placket and the wide neckline facing as the pattern recommended, as well as found a snug fit for the waist and below, the dress stays up and in place. 

The pattern called for little shoulder inserts if a full cold-shoulder is not wanted.  I actually cut out these pieces of a skin-toned power mesh and had them ready to sew in, only to try on the dress and love it as-is with a fully bare neck and shoulder line.  The pattern has a wide facing which stabilizes the ‘collar’.  It was a weirdly wonky piece that I cut out of a dark green cotton and ironed heavy interfacing to the wrong side.  As crazy as that piece looked flat on tissue paper, it did the trick.  I adore the way this neckline frames my face and is low-key drama.  Without being snug, the wide neck opening is also not sloppy on my body.  It stay perilously on the curved ends of my shoulders so perfectly.  This is a mysterious wonder of a design. Did I say enough times already that I love this dress?!? 

Unlike the White Witch in the Disney film, my dramatic up-do is ALL my own hair!!!

Mirroring the way ice forms into defined faceted, geometric shapes, I chose natural crystal quartz to make my own crown and ring set to match my outfit.  Sterling silver findings give it that cold shine.  Back when I was at my local craft and hobby store buying the crystals, I was walking around the section for findings when I saw an ad for wire wrapping.  I liked the appearance of that technique and figured it might be a way to attach the quartz stacks to become jewelry.  This was my first try and I know there is vast room for improvement but I am happy my crazy idea was a success. 

I wound the wire in and around one quartz column then wrapped the rest of the frame to become the ring.  The crown’s crystals were wrapped around the center of a necklace wire.  This way I have not only made a crown, but also something I can wear as around the neck to make the most of my time, money, and supplies.  There are screw off nobs at the ends so I can even slide off the crown’s quartz crystals and reuse the necklace if I ever want to.  I’m all about splurging on something as superfluous as crown, but at the same time I’m also incredibly practical, you see.  What carat is the rock I am wearing, I wonder?  To match, my earrings are vintage 1950’s faux diamond pieces from my Grandmother.  My dark beige boots from my White Witch inspired photos are of the 1980’s era from my mom.  

Hey, Olaf! “Do you wanna build a snowman”

All of the ice or snow queen characters are so inherently sad, so I hope my version of such a role is a much happier, brighter spirited one.  A kiss of the Snow Queen blinds the mind’s eye of the little boy Kai – another kiss from her would have killed him.  Jadis only shows a mock kindness to Edmund so that she can later kill him and his siblings.  Elsa finds herself alone internally due to her powers, even after the power of love allows her to physically touch her family and friends.  Most all of us now know the crippling deprivation of seclusion in some manner since the pandemic of 2020 hit. 

As frosty as these queens are, they have now become easier to empathize with through the bitter loss of social contact in today’s society.  This post’s pictures were taken around Christmastime decorations and after a long-awaited snowfall.  Thus, combined with my fantastic new outfit and the company of my immediate family, there was a lot of fun to be had behind the scenes.  This makes for a joyful, novel understanding of the snow queen persona I undertook by creating this outfit.  I hope this shines through to you as you read this post and enjoy the images.  Let’s not turn into snow queens ourselves, but work on finding ways to let love break through the icy solitude and cold seclusion of the world today.

“Even if there is no Narnia, I will continue to live as a Narnian!” -quote from The Silver Chair. We had fun playing out the parts from the stories with our son!