Hidden Opacity

There is so much “extra” that goes into completing an outfit, especially with vintage styles because that can include a bunch of things that are overlooked today.  This might include gloves, jewelry, hats, and even more hidden and not so noticed items such as lingerie…proper slips and the like.  Necessary, matching underclothes and accessories often came with vintage garments originally, yet, most sadly, a large number have these items missing today.  There must be some mysterious gremlin or just some badly run estate sales which misplace those matching slips for vintage sheer dresses, or those self-fabric belts which somehow are sadly missing to complete an outfit!  Perhaps their former owners wore such items to death and they didn’t survive.  Anyway, this leaves one who can sew plenty of extra work to make items that will not be seen and be underappreciated (as a whole), yet just as necessary to bring a vintage original piece back to life.

What cannot be seen doesn’t mean it is not important.  Take this lovely vintage late 50’s or early 1960’s dress which came into my possession.  All I got was just the dress. Now, I am not in the least complaining!  It fits me, is in perfect condition, has wonderful details, and has my favorite colors.  However, it is missing its belt and definitely needing more than just your average slip to be complete it.

Now, the ‘trick’ of a classy, ladylike sheer dress is to be revealing yet not show enough to look like a tart.   So, that opacity which is needed can be an opportunity for fun – you can make that slip naughty, add whatever details or go basic, and even have fun with the color.  What is great about making an underslip is that, firstly, it is all about you – it is the most indulgent selfish sewing which is still justified because of its necessity.  It is all for your viewing (unless you post a picture of it) and your intimate wearing.  Secondly, I love the irony in that you are wearing it but yet it is both seen and yet not detected!  Such little things as a slip or a belt is also a great way for one who sews to make a little extra effort and both put your personal touch on a vintage piece and restore it at the same time.

After all this chatter, what I did make to go under my vintage dress was a deep burgundy-tinted purple satin crepe slip.  Any shade of purple is my favorite color, but I love the way it prevents any see-through and adds an interesting tone of color to the sheer dress over it at the same time.  I do like going darker than lighter with my underslips (as I did for this 1930’s dress) – it makes the dress more obviously sheer yet still highlights your underwear discreetly.  The print on this vintage dress is so busy you can’t notice the dark slip here, though.

The funny thing is, that on its own, my slip actually looks like a sundress to me.  It has nice details, but it still is rather basic overall and provides full lingerie coverage.  Oh well, I wanted something that rather looked like a dress actually because I had other plans for this slip.  There is another sheer outfit – one that I will post in the coming months – which I like wearing over this slip as well.  The neckline on this outfit is a deep V, so I want the slip to fill in the décolletage for me.  I love making one piece become a useful, working staple in my wardrobe.  Already this slip has proved its worth and is used more often than I had imagined.  Yay – so many times the simplest projects are the most useful.


FABRIC:  For being a polyester, this fabric is soft, flowing, and very good quality.  It has a darker, more burgundy color satin side, and a lighter, purpler buff crepe side.  I used the satin side facing out on my slip.  This is the second time I am using this fabric – the first time was to make the ‘pocket’ flaps and the belt for my 1955 Redingote jacket (post here).

PATTERN:  Advance #5552, year 1951 (I’m dying to make the dress from this pattern as well!!!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and bias tape (to cover the raw edges inside)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in only 4 hours and made in one afternoon (on May 11, 2016)

TOTAL COST:  as this was clearance fabric, and I only used under two yards, this is a $3 slip.

Just a few posts back I mentioned that circa 1951 is one of my new favorite time periods for fashion…well here’s another one to add to that count!  This slip does have a classic 1950s “New Look” shape of the times to it with the full skirt and trim waistline.  I’m supposing the cover drawing is slightly deceptive the way the woman is so tall and the skirt is so full.  I have to wear a poufy petticoat, but without that I would have to sew horsehair braid to the inner hemline to get my version to actually copy that image.  Many times the idealism on drawn envelope covers makes us think our projects will turn out differently than they really do…but that’s okay to a point for me – we all love a good and glamorous pattern image, but the line drawing to a design are the meaty reality at the end of it all.

There is a waistline zipper in the side seam – there was no other way to get that trim waist shaping.  A zipper in the side seam of a slip seems really odd today, doesn’t it?!  I learned from sewing this 1940s slip that such a closure feature isn’t really a problem until I wear another garment which also has a zipper on the same side.  A zipper on top of a zipper is not comfortable.  This was the 50’s though – fashion was above comfort.  My Grandma has told me the corsets from that time were torture.  At same point I might re-install my slip’s zipper on the opposite – the right side – as clothes so that there is no overlapping.  It feels odd when I get dressed to find my zipper on that side but it turns out better for the overall comfort of wearing.  This is not the 50’s anymore and after all this is my sewing, so I am darn well going to customize it however I’d like!

The bust shaping here was also definitely tailored for a 1950s bra, maybe even a bullet bra or one-piece corsetlet.  There was sooo much extra room!  I brought a lot of the extra in by sewing a much larger seam allowance in the top half of the center bodice seam.  Otherwise, the little trio of radiating horizontal tucks did a fine and unusual job of allowing room for the bust.  I have seen this manner of shaping once before on the Simplicity #8252 (originally #8270 from 1950) but the reissue has French darts, too, which my slip dress doesn’t have.

Advance patterns have funky sizing issues in my experience, so as much as I wanted to make the sheer dress from this pattern, too, I felt that making the slip first was a good way to test out the proportions.  Many Advance patterns run small, and this one kind of held true to that.  The overall length (unhemmed) was evening length (remember how I said the cover drawing made the model too tall?) and the bust was generous (expected because of the lingerie popular for the time) but otherwise the waist was inhumanly small.  I sized up for the waist and hips for this slip from looking at the pattern tissue on me beforehand.  It’s a good thing I did, otherwise this would not been a success…only a headache to fix.  Now I know what to expect when I make that wonderful sheer dress that is the rest of the pattern.

From the best estimating I can do, I am guessing that my slip is a bit early for the actual dating of the true vintage dress that I wear with it.  As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, I am estimating this dress is late 50’s or early 1960s after finding a few sewing pattern covers and fashion photography images.  There is a year 1958 Simplicity #2411 pattern with a similar back neckline drape, kimono sleeve, and rounded neck.  There is an unidentified late 50’s Butterick with an even more exact back neckline sash drape.  However, the closest and classiest look-alike to my vintage dress is actually from Nina Ricci of 1960 – this has a similar silhouette and fabric colors and print.

However, my dress has a label of “Marcy Lee of Dallas, Texas”.  Marcy Lee was one of the over 100 blossoming clothing companies that began in the mid 1930s (circa 1933, actually) of Dallas, and this line capitalized on the marketability of low-cost cotton housedresses (info from here).  For being an affordable “housedress”, this is still a lovely dress, with amazing details, a classic style, and appealing design.  I really can’t say the same about the cheap and basic cotton knit clothes that are sold today!  Even though this dress is made of the most delicate cotton gauze, somehow it still was made well enough to hold up all these years so I can wear it today.

The details to the closing of this dress gave me the inspiration to adapt my own sewing.  When I was making my 1951 wide collared dress and I couldn’t figure out a front closing method to replace the side zipper, I used the front fly method off of this dress to know what to do.  This was a gift to me in more ways than one because it actually taught me how to do something in my sewing I would not have known otherwise.

As much as I do not advocate wearing vintage garments as a clothing source, because such regular wearing without constant care and respect can render these old clothes torn, destroyed, and eventually non-existent, I do think it is important for everyone to handle, see, and experience at least some kind of old clothing on their back at some point.  Just seeing such clothes confined and displayed from a distance in a museum does not have the same personal effect for people as being subjectively tactile with them.  Find your local shop or resale boutique and enjoy yourself, open your mind to the new details you will see, and start trying things on!  It might take awhile to find something that both fits and looks good on you, but find something that you absolutely love and care for it like a good friend.  It will give you a whole new insight on the clothes of today, help any sewing skills you might have, and let you love yourself with a style as unique and individual as you are!  If you are up to it, you can even be a hero or rescuer for some of the ones that need some tender loving care (see this ‘save’ of mine), or be the one to fill in the missing parts such as I did here.  Finding clothes that earn your respect can help you wear attire which help you esteem your body shape as it is in way that I don’t see many modern clothes doing for the masses.

“Orange Flower” Sheer Cotton Dress

I’ve seen sheer dresses for 2016’s Summer trends, but I’m not one for following new fads.  However, it is a good excuse to make a new dress for myself!  Thus, using a modern pattern I’ve put my own spin on the trend to harken back to a past time when feather-weight sheer dresses were the most beautiful way to be covered up in the heat.



FABRIC:  a sheer handkerchief weight cotton/poly blend print

butterick-5951-pattern-compNOTIONS:  I used all notions from on hand: thread, a zipper, and vintage cotton bias tape given to me by my Grandma.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5951, year 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me 5 or 6 hours to make the dress but then a few more added hours to fit and adjust the sleeves.  My dress was finished on April 22, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  A combo of French seams and bias bound seams make for a super clean finished and nice looking inside for my dress.dsc_0342-comp

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when our local Hancock Fabrics store was closing so it was dirt cheap.

This pattern is a really interesting one that seems to have escaped the official labeling as “retro”.  It is pretty much as good as a vintage reprint, though.  I love the options and the details – no sleeves, quarter sleeves, or long sleeves, different necklines, skirt options, smart gathering, and streamlined seam lines.  To entice me even more, all the other versions of this pattern I saw on everyone’s blogs look so ‘to-drool-over’!

The design features to this pattern’s styles are akin to dresses from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, depending on which options you choose an how you tweak the design.  Go see my brand spanking new Pinterest page where I have a board dedicated to designs from and similar to Butterick 5951.  The way I made my dress is more like something from the late 1930’s, especially since I made mine from a sheer fabric.  The blog “Just skirts and dresses” makes this same point on this page, where she pairs the modern Butterick with a 1938 dress drawing.  “Witness 2 Fashion” also has a post on sheer dresses of August 1939 (link to the post here), where you can a DuBarry pattern (#2319B) with very similar design lines to it modern counterpart.


I must say right off – the fit on this dress pattern is awful, whether it’s really modern, or vintage or hybrid.  To me, the fit seems to run quite small all over, but especially in the waist and hips.  The sleeves are designed very badly, providing zero, zip, zilch in reach room.  The high arched neckline, for me, needed some adjustments to become what the cover drawing portrays.  Beyond these frustrating quirks, my finished dress is something I’m decently happy with, but I feel vintage original patterns have offered me better results.  If you can find a similar old original pattern, go try it first.  However, don’t shy away from this modern pattern, though, if you can tolerate extra time fitting or perhaps altering the dress.  I know I will use this pattern again, at least in parts, as the base for creating some other 30’s and early 40’s dresses I want to make, but cannot afford the pattern price to actually buy.  Has anyone else had problems with this modern-does-vintage Butterick pattern?


On the envelope cover, one would be led to think that the skirt options offered have lovely shaping, but I just don’t see it in the pattern as it is made up.  I made the paneled skirt version, and it does not have a bias flare to bottom hem that the envelope made me believe.  It is quite straight-line!  Other versions which I see made up look the same, and I’m supposing the only way to achieve the drawn version of the skirt is to go against the layout instructions and actually cut the skirt panels on the bias (across the grain).  Having a bias skirt would actually be more comfortable for this dress, anyway…live and learn, so I say to myself.  The four piece flared skirt option looks like a cross between a 50’s and a 40’s thing to me in the drawing, looking at the actual pattern pieces and other version sewn up out on the internet.  This is very confusing and disappointing to see such a promising pattern that is seemingly deceptive by not living up to its cover.


There are a handful of both changes and adjustments I had done to make the dress more vintage and accommodate my limited fabric amount of only 1 ¾ yard (50 inch width)!  Firstly, I eliminated the center back zipper.  Instead, my dress has a short back neckline placket that ties closed together (via self-fabric ties) paired with a ‘traditional’ vintage method of side zip closing.  As my fabric is sheer, I did not use the given facings and merely used bias tape to turn under at the raw edges.  As the sleeves were tight and restricting, I ended up adding in a rhombus shaped gusset for more room.  Without any substantial fabric scrap sizes, I had to make the sleeves work as they were.  I just wish I didn’t take it for granted that they would fit.  Adding the gusset gave me just a bit too much room so I added lightweight shoulder pads to fill in for and pick up the extra fabric in the chest

dsc_0699a-compTo complete my dress, I made a skinny tie-on belt out of a remnant of basic black chiffon, and decorate it with a fabric flower.  Many 1930’s fashions seem to always have a flower as part of the outfit, whether it’s on the belt, the shoulder, the neckline, wrist, or even the hair.  I also adapted my modern sheer mesh sunhat to become more vintage-ish by pinning the brim back, just like what I see in many movies, fashion pages, and pattern covers from the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Ribbon laced Chelsea Crew brand sling-back heels, orange mid-length gloves, and a handmade-by-me polished rock necklace finish my ensemble.  I’m really quite comfy and cool in this while feeling so nicely put together.  The whisper-thin cotton blend material feels so delicate, like nothing’s on…oh my!

When wearing a vintage-style sheer garment, something nice and not your regular run-of-the-mill slip will do under these fashions.  For my year 1935 sheer silk chiffon dress, I made my own detailed matching slip to be worn as the foundation.  For this dress,dsc_0341a-comp I wore my prized vintage 1940’s bias black rayon slip underneath because it is about the nicest I own, first of all (besides my 1942 rayon princess seamed slip), and also because the dark color provides opacity.  Plus, the black slip gives a nice contrast, I feel, and makes it just a bit more obvious that the dress is sheer.  (Colored, opaque slips were popular as a visible part of a multi-use ensemble in the mid-1930’s to early 40’s – see more about this here – look for Butterick 7405.)  My last sheer dress had its slip or under dress in a floral and it was attached, but not only was it from the 60’s era, but it was also was poufy, made in man-made fabrics, and not as casual and comfy as this post’s late 30’s style dress.

A see-through garment of course shows off the intimate apparel worn underneath, and although we are overly used to this fact in modern times, this is sort of weird when you think about modes of dressing in the past 20th century.  Strong corsetry and many layers were being worn by women for several decades since sheer fashions had begun to be worn around the 1900’s with the introduction of lace bodices and dresses. “Intimate apparel” ceases to become “private and personal” with transparent, gauzy, or lace fabric.  (More can be read about this here at this “Witness 2 Fashion” post.)  Perhaps the reason why this subject is interesting to me is the way I see vintage fashion knowing how to ride the fine line between classy and trashy when it comes to wearing see-through fabric.  Vintage transparent fashion sure knows how to make showing off your underwear look feminine, tasteful, and understatedly lovely.