My “Trial and Tribute” 1940’s Suit Slacks

I had a lucky happen-stance
To fit into a pair of vintage pants.
I made them “according-to-the-letter”
And, happily, they couldn’t fit better-
The best surprise ever!

I suppose my ditty almost says it all…my very first attempt at making pants did indeed turn out amazingly well. Slacks have always been a great mystery to me and a source of mental terror, feeling like they are impossible to be made perfect. After seeing the plethora of fitting tutorials and reading through tailoring info for pants, I really feel like I bit the bullet and missed a guaranteed failure with these pants by doing not one iota of adjustments and coming out with a great finished pair. There’s nothing better than a success when prepared for disaster! Plus, now I have a new and different vintage clothing item to wear – 1940’s slacks – along with more confidence and knowledge than before! I learn by jumping in headfirst and just getting things done. Those of you who have done pants already might think I’m overreacting, but, hey – everybody has to start somewhere. 100_4212a-comp

badge.80This post is part of my own “Agent Carter” 1940’s sew along.  Join me by leaving a comment to let me know about your own 1940’s sewing project.

Making and wearing trousers was totally out of my comfort zone. I have never found a pair of ready-to-wear pants which actually fit me, stayed up on me, and came at my true waist well enough to actually be comfortable and enjoy wearing. Thus, I have conventionally found skirts to be more comfortable and versatile (probably always will), but sewing my own pants is helping me realize why women of the 40’s wanted to wear pants. I may be on my way to being won over to the Katherine Hepburn/Marlene Dietrich style of feminine menswear. These pants fit too snug for a proper, looser, vintage style, and yet they fit very well for a modern style, so there is more work and fitting to be done with my next pair of slacks. I feel they are a nice in between modern and vintage to introduce me to pants wearing.

Hepburn and Dietritch in pantsNow, maybe you can understand why these are my “trial” pants, as my title says. As my first slacks, too, they are also a “tribute” to (as I mentioned above) three leading ladies of the 1940’s, Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Veronica Lake, all of who made history with their remarkable style and the confidence with which they wore that style. Personally, I am self-conscious about my thighs and rear end when I wear slacks, and I’d like to have a bit of the confidence of Hepburn to not be afraid to feel the empowerment, freedom, and confidence to be one’s self and be a strong woman. Hepburn’s style gave me the idea to pair my suit pants with my basic 1943 power blouse. I love to dress up and go fancy, so I have always admired how Dietrich was able to pull off both dressing in classy gowns and conventional women’s wear as well as wearing menswear while still looking attractively feminine. Dietrich inspired me to add my hubby’s suspenders to my outfit. Veronica Lake is my idol when it comes to the most beautiful hairstyle for long hair – I styled my hair as my best imitation of her “peek-a-boo” waves for this photo shoot. I feel badly about certain parts of myself (I think most people have this, too), and I, as a petite lady, appreciate the fact that, for Ms. Lake being such a tiny woman (only 4’11), fashion was worked in her advantage to compliment her in a way so that they made the most of what she had. Three history making women, completely different, come together in my own way with my pants project.

100_4217b-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a 100% polyester suiting from Hancock Fabrics. The suiting both has a nice texture on top and a basket-weave design between the black and the deep purple colors. Simplicity 3688

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing and hook-and-eyes needed for the waistband, as well as the black thread. Basically, all I bought was a zipper.  I have a deep suspicion I should have used buttons for the side closing, they might be more authentic.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 3688, a 1940’s reprint.  It seems almost every vintage blogger who sews has made a neat pair of these pants 🙂

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with my trial attempt and a few things to fix slightly, they were done quickly, after maybe 4 hours, from start to finish, which was on October 23, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  …basic and raw.

TOTAL COST:  For two yards, I paid half price – $7.50. I set myself up for a disappointment by choosing a fabric I really liked, but didn’t pay too much for it. Thus, if the pants were unable to be salvaged, I wouldn’t be put out (although I haven’t yet found an item I haven’t been able to recover).

I understand that for most people, making a pants pattern “as is” would not turn out a nicely fitting finished project. Thus, I would like to share the sizing I chose and the adjustments made in case it might help someone else. Just to be on the safe side, I ran on the slightly larger size range for below the waist when it came to cutting out. I made the corresponding size for my waist measurement at the waist and the waistband, but for the behind, crouch, and legs I went up a size. The waistband turned out fitting quite well, almost snug, so when the pants were finished I added a second hook and eye further out when I feel like I need some extra room. The inseam fit well but rather snug, so after the pants were sewn together, I decided to unpick the length from where my tailbone is to halfway up the front and slightly adjust. Instead of a wide ‘U’, which is what the inseam looked like originally, I cut a new lower inseam dipping 2 ½ inches lower where the inner pants seam meets. Now the inseam is closer to a curved ‘V’, but now I have just a tad more room – all that I need for my slacks to be just right!

100_4215compAfter briefly wearing my pants for the first time, I felt the waistband to be a bit wide and overwhelming. They tended to sit very high on my torso, even higher than my high waist. I did a quick and easy fix by merely folding the waistband in half inside the pants, and hand-stitching things down.

Hemming the pants was a very hard part for me to figure. Hubby’s help was needed for this step. I kind of felt weird for it to be so hard for me to find the right length to hem my pants, but a skirt or a dress is what I’m used to working with and they are so much easier. You can stand there and figure out where it falls, but for pants, the hem is at my ankles, and I can’t reach that far (no, duh, right?!), nor can I understand how to measure down from the inseam…see…I have to get used to sewing slacks. Every time I move the pants hem changes and moves too – even just bending over to look down changes things. Oh well. I’m just thankful for hubby’s help. Now, with these trousers, I have a sort of “bench mark” to go by to figure out the hem for my next pants.

100_4078Simplicity 322 & 3848 pants patterns comboTrying to do a Google search for the original version of my 40’s slacks, or even similar styles, afforded patterns from the early to mid-1940’s. I have already made the blouse (see the blog page for it here) from the same pattern used for my pants, and I had found out that the pattern (including the blouse, jacket, and skirt) was a reprint from the year 1941. Apparently the trousers were added to the Simplicity 3935 yr 1941 original envelopepattern’s ensemble from another different release. These slacks do not have front pleats and the slightly roomy fit of 1940’s casual bottoms, so I’m assuming they are supposed to be dressy, as I made them. However, as you can see in my post’s picture above, I tried wearing the pattern’s satin blouse with the slacks and thought it looked just so-so, not as great a combo as when worn with my cotton 1943 blouse. I have since made and found other blouses and tops that also work wonderfully with my 40’s dress slacks, making them more handy and versatile than first imagined.

Agent Peggy Carter took advantage of the versatility and convenience of pants many times when her job demanded a highly active, risky, or even professional situation. She owns the “wearing of the pants” with a confidence and realistic fit which is a beautiful thing. I especially love the way her pants seamlessly work into her existing wardrobe, mixing and matching with the blouses and suit jackets I see worn with skirts, as well. Oftentimes, I enjoy noticing that when Agent Carter wears her pants she takes on a slightly masculine touch to another part of her ensemble – like a chunky, leather belt or an over-sized military-style shoulder bag/pouch. Agent Carter’s slacks seem to fit more on the snug side, very similarly to my own. The “Black Widow” villainess Dottie also takes on wearing pants suits, in a very modern way, once she shamelessly shows her evil side at the end of the series. Women wearing pants had a significance in the 1940’s, and it is seen in the quiet undercurrents of both Agent Carter and in true history.

Peggy in pants - ValedictionDottie and the doctor,cropped

Taking photos for this post was an incredible amount of fun – so much so that my little man got into the whole “say cheese” thing (as he calls it).  I can’t help but feel great in these pants…and I think he caught on to my happy mojo.  I am a shorter average height and these pants make me feel tall, slender, and curvy.  How many pants for women nowadays are so tailored they get ironed?!

100_4221compBy the way, pardon all the terms I use for my newest creation, but is it “pants”, “trousers”, “slacks”, …or what?  I know there are several terms for bifurcated bottoms, and although all of the terms used in my post are probably appropriate, I have a feeling certain words are more traditionally suited to a particular use. I read somewhere (sorry I don’t remember) that “trousers” were for designating men’s wear bottoms, and “slacks” for women’s wear. When did the term “pants” come in and become popular, is my question, since this is the term I hear and see the most in our modern days. Your insightful comments are welcome.

Whatever the term, my new suit slacks are another victory over what had been a sewing hurdle, and another new thing for me to try. Now that I’ve become acquainted with pants, there a whole other world of techniques to I’m itching to try – front fly zippers, rivets, and hopefully men’s vintage trousers. The world of sewing seems to offer limitless possibilities, and my “trial and tribute” 1940’s pants just widened that vast realm a bit more. Sewing is indeed a wonderful worthwhile skill to exercise.

Advertisements

The “Lake Girl” Wanna-be 40’s Satin blouse

I suppose I am stretching the rules a bit at first glance with my submission for the “Wardrobe Staple: Shirt Challenge”. However, my husband made the point that while shirts are not blouses, perhaps all blouses are shirts. Despite this confusion, at least this IS my new dressy ‘wardrobe staple’ and I am VERY proud of how my blouse turned out. I love to wear this!!!

100_0747THE FACTS:
FABRIC: ivory crepe-back satin ($6.75)
PATTERN: Simplicity 3688, a 1941 re-issue (99 cents) for the blouse; New Look 6000 for cuffs

100_0694NOTIONS: ivory pearl buttons ($1.75), metrosheen thread (around $2), tidbit of cording (20 cents); already had interfacing and sharps needles
FIRST WORN: to a concert with my husband; I finished the blouse on Oct. 19, 2012, sewing the loop closure and the buttons just 45 minutes before leaving time…close call.
TIME TO COMPLETE: I took my time, as this was my first time sewing with satin-so this was an experiment in preparation for another project with satin. The cuffs took longer to make…so…at least 8 hours to finish, maybe 10

I had been wanting to make this pattern for quite a while, but never found the right fabric looking on my own. On one visit to the fabric store, I showed off my S36688 pattern, asking for recommendations in a wear-with-all ivory color. Michelle, the employee, showed me this soft and silky satin with the mind-blowing suggestion to switch the sides of the fabric. I had no idea this fabric could have no “right side”- apparently it was all a matter of taste. Michelle’s suggestion really made this blouse such a winner! I had already planned on adding cuffs from my New Look pattern, so I made the cuffs and the top bodice panel in the crepe back. This crepe/satin side switching seems to highlight the neat design of the blouse and break up what could have been too much shine.

100_0750The pattern was made as is (besides the cuffs), and it was both a breeze and a delight to sew together. I was doubtful at first, thinking it would be big on me when I saw the generous ease, but it fits nicely and comfortably, with the cute waistline darts to bring it in.
I love the pleats/tucks at the top of the shoulders on the sleeves. I’m thinking those darts are meant to be filled in with shoulder pads.  I might add them at some point, but I don’t want an 80’s look mixed in with the 40’s.

The cuffs fit onto the sleeves like they were made for this pattern. Also, the whole interfacing and straight points on the cuffs turned out very well for me. I even cut out a second bias neckband, cut it in half lengthwise, hemmed the pieces, then sewed the strips over each cuff/sleeve seam inside for a smooth, professional look. A button is sewn on each side to simulate fake ‘cufflinks’!
After I made this blouse I was disappointed to see not many raving reviews among Sew Weekly. Meg the Grand was pleased with her version of this blouse, while Debi Fry and Liz seemed o.k. with it but less than pleased with the envelope picture. Oh well, the blouse does refuse to stay tucked in when I move, just like Liz had said. As for myself, the pattern envelope screamed “Veronica Lake”- and that in itself was reason enough for my interest.

100_0748Simplicity 3688 reminded me of Veronica Lake’s train traveling outfit in the black and white 1942 movie “This Gun for Hire” (the first major film together for actor Alan Ladd and Ms. Lake). This pattern’s ensemble isn’t exactly her outfit, just similar (in my opinion) style-wise, so don’t tell me I’m wrong if you watch the movie. Besides the movie and pattern sharing the same original release date of 1941, the envelope model also has a good Veronica Lake ‘peekaboo’ hairstyle going on there. I’ve attempted to imitate the peekaboo lately, but, if I try harder, I will do Ms. Lake’s hairstyle yet.

Hollywood tidbit: It’s amazing how her fame was so short lived (1940-1949) and revolved around her hairstyle. She couldn’t dance or sing- but her appeal alone got her far. Her long, blond ‘peekaboo’ hairstyle was so widely imitated that she was asked to cut her hair for the duration of WWII since such a hairstyle was seen as hazardous to females working around machinery. She boldly made a public service video to address the safety subject with her hair pinned up.veronica lake in war helmetveronica lake with hair in gear pole

She may have been the most famous actress during the war. She vied with Dorothy Lamour for some influential roles. She herself said that if she hadn’t been such a rebel she might have gone far, but she didn’t want to be a Hollywood puppet, and held onto her freedom without regret. It’s a shame she’s been labeled so maliciously now by history.
Speaking of short, the main reason why Veronica Lake was paired so often with Alan Ladd is because he was about 5’5″ and she was 4’11”!  At left is a publicity shot of Ladd and Lake from “This Gun for Hire”.

VeronicaLake-picSo, anyway…back to my sewing. I have a full shot picture – and a humorous shot of the back of the blouse.

My husband didn’t tell me till AFTER I posed that my skirt label was showing. Very funny…but it happens, so it’s kinda cute. While trying to be fashionable, I go tell the world my size – just lovely!  Visit my Flickr page Seam Racer for more pictures.

100_0749