So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?” As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question. I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he! Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way! My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.
This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning. The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable. The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid. The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple. All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources. Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!
FABRIC: The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine
PATTERNS: Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print
NOTIONS: I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished. The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.
TIME TO COMPLETE: The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016. The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.
THE INSIDES: The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape. The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.
Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop. The owner knew I sew. She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer. The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set. The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining. She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust. Ugh! That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix. The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well. The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths. It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist. Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading. The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.
The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left. I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked. The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway. The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face. I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.
As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again. With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves. I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern. The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same. Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item. Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.
The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch. Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material! It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty! I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this. It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is. I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell. As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?! It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.
There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse. Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme. Pictures do not do it justice. Not your basic dirt shirt here! Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details. It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body. There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops. Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style. The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization. With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style. This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.
However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything. Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat. They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable. For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it. I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts. I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!
The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully. When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item! This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make! I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband! I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.
To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations. Don’t judge me here, please! I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through. The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well. In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts. The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams. For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.
The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think. At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric. However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason! There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s. The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade. The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels. The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length. It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.
To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time. I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era. In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion. There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place! There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.
I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them. However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way. Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing. I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it! I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later. 1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!