Power dressing is not something invented by 1980s fashion, even though that is the decade with which it’s frequently associated. No – people have been doing it for as long as clothing has been around. It’s not just a showing of status or wealth anymore, though. Somewhere along the line power dressing has become a manifestation of character, confidence, and personal taste. Power dressing is empowerment that we put on in the form of fabric. It is a silent but commanding declaration. The trick is to find a balance between having it being a cutting edge statement yet tasteful enough to last through more than just a passing fad.
I don’t know anything more basic that can empower women than an awesome dress which combines the best of style, design, comfort, and classiness. If you don’t know what I mean then maybe you haven’t found something like this for yourself yet. Every decade in fashion history has had its own version of a power dress, but since the turn of the previous century, this is what the 1940’s had down to an art! There is no other woman I can think of than Marvel’s Agent Peggy Carter to look up to as a vintage inspiration for these kind of dresses. Peggy Carter of the post-war 1940s had the basic fashion needs of life that we have today (speaking for myself) frequently have – an on-the-go necessity to look put-together in something comfortable that suits more than one occasion. Some things never change, and a vintage frock that looks as good, and fit as well as this one (if I do say so myself) is every bit just as stylish and practical today!
This dress is my copy of something seen in Agent Carter Season One television show, episode2, “Bridge and Tunnel”. My shoes are vintage leather originals, but my purse is a 1940s style make of mine, as well (see post on that here) to complete a period ensemble (which I don’t always have). In my previous post, “Just Call Me Agent”, I had shown my make of the Peggy’s Season One dress from the episode before, “Now Is Not the End”. Even though it has now been 3 years since Agent Carter first was on television, I have been occupied with remaking the clothes from several of the ladies on Season Two. Since 2015, I am still busy filling in my now rather extensive Peggy wardrobe with inspired outfits of Season One. Look for more to come!
FABRIC: Kona 100% cotton for the dark brown part of the dress, and a poly stretch satin for the pink sections
NOTIONS: I had all the thread and interfacing needed on hand already, but I ordered the true vintage buttons from an Etsy seller especially to match with the pink tone in the dress.
TIME TO COMPLETE: This took me about 25 to 30 hours to make, slightly longer than the average dress for me (mostly on account of the bodice stripes), and was complete on November 7, 2016.
THE INSIDES: bias bound, which was tricky at some points!
TOTAL COST: The fabrics for this were both bought at my local Jo Ann’s store, and although the pink satin was expensive I only needed half a yard, and the dress pattern is from the 1940s so it is economical. This pattern probably only cost me $20 or less.
I love how the fashion of the decade of the 1940s doesn’t take women for granted. Rather, from what I see, it empowers them. There are the strong shouldered, sharply tailored suits to show they are every bit a confident, formidable strength in the world while being as productive as the other sex. There are the sweet, feminine styles that are generally the most comfortable and easy-to-move in for all their puff sleeves and gathers. Then there are the separates – tops, blouses, and bottoms – that can create a flawless yet endless versatility for a casual chic. Don’t forget the crisp power trousers that society could not frown down into oblivion! Free of confining body shape wear worn in the previous and following decades (30’s and 50’s, I’m looking at you!), women were instead equipped with bras akin to armor and comfy underthings. In all, between the these points and the attention to detail, the plethora of tailored looks, the thriftiness, and practical economy of the 1940s, I do believe this decade in fashion had it all going for the ladies…war or no war!
Now, as much as I am for the 1940s, I must say I have normally had a mixed love-hate relationship with reproduction patterns, especially from Simplicity…until the last few years. Since then, Simplicity has supposedly changed its vintage patterns to be closer to being re-issued old originals than modern re-drafts of old styles (as they had been, hence the funky wearing ease and fitting irregularities I found aggravating). Now this doesn’t take away from normal sizing frustrations or difficulties of achieving the right fit, but I must say that this Simplicity #8050 pattern is the first from them that actually felt like a true 40’s style pattern. Ever since 2016, I have had dramatically less issues with as many of their vintage patterns than I used to have. Simplicity has been impressively standing tall among Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s now, after all, when it comes to offering the best designs, the most variety, and amount of new vintage patterns.
This leads me to say that I am so freaking pleased with this dress pattern, Simplicity #8050, I cannot rave about it enough. It fit me as-is, after cutting out my size following the size chart (not finished garment measurements), and there was no special tweaking needed to make it comfortable to move in, besides me doing a precautionary “extra reach room” adjustment to the armscye. I am sort of ready for a fail, when it comes to repro vintage patterns from the “Big Four” companies, so I added in reach room, because that’s what I always used to need with their reprints and it’s easier to take excess fabric out than it is to be stuck without it in later! Turns out, this finished up great. I love the details to this dress, especially the cool front bodice points with lovely body seaming, and found the instructions to be very good – speaking from a vintage point of view and not just a modern one. Either way, someone used to vintage patterns should like this, and someone not used to vintage patterns should have a good, albeit learning, experience, too. I am impressed, and not just because of the clear reference in the color and styling choices of the model dress on the envelope cover! Yes, the ubiquitous red Stetson says it all!
The inspiration dress from the “Bridge and Tunnel” episode is very similar to my own (except for the cummerbund difference) but this pattern could not be a better base to make an Agent Carter outfit. Besides the clear reference in the model dress, as I have mentioned before, Peggy Carter was a woman of the 40s who had the tendency to wear styles from early in the decade, mostly on account of on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’ as well as her bother Michael’s passing (from Season Two) early on in the War. This is a year 1941 style. It strikes the perfect balance between femininity and functionality, comfort and class, and standout style that does ‘standout’ in any era – so perfectly Agent Carter, but also great for a woman of today! Granted, from what I have heard about the original inspiration dress, the brown sections were a flowing wool crepe, while mine is a stiffer, more basic cotton. I was mostly focused on finding the right color brown and making sure my version was practical for more than just winter wear (and it is)! All it really took was a little extra flourish (speaking of the shoulder striping) and adding cuffs to the original pattern to have my copy of one of Peggy’s most popular Season One dresses.
Before I made my dress, I read several other reviews from bloggers who had already tried this pattern, and they mostly mentioned quirks that needed to be worked out in regards to the front button closing and the neckline. Having loops on one side of the front in the right seam edge and buttons on the other side of the front opening can naturally end up with the buttons looking off-kilter, or asymmetric down the front. It’s not that this ruins it in the least – no, one who sews would probably be the only person to notice such a thing. However, someone who sews is often his or her own worst critic. If a true center button closing is what you want with this dress, you cannot just whip it up as the instructions tell you. I did not sew the loops into the seams as instructed, but sewed them to a separate fabric strip, like an anchor piece, and sewed that further in (by hand) under the right edge so the button loops would not hang out so far over the other side of the front opening. Then, the buttons were sewn quite close the left edge. Big buttons especially need big loops, and moving the buttons over on the extreme left edge to center the closure, necessitated the loops to be beveled in underneath. Making the loops wider like the letter “U” also helped not make them as long as a loop which is snug against itself. This is probably not the best way to fix this ‘quirk’ of the design, but from an engineering standpoint, it was the simplest, most direct way to correct the centering of the front button closing.
After all the work and forethought I invested in the front button closing to this dress, as it ends up, I don’t really use it. You see the neckline turns out really quite low. I didn’t like cleavage showing because the top button wasn’t keeping the collar together. Thus I sewed an extra little strip of the dress’ brown fabric and have that hand tacked vertically in place from underneath to close the bottom point of the neckline collar together for an extra inch above the top button. I know…this defeats the purpose of the working buttons and loops down the front that took me so much time. I know I should have probably just re-drafted the collar to close up a little higher to have one more button and loop at the top, and that would have fixed it. Yeah, I should have done that – but I didn’t, and this works just as well. Besides, having to get dressed in this was fiddly with the side zipper, too. I can just slip it on over my head without unbuttoning the front anyway, leaving me with only the side zipper to remember to open and close when dressing – much easier!
The dress itself came together really quickly compared to the time I spent wherever there was pink – the entire front closing, collar, neckline, and sleeve cuffs. The sleeve cuffs were self-drafted off of the existing sleeve pattern. I traced out the last 5 inches of the long sleeve, and opened it up to have more of a curve with a wider top edge. My dress’ cuffs are double thick, self-faced, and were sewn into the side seam of the sleeve so that they stay in place. The collar facing was a bit of a pain being all in one piece – but I’d like to credit this to the awful slippery and slightly stretchy properties of the contrast pink satin. The front buttoning took way too much brain power to perfect – but I’m happy with the result and love how it highlights my awesome vintage buttons, even if they’re mostly just for looks at this point. Then, there was the last step to finish the neckline – the striping.
I splurged on a ½ inch bias tape making tool to help me finish the dress more easily, but that only went so far. The tool did make constructing the bias tape fun, and relatively quick. However, adding on the strips to the dress was hard! I pinned them down to the dress, then would let my garment hang while I walked away from it, only to come back later and look at it again with a fresh view. I thoroughly measured the heck out of the placement of the strips on the dress to make sure both sides were even and check my eye-balling of the trimming I was adding. The area that the strips cover has a lot of curves and movement, and mine turned out sort of wavy-looking on the dress at times because the pink satin had a lot of stretch in it and I followed the existing shaping of the dress. If I had hand stitched it down, I suppose it might have turned out better, but this step was going to be a pain either way, so I finished it by machine. I did take my time to work out the placement of the stripes – I wanted them to pretty much be parallel to the bottom edge of the collar yet radiating out of the two top buttons.
I LOVE how much the stripes add to this dress. This is a trim I would never think to add on my own, much less even try if it hadn’t been for Agent Carter looking so killer in it. Color striping, color blocking, and color mixing were all popular ways in the 40s of adding interest, fun, as well as practical use of small scraps of materials into a wardrobe. This particular Agent Carter dress is one of the best examples of 1940s fun with solid colors in my opinion. I can tell from the response it gets.
You see, this dress is one of the few in my arsenal of me-made clothes that gets compliments every darn time I wear it, from all sorts of people, in all sorts of places. It really is a discussion starter, too, because most of the time, a compliment is followed up by the query of where did I get my dress and how they can have one too. One woman was amazed that this dress was cotton, because as a quilter, she associated cotton with crafting and bed covers. Ah, Agent Carter truly is an inspiration for the world today, and if her influence can spread through her clothes, then all the better.
In the episode Peggy wears this dress, she was inquiring about finding a place to stay at the Griffith Hotel, a single woman-only boarding house with strict rules on their occupant’s moral and personal life. To match, I visited a place which boards young people as well, and is a place of well-established rules and expected conventions (at least supposed to be) – the local college known as “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University. Both the Griffith Hotel and the University share stately architecture and long dreary halls! Washington University has some sections that were built many years before he 40’s, but heavy stone work and corner gargoyles make for a slightly mysterious and dark feeling that I think is appropriate for an SSR Agent wanna-be!
Have I convinced you to try out this pattern? If you have sewn something with it, what do you think? What is your opinion of the Simplicity pattern’s vintage reprints in the last two years – do you think they are better than they used to be, too? Is this a Peggy dress that stood out for you, as well, in Season One?