“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

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!

THE FACTS:

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.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

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!

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Basic is Beautiful

Don’t you just hate it when a longtime favorite and much loved wardrobe staple of yours gives up its ghost?  Yeah, always a bummer!  My decade and a half staple – a bohemian-style, maxi length, lightweight denim skirt – ripped apart from too much love.  Well, for someone who sews all chances of having a replacement is not entirely lost.

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It took me two years to find the right pattern and fabric to finally have a lovely replacement that I love almost just as much as my original – this is saying a lot!  Sure, I had plans to make a pattern from my old favorite but I realized it might not be a bad thing to move on with my style and try something similar yet different at the same time.  Also, because one basic staple deserves another, I have my new denim skirt paired with a slightly seductive, vintage, knit white tee for another wardrobe filler.  I’m hoping my set has a slight nod to the 1970s era yet still stays modern.  To have a garment be an indispensable staple piece, yet also vintage and modern, is the best combo ever for those days when I want to blend in yet still wear styles which pay tribute to the past.

Every time I make something really needed and purposeful (not just what tickles my fancy), I realize how beautiful sewing the basics can be.  This is why my outfit (specifically my skirt) is part of the Petite Passions’ Wardrobe Builder Project for the month of May. As you can see, it is helping me get the motivation to build on my everyday casual wardrobe!

THE FACTS:McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,w

FABRIC:  Skirt – 2 yards of a lightweight, light wash, denim chambray with scrap Kona cotton for the waistband lining; Top – less than one yard of a ribbed cotton knit

PATTERNS:  Skirt – Burda Style “Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt” #102 B, from April 2017;  Top – McCall’s #6623, year 1979

Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt 04-2017 #102BNOTIONS:  Besides the invisible zipper, which I bought because I don’t necessarily keep ‘specialty’ zips on hand, everything else needed was basic (thread, interfacing, bias tape) and came from on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top was sewn a while back now, finished on August 24, 2015 after only 3 hours’ time.  The skirt took me about 5 hours to make and was finished on May 16, 2017.

DSC_0416a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  My skirt is all clean inside with both French seams and bias tape while my knit top is raw edged inside (as it doesn’t fray).

TOTAL COST:  The top’s ribbed fabric was a miserable little scrap remnant – technically it was about one yard but was badly hacked into with all the corners squarely cut off.  See below the “tight squeeze” to fit the pattern pieces on it.  The knit was bought for about $2 when Hancock Fabrics was closing.  The denim was bought the year before from Jo Ann’s Fabric store for about $9 (more or less I don’t remember).  I suppose my outfit is about $12 but priceless in utility to me!    

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Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

There were only subtle changes that I made to the skirt for my version.  The main change, to lessen the gathers of the lower panel, was part taste.  I planned on doing that anyway, but the amount of the gathers was dictated by the fact I was working with only 2 yards of material while using a pattern calling for at least 3 yards.  I am a smaller woman, and on the edge of being petite height, so I figured such a full maxi skirt as the original design might be a bad idea.  I really do like the skirt fullness as it is now even if I did not get to choose exactly how I wanted it.  Sometimes “making do” works better than trying to start from scratch to be ‘perfect’.

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Other than changing the amount of gathers, I sewed the gathers onto the upper skirt piece like a normal seam rather than top-stitching on like the pattern called for.  This top-stitched panel would’ve created a frilly ruffle where the two panels came together.  I was decreasing the gathers for a slimmer skirt and a frill through the middle of a half-gathered panel would have messed with the silhouette.  This regular seaming also saved me the trouble of finishing the one edge of the gathered panel so I could equalize my time spent to invisibly hand-stitch down the hem.

I already took out 3 inches from the overall length but my hem even still became a wide 3 ½ inches.  This baby runs very long as if it is a “Tall” sized pattern.  It does sit on the hips, with the top of the skirt riding just below my true waist.  As one who wears a lot of vintage, which almost always has a high-to–true waist, I still like this feature which is more modern, it’s just a change for me (not a bad thing, as I said above).

DSC_0404a-comp,wAs I went through the extra effort to make no stitching visible, under stitching the facing at the waist and having a hand-done hem, I figured an invisible zipper here was the only way to go.  After having my last invisible zipper failing on me and trapping me in my dress back in 2012 (post on that here), I have taken a long hiatus from this specific notion but coming back to it has been a refreshing and rewarding success.  I love how you don’t see anything but the zipper pull…but, yes, I realize that’s why they are called invisible!

My top is the third time I have used McCall’s #6623 pattern – this is unprecedented for me!  (Here are my first and my second versions of this pattern.)  I still yet want to have the gumption to make and wear that strappy cold-shoulder version.  The tank is so lovely and basic I need to make a few of those in some basic colors.  For some reason I really love this one pattern, and it loves me by the way it fits me so darn well.

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I find this pattern interestingly unique, not just from the fact that each view top has its own pieces (none shared), but because of the small “From a Norton Simon Inc. Company” logo next to the McCall’s logo.  This pattern’s year, 1969, was a decade after Norton Simon himself retired from active involvement in his business.  What’s up with that?!

McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,zoomNot too many people know that Norton Simon, the smart art collector and businessman behind Max Factor cosmetics, Avis Car Rental, and Canada Dry Corporation (to name a few), also controlled the McCall Corporation and all its publishing (magazines and such) between 1959 and 1969.  How I have not heard of this man, who seemed to have an influence in so much of the companies and products that are a part of our modern lives, before recently?  He was on the cover page of TIME magazine on June 4, 1965, in People magazine (1976), and even ran for the United States Senate (in 1970).  His conglomerate is now ranked 112th on FORTUNE’S list of the 500 largest American corporations    I wonder why this is the only McCall pattern I have seen with his naming rights on it.  See – patterns are so interesting in so many ways!

Sewing this top was super simple and easy.  This is the first time I have used this pattern un-altered.  I did have to add in snap on lingerie straps made from ribbon to anchor the shoulder to my underwear.  Otherwise the shoulders on this open-back hottie piece slide a bit all over the place.  Basic bias tape adds a bit of soft shaping and contrast finishing for the neck edges, and a little left chest pockets adds some small utilitarian interest.

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My biggest setback was working with the rib knit – a very first for me to work with.  I thought I had this pattern understood but not this time.  I had to sew the side seams several inches smaller than normal to accommodate the give of the ribbing.  It acts like a slinky toy!  It was a tough call to figure out the sweet spot between too loose of a fit and too snug.  I didn’t want the rib knit to lose its design when fitting over me yet I wanted it to be body complimentary without being a second skin.  After several stitchings, un-pickings, and re-stitching spells I like the balance I found.  This top does look so hilariously small on the hangar – the ribbing springs back so it seems like something for a 10 year old girl.  It also is best dried flat after washing.  The weirdness of the rib knit also meant all my hems are unfinished – not by choice but at least I think the raw edges look good on this occasion.  This quirky material has a definite personality!  Working with it was a definite learning curve.

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Between all the challenging and involved projects that I want to make (from my too numerous ideas), sewing basic necessities always is a pain to get around to.  Who completely wants to sew something merely because you need it, when nowadays ‘stuff’ is so easy and available to buy?  And yet, such sewing also always ends up so satisfying for me and it always amazes me.  The staple clothing necessities that you reach for everyday can be an uncommon source of creative pride and possess better individual style if you don’t exclude them from receiving the personal touch of hand sewing.  I’m practicing what I preach lately by giving away a good amount of the ready-to-wear that I do not like or use so that my ‘me-makes’ and my vintage pieces can take over my wardrobe.

Do you make your tees, and jeans, and anything else basic?  If yes, do you like them better than the ready-to-wear option?  Have you ever worked on sewing up a replacement for an old favorite garment?  Is sewing what you need something that you have a love or a hate attitude towards? Maybe, like me, you feel a bit of both?  What is your experience (if you have one) with rib knits?  One last query – has anyone else seen a McCall’s pattern with a “Norton Simon” logo?  If you have any feedback for these questions, please do share – I like to ‘hear’ what you have to say!  As always, thanks for reading.

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Princess in Purple – a Two-Piece Formal Set

I for one cannot fathom the popular princess craze for little girls…pink and sparkles, oh my!  Nevertheless, as much as I despise the whole commercialism of it, I’ll sheepishly admit I know I have some inner princess to me.  I must have – why else to I keep going for long full, swishy skirts, love to dress up, and make and wear fancy clothes even when there is really no event to wear them to?  I even remember as an early teen, I made myself this skirt for my birthday…it was ankle length, full, with a sheer small floral cotton over a darker blue lining and I sewed ribbons to hold the fullness back like a bustle.  I felt like Cinderella in my head…oh the things I’ve been happy making and wearing for myself!!!  I think this is (finally) a classy and adult version of princess dressing for me.

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As this season is Prom time and also officially “National Princess Week”, I thought I would post about my newest, formal, princess inspired creation.  My outfit is both vintage and modern inspired, in varying tones of my favorite color purple, and pretty much made with no pattern and no occasion to wear it to.  I just made it because I wanted to, and it made me happy to make something that I half-envisioned wearing in a dream.  Man, where’s my fairy Godmother to magic up a ball for me?  Granted I’ve already found (and married) my “Prince Charming”.

Speaking of hubby, he finds it funny that “National Princess Week” comes just before “National BBQ Week”.  He thinks maybe the two weeks can coincide with a “BBQ princess picnic” – and all I can reply to this is an eye roll and a mental picture of a recipe for a dress disaster.  What do you think?

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a purple poly crepe and blue navy chiffon for the skirt with a magenta pink lace and matching buff satin (leftover from making this hat) for the top.  All fabrics were bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabrics store from their special occasion collection.

Simplicity 1690, Leanne Marshal yr. 2013PATTERN:  Simplicity #1690, a Leanne Marshal pattern from 2013 for the top while the skirt was self-drafted by me

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand, but this didn’t require much – specialty colored waistband elastic in navy (leftover from this past skirt project), thread, and hook-and-eyes.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My outfit was finished on August 8, 2016.  The lace top was made in 2 or 3 hours while the skirt took me about 5 hours.

DSC_0017a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  Nice!  The way my skirt fabrics were cut the selvedge edges are along the hem and waist – the waist is covered with elastic while the hems are turned under into tiny ¼ inch hems.  As the side seams of the sheer and crepe layers are separate, they are French finished.  The top is bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember exactly how much I spent, even though I recently bought it.  Perhaps I really don’t want to count costs for this one, but it probably wasn’t over $40…

I keep seeing this combo of crop top and full, long skirt popping up everywhere – in some e-mails from Mood Fabrics, in clothes and department store catalogs, in the front window of local formal/bridal shops, and in pattern re-leases.  It seems as if I started seeing such a trend when this past New Year’s celebration fashions were coming out and it has extended into and through the current Prom/school dance season.  I do like the idea of having an easy to wear and/or make option to traditional dresses, especially when it is no less ‘dressy’!  The basic design idea is really simple, too – hey, most ladies have ‘done’ skirts and tops at a regular non-dressy setting – and more body types can fit into a two-piece.  With a such a divided formal set, any little details, every variance of material, and fit differences all can be mixed and matched to have every set different and personalized to each body.  Sorry to ‘sell’ this trend, I just think it is awesome!

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When making my own set, I found that the tops need very little fabric while the skirts are fabric hogs (obviously).  I assume this is why so many of the crop tops to such two-piece formal sets are made of a more stunning fabric than the skirt – you can even out the scales when you pick an expensive material but can make something out of only half a yard of it!  Not that the bottom half isn’t worth it either.  Maybe a de-luxe taffeta skirt might look awesome on the right body/person/with the right color but then you’d need a basic, simple top.  I was tempted to go for the stiffer taffeta skirt-basic top combo, but the inner princess in me called for a swishy bottom.  A lovely lace in the fabric store won me over, too, to the idea.

Very easily do I tend to the color purple…in all its shades.  I still have it in this outfit, it’s DSC_0005a-comp,wjust more disguised!  The inner, lining layer of my skirt is purple, yes, but the sheer, true-blue navy over that combines to make a lovely and new color that changes up my fascination.  (My Anne Klein kitten heels match the over-layer blue, by the way.)  Purple is after all an intermediary between blue and red – so the navy sheer and bright pink are the opposite ends of the spectrum for my lining.  Purple is associated with royalty, making this even more of a princess-y outfit.  Did you know that “in fact, Queen Elizabeth I forbad anyone except close members of the royal family to wear it. Purple’s elite status stems from the rarity and cost of the dye originally used to produce it” says ‘LiveScience’.  Here’s your history nugget for the day…and a reason to buy more purple along with me!

So many patterns for these long full formal skirts called for about 3 yards of fabric.  As I was buying double fabric for my skirt, I did not want to buy or deal with that much fabric.  After all, I was trying to make an idea in my head and sewing it for myself…so why should I confine myself to a pattern at all?  I bought two yards of my skirt fabric and figured things out from there.  I have long been admiring 60’s and 50’s full, pleated skirts that over emphasize the hips and make the waist high and skinny.  Check out my Pinterest boards for some of my inspiration both modern and vintage.  Then, I just used mathematics to make my skirt.  My skirt fabrics were cut on the fold created when the selvedges were lined up (laid out), so my skirt is 30 inches long by four total yards width around.  I know what my waist is and I knew the length of the fabric I had to work with, thus the pleats were figured out the calculating way.

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Double pleats on top of pleats? Yes! I started with deep, sewn-in tucks at the line of the inner fold of the first pair of center pleats, both front and back.  These sewn-in tucks control the fullness of the skirt, keeping in place the under layer of pleats in place so the second layer of pleats can lay right.  You can only see the sewn in pleats when I swirl and my skirt becomes as full as it can be, like in the picture above.

DSC_0019a-comp,wThese double pleats of course make the skirt quite heavy so I chose a decorative elastic waistband to hug my middle tightly.  My problem was how to get it on easily?  I made my skirt have a front closure opening through the middle of the pleats.  It closes with a line of three large hook-and-eyes hidden under the fold edge.  I like to add a brooch or decorative pin over the closure just because it makes the waistband look like a belt, and I do have so many of those sorts of add on pretties.  However, the waist front is also fine without it too, and I’m so glad my hand-sewing is invisible.  Sewing through all the layers – two thicknesses of elastic with all the fabric layers doubled – was tough on my hands.  I was poked quite well a good number of times, as well.  Yup, this was another project I gave blood for…

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Now the top was loosely cut off of Simplicity’s pattern.  I choose the size larger than what I needed, on purpose.  I wanted a wide cropped top to widen my shoulders and emphasize the high waist of my skirt.  Then the hem was cut along the design of the lace a few inches above the waist.  Matching solid poly was cut into bias binding to finish all the edges – inner side and shoulder seams, neckline, and armholes.  Easy!  The only ‘fault’ to the top is that it is airy thin and light, moving around somewhat off of my shoulders sometimes, plus I have to be careful of what I brush against because of the open lace.  It’s just too pretty to find any real problem.  Underneath I’m merely wearing a tube top, but if I ever want a full coverage option, I’ll sew up a second top in a nude or matching pink color.

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Our photo shoot location is at someplace called Tower Grove Park, characterized as “the largest and best preserved 19th-century Gardenesque style city park in the United States”.  It is one of the landmarks to see in our town, as it has historical importance together with lots of spectacular sights (architecturally and in regards to nature).  Among those sights are all the elaborate Victorian pavilions and houses, two of which we captured as the background for my formal set.  For some reason I see Victorian architecture as grandiose, somewhat brooding, mysterious, and flaunting in-your-face elegance.  Those same adjectives can also apply to many of the castles and palaces that many princesses find themselves in…

Have you had a similar project where you made something full-blown fancy, just because you had an idea or wanted to make something specific to wear (occasion or not)?  Do you also find it hard (like me) to have more occasions to dress up?  So many events which used to be fancy are becoming so casual nowadays.  However, there is “National Princess Week” to give us girls of all ages a semi-legitimate excuse to ‘go all out’ the way that pleases your inner nobility.

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Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, so I will definitely show you what I wore (and made) in a future post.

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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Year 1933 McCall’s Reprint Set

With all my recent criticism of modern “Big  4” pattern companies’ reprints of old original patterns, my budget is nonetheless limited when it comes to buying all the old sewing patterns I would like.  (Guess you can tell my ideas are bigger than my budget!)  Thus, in the spirit of being open-minded as well as needing a resource for more variety of past years to sew from, I do still use the re-releases with some misgivings.  Recently, in my effort to understand and sew the early 1930’s, I have used two of the first releases from McCall’s “Archive Collection” – a skirt and tie-front blouse for an ensemble from 1933, worn with my vintage 30’s Dr. Scholl’s brand shoes.

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Both pieces, and particularly the blouse, do have the classic 30’s look of easy sophistication with ‘simplicity-yet-smartness’ of its design.  Both are feminine and flowing yet a bit structured in their own way.  The blouse is one of the many designs of the early 30’s which had interest going on over both the chest and neckline (visit my Pinterest page for some visual examples).  Adding such details gave illusionary body lines, as well as ways to play with dramatic, inventive, interesting, or just plain weird ideas of how many ways to avoid a plain fronted blouse or dress. This skirt, as well as my previous 1930’s skirt, is in line with the style of Lucien Lelong, who in 1925 debuted his “kinetique” line of clothing.  Lelong over saw the creation of slim silhouettes with inset pleats that would pop open when the wearer was in motion but fall back into place at rest (quote from page 82 of the 2014 book of the FIT museum exhibit, “Elegance in a Time of Crisis, Fashions of the 1930s”).  This outfit is from the beginning of “sportif” clothing – the first modern means of dressing with both comfort and style for a new-to-the-30’s type of female…an active, independent, and collectively important woman.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The Blouse – a 100% cotton Swiss dot fabric in a deep dusty peacock turquoise color; mccalls-6993-7053-ca-1933-pattern-compThe Skirt – a heathered tan oatmeal-colored 100% linen 

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #7053 for the blouse and McCall’s #6993 for the skirt, both “Archive Collection” patterns circa 1933

NOTIONS:  I used all of what was on hand – a vintage metal zipper for the skirt, vintage bias tape given to me from my Grandmother for the skirt, as well as thread and interfacing that I had already.

dsc_0519a-compwTIME TO COMPLETE:  Pretty darn quick – the blouse came together in 4 or 5 hours and the skirt in about 5 or 6 hours.  The first was done on September 23 and the second on September 26, both in 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse inside is left raw (it doesn’t fray) and the skirt is clean inside with all bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so both fabrics were only a few dollars a yard.  My total is probably about under $20.

I am quite happy with my finished outfit.  My all over outfit is completely authentic to the times with the fabrics I chose (especially the Swiss dot), the colors will span seasons and match well with what else I have in my closet, and the fabric textures add interest.  Early 1930’s patterns from the time of the NRA are expensive (to me), a bit harder to come by, and considered more collectible (at least from what I see) so this outfit is a welcome and oh-so-very wearable addition to my wardrobe of this decade.  I am itching to make the other long sleeve cowl neck view on the blouse pattern – it looks just as practical yet lovely for my growing amount of 30’s clothing!

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However, I do have lingering doubts that these are 100% true carry-overs of 30’s patterns as they are quite fabric hogs.  I know the 1930s patterns demanded more fabric than a 1940s pattern, but this was still Depression times and almost 3 yards for a blouse seems like almost too much.  I am not certain my claim is worthwhile because this was the era of both an aura of elegance and superficial extravagance, even if only to “keep up appearances”.  I have read other bloggers who have mentioned ad-for-1933-achive-collectionthis seeming incongruity of era and fabric demand seen on the envelopes.  These 1933 pattern re-issues also include a vest and a jacket, but each were released as their own individual pattern.  (Why? To make us spend more money?  It’s quite rude to do this for the Archive Collection when the regular patterns have sets in one piece!)  I am guessing this whole 4-piece suit could have been in one complete pattern set originally – this was common practice in the early to mid-1930s.  I have yet to find the original for these patterns, so for all I know I’ll have to believe McCall’s…for now. 

I did have some problems with the fitting of both pieces – they seem to lack good fitting in odd places and run quite large!  I needed to dramatically take in both the blouse and skirt as well as add more darts and shaping.  Generally, I made the same sizes I would have chosen had these been McCall’s traditional modern pattern, and the blouse and skirt are not the same as them nor are they the fit of old 30’s patterns I have sewn up before.

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First of all, the skirt needed more curving added in to both make the hips and waist smaller and more fitted.  Even with an extra two inches taken out, I still could have taken out more and curved in the waist better because it has a weird placement on me.  I sewed my “normal” McCall size – that’s what makes this fit so weird.  Since the waist is not fitted to my body while the hips fit better, this skirt hangs from the hips while the waist kind of floats in place.  Anyway, it is comfy being loose, and what I feel with the fit is (I think) not noticeable on me.  The cover drawing makes it look like the waistband panel should be snug and at a high point across the middle…I wish I would have achieved that with my version.  I tried to do so, I really did.

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Secondly, the blouse’s shoulders were incredibly droopy on me.  As the perfect fix, the back of the blouse has a Y-shaped dart system where the horizontal “arms” of the Y come up and over my shoulders and down into the wrap front.  The blouse is designed with a Y paneled front, why not do it to the back when it is the best option to achieve a well-fitting blouse?  Of course, this blouse is supposed to be loose and kind of baggy, but too much hanging in the wrong places and a garment just appear poorly made.  Once ironed, my Y darts became invisible – yay – and each dart picked up the shoulder by an extra 2 inches to make the lantern sleeves puff out over my elbow right where they should be.

dsc_0485a-compwWhen the front wrap ends are held out they look like some sort of wings.  I think they are pretty and a good kind of different but having a blouse with fabric hanging down the front does take a little getting used to.  When I sit down at a table with food in front of me, I have to remember to place my arm across my front to keep my blouse’s fabric from dipping into the plate and making a mess.  The same thing goes for being over a sink to wash my hands.  I have heard this pattern design referred to as always wearing a napkin under your chin to catch any mess and generally be in the way.  I do not think it is as bad as that – the wrap front with its hanging ties can be tacked down permanently if you would so like because you do not need to undo it to put the blouse on oneself.  This doesn’t need any zipper or closure, for goodness sake!  For as easy to make as it was and as lovely a blouse as it is, this pattern is definitely worthwhile…as long as you’ve got 3 yards of fabric for it.

We kept with the time period with our background and went to take our pictures in the Continental Life Building.  It is a scrumptious Art Deco gem which was built in 1930.  It has had a tumultuous history and more recently saved from demolition by being turned into an apartment complex.  The lobby that you see behind me is such an over-the-top way to give a visitor their first impression – so classic of the wonderful architecture of the 1930s.  I just love the awe and tingling happiness it gives me to be in these types of buildings, especially when I’m in period clothing!

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In the competitiveness and eagerness to move ahead and be “modern” it seems many towns, especially ours, glazes over architectural history as if it was a hindrance rather than a necessary link to connect us with the past.  This can be the same situation when it comes to clothing styles seen in the stores to buy.  Past fashion trends are always being re-used and re-hashed but once recognizing where they came from and why they were first used, the reason to admire or wear a new type of detail becomes a source of learning, knowledge, and sense of the bigger picture.  (Hint – has anyone else seen a whole lot of 1930s era sleeves on the fashion scene since the last several months?!  Check this out for one example.)  Somehow, I feel like I’m doing both the building and my outfit due appreciation when I am able to pair a ‘me-made’ outfit with its time period counterpart place…and learn in the process.  Also, I guess I’m just venting appreciation for every historical gem of a building that gets saved, just the same as for every vintage fashion trend treasure that gets re-made, re-worn, loved and respected anew.