January is the depths of winter here and right now we are getting bombarded with frozen precipitation. Yuk…this is not ‘my thing’. As an August baby, I need a reason to remember the warm days when I could wear my favorite skin-baring sundresses!
I have not forgotten late last years’ beginning of my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” series, and so I’d like to add another installment to it with this post. I figure it might help those of you in the depths of winter like me as well as inspiring those in the warm weather at the opposite side of my location! This time I have a ‘modern-does-late-mid-century’ look in an animal print maxi. It’s a properly classy yet subdued unruliness made to visit the animal and human wildlife for an event in our city zoo over this past summer. Happily, a giraffe was more than willing to oblige to be in the background of some of our pictures even though I am wearing leopard (these big cats can be their predators in the wild).
FABRIC: a super soft quilting cotton print fully lined in your average soft cotton unbleached muslin
PATTERN: Simplicity #2180, year 2011
NOTIONS: all I needed was a lot of thread, a bit of interfacing, and an invisible zipper, all of which was on hand
TIME TO COMPLETE: about 15 to 20 hours went into making this dress; it was finished on August 25, 2018
THE INSIDES: full lining means, “What seams? I don’t see ‘em.”
TOTAL COST: As this has project idea been sitting in my stash for a while now, with the fabric bought a few years before that, I’m counting it as free by now.
This dress has been on my “to-make” bucket list for about 5 years now. I remember it was one of the projects I wanted to tackle in the early days of my blogging, yet some of the details to it intimidated me at that time, so it got shoved to the back of the queue. No longer! However it was a good thing that I did put off making it because this sundress was challenging…not so much to make, just to fit and tweak to point where I am happy with it. None of my changes are really noticeable when you look at the original design, though, so they are nothing major. No, I wouldn’t do that to it – I love the style lines too much to really change them!
The back bodice triangular tied-together style is something I’ve seen again and again in mid to late 1950’s extant vintage dresses for sale at shops online. I enjoy the fact that it is revealing yet you can still wear conventional brassiere under it! It’s not like being completely backless but it sure gives off that air…so sexy with its teasing! I can’t tell from the pictures whether or not the true vintage dresses really tie or are sewn shut in imitation.
Nevertheless, to make things easy for myself, I made the center back of my dress sewn down together. The pattern calls for a tie back, but that sounds fiddly to me besides possibly creating a knot for me to sit back on – ouch! I also didn’t want the complexity of ties to cover up the back design because I think the simplicity of the back is just beautiful. It’s also perfectly airy for a hot summer day. For my fix, I merely corrected the angle and left off the tie straps, which originally were and extension of the neckline facing.
I did not like the original neckline finishing though. It was too wide and appeared stifling compared to the rest of the dress. So I made my facing half the width. I like the slightly more open neck and low key element to my version of the neckline facing. However, I did have to slightly customize the shape of the front neckline because the bust (cutting out what should have been my ‘correct size’) turned out quite large in the chest.
To aesthetically correct the generous upper bust, I made two cross-bias darts that end at the upper bust and come out of either side of the bottom center neckline front. This fix is something which is a fashion dart in my old tailoring books and you don’t see it on many garments. Only (boo hoo!) it blends into the fabric print. It takes out the excess right where it was at yet changed the neckline facing into something slightly more angular. The original design has the neckline quite high with the wide facing and boat neck wide in style. Personally, I like my version better (no surprise) but it was all just alterations I made along way of the construction process…in other words not planned ahead of time. It is amazing how little ‘failures’ are only opportunities for happy creativity which makes things better you’d than hoped!
Now, the back bodice might be a 50’s element but the rest of the dress makes it seem more 1960s to me. The long slim skirt with gathered waist and the high banded middle distantly remind me of Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” of 1961 (it’s my big hat – see picture below – influencing my perception, too). Ever since that famous costume, early 60’s fashion had recurring but occasional long slim skirts to dresses, especially when circa 1964 combined these with an empire waist for a resurrected Recency Era fad, thanks to the creations of Norman Norell (see the “Josephine” dress), the great Dior, the innovative Bill Blass (then working under Maurice Rentner), and Mod Mary Quant. These designers made such a silhouette the mark of high fashion.
This sundress’ skirt is really very straight rectangle on paper, and only appears a lot slimmer than it is when my legs are together or one knee is jutted out as I shift weight when standing. I actually went up two size larger than my size because I didn’t want this dress to be too confining to walk in. The above-the-knee slit helps movement freedom (and adds to the sultry aura of the dress, certainly) but I don’t want to rely only on that…I like my sundresses to both look nice and be ready for moments of family fun! I was able to ride the jungle animal themed carousel ride with my son that day, but only side saddle for fear of ripping the side slit sky-high!
As the printed cotton was ivory (light colors tend to be see-through) I took the extra time to fully line the inside of the dress and it was so worth it! It makes dressing in this so much more simplified not needing a slip, besides so soft on the skin. I like a good layer of natural fabrics during summer, it wicks away moisture and breathes unlike any polyester, so I don’t mind doubling up on a good quality cotton. Besides, the inside looks so professional even if it is just your average muslin lining! Sandwiching a perfect invisible zipper up the side between the layers and matching up all the horizontal seams was tricky, though.
At first, I was afraid my outfit would be a bit “too much” but I had a happy time in comfort, received lots of smiles and a few compliments from passer-bys, and stayed classy despite my day in the hot sun wearing my sundress make. I can’t wait to get more wear out of this sundress as soon as our weather turn balmy again! It’s funny to realize I never used to enjoy animal prints as much as I have in the last few years, but when I do use them, for some weird reason it always tends to be leopard! I have a Dior inspired late 40’s wool coatdress with leopard printed flannel accents which I plan on making this year, so my habit of using one kind of animal print doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon!
There is an interesting article I’ve read recently called “The Trashy, Expensive, and Contradictory Reputation of Leopard Print” and as much as I enjoyed the info it made think about why I tend to leopard. Strangely, it’s not because I feel any of the stereotypes associated with it – power, exoticism, eroticism, punk, or glamour, probably why most of my leopard print makes are relatively tame. I think I like it because I see it as a mere print, more like a curious twist on polka-dots, even though I know it is the natural camouflage of an animal skin, to a wild cat that needs respect and protection. So there – either I’m admitting to a watered down mentality, or I’m fully duped by fashion idea of leopard, or perhaps merely admitting to agree with Dior (which makes me cringe a little to say, but that’s for another post). He used leopard print as a “house motif” and mainstreamed the usage of it as more than an unnatural item and not just a fur (continuing the practice to this day). Since such a print can be found on practically any material nowadays (thanks to advancements made in the 1930s) – from cotton to faux leather and scuba knit – my mind is so far removed from the actual idea of the real fur…don’t know if I’ve ever seen real leopard clothes nor would I ever want to buy or wear them (and probably couldn’t afford them, anyway). Dior is quoted as saying, “If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it.”
What side are you on when it comes to animal prints, because I realize I am some weird in between…I like wearing fabric based fashion reproductions but they by no means are my favorite nor do they garner my repugnance. It is good on an occasional basis for me. Do any of you animal print lovers also favor leopard like me?