The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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OO7 Halston-Style Maxi Dress

Allie J's Social Sew badgeWhen I saw Allie J.’s monthly “Social Sew” theme of August being “Hot, Hot Heat”, I picked up a project waiting in the works to sew up and finish.  I think my garment perfectly fulfills each word of her challenge theme – what else could be doubly ‘hot’ more than a 1970’s, Halston-style, “James Bond girl” movie dress, with the ‘heat’ being the weather outside that necessitates a maxi sundress.

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I have sewn plenty of garments from year 1971 patterns, but here’s another for this post that rather looks like a 1930’s does 1970’s.  My dress is directly inspired from a dress worn by the “Bond girl” Barbara Bach in the 1977 movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  Now that I’ve got this dress, all I need is some secret gadgets, a little intrigue, the classic theme music playing in the background, and a handsome chap in a suit.

Barbara Bach - close-up“Just call me Agent.”  Barbara Bach (“Agent Anya”) marked the beginning of a new type of “Bond girl”.  Post Barbara Bach, I love how Bond girls seem to share the same similarities of lovely garments, kick-butt moves, assertiveness, and thrilling action as my other favorite screen girl, Agent Peggy Carter.  Elegance doesn’t have to be prissy…it can be strong and self-empowering, especially when you have made your own outfit for the part!

Butterick 6671, August 1971, junior's-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Lightweight, 100% polyester interlock knit

PATTERN:  Butterick #6671, from August of 1971

NOTIONS:  Navy thread (which I had already) and 3 packs, same as 3 yards, of silver sparkle decorative elastic, bought from JoAnn’s Fabric store.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was finished on August 15, 2016, after a total time spent of maybe 10 hours (I’ll break down this time amount in an explanation down below).

TOTAL COST:  This interlock knit is cheap and cost even less with a coupon, but I did need a couple yards.  The three packs of elastic were a few dollars each – so I suppose my total is about $10.  Not bad at all!!!

I find it so curious how my dress is from a ’71 pattern and the only thing was the neckline which needed to be changed to make it up like a ’77 Bond movie gown.  Vogue even cameVogue 8449, early 70's dress out with similar jeweled neckline maxi sundress in 1972, too (#8449), more alike than my own pattern to the Bond movie costume.  I usually think of vintage movies as keeping pace with fashion or at least starting a trend, but here is a certain design out there offered 5 years before being made up for a noticeably major movie series.  Halston’s style of minimalist, elegant, body complimentary garments for women was already popular and available to the public by the date of this pattern, and well established by the release of the Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  So, while I think the outfits of the movie are just awesome, I do not see them as cutting edge (what I would expect from a Bond movie) as much as my pattern is.  I also find it interesting that this pattern is in juniors’ sizing, appealing to teenagers.

The juniors’ sizing is something I had to adjust at the cutting/layout stage, but as many of my 70’s patterns seem to be in these shorter teen proportions, I knew what to do.  I add in 2 inches across at a line drawn horizontally across the chest somewhere between the end point of the bust line (or slightly above) and the bottom third of the armhole.  The chosen line to add in the two inches is then added in around the back to completely bring the bust, and all the subsequent proportions of the waist and hips, too, back down to normal misses’ adult size.  (See my first junior’s dress.) As this is a sleeveless dress, my add-in line was at the bust line point over to the point of the side seam.  Sure this makes the hem a bit longer, but a wide and thick hem helps to slightly weigh this dress down.

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As my dress is a knit, I eliminated the back center zipper.  However, I had problems fitting the back dipping arch of the dress and I can’t say if it’s because of the pattern, or the way I sized up, or from eliminating the zipper.  It was really baggy!  I added in three darts on each side of the back, which sort of mars the smooth simplicity I was hoping from this dress, but I would rather have a good fitting garment.  The high halter neckline of the original pattern was also cut down to just above the bust line and out over to the edge.

Movie still - back viewMy chosen fabric of the lightweight interlock was a great choice, if I must say so myself, but a surprising one.  Until now, I’ve only used this kind of interlock as a lining to back other fabrics as I am making a garment, so this is a first time for the interlock to be worn on its own.  I am quite pleased with it.  Polyester is my least favorite fiber material, but it is most tolerable to me in this light interlock form.  It creates hardly any static, has a nice flowing ‘hand’, is breathable with its tiny waffle weave yet silky in finish, super sheer by itself but opaque once worn, and with a stable stretch.  I’m supposing the original movie dress is either a rayon or a silk jersey knit.  However, this interlock was on hand in the house in a perfect matching color (a very dark blueish navy) and has similar but slightly less body-clingy properties…so it was used, and I’m glad I did!  Yay for stash busting!DSC_0215a-compfull dress shot -

The thigh-high slit helps amp up the hottie factor.  It also makes the skirt portion of the dress just beautifully move and flow around me as I walk as if it has its own independent mind and its own places to go.  I see in the Bond movie that Barbara Bach’s dress is the same way.  Her dress however has two off-center front slits up to the thigh whereas mine only has one on the left side seam.  At first I had it as a knee-high slit, but that just seemed to reserved compared to the rest of the dress, so I made it higher (but still not as high as the pattern called for)!  I can’t help but think of the ZZ Top song, “She’s got legs…”

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The neckline is pretty much the highlight of the dress, so I took extra pains to get it right. Now, of course the movie dress has diamanté straps and neckline decorations of real crystals, probably.  Mine is more of an everyday girl’s version.  The metallic elastic would not be sewn on by my machine, and neither would my machine tolerate metallic thread no matter what I tried.  (It was getting stuck in the tension feed.)  Thus, although the dress itself only took me just a few hours to make, hand sewing on the metallic elastic took me many more hours than that.  Argh!  Hand sewing is something my hand, shoulders, and neck cannot take without making my body miserable, so I did the sewing in stages.  As I’ve said before, the promise of the end look always gets me through the hard parts of finishing a garment.

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So does anybody know of a metallic thread that is decently sturdy?  I used a Coats and Clark brand and even hand sewing was hell with it.  I had to sew with little short lengths because after a dozen stitches the thread would fray and separate.  Is Gutermann better?  Or is there some brand better yet?  Or do the modern offerings of metallic thread just…well…stink, and should I try vintage metallic thread?

Making this OO7 dress makes me ponder a few things.  Again, this dress is one of the many I’ve sewn which amazes me at how easy and inexpensive fancy gowns are when self-made.  In the stores, I’ll bet buying a gown remotely like this, which probably would not fit half as well, would cost a fistful of dough to buy.  Again, another vintage pattern shows me how patterns, designers, and movies all have been so interrelated.  Again, I see film fashion and iconic designs transmuted to the public is generally so lacking nowadays (with a few occasional exceptions).  Glamour is easier to wear and more available in the hands of those who create with fabric than the greater populace reliant on ready-to-wear realizes.

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For more movie images, see Barbara Bach’s fan website here or ‘Classiq.me’ for a review of the movie fashions