Of all the fairytale heroines, ladies of history, or those who are more realistic in their legend, there is perhaps no woman more universally intriguing and appealing than the one who is ‘practically perfect in every way’ – Mary Poppins. Oh, how I desperately needed a bit o’ cheer this Halloween.
Thus, even though we played it safe and had none of the ‘normal’ activities to enjoy, I felt there was all the more reason to finally delight in fulfilling a long-standing costume goal. Since we love a good dual outfit for a couple, my husband dressed as Bert the cheerful, spry chimney sweep and I as the nanny with magical powers. You know what? We ended up having the best jolly holiday! Dare I say it was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?!
Perhaps the best part to my outfit was the antique authenticity which went into it. I used 2 yards of old turn-of-the-century eyelet fabric to make the skirt after the manner of the popular “lingerie dresses” of the early 1900s. Then, I also altered and mended a true antique ruffled underslip for the matching (proper to the era) layer underneath. Both items just recently happened to come my way at an incredible bargain. I was more than thrilled to have an excellent reason to take care of and restore such precious items for a good reason. It was for more than either just dressing up historically or just for a costume for a night. It was to recreate a beloved character from the childhood of both hubby and myself and interpret that through a true-to-the-era means, using my sewing capabilities. This was all very redeeming, and the best way to dress up as Mary Poppins that I could have ever imagined. I’m glad I waited until now to attempt her famous, sumptuous, red and white “Jolly Holiday” outfit.
So the bottom half of my set is over a century old…the top half mostly is not, even though it may look like it. The blouse is modern, bought from the GAP over this 2020 summer. It is made in a very convincing 1900 appropriate way, with cotton lace inserted in rows across the chest, loads of whitework floral embroidery and pin tuck detailing, all in a sheer and lightweight cotton. This blouse was incredibly popular on social media, so much so that the historical costumers started the #GapToThePast trend. Yet, I was slow to join in on the fad and by the time I looked to order my own, all that was left was a size bigger than what I needed. No big deal – I bought it anyways as it was on deep clearance! To adjust the size for me, I merely added more pin tucks horizontally around the sleeve to slightly raise up the long length, and moved over the cuff buttons to fit my smaller wrists. One little red satin ribbon bow was all that I added for a subtle Mary Poppins reference!
The belt I made myself, drafted it from scratch and used some red felt from on hand. To make it more of a sturdy and structured piece, I added thick cotton canvas interfacing in between the felt layers. My personal taste doesn’t really like the way the original movie belt almost appears more akin to a corset, yet I did realize my version needed some slight structure to keep the points sharp. I remembered what I learned from constructing this boned 80’s era sun top, and used the same plastic zip ties into channels across the front and the side seam points. I did choose white top stitching for a nod to the original movie design, but the contrast thread gets drowned out by the plushness of the lofty red felt. A hook and eye closes the back. This may be the least historical part of my attempt at a 1900s appropriate Mary Poppins – but at least I did scale down the belt size compared to the original. How could I possibly leave this part of the ensemble out, though, after all?
Vintage style remake boots by “Funtasma”, an original 1920s era silk umbrella, and the “Jolie” Short Cotton Steel Boned Corset from “Glamorous Corset” worn under it all completes my accessories. Hidden underneath is an original antique corset cover, too, something I picked up years back now. Finally it can be paired with a whole ensemble! This blog post from “The Fashion Archaeologist” helped immensely towards clearly understanding all the layers and garment pieces which were needed to have this outfit be historical. My first attempt at turn-of-the-century fashion circa 1905 can be seen at this post.
Let’s go back to the amazing antique items that made this outfit idea work, for a moment though. I could tell the two yards of eyelet fabric had been cut off of a dress. The punctured holes of rows of stitching along the top and set pleat folds gave that information away. I counted my blessings that were weren’t any stains, tears, holes, shredding or damage of any kind to be seen. Yet, it is so lightweight and sheer. How is this even possible on something which is this old…and pure white to boot?!? The hand stitched eyelet holes (each opening is literally different from each other and uneven up close, thus hand crafted) and the wonderful thin yet sturdy and soft qualities of the material make me believe it is from circa 1900.
The ruffled petticoat slip is also equally amazing in the amount of detailing – so much inserted lace, yards of ruffles, and over 20 rows of pintucks! The slip is in a much coarser and stiffer cotton than the outer eyelet skirt. The crisp cotton could either be highly starched or merely a heavier weight, yet it does a great job at poufing the skirt out with the help of all the details (pin tucks, ruffles). Again, like the eyelet, this slip was in perfect, pristine condition but completely missing any closures.
Unlike most turn-of-the-century antique pieces, these were the perfect opportunity to have something in a very modern waist size. The eyelet fabric was customized to be pleated into a waistband I made to my own size using bleached all cotton muslin. Modern cotton cannot compare to old cotton – the antique cotton is much superior in all qualities. Basic, modern muslin is soft, sturdy, and the best I can do at the moment.
After examining so many images of Lingerie Dress on Pinterest, Etsy, Ebay and such I decided on a very technical, and very tiny method of ¼ inch triple layered pleats to bring the two yards into the waistband. For as full as those skirts are they seem to have very little pleating, so this method made the most sense to me. Doing such tiny pleats took me a few hours of insane measuring and pinning but it was worth it. That era was all about amazing skill, high-quality, and details not seen elsewhere. The tiny ‘pleat on top of a pleat on top of a pleat’ method also keeps the skirt fullness controlled. It’s a pity they are completely covered up by the belt. Old antique hook and eyes were sewn into the back to close the skirt.
The slip originally had a 9 inch wide waistband – why, I don’t know, but this lent itself to an easy refashion. Across, there was a very tiny 20 inch waistband circumference…let that sink in for a moment. Just imagine the wearer. The way the overall length of the slip was rather mid-length on me, who is someone only 5’3”, makes me wonder if this slip was for a tiny teen. Whomever the owner was, a 20” waist is mind blowing. This would not do for me, even with a corset. I took off the existing waistband, cut the width in half lengthwise to end up with two 5 by 20” rectangles. These two were sewn together into a waistband length to fit me and the slip skirt was re-gathered in a hand-stitched down together again.
However, now that I had something wearable, the length of this slip (as I mentioned) was about 5 inches shorter than the length of the eyelet skirt, and this would not do. I did have some 6 inch wide cotton pre-gathered eyelet lace on hand which I had been saving for an 1860s era hoop skirt slip. I sacrificed it to add on to the bottom of the existing eyelet hem of this 1900s slip. It may not be the perfect match, but it adds enough length to be equal to the hem of the eyelet skirt plus making my Mary Poppins look extra floofy! It’s so fun!
Mary’s outfit is really a cheesy Hollywood version of an earlier decade I believe, but this was my most natural way to interpret her. The Dreamstress defines them as thus (posted here) “Lingerie dresses were lightweight dresses, usually in white or an off-white shade, featuring pintucks, inset lace, tone-on-tone embroidery, and other delicate detailing, usually worn as summer wear in the late 19th and first quarter of the 20th century. They were usually made of cotton, and slightly less frequently in linen, with more expensive versions were made in silk. They are called ‘lingerie dresses’ or ‘lingerie frocks’ because the materials used (cotton and light laces) and embellishment techniques (inset lace, faggoting, pintucks) were originally used for petticoats, chemises, and other forms of lingerie.” This garment would have made sense for Mary to wear on a summer holiday outing of fun and frolics. (You can visit my Pinterest page “Historical Lingerie Dresses” for some eye candy!) I have always wanted one of these kind of outfits, and they are either not in my size or out of my price range. Even though this set is still not my ideal (which is a full one-piece dress) having something is way better than nothing! Again, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see and appreciate these old materials and restore them to a wearable state!
I want to revisit our outfits again and find a proper hat to match my dress, too. After all, a lady like Mary was not seen outdoors without her hat if she could help it, even with all her umbrella flying and carousel horse racing. Also, we want to go to a thrift store and find items which can be turned into the bold, striped suit set of Bert from the “Jolly Holiday” sequence. According to my plan, an obnoxious Bert striped suit refashion will probably include some fun fabric painting to make it work. Until then, my vintage silk scarf and items he hand on hand filled in for his chimney sweeper’s outfit. It’s amazing how the love for Mary Poppins transcends people’s age and stays with them for years. We just now introduced our son to the original 60s film to pass it onto the next generation.
I hope you had as safe and happy of a Halloween as we did! I also hope you enjoyed this dive into something a little different – an era out of the ordinary here on my blog, while presenting sewing techniques more about repairing and finishing methods. Sewing knowledge is good for more than just creating from scratch…it is also good for carrying on the loving attention to well-made garments of ages past. This preservationist creativity is the only reason we are able to see historical garments in museums. Granted, I fixed up these antique items to wear, but they will only go out on a holiday jaunt and be well cared for otherwise. As I currently have old original items which date back almost every decade from now to the 1870s, I suppose I’m starting my own little museum at this point. Would you like to see more of my original extant pieces here on the blog? Also, where are my fellow Mary Poppins fans out there?