I love channeling vintage fashion anytime for any occasion but especially so when it comes to evening wear. Lavish garments from the past just have a classic, graceful elegance that is attractively timeless. They are also the sort of thing I most enjoy sewing (and subsequently wearing) but I rarely actually have a proper occasion to warrant sporting such finery. However, exactly a year ago my husband and I had an especially fancy celebratory dinner to attend for his collage which finally gave me a literal reason to sew a new outfit straight from the pages of old Hollywood glamor. Hubby wore a true vintage 1929 silk tuxedo set we’ve been saving for years. I went for something close in era and wore a combination of a pre-WWII 1940s velvet weskit blouse with an early 1930s dress in his fraternity’s color!
I love the title for this post so much – it perfectly captures the aesthetic I have for my outfit. The rich toned, bottomless blue of the luxurious velvet being offset by the bright twinkle of the zipper reminds of a piercing night sky. However, the brushed silver of my dress possesses a cold beauty which calms and grounds the deep blue velvet. Yet, the way the dress’ fabric flows around me like butter at every move or wind gust lays that icy impression to rest. To me, the night sky can be an equally mysterious, entrancing, and stunning reference for many Art Deco era evening wear pieces. Alternatively, this set also has me envision a low-lit Depression era society party where the intrigue and cliques are as deep as the heavens at midnight and the only bright points are the diamonds on the ladies and the sparkling of the drink glasses. Maybe I have just been watch too many old movies! Nonetheless, I felt amazing but comfortable in what I wore for the evening, and it suited the occasion perfectly. I hope you enjoy this post as much I myself enjoy the sewing project I am sharing.
FABRICS: 3 yards of a silver hammered satin for the dress and one yard of a deep blue silk-rayon velvet for the blouse
PATTERNS: DuBarry pattern #2471B from year 1940 and a French early 1930s “Patron Migaline” no.9, a hand traced out copy that had been given to me by an acquaintance
NOTIONS NEEDED: Lots of thread and one fancy rhinestone studded zipper for the blouse
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress took 8 hours to make, while the blouse took 20 hours (due to all the hand sewn finishing detailing). Both items actually were completed in an even longer stretch than this if you also count the time it took to trace out and resize the patterns. They were finished in January 2022.
THE INSIDES: French seams are on the blouse but the dress has interior raw edges as the pieces have so much bias there is minimal fraying
TOTAL COST: The silver satin had been bought nearly a decade ago at the same time I as the fabric for this 1920s dress (posted here) so I vaguely remember it should have been about $20 for all 3 yards. The velvet was a clearance discount found online for only $10 (can you believe it?). The zipper was $9, bought through this Etsy shop. My total comes to about $40, which is unbelievable for a set like this!
Let’s start off with the blouse since the details are just the chef’s kiss…so good! It is not only on account of the high quality fabric I used, but I am sure that no doubt helped me be so completely head-over-heels here. The pattern technically calls this a weskit, which is an informal word for a waistcoat. This means it is a fitted front closure blouse that is meant to be left untucked. The amazing part is how precisely pared down the design is by having the entire front be only two pattern pieces. The neckline, front panel and the wrap-around peplum is one continuous piece, while the gathered bust and underarm section is the second piece. Five pattern pieces are all that is needed! If I have perked your attention over my blouse, the reprint company Past Patterns offers a paper copy this DuBarry design so you can try it for yourself, too. The listing for the pattern is here on this page.
For being from the DuBarry Company, this is perhaps one of the best vintage unprinted patterns I have come across. DuBarry patterns were manufactured by Simplicity from 1931 to 1946 exclusively for F. W. Woolworth Company (the pioneers of the five-and-dime store). They were almost exclusively easy to sew and unprinted, with many styles for teenage young ladies. They were also catered to a different audience than Simplicity so I am overall pleasantly surprised at how fancy the design, well-cut the tissue pieces, and ingeniously planned is this entire pattern. I have previously had issues with the poor fit and mismatched balance marks with this pattern line – not this time! I can’t wait to try the other views!
The blouse was an easy project decision because I had it planned out and ready to be made ever since I bought the velvet fabric and its fancy zipper back in 2016. I first had to retrace and completely re-size the pattern up from its very tiny, petite size to my own proportions. The pattern pieces were relatively few and manageable in size so that went smoothly. Even still, I measured and checked my tracing a million times along the way and fitted the new pattern pieces around me to make sure I would get this right at the first try…no need to make a muslin here! For the best of my sewing projects, I like to dive right into the good stuff and live dangerously, relying on good patterning skills to give me the right base to start with from the beginning. This is why, for as fancy as my blouse is, it was by far the easiest and most enjoyable portion to my evening set. I like it when I can be in charge of a fitting and tailoring a pattern and know it is going to turn out just as I hoped.
Of all my sewing projects, this may just be one of the best pairings of pattern to material. The design adds to the beauty of the fabric and in return the fabric gives an unexpected dimension to the design. The gathers in the bust panel highlight the deluxe plush shine of the velvet. The velvet is butter soft at the same time making it so easy to gather, French seam, and otherwise work with. The inside “wrong” side has a knitted appearance and is smooth and soft enough that I left the blouse unlined. It is an overall dream to wear. Unlike other velvets I have, this one acts like a true silk (which it is) more than a velvet. It is quite breathable and adapts to my body temperature. It was never too warm to wear, and washed in a cold water delicate cycle wash perfectly with no obvious changes or shrinkage or wrinkling. It did fray a significant amount of fibers during the construction process, aggravating my eyes, nose, and skin, just like other velvets I have used (with the sole exception of this dress’ velvet). Yet, as long as the raw edges are finished, spending the extra money to sew with real silk velvet (almost always much more in cost than the steal that I paid) is truly worth it.
I had always assumed I would have a skirt or a dress on hand that would pair perfectly with the blouse, so I never gave much thought as to what exactly I would wear with it. I did have several items that looked good with the blouse, but nothing seemed like a ‘perfect’ pairing nor did I have anything which brought the blouse up to evening wear level. This was the hard part…doing a mind crunch two weeks before the event, trying to find the perfect fabric from on hand in my stash because shipping would take too long. I naturally felt drawn to my silver hammered finish satin, but I had always been saving that for a 1930s evening gown. I thought, “Why compromise?” into just making a matching skirt. So I still made a 1930s evening gown from the fabric, and it still gives off the look of an elegant skirt when worn under the blouse. This way, I can take off the blouse and have a completely different look of its own!
That being said, the pattern itself was a nightmare to deal with. The copy I was given was on some very unusual paper and the lines and balance marks did not seem to be trued up or consistently straight. I have no idea how much of this was due to the person who traced it or the pattern itself. I had minimal instructions to go on (a short summary with an illustration was merely printed on the envelope back) and even that was in French. My French is basic and conversational, and Google Translate does not recognize sewing terms, so that did not always help me out. My measurements showed that the pattern’s proportions were short (very petite), but at least seemed to be in my general bust-waist-hips width range. Thus I had to retrace this pattern as well to add in two plus inches – spread out over the midsection – and lower the fall of the bust, waist, and hips. I am almost petite in height myself, so I am confused as to why it was for someone so short. If it was for an adolescent, it is surprisingly adult and elegant for one so young. I was following where the waist and bust were marked on the pattern as well as comparing myself to the illustration to find where the seams should fall on my body.
Interestingly enough, the French text in bold at the top of the pattern envelope back is “Chemise de nuit pour dame”. Google’s translate app said this line means “a ladies nightgown”. Wait – what? Is this really only a nightgown?! Is that too literal of an understanding? Can this be understood as a gown for night, as in evening wear, or would that have the word “soiree”? Could the 1930s have merely had an understanding of words differently than today? People who understand French fluently please chime in. I am having a hard time believing something this intricate is just for bedtime. The pattern says it is offered in only one size (size 44) and gives basic instructions to size up and then down by adding or subtracting a half a centimeter at the seams indicated by the dashes. How thoughtful to add sizing assistance when the construction info is a mere illustration!
Sizing tips or not, just look again at the design lines, with all the geometric paneling throughout the midsection, and you will understand why I felt like either pulling my hair out or going crazy over this pattern. I did my best to true out all the corners, points, and balance marks, and with all the additions and corrections the dress’ pattern pieces just barely fit on my 3 yard cut. Then it sewed up as easily as can be expected for a dress with so much bias and so many tight corners…only to find out that it ran big. The bias gave this dress a wearing ease that my paper tissue fitting could not account for. I suppose this may be due to the fact that the pattern is really just a nightgown. Some of the excess fabric was taken in simply by sewing in the side seams. However, I left the fit generous because I like the way it pops over my head with no need for a zipper or snaps or any closure at all. It is comfortable and versatile this way, and all I could muster to not completely lose my sanity over this tricky dress pattern.
For all the problems I had with the design, it is really first rate after all the quirks were weeded out. The main grainline for the entire length – neck to hem – is laid out on the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge). Thus the cross seams in the main body which create the paneling are all on the bias. Every seam that connects together is on an opposing bias grain. This way even though the dress is on the straight grain it ends up hanging on the bias due the seaming but also doesn’t “grow” in length like other bias dresses once the grain relaxes. How mind-blowing is this?!
From the way the illustration on the pattern envelope is stylized (Art Deco text with a model who is slim and tall with slender hips), my closest guess is that this is from circa 1931. The design itself may be 1930 or 1932 but I do believe it is clearly influenced by the talents of the French female fashion designers popular for the early 1930s. Most of the 1930s evening dresses were on the bias cut, but this one is true to the French ingenuity of the time. It makes the best possible use of both grains by using prolific but precise seaming, similar to the practices of the designer Augusta-Bernard. My set’s interpretation where I use an icy silver and sapphire blue combination is very much aligned with the preferences of another bias cut gown expert of the early 1930s – Louiseboulanger. The triangular paneling even reminds me of Madeline Vionnet’s bias evening gown designs between 1929 and 1933, as can be seen in the Betty Kirke book under the chapter “Quadrants”, (especially pattern number 14). The stamp on the corner of the pattern has an address of “Maison Mairesse, 3 Rue Saint-Hubert, Arras” and I can’t help but wonder if that place used to be a fabric shop or a couture house.
I originally wanted to do this pattern in some stripes or color blocking to highlight the panels and seaming but am glad I didn’t for as challenging as it was to perfect. The hammered finish of the satin has a consistent nap to the direction of the shine, unlike many other satins so the seams kind of do get lost overall, sadly. However, the versatile color gives me an opportunity to wear this under (or with) many different other pieces in my wardrobe, like the Grecian rope belt I made for this mid 1930s dress (posted here). The archeological discoveries of Pompeii (Herculaneum) and ancient Greece that were made circa 1930 created an explosion of classical inspiration for the era’s fashion details, especially the evening or bias cut frocks of the French designers such as Vionnet or Lanvin. I went with a classical theme for our background setting with the colonnades of the historic “Vandeventer Place Gates”. I was living the 1930s dream!
There was a very personal detail I brought along with me on the trip to attend the event in my me-made outfit. My vintage earrings and bracelet were a matching set from my paternal grandmother. They are very heavy and so over the top, this fancy event was actually a really good reason to wear them finally, besides being a good match to my outfit! I think Grandma would be thrilled they accompanied me on my night out, and I wonder where she wore them and what stories they held for her.
My entire set was certainly a conversation piece the night of the event. Yet, I was by no means under or overdressed when compared to the rest of the ladies present so I was so happy to have known I made the right creative decision. I was in great company of people that I could easily talk to as there were many old friends to meet. It was a great way to prove my capacity in sewing to be able to show off my handmade finery when talking about what I do. When mentioning that my garments were me-made, often it only became humorous when those folks – who had just enough to drink – would then ask to touch my silk velvet! They had no idea what silk velvet would feel like, and never heard of such a deluxe material! The mere thought of those moments never fails to bring a smile to my face.
This is your message to not be afraid to dive into the good stuff you’ve been saving in your stash but enjoy it. See how much more fun my best velvet and satin are to wear than they ever were just being admired on a shelf or in a bin? It is such a great thing when you can make such great memories wearing something that you intentionally crafted with love for a special occasion!