“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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“Spring Green” 1954 Easter Suit Set – a Dress and Reversible Jacket

In a world where amazing vintage designs need upscale occasions in order to be made, what could be a better day than Easter to go all out with pretty pastels and fancy fabrics…complete with an ostentatious hat!

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This suit set pays homage to what I think is the best the 1950’s has to offer in elegant design and interesting details. My hubby’s first spoken adjective for this duo was the term “swanky”. Either way, I so enjoyed the challenge of sewing this dress and jacket, and wearing them is a like an upscale dream. I’m showing off my new best clothes, too, you spring buds and flowers.

This is part one of a two part post set. The jacket, being reversible, can be worn with more than this Easter dress, so part two post will show the other pieces I made to match with the leftover fabrics for a complete four garment ensemble. Sorry if it sounds like overkill, but I really like versatility and using up all the material on hand…besides when an idea strikes, sometimes I have to listen.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% polyester shantung for the dress and jacket and a boucle, in a rayon/acrylic blend, for the jacket, as well. A small amount of scrap lining from on hand went into the skirt panel.DSC_0096a-compDSC_0095a-comp

NOTIONS:  I already had bought most of what I needed (thread and bias tapes) to make this set when I decided on it the year before, but I did have to go back for more thread and a zipper. The buttons were already in my stash as were the shoulder pads.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4793, year 1954

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took maybe 20 hours (maybe a few more) and I spent about 15 hours on the jacket.

DSC_0176a-compTHE INSIDES:  My dress’ insides are all smoothly bias bound while the jacket is reversible, so…no seams!

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics store. Each fabric was dirt cheap at about $2.00 a yard. So, for 1 ½ yards of boucle, and 2 ½ yards of shantung, I spent maybe $10.00 in fabric and another $5.00 in notions for a total of about $15. Not bad! However, one yard of the boucle went towards another garment to match the jacket.

This is another one of my ‘consecutive decades’ Easter outfit. In 2012, I made a dress from the 1920’s (year 1929 to be exact), and year after that I sewed a dress and slip from the 1930’s (a ‘feed sack print’ silk set from 1935). Last year I realized the “hop” up in decades I was doing and continued it by making a 1940’s dress (in rayon floral from 1944). I’m just keeping this “thing” going by making a 1950’s Easter outfit. I’ve already picked out my 60’s dress suit set for next year, with a special hat to match, too. I know, I know, you might be thinking, “What will you do going up to now when you run out of decades?” I’ve thought of that. My sewing plans might be to go back to the 20’s and start over again or even go fashion-forward or futuristic…that will be figured out when I get there.

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Looking at it you probably won’t believe me, but my 1954 dress set is by far my easiest Easter creation. It involved some tricky sewing parts, which I enjoyed and learned from, but nothing that I couldn’t still zip through. This was one Easter outfit where I was super unsure about whether it would fit, whether it would look weird, or if I would even like it at all. Part of the problem responsible for such doubts, I think, was the shantung fabric.

DSC_0140-compArtificial shantung is a new fabric for me to work with, and I am on the fence about it now, too. I find myself impressed with it only as long as it is nicely ironed, so it was hard to tell how it would turn out as I was sewing with it. Fancy appearance aside, wearing a tightly woven polyester that doesn’t breathe is not a very pleasant thing for me unless the temperature is comfortably just right (otherwise I either freeze or sweat to death). Any raw edge shredded like crazy and there is an ugly shiny side to it, as well. However, the nubby side is nice and classy and comes in a lovely, tempting variety of colors at my local fabric stores. The stiffer “hand” to it is fun because it’s something I don’t usually work with, but a bit to artificial in texture. Surely the real shantung in silk is much, much better and I think it (the fabric) deserves another chance to redeem itself to a higher par in my estimation (hint, future costly fabric purchase, hubby).

The neckline of the dress was a tricky spot that actually stumped me for a while. My beingDSC_0093a-comp stumped by a technique only comes around every so often in my projects and I like it. I need to find more projects that threaten my ‘comfort zone’ of sewing skills and push me to figure out something new with a great garment waiting ahead as the motivation. I worked on the dress first, then was confused by the neckline, so I put it aside to make the jacket so as to get a breather. Sometimes walking away from a sewing technique refreshes my mind enough to figure something out but sometimes also it only takes my sitting down and working with it, too, which is what happened once I tried. Pinning it this way and that, I realized you make some sort of tuck horizontally slightly parallel to the top end of the center front seam. What a very smart construction…good for expanding one’s sewing ability.

DSC_0164-compThis dress’ neckline does strongly remind me of another pattern, Burda Style’s 1960 “Vintage Boucle Dress”, except here the same detail is softened in its corners and sent to decorate the waist. My neck fold over detail was at first just kept in place by my pin (which I’m not sure if it’s from the right era but it looks good, I think). Then, I went back to tack down the edges in three small places so I don’t specifically need a pin to keep it closed. Tacking the neck detail does unfortunately make it blend into the rest of the dress more than I would like, though.

The dress’ bodice is cut on the bias with the grain mitering into the center front and back seams. When wearing this I can feel how the bias helps the kimono sleeves, and both the bias and sleeve style make it surprisingly easy to move and reach in. I have larger upper arms, so many cap sleeves, shoulder caps and armscyes (without adjustment) do not provide me enough ‘give’ to do things, but this dress’ bodice is wonderful for me. It also hides my upper arms, tapering them by actually making my shoulder line softer and larger (thanks to shoulder pads, too). The decade of the 1940’s also knew the “large shoulder” trick actually makes one’s waist look so much smaller than reality, but the 50’s took things one step further by widening the hips, too, which is where my dress’ pointed extending pocket flaps come in handy. Appearances are everything for me to rock a proper 50’s silhouette as I do not have “traditional” 50’s proportions like Marilyn Monroe and others of a bigger bust and a tiny waist.

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Speaking of a tiny waist, the skirt portion to this dress is very body hugging – it is a total wiggle garment. Somehow, between the way my hips are hugged in the fabric, the slightly confining skirt, and the high heels I’m wearing, I do end up with a swagger from the bottom down when I walk and it feels perfectly natural. I love it! The skirt does have a rectangular insert panel to the back skirt vent, making it modest and looking more like a box pleat. I don’t do long strides in this dress, but the vent still helps with movement. There are the standard 5/8 inch seam allowances in my dress, so I have room to let things loose if I suddenly decide on less of a “wiggle” skirt.

For the jacket, I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to wear with my dress…the matching shantung or a contrast boucle…so I figured, why decide on one when I can have both! I simply cut both fabrics out of the exact same jacket pieces (in lieu of cutting one smaller as lining). The facing pieces for the jacket were cut out of interfacing and ironed on the wrong (shiny) side of the lime shantung for support along the neck and front edges. Then both jackets were sewn together except for a small hole at the back bottom to turn the whole thing right sides out and roll out the edges to top-stitch them down.

Check out those amazing, unique pockets on the jacket! To me, they look like postal DSC_0158-compenvelopes for letters. They were stitched on the jacket before the two fabrics were sewn together into one because I didn’t want the stitching showing on the other jacket side. My pattern shows two make two pockets, one for each side, so I improvised and still made two, just out of both fabrics with one pocket on each opposite side of the jacket fabric. Now, no matter how I wear my jacket there’s one pocket inside and one outside. The side fold ‘envelope flap’ is purely decorative and the entry for both my hand and whatever my pocket will carry goes in from the top.

The jacket is really surprisingly warm, which is exactly what I need for this year’s Easter. This year, Easter is quite chilly still and rather overcast, but the shantung not being breathable together with the plush loftiness of the boucle makes for a jacket that traps in my heat and blocks out any chilly wind. Didn’t see this one good benefit coming but it’s most welcome!

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No changes were made to the design of the pattern, other than for fitting. I did grade up slightly in the dress for my waist and hips, but did not do the same grading for the jacket. I also switched up the construction method so as to make my dress easier to fit, if needed, by making the entire front and the entire back (meaning both skirt and bodice together) so I could sew up the entire side seams as one continuous seam. Many 1950’s patterns have long back bodice torso lengths for my proportions, so I shortened the back bodice by 5/8 inch. This way I avoid the ‘bubbling out’ of the zipper like I have a hump back all because of too much fabric. After making clothes from every era, it really helps to remember to have some foresight and look out for fitting trends I’ve notice with certain decades’ patterns.

My hair is an attempt at an elegant optional 50’s style of wavy bob. It kind of is similar to a 1930’s style, but the 30’s hair had more waves and curls, especially around the face, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra 1956 in the movie High Societywhereas the 50’s had soft waves with either fluff or smoothness for the rest of the (short) hair. The 50’s wasn’t only all pompadour bangs, obnoxiously large victory rolls, gamine crops, and a bouffant. Marilyn Monroe (in the early 50’s, as seen here) and Grace Kelly wore a similar hairstyle (in the 1956 movie “High Society”). If these two ladies can wear their hair like that, it must be alright for an elegant optional 50’s look, even though I kind of did a bum job at imitating. I really wanted to do some sort of fancy top knot or curly/wavy French twist (like in this book re-printed from 1954), but sometimes I can only go with what my hair can do for the day (it has a mind of its own sometimes). Maybe next time I “do” the 50’s…

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Now, if you’ve made it this far in my post…thank you so much! I am quite proud of my outfit which is probably one of the main reasons for being so long-winded, but this project was also quite interesting for me with many special details to share. I hope you like it as much as I do. Do you also like to treat yourself to a new handmade outfit, whether dressed up or down, which makes you feel special? I can’t wait to hear (or see) what you have all made for Easter or spring, too.