The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

Snow Bunny Bomber

There is a certain energy I, my husband, and son all feel when it snows.  It is a cheerful bust of fresh insight and renewed vivacity.  We HAVE to get outside to be in the middle of the weather, too.  However, I for one do not in the least like the cold so I love the challenge of dressing up in the utmost fashion while still staying cozy and warm.  Hubby calls me a “snow bunny” when I am so perfectly put together in my handmade wardrobe for the snowy weather.  All I know is that when I feel fabulous in my chic, me-made items that in itself brings on bonus energy…and compliments from others.  Yes, you really can wear something other than boring, practical clothes for the snow.  After all, it is the prettiest of weather occurrences, in my opinion, for where we live! 

So, here is my latest, greatest, and newest “snow bunny” sewing project for our most recent winter storm – an 80’s era faux fur bomber jacket.  It has an integral scarf feature to keep me ultimately cozy.  The “fur” has a thick knit base for comfort and ease of movement.  The hem bindings and scarf are soft, matching fleece.  It has dramatic batwing sleeves and an unexpected asymmetric closing.  Best of all, it is a designer style from my favorite couture creator, Emanuel Ungaro! 

The soft texture and icy light blue color suits as a proper follow up to my previous post, my Snow Queen inspired “Pandemic Princess” dress.  Not that this is actually a part of that blog series, but I certainly had my recent princess dress still on my mind when I whipped this jacket together, you can tell.  It is related, but separate.  That Snow Queen dress was my last project for 2020 and this related jacket was my first for 2021.  Crown or no crown, the inner modern princess in me delights in the practical luxury of this fun and warm little coat.  The falling snow is the best backdrop visual compliment to it I could have possibly wanted.

If you notice the details, there is a lot of older pieces from on hand which came together perfectly for this outfit.  For keeping my scarf in place, I included a giant snowflake pin, which I have had for many years now.  The beige boots and Isotoner brand gloves are 80’s vintage pieces from my mom back from before my time.  My skirt is something I had bought RTW from the early 2000 decade but has a nice touch of vintage reference to it, I think.  It is almost 30’s style with its fit-and-flare design and suit inspired herringbone acrylic knit material.  Yet, the 80’s rehashed many decades successfully and besides – a slim fitting bottom separate is the best option for a poufy jacket like this one.  I’ve always wanted something me-made and dressy to match with this skirt ever since I got it so many years back.  Finally, that idea has come true and it is glorious.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One yard of a polyester faux fur combined with scraps of a polyester anti-pill fleece leftover from making this 60’s inspired Burda Style cocoon coat.

PATTERN:  Vogue Paris Original Design #1620, year 1985

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Just thread and a two hook-and-eyes, which I had on hand. No interfacing needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in 15 hours and finished on January 4, 2021.

TOTAL COST:  I got the fur on sale and the fleece was remnants (thus free) so the total was only about $10.

I had been holding onto the materials used on this coat for 2 years.  Only recently did inspiration suddenly strike as to what to do with the faux fur and fleece remnants.  I originally though a puffy vest might look good, or a princess-seamed moto jacket.  I only had one yard of fur to work with after all and scraps of random sizes.  Then I suddenly thought of how unconventional fashion choices appear so much more tasteful when using designer inspiration.  There is almost no one designer I favor more than Ungaro for killer coats, jackets, and suit blazers.  This is my second jacket design of Ungaro’s that I have made (see the first one here) from my pattern stash. I have many more patterns of his in my cabinets yet to make, so, after how much I like the two I have sewn, consider this the beginning of an obsession. 

Anyway, I figured, as I wanted this to match with a particular blue skirt (as I mentioned above), I had certain styles to figure which would complement but contrast with its slim silhouette.  I also wanted something new and different, something unlike what I currently have.  This wide and generous bomber jacket style was a happy guess-timate on my part.  I like bold fashion choices and I know it, which is why the 80’s is so appealing to me.  It would be such a relief if only I could get past the crushing self-doubt I have to deal with every time I create such a project. 

This faux fur is really sparse in loftiness or the ‘hair’ and therefore was easy to work with.  It reminds me of the kind of fur that is used for the ‘skin’ of such characters as Elmo, Grover, and Oscar who are on “Sesame Street” or Animal from “The Muppets”.  I only had to do minor parting of the fur at the minimal seams that were on this jacket.  I did no clipping of the fur as I prefer the long nap of it.  I also used a ball point needle in my machine to sew it and that worked out smoothly as there is a thick chain knitted backing.  It is soft underneath and not scratchy so I followed the instructions and did not line the coat.  I don’t need convincing to keep a simple project, well…simple. Amazingly, this is plenty warm being one layer.  

What adds to the warmth of the jacket is a combo of the fact that the front is a double-breasted wrap and there is an integral scarf collar.  My hubby said that the features of this coat reminded him of the 1950s, and turns out he wasn’t far off.  I have found several instances of integral scarf collar jackets and suits coats used on designer fashions of the late 50’s to early 60’s.  I did not interface the collar because you want it to be more like an attached scarf you cannot loose (so handy).  The pattern for it was all one piece that is folded in half, ending in an angled, pointed seam just like all those vintage original examples I show.  I love how the collar scarf follows the asymmetric neckline, closing on the left shoulder.   

The chest of the coat is double layered because it completely wraps around to close at the inner shoulder seam, oppositely of the scarf closing (right side).  I sewed in an oversize hook-and-eye in this spot and it is almost hidden in the plushness of the knit underside.  This way my jacket is just as neat if I choose to leave the scarf neck open instead of closed.  It is kind of similar to a moto jacket when worn with the neck scarf undone, a style I had a mind to possibly choose anyway.  There is a still a little room for versatility here.

One look at the envelope cover and you can see the one major detail I did leave out – the peplum.  Especially when paired with the matching skirt, I just could not like the peplum on the jacket.  I cut them out, and made them, and pinned them to the bottom of the otherwise finished main body.  I don’t know how the models made the original design seem so appealing, but the peplum made my jacket seem to drown me and become frumpy in style overall.  Part of my issue was that my peplum was cut in the same contrast fleece I chose for the scarf collar.  I had no other choice working on such limited cuts of material!  I believe the peplum issue comes down to the fact it added too much of a different color and texture to pair well with the fur of the main body.

This jacket was originally supposed to be a wrap closing at the waist but with the peplum gone, that would no longer work.  I cut off the long ties I had sewn into the side seams and unpicked the longer of the two.  Then I turned it into a hem casing and added a hook-and-eye at the corresponding spots along the new waistline.  (The front waistline pleats match together.)  Later I turned that second shorter tie into something worthwhile, so my tweaks to the design after the fact I were not a complete loss.

As the exterior fur is slightly itchy, I adapted the sleeve hems to match with the new waist hem.  I luckily had some pre-made fleece blanket binding which happened to be the same color as the fleece I was using.  I hand sewed strips of that over the wrist hem underneath the fur.  Just enough of the binding is sticking out to both be noticed and prevent the fur from touching my skin.  Hand sewing was easy because the wrist openings were skinny fitting and the fur covers up the thread nicely.  This is why I also hand stitched down the facing inside along the front jacket openings.  Designer inspired projects always deserve fine finishing.

Ungaro’s year 1985 jacket was an incredibly easy project for being a Designer Vogue pattern. This, coupled with the unused waist tie and peplum, led me to take the extra step to whip up a small accessory for myself out of the leftover remnants.  I made a little headband out of the tubing of the one waist tie left!  I cut the length of it in half, wrapped those two halves around each other, then hand tacked the joining fold where they meet in the center.  Finally, I stitched the ends together to a small cut of brown elastic (to match my hair).  It was easy, impromptu, and fun with no pattern needed!  I can always use a cute winter accessory.  I am still left with challenge of finding a good way to reuse the peplum’s fleece.  Should I try handmade gloves, maybe, for something very different and novel?  Or maybe a pair of 1940s era house slippers?  I have a pattern for almost anything here on hand.

What is commonly seen as inclement weather, is merely an opportunity to for me to keep off the chill in self-made style.  ‘Warm but fashionable’ is a combo I do not see most RTW fashion offering unless it is in a higher end price range.  If you can sew, though, those boundaries do not apply.  I made this on one yard and some remnants.  It was designer made in under 20 hours.  Send your worst, winter.  My wardrobe is prepared for you and my pocketbook is not on empty either.  

I hope you enjoy the snow as much as I do…but perhaps you don’t even get to see it at all where you live.  It transforms the cold into a visual delight (that is only good until you have to drive in it).  If you have made an item to counter your inclement weather, something that you feel great in but is useful at the same time, let me know!  I want to see how others interpret such a challenge of overcoming the elements in style.

Anne Klein Design

“Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

This is a very famous fashion quote which is attributed to the American designer Anne Klein.  Coming from someone whose talent and livelihood revolved around creating fashion that has influenced women around the world, this is a beautiful, powerful, and impressively truthful statement.  It celebrates the women that bring to life clothes, which carry no personality on their own until they are enlivened by the charisma coming from inside the body.  Just as her clothing is timeless and visionary, so also her quote is still so very touchingly appropriate today.

All of this I have mentioned – and inspired by the Anne Klein trends at the recent New York fashion week – are reasons why I am ecstatic to present something I made using a vintage Anne Klein designer Vogue pattern.  Unfortunately, my sewing project is not one of her famous separates but more a symbol of the year 1987 date on the design – a one-piece jumpsuit.  Vogue American designer patterns seemed to offer many chic and on-point jumpsuit styles in the mid-to-late 80’s, and this one seems to be a common-to-find release by the number to be found for sale over the internet.  It is a very Anne Klein version – classic yet a product of its times, tailored yet simple, and complimentary yet comfortable.  I absolutely LOVE having this piece in my closet!  Also – it has pockets!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight rayon/cotton/spandex printed knit. It is about 1/8” thick, printed in the black and blue plaid one the right side while plain white on the wrong (inside) side, and a tightly stable weave.  It has a wonderfully soft feel and supple ‘hand’ that reminds me of a cross between a scuba knit and a brushed flannel.  I did use some leftover black poly scuba knit remnants for the neckline facing.

PATTERN:  Vogue American Designer pattern #1871, year 1987

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some strips of interfacing, and a long 22” zipper (which is of the vintage metal variety)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 6 hours, and was finished on July 6, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  This knit does not unravel so I left the edges raw

TOTAL COST:  The plaid printed knit was from JoAnn, and was about $40 something for 3 yards.  The scuba knit scraps for the facing as well as the zipper were all on hand so are as good as free. 

There is so much that can be said about the life of Anne Klein and the way she impacted history, but I will only give you an overview.  “Anne Klein designed classic casuals with every woman in mind.  She was a visionary designer who originated the concept of a fully coordinated closet, providing a uniquely American point of view to the global fashion industry. Her trademark separates became the hallmark of a purposeful and stylish wardrobe – one that has informed trends for decades” (from anneklein.com).  “Recognized as one of the groundbreaking designers to put American fashion on the map, Anne Klein wasn’t just a designer, she was a champion of authentic style and empowered the way women dressed. 50 years later, her legacy continues to influence contemporary elegance and inspire the modern woman.” (from the Harpers Bazaar article “Anne Klein: The Legendary Designer Who Changed The Way American Women Dressed“)

Anne Klein was born August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, as Hannah Golofski

It was while studying art at Girls’ Commercial High School (now known as Prospect Heights High School) that Anne discovered her talent for design. Within a year’s time, she was employed at her first job in the garment industry with Varden Petites. There, she worked to redesign the firm’s collection and introduced a new style of ready-to-wear clothing for young, smaller figured women that would come to be known as “Junior Miss”

She spent the early part of her career creating petite-size clothing, elevating the category from girly frocks with Peter Pan collars into sophisticated sportswear.  This was in 1937 when she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Traphagen School of Fashion, which led to her first job as a sketcher for dress firms on 7th Avenue.

Anne Klein in her studio, 1950s

In 1940, Anne Klein began making a name for herself as a designer. She first began designing for Maurice Rentner at his business, Maurice Rentner, Inc., which produced ready-to-wear designs for men and women.

In 1944, Anne Klein joined with the two great women of fashion, Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell, to form a female design trio who laid the foundations of American sportswear.

In 1948 she married clothing manufacturer Ben Klein and they launched the “Junior Sophisticates” label. “Junior Sophisticates” offered elegant styles to younger women with smaller figures.  Anne Klein was the principal designer at Junior Sophisticates until 1960.

In 1964 she was awarded the Lord & Taylor Rose Award for independent thinking, an award first given to Albert Einstein.

In 1967, she patented a girdle specifically designed for wearing with the miniskirt.

She co-founded Anne Klein & Company in 1968 with Gunther Oppenheim, with a focus on separates, not suits – an innovation at the time – and within ten years her designs were being sold in over 750 department stores and boutiques in the USA.

In the 1960s and 70s, Anne Klein set the standard for professional, grown-up style. The company didn’t just dress women for the workforce. It epitomized their independence, confidence and multifaceted lives.

It was during this time (late 60’s and 70’s) of ready-to-wear fashion, “modern” designs for women, and an increase in the number of women in the workplace that Klein was one of the first to introduce, and to become known for, “separates”: individual pieces which work together as a whole, as opposed to dresses.

March 19, 1974, Anne Klein died of breast cancer at the age of 50.

After Anne Klein died in 1974, Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio took over the design direction of the company. Donna Karan, who had been Klein’s assistant, preserved the company’s aesthetic voice for a decade. But in 1984, Karan set out on her own.  Today, it is still an American company (privately held as of July 2019).

(Above information from this wikipedia article as well as this “Saving Anne Klein” article from the South China Morning Post.)

Now, after reading this timeline, it becomes obvious that this jumpsuit pattern I have sewn from comes after the death of the real Anne Klein, and also after the direction of her successor Donna Karen (who kept the company quite true to brand).  However much the designer line has lost its direction in the decades after Klein’s death, luckily, this pattern seems to be very much in a matching idealism of her namesake.  How often can a design from the decade of the 80’s be a classic wardrobe staple?  How often can an 80’s garment not be identifiably dated?  Since when does something from the 80’s not include an outrageous style, bold colors, and memories you’d rather not relive?  When it is done by Anne Klein design.

I think the saving grace here is two-fold – the tapered leg pants and the softened shoulder line.  The pattern recommended adding rounded shoulder pads inside, but I haven’t so far…I might come back and add them in for a change in the future.  The only thing I found is that the booty and the back shoulders were only generous in room, but some of that may be because of the supple knit.  The deep 4 inch hems to the sleeves and pants were handy at shaping and weighing down the jumpsuit at strategic places, and I stitched them down by hand for a nicely invisible finish.

For being a designer style, this jumpsuit was incredibly easy to make.  Of course, that is partially due to the fact I greatly simplified the construction by eliminating a full body lining.  When working with such a soft yet stable knit as I was using, I wanted to take advantage of feeling the luxuriousness of the rayon material and not over complicate it by adding the lining.  If I had been using a suiting material or some sort of wool blend, then yes – I would have totally lined the jumpsuit.  Even with a full body lining, sewing it would have been relatively easy because there are just a handful of pattern pieces, a few darts, a few pleats, some smartly strategic seam matching, and voila!  That is all!  I found the sizing to be spot on and I didn’t have to do any fitting tweaks so that also saved on time.

Eliminating the button back bodice placket in lieu of an exposed zipper back made me sad (I liked the look of it) yet it also saved this project in many ways.  I avoided the extra stress of figuring out a way to support several large buttonholes in this supple knit.  Sure, interfacing will always help stabilize such a spot.  Yet, the knit I was using didn’t seem to take well to small detailed stitching, so I was glad both that this was a simple design overall and that I found another way to close it besides buttoning.  Using the zipper helped keep the surrounding knit in the proper shape, which is important since for a jumpsuit the center back seam receives the most stress due to movement necessary upon wearing.  Besides, a back zipper is so much easier to handle when it comes to having to take bathroom breaks than the complicated possibility of both a zipper up the waistline and several button closings behind ones back.  That sounds so fiddly to accomplish on one’s self but looks great in the line drawing!  I guess that is the flair of designer fashion…to be a bit superfluous for the sake of visual aesthetic.

I suppose I might have downgraded the design by merely adding a zipper down the back but it is a really good one, though – true vintage, with metal teeth, a self-locking pull tab, and a blue cotton twill tape base.  I am guessing it could be as old as the 1940s.  Finding one in the wilds of a rummage sale at this 22” length is not that common, thus it has been a true gem in my notions stash that I have been so reluctant to use.  What good was it going to do me saving it when that zipper was just what this jumpsuit needed, and was going to give it a really great way to have a moment to be worthwhile?  Vintage zippers – even with their metal teeth – are much more pliable and bendable than any modern metal zipper.  This old notion was going to be much more comfy to wear and flow much better with the rest of the jumpsuit than any modern one could.  Sometimes you just have to take a breath and go use the good stuff for those really good sewing ideas.  When the right project come along, splurging on the good vintage notions usually ends up being worth it for me.

The only major change I made to the pattern design was the relatively small step of eliminating the sewn in belt-style waistband.  I am on the shorter side, not quite petite technically, and so getting rid of the extra few inches that the belt would have had gave me the perfect proportions.  Also, I did not want to define the jumpsuit with a contrast color for the belt waistband piece, nor did I want to complicate it with more of the plaid.  I prefer to add in whatever color and interest I feel like for the day through my choice of belt, shoes, necklace, and earrings.  I sometimes like this with beige tones, sometimes black and silver, but here I paired it with brown leather and gold (all vintage belt and earrings, by the way, and Charlie Stone brand flats).  I would not have had this versatility with an attached belt piece, but most importantly, I would not have had the proper fit.  I know I could have just taken some inches out of the body of the dress at the pattern stage, but this little change up was easy and catered to my taste all in one step.  This might be a designer style, but if I’m the one sewing it, I am going to personalize it, for sure!

For these times in which casual (aka. lounge attire) seems to be the 2020 work wear, fancy wear, and everything in between, chic sportswear is just the thing we need for today.  This jumpsuit is as comfy as wearing pajamas, but much more stylish.  No matter if I haven’t a reason, I refuse to forget the joy of dressing up, the delighting in fashion, and the creativity behind sewing.   I need all of this and daresay so many others do, too, no matter what the circumstances of the day.  This knit jumpsuit is as close as I have yet come to spending my day in yoga pants and oversized tee.  This is my kind of parallel.  I am so glad I could find out more about the great designer Anne Klein along the way to finding my interpretation.  Women of today need clothes that are as empowering, adaptable, multi-faceted, and 100% as capable as we are.  Sweatpants do not do any of that for me.  This jumpsuit is one of the many me-made pieces in my wardrobe that can, though.  Please, find yourself that perfect garment that can help you can the world – big or small…every little bit counts.  Remember – “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

Bittersweet

This time of the year always makes me a bit melancholy.  There’s just something about the beauty of gradually realizing summer is fading into fall, and seeing the season gently usher in the upcoming cold I despise.  I am not one to have Halloween in my blood the minute September rolls around.  Instead, I like to let the fall season come in barely perceptible stages, as it does naturally, and enjoy its every transition.  The sun might be just as bright but there is a different smell in the air.  The cricket chirps are louder without the competition from tree frogs and cicadas.  The night settles in a bit earlier.  Fall’s entrance is indeed bittersweet in emotion, which is why I find it so ironic I love the shades of bittersweet, the plant, because it also is the time of the year I can appropriately wear the most gloriously rich earthen tones of that vine – browns, tawny shades, dusty green, a wine red, and hues of gold.  This little vintage number is early fall embodied in a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer printed polyester crepe for the dress and some colored jute ‘ribbon’ with some leather cording scraps for the belt

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9295, reissued in 2018, labeled as a year 1940 design.  The original pattern was Vogue #8241, an “Easy to Make One-Piece Frock”, featured in Vogue Patterns booklet for March 15, 1939.  What is up with the confusion of the original date on the cover of the reprint?  My me-made belt was made with no pattern…just an idea in my head!

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing but the basics – thread, some skinny ¼ inch bias tape, and a small 14 inch side seam zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with all the fine finishing inside, this dress took me only 5 or 6 hours to complete and the belt was made in 30 minutes.  Both were finished in May of 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress is practically free as all my supplies came from a local sewing rummage sale where everything was $1 per pound of weight…so my frock may be a dollar at the most!  My belt was made from some sort of multi-colored jute ribbon I bought on clearance many years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  I bought 2 yards of it for about $5.  The leather cording is leftover from a hat I had on hand (free).  This is a $6 outfit!!!

This is quite an interesting dress, full of contradictions.  First of all, it is a very classic dress design for 1939, with a very basic general construction and silhouette yet very interesting, tricky-to-make little details.  It is a sweet and feminine dress and tries to be complimentary with no real body shaping profile to it at all.  It is certainly not your 50’s take on a ladylike style, nor even a 40’s ‘I’m-ready-for business’ style…this is softer and more delicate without being girlish.  Even though the drawing makes one think this pattern might be scaled for a very tall woman with long legs, the proportions seem to be the opposite.  Sewing my dress as-is straight from the tissue, no fitting adjustments, it turned out perfect for my almost petite height (5’3”) and my short (14 ½”) back-of-neck-to-waist ratio.  The envelope’s yardage chart recommends anywhere between 2 ½ yards to 3 yards depending on the fabric width, yet – believe it or not, but I am the queen of optimal pattern placement – I was able to eke this dress out of 1 ¾ yards, with no compromise on grainline.  What gives here?  Overall, this was a quick treat to whip together and is a new dress that I absolutely love to wear, so I will not complain…not a bit.  I’m just warning every reader not to read this dress by its cover.

The full skirt, puff sleeves, and the bloused-out bodice are the obvious, and well-known visual giveaways for its original date.  Yet, somehow, the way Vogue styled their model and sewed up their sample dress made it seem more like a 1980s garment.  Weird, right?  That is an unfortunate reference which I do believe has turned off a number of sewists from potentially picking up this pattern to try it out because anything blatantly 80’s seems to repulse many.  As I said above, do not judge this by how Vogue has marketed it.

The decade of the 80’s does not give me an immediate adverse reaction and neither do puff sleeves, and so I tried to focus instead on the line drawing and give the design a chance.  I’m so glad I gave it a go!  It does have a bloused-out bodice that is something not all women will have a taste for today, yet it is very authentic, if you look at how garments fit women in old photos from the 40’s.  This dress has good lines, but it just cannot make up its mind what decade it wants to be in, and is not as timeless as other vintage designs.

 I dare to say it has a “cottage core” or “Laura Ashley” aesthetic at heart, with everything I still love about the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s, so I’m there for it!  It is as comfy as a glamorous nightgown, with no need to feel to have a certain body image, yet it is as pretty as a picture perfect picnic and as breezy as a romanticized run through a field of flowers.

The one major change I did do on this dress was to simplify the neckline.  The pattern calls for a short back neck zipper to be put into a slashed and faced opening, and then self-fabric bias facing to be sewn along the neckline and sleeve edges.  As my fabric was a delicate crepe, and sheer too, I disliked the idea of a bulky back neck zipper.  I tested out the opening space of the finished neckline and guess what – you really don’t need that closure!  The dress can easily pop over my head without it, thankfully, because I think the dress is much better lacking the back neckline zipper.  Then, I used vintage cotton solid brown pre-made bias tape in lieu of self-fabric facings.  I love the simplicity and bit of contrast that this little step added.  Granted, I still made sure to cut the pre-made vintage bias tape out according to the patterns measurements for the given facings, just so I knew I was still keeping to the correct neckline.  I love it when some of my sewing work is already done for me with pre-made supplies, yet by using such quality vintage notions, I’m not just taking it easy – only adding a singular touch and putting my stash to good use.

Such a subject brings me to unashamedly brag about the total splurge of my really good vintage supplies on a finish that no one but me will ever see in real life – old rayon hem tape.  This stuff is so wonderful, and if you’ve never tried it, please find yourself some, use it, and you’ll thank me.  The wide and full skirt of this dress needed a deep hem to hang properly and have the proper weight, yet doing so is normally a slightly tricky technique.  It requires the cut raw edge to be gathered softly in to fit.  A regular folded-under edge is harder to do with this kind of a hem and, even on a soft material like this crepe, can turn out bulky and noticeable.

To get the nicest hem that is also invisible when worn, soft rayon hem tape is an incomparable wonder which does the job perfectly.  One long edge is sewn onto the cut edge of the skirt and then the other edge of the hem tape is sewn down to the body of the skirt.  The fabric merely ‘hangs’ from the hem tape instead of being firmly sewn together to the body of the skirt.  A light steaming sets the hem and controls the gathers.  Being out of the silkiest rayon, it gathers in so nicely and its lovely variety of colors that can be found make for a cheerful little splash of added beauty.  I chose a sky blue pack from on hand, and it contained a 3 yard length which was just enough for the skirt width with an inch or two to spare.  I do get a little concerned every time I use one of these vintage rayon hem tape packs because I know they are a limited resource and are not made anymore.  When they are gone, they will not be coming back.  Yet, what good will such items do me stashed in my notions drawers when they can be used and both bring me joy on my handmade garments as well as teach me a better way to do a sewing technique?  I rest my case.

Keep in mind the tiny, 1/8 inch pintucks are oppositely directional. They fold towards the center for both the front and the sleeves.  This was quite a challenge to accomplish when also sewing the edges into the skinny bias tape along the edges, but a little hand stitching finished off what I could not do using my machine.  Since the neckline and sleeve pintucking is practically the only major detail to this dress, it is well worth the extra time it demands.  There were so many thread ends to tie off though!  I can imagine how wonderful the pintucks would look on this dress if it was made of a solid color fabric.  They do stand out on my version by difference in texture alone, but are a bit lost in the print overall sadly.  Who knew making so many tiny stitched pleats could make such a difference in shaping when you do about a dozen of them!?

I paired my dress with a simple handmade belt, too.  I had two yards on hand of this novelty ‘ribbon’ made out of different colored jute.  I figured it would brighten the dress up a bit to add in more color -the late 1930s frequently combined unexpected tones to great success, anyway.  So I cut the two yards into half (for two one yard portions) and sewed them together lengthwise using a zig-zag stitch to end up with double the width.  I instantly had one wide belt.  Next, bias tape was sewed over the two raw edges for a clean finish, and then the edges were turned under and stitched down to form a loop on either end for the leather lacing to go through.  My belt kind of has the same idea as the one that came with the pattern, but was more fun to construct because it was my own idea.  I somehow like the belt better when the lacing is at my back and not the front.

The rest of my accessories are mostly vintage originals.  My earrings are from my Grandmother, while my straw hat is a 1930s mint condition original and a lucky find, as well as my kidskin leather driving gloves.  My velvet vintage purse is the only item that is from the 1940s and not the decade before.  Since the dress is sheer, under it I wore this deep purple, full-skirted, opaque 1950’s slip that I sewed awhile back now.  The two-tone heels are reproduction Miz Mooz brand.  I highly recommend anything from this vintage inspired shoe company…it’s like walking on air, they’re so comfy, especially their heels, and crafted with high quality (I have several pairs from this brand now, he he).  Altogether jazzed up, I went for a visit to our neighborhood “five and dime” candy shop to sweeten the melancholy I get from early fall.

I realize that readers on the other side of the world from me are just now easing into spring.  That is the other season of transition, kind of like fall, but with much more of a cheerful flourish.  I understand – which is why a dress like this could also be very appropriately a spring dress, too!  A little multi-season sewing is the most bang for my time spent, and hopefully a good inspiration for my readers no matter where you live.  Have I convinced you to pick up this pattern and give that 2 yards of material which is floating in your stash a chance to shine with this pattern?  What are your favorite tones of the fall season?