A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.

Teens Era Transitional Suit Set

As of this past April, my country of America began commemorating a century since we entered into World War I, when we added our hearts, efforts, and supplies to the rest of the nations who had already been fighting.  As someone who sews and likes to dive right into history, I guess it’s no wonder I took to making my own outfit from the era as my effort at remembering history.  Besides being commemorative, our local art museum hosted an exhibit linked to the era of my outfit, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade”, and it gave me an actual destination to wear my historical garb.  Their “photo opportunity wall” was the setting for many of our pictures.  You see how I blend right in at a 1912 Millinery Parlor shop?  Also, the newly released “Wonder Woman” movie, which has a WWI setting, was the final odd but added impetus behind making my suit set.  My reasons are varied, but deeply rooted in the history that I love.

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1912 to 1914 was a true transitional period of history and my outfit, as I planned it, intends to pay homage to this.  1912 is roughly the end of the Titanic era, in which fashion still gave a clear visual definition of who was in and who was out of money.  1914 marks the beginning of World War I and the founding steps towards democracy of fashion and greater freedom in many realms of life.  I realize I am riding a fine line between pre-WWI and post WWI with my outfit but it has been two years in coming, and I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into both sewing and wearing teens era fashion!  During those two years, my outfit has been well-researched, long thought out, and lovingly worked on for a while now.  Most all of my details are tied to a historical fact.  Now I feel as if I have a historical statement piece with a story to tell about the history Great War.

Of course the best way to place myself in the shoes of a woman from circa 1914 was to go all out and do my outfit authentically from the inside out.  Yes, this means the underwear, the corset and the whole bit!  You can see my past post about the under layers here, and here is the post about the teens era slip I have since made to complete the underpinning ensemble.  Without the right underpinnings my set did not have the right silhouette, nor did I have the correct posture, ahem (as in being laced into it)!  Wearing a long line corset does make me realize just what a no-slouching posture really is, and it makes me appreciate the comfort of actually sitting in a chair to relax, not just the dainty ‘perching’ that I do in my teens corset.  Plus, it smoothes out all the ‘bumps’ that were undesired for the times, something which modern underwear only ‘supports’, if you know what I mean!

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I believe this combo of blouse, jacket, and skirt (not forgetting the hat) is technically called a “walking suit” even though a slim hobble skirt is not the best for walking.  Yet, I did not find this fashion as confining as many humorous cartoons (such as those by the satirist Benjamin Rabier) and other images make them out to be.

Circa 1914, the hobble skirt was widely worn, yet was being frequently and publically made fun of.  Then there was Paul Poiret, who backtracked on what he claimed he created and introduced the freedom and progressiveness of harem pantsJeanne Paquin, the first major female courtier, is supposed to have created a version of the hobble skirt which included pleats for ease of movement for the new, more active woman.  My own skirt is a combo of Paquin and Poiret – it has a trio of asymmetric pleats that are stitched down halfway up to free up my knees.  The world itself was fighting for the death of the skinny hobble skirt.  Active women who become a part of the workings of society were sorely needed and whatever fashion stood in way of that was destined to depart.  A suit such as mine was meant for a time in history when a woman of society was merely meant to be a figurehead and present an ideal image of her status.  By 1914, such a suit set was in its last, glorious, waning sundown.  Wearing this outfit was nothing too terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit confining in its own right, which did take some getting used to.  It helped me realize why the fashions of the 1920s came about.

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When the newly enlisted soldiers left on the boats to go off to the Great War, many ladies wore their best “going away” clothes.  Not only was it dressing up to see their men off, but it was also one last big splurge, or indulgence, before buckling down into rationing and a full-hearted war effort.  I think this set certainly falls into the “going away” category!  I had ideas for even more finery I could have added, like a pocket watch, extra pockets, and more buttons.  I might get to that yet, but for now what I have is something finished and totally wearable.

DSC_0151-comp,wThe Great War had far-reaching implications on the previously active global import/export marketplace, thus there was an absence of much that had to do with the clothing, fashion, and textile industry.  Imported dyes, which had been coming out of Germany, became rare thus leading to a more frequent wearing of black and neutrals.  This is besides the fact that many people (especially mothers, wives, and sweethearts) were in mourning, anyway.  My own outfit greatly reflects this historical point, by using primarily black and grey tones together with two neutral cream colors to calmly brighten things up.

The war effort also caused heavy rationing/unavailability of leather, wool, and cotton (which, among other materials, were going towards supplies such as uniforms and tents).  Ladies had to wear more silks, with the occasional rayon blend (invented in 1910). Heavy rationing applied throughout many countries and America wasn’t excluded, but it did have situations a bit easier comparatively.  Straw, with some linen, were also somewhat rationed, so substitutes from paper were invented in counties like Russia and Germany, and “Jean cloth” (yes, denim) was resorted to as a leisure cloth.  At the beginning of the war, however, most walking suits still tended to be in “practical” and breathable pure linen.  As I am in the USA, I felt it would be fitting for me (if I was living back then) to have such a set as mine in linen, lined in a very basic cotton.  Non-war effort cottons like gingham and batiste were nonetheless used and still popular for housedresses, anyways.  Many women who weren’t involved in manual, farm, or food related work were enlisted into the textile industries or assigned to convalescence and hospital needs sewing, so I imagine access to rationed fabric was not entirely off-limits for all women.  Thus, my outfit is a mix of some fabrics and materials which would have been a luxury and some which would have been used for an authentic early war-time suit.  Restrained opulence was common with early and mid WWI clothes (see this for one example) since – after all – old habits die hard.  The Titanic era didn’t go down overnight like the famous ship did…

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Asymmetric designs were incredibly popular at this point in fashion, being used on blouses, skirts, suits, and dresses for both day and evening – no doubt from the Art Nouveau influence.  The asymmetric trend probably had to do with the ‘new’ draping of fabric on the body (Grecian idealism) for evening and tea gowns as well as an elegant and avant-garde desire to break away from the sweetness of the Edwardian period before.  I wanted my suit set to have some asymmetric loveliness…I do love how the trend continued into the 1920s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s so strongly.

Even during WWI, common luxuries could frequently be taken with neck line collars, since they needed such a small amount of material.  This is why my single asymmetric collar with matching sleeve cuffs are from an expensive, all-cotton, burnout velvet tapestry.  My top collar is from the same fabric as my skirt to add continuity to the outfit, plus I see it as a practical, “making-do” touch to use up every last scrap!

IMAG0287a-comp,w“Making-do” was greatly encouraged in many aspects of life, more so when it came to fashion, especially when it came to hats.  Headwear was a necessity that a lady would not do without and publications of the times stepped up to the need to show how homemade hats could be done easily, inexpensively, yet with a no less fashionable appearance.  My own hat started out as an inexpensive, basic floppy-brimmed hat blank bought from Wal-Mart…of all places.  (Pardon the pins in the picture at left – it was here a work-in-progress.)  It is made of a thick 100% wool felt so it is an accurate and proper hat making material, just something that might have been an expensive luxury for 1914 – all the more reason a woman of those times would have re-fashioned it herself!

Feeling united with the war effort extended into the modes of fashion with many hats and clothing mid or late in WWI possessing details which had a very obvious, albeit past, military influence.  Napoleonic Era hats were frequent, and I channeled the old-time tricorne hats with my own re-fashion (although I know it’s probably more 1917-ish to do this).  My favorite part is how my hat looks so different from every angle it’s seen.DSC_0172-crop-comp,w

The top heavy, floral, opulent picture hats of the early teens were shrinking in size by the time the decade was nearing it midpoint.  World War I nudged hats to become more compact, with many non-flower related decoration and interesting features to the brims.  They were often trying to create more of a straight-line silhouette to the rest of an outfit…pretty much like my own hat does (especially thanks to the feathers)!

The overly frequent and outlandish use of birds on millinery in the decades leading up to WWI led to many protective steps to ensure the survival of many kinds of flying creatures, the most well-known being the founding of the Audubon society.  At the turn of the century, the Audubon Society offered 5 public lectures on such topics as “Woman as a bird enemy”. In 1910, the Audubon Plumage Law reigned in extravagant millinery practices harmful to wildlife, which is why I’m using humane but no less elaborate pheasant feathers.

There are a few modern re-makes that I snuck in to help complete the overall outfit.  Firstly, what you see under my suit jacket is more like the sensible and fully wearable option to the little neck dickies in the Butterick pattern.  I am wearing a full blouse, something that is a modern re-make my mom bought for me maybe a decade ago.  I am sure as fashionable as a woman of circa 1914 might have been, no doubt she would have appreciated the practical option of taking off her jacket, versus the façade of the neck-only dickies.  My blouse has a hidden button placket up the front, which would have been in the back for a true-vintage piece, but this is undetectable enough to not detract from my overall authenticity.  At my neck, I am wearing a “Downton Abbey” brand brooch I had bought from a Department store years back.  I think it is the perfect touch!  My glass bead earrings are from my Grandmother’s jewelry collection.

DSC_0199a-comp,w,cropFinally, my boots are something that I found at Wal-mart (of all places) about 17 years back.  They are only vinyl, yet they do have working grommet and hook closures plus a semi-French heel, so close enough is again wonderful.  Not that I wouldn’t be willing to spend a bit of money to have my ideally perfect outfit…but when I have items ‘close enough’ on hand already, that’s even better because what I’ve been holding on to for years can get its long-awaited opportunity to be useful and shine.

THE FACTS:Butterick 6108

FABRIC:  Suit Jacket – 100% linen exterior and a cotton lining with a combo of cotton brocade and linen for the collars; Hobble Skirt – 100% linen; Hat – Wool felt hat blank

Past Patterns hobble skirt pattern-compPATTERNS:  Suit Jacket came from Butterick #6108, a 1912 pattern; the hobble skirt was made using a Past Pattern, a copy of a Pictorial Review #5462, circa 1911 to 1913; the hat was self-drafted from looking at era authentic fashion plates and photos

NOTIONS:  Surprisingly, much of what I needed came from on hand, as it needed not all that odd of supplies.  I went through lots and lots of thread (of course), and I covered most all the inner seams of the jacket in bias tape.  The skirt’s inner waistband has a ribbon from my stash, and hook-and-eye tape (which I always try to keep on hand) goes in the side closure.  Vintage fancy buttons for the skirt pleats look as if they could be authentic jet, but they’re only deceptive plastic.  They came from the stash of my dear departed Grandmother.  Cotton interfacing (another vintage notion I always try to keep on hand) went into the collars and sleeve cuffs.  The only notions I had to buy was the frog closures for the jacket, the pheasant feathers (from Hobby Lobby), and the hemp ribbon (found at the Dollar Store).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made first, and was finished on March 28, 2017, after only 8 hours.  The jacket was done on April 20, 2017, after only 20 hours.  The hat was made on April 21, after only an hour or two.

DSC_0184,a,p-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  I finished everything so nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the jacket exterior was made from a combo of one vintage tablecloth (found at rummage sale for $1) and a one yard cut of linen bought at Wal-Mart about 17 years back (old enough to be counted as free).  The cotton jacket lining was on sale at Jo Ann’s Fabrics for $2 a yard at 4 ½ yards (about $9).  The damask collar was $10 for half of a yard (coming from the expensive home furnishings section) and the grey toned linen for the skirt and single jacket collar was also only $2 a yard, bought when Hancock Fabrics was closing its business ($4 for only 2 yards).  The frog closures actually came from the button section, and so were a bit more expensive.  The supplies for the hats cost me a total of only $20.  So…added up, this outfit is a total of about $50.  Not a bad price for not cutting any corners with what I wanted!

DSC_0187-comp,wAs to the actual sewing, each piece really easily came together.  Making each was no harder than regular sewing and, when I think about it, actually more fun and informative!  The biggest challenge to making this set was the fact that I had to put on all the appropriate matching under layers (meaning the underwear combo, corset, slip, and blouse) each time I wanted to try on my suit jacket and skirt, see if they fit, and tailor them appropriately.  If I was going to do what a woman of those time would have done, fitting the suit to any other shape would have been pointless – a modern shape has too many buldges.  This caveat was not all that bad as it sounds.  Sure it was a bit of a bother, I was dedicated.  You know, the best part is it got me used to dressing into and wearing the Titanic era garments, so much so that it was not all that odd when I actually got around to wearing the full outfit out and about in public.

DSC_0193a-comp,wI found the fit of both patterns to be at generous.  The skirt pattern ran a few inches big and I had to make a giant pleat/tuck kind of adaptation down the center back as a fix, while the jacket was just a tad generous so I went down in size to find my perfect fit.  Other than this tip, my two garments needed no other change and were made as-is.  The skirt needed a giant 8 inch hem, but the wide hem helped properly which down and round out the bottom like interfacing.  Keep in mind that the teens era skirts have longer backs than fronts as the corsets were designed to smooth out the bum and back curve so they naturally sat higher from behind.  As I am quite skinny in my corset, I had to even out the hem, anyway.  The jacket sleeves were slightly brought closer into the armpit for more reach room – and yes, I do have full and comfortable movement!  I suppose I could have shortened the sleeves for my lightly petite frame, but they’re ok.  I did add a ribbon closure inside the jacket to help keep the wide open neckline closed better, with a small hidden hook-and-eye at the point where the asymmetric collar ends.

My biggest shortcut to sewing the jacket was to line each ivory linen jacket piece with the black lining.  I didn’t want any seam allowances showing through the light colored linen. Backing the pieces in the back knocked out ‘two birds with one stone’ by providing opacity and lining.  I just then finished off the seam edges with bias tape and top-stitched them down in their proper directions.  Not the best way, I know, but it gets the job done almost just as nicely yet quicker.  I do not like to take more time than is reasonable on an outfit that will not see all that much wearing.

(I’d like to title this next picture, “Hello ladies, may we chat?”)

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I originally planned on a fully hand-made, from scratch millinery creation for the hat to match my outfit, but I was running short on time before the event I was to attend.  This is why I re-fashioned a hat.  The wonderful Tanith Rowan (blog here) was of assistance to be at this step, and even provided a few helpful links to free newspaper archives for some awesome yet relatively easy patterns from 1912 and 1913.  I have plans for those hats yet on another future teens era project, but for now I think this hat is just what my outfit needed.  No kidding – my set was “meh” or even “good” but still missing something until I put the hat on and it turned into amazing!  The power of hats is truly underrated.  They add so much to an outfit and a person…and with a hat like this, it can even add height when you have dramatic feathers!

If you’ve made it this far reading, thank you for joining me on my tirade about my efforts to make the perfect World War I commemorative outfit.  I have a special Pinterest board dedicated to my inspiration for this project – please visit it here.

So much of what has happened in the past is linked to why things are how they are in the present and clothing can be used as a tool to help tell such a story.  I like to share how my sewing skills help me accomplish that.  Look for more (and perhaps less involved) WWI era and older historical clothes to come here on my blog!