A Blouse by Any Other Name Would Be the Same

I usually work on only one project at a time, but for the past three weeks I’ve had  two going strong.  I’m furiously working on a “dressy” suit – which needs to be completed this week!  However, last winter I made a mental note to myself to use up the fabric remaining from another suit, to make a matching overblouse.  I knew the pattern I was going to use, and with my newfound techniques from Craftsy’s The Couture Dress  online course, I knew this “small” project would be a great way to practice those skills.   So, I thought, “Oh, I’ll just throw this together in no time at all.”  Why do I ever think such things?  I must be either an eternal optimist or totally divorced from reality.

I have always loved sleeveless overblouses – also known as “shells” and sheath tops.  They were particularly popular in the late 1950s and 1960s with or without sleeves (during which time I also knew them as “jerkins” or “weskits” – which are really synonyms for vests).  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion describes an overblouse as “ Any blouse or top worn over the skirt or pants rather than tucked inside.”  And here’s what they say about a “shell”:

From: The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, 3rd Edition, New York, New York, 2010, page 37

A number of my ‘60s patterns show overblouses paired with suits or as part of two-piece dresses.

This v-neck overblouse is a great pairing with this sporty suit.

The description on the back of the envelope says this overblouse “may be tucked in”.

This design by Gres shows a boxy overblouse and skirt combination.

I particularly liked this pattern, with its Dior darts, the slits at the front hem, and its back zipper.  (I was able to pick up a refined separating zipper when I was at Britex in September – many are suitable for outerwear only and too clunky for something like this.)

View D is my choice.

Here is another example of an overblouse with Dior darts, which forms part of a two-piece dress.  Note that the zipper is on the side:

This design was featured in the August/September 1957 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

I dutifully made up my muslin, to which I made a number of adjustments (lowering the bust line/darts, shortening the darts in the back, lowering and widening the neckline a bit, adding a little more girth to the hipline so it would slip over my matching skirt without buckling, and adding about two inches to the overall length of the blouse.   Hm-m-m, is that all?)  I underlined it with silk organza, matched the plaid everywhere I could, keeping in mind how the windowpane check would line up with the skirt.  I secured all the seam allowances with catch-stitching, and then I hand-picked the separating zipper.  About this time I quietly panicked when I realized how much time I had already put into this blouse!  I put it aside and started working on my suit, with a promise to myself to put in a bit more time on the overblouse whenever I had just 30 or 40 minutes “extra”, whatever that means.

Somehow I have managed to complete it, and I think I’m on track to finish my suit in a day or two, as well.  Whew!  Here are some of the details:

Here is a front view . . .

. . . and here is the back view.

A peek inside the blouse . . .

. . . and a look at the hand-picked zipper. This was the first separating zipper I think I have ever put in – and I am happy with the results!

And here is the finished blouse/overblouse/shell/sheath top, shown with the skirt:

An impersonal view, for which I apologize – no tangling with the tripod and camera timer today!

Just as I appreciate the preciseness which couture sewing makes possible when sewing something as “simple” as this shell, so do I also appreciate the many variant words to describe this type of blouse.  My personal favorite name for this blouse?



Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, couture construction, Dior darts, hand-sewn zippers, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns, woolens

9 responses to “A Blouse by Any Other Name Would Be the Same

  1. It’s lovely, Karen! Do you plan to model?

  2. Cissie

    Just lovely. And aren’t separating zippers a dream? I find them so much easier to “operate”!

  3. Carol

    The whole suit together is going to look fantastic. I do like the use of the separating zipper down the back of the blouse. Do you still plan to make a blouse out of the lining fabric? Re side zipper: I have Vogue Paris Original 1900 (Yves Saint Laurent, 1968). The sleeveless dress has a 12″ left side zipper and the left side shoulder closes with 5 hooks and eyes (size 2). buzzybeesworld.blogspot.com has a tutorial on “The Dior Dart” showing how to draft a pattern for it.
    In “New Look To Now, French Haute Couture 1947-1987” by Stephen de Pietri and Melissa Leventon (Rizolli 1989), a catalogue to accompany a museum exhibition, there is a picture of a suit similar to yours by Christian Dior, winter 1956. Yves Saint Laurent was also designing similar suits for Christian Dior in spring 1958. Shown with gloves and hat they look very warm and cozy. Thanks for all your inspiring posts, Karen. I imagine you are busy with preparations back East and we wish you all the best.

    • One of the things I love about 1950s’ fashion was the use of gloves and hats to complete an ensemble – it was all just so elegant and ladylike! I actually already made a shell out of the lining silk, so I guess I can say this 4-part project is really finished.
      The approaching storm is a bit intimidating – we’ve done all we can do to get ready – and I have lots of hand-sewing lined up for “stitching by candlelight”. Thank you for your good wishes.

  4. Wonderful details and plaid matching! Your shell is beautiful with the skirt – even flat on the floor! =)

  5. I just love how this turned out. I know you spent a lot of time on it, and I say the results are worth it.

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