Tag Archives: vintage fashion

Personal Style – And the Passage of Time

Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life.  What  prompted my contemplation is this pattern:

I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties.  I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more.  I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.)    At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn.  I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.

I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then.  For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:

At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it.  The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk.  However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.

Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:  

I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost.  I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.  

Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties.  I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me.  Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love  – and also hope to make some day. 

I find it interesting that three of the patterns pictured are Christian Dior designs. Hmmmm…

I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades.  How about you?  Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)?  If not, what has changed?  

What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color.  I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink. 

I made this Moygashel linen dress for our Honeymoon in 1973. Pink? YES!

All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too).  Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote:  “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.”  [my italics]

And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along?  Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs?  Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status:  Under the Spell of Haute Couture:  “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void….  A woman’s fashion compass should come from within.  When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.”  (pages 146-147)

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, New York, c1995

Is your personal style really that important?  Does it allow you to project the person you truly are?  If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years.  Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.”  When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.)  I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.  

I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?  

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Very Pink Coat, Part 3

Added Value….  There is a significant little entry in 101 Things I learned in Fashion School (Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick, Grand Central Publishing, New York, New York, 2010, page 40).  Although aimed at Ready-To-Wear customers and the designers who cater to them, it certainly is meaningful to those of us who sew our own fashions:  “Fashion customers often need to be convinced to buy a new garment that, in effect, they already own.  …  Value added details [my emphasis] are those that are inherently necessary to a garment but are executed in a novel or interesting way…”  thus making them attractive to potential customers.  

Well, not that I really need convincing to make another coat for myself, but I will freely admit it is the unique little details in a pattern (and gorgeous fabric, of course) which convince me I MUST make THIS coat, even though I might not really NEED it.  Such was the case with my very pink coat, which is now finished.  

Those details included 1) the three welt pockets with flaps, 2) the concealed front closure, 3) the  arrowhead detail accompanying the minimal top-stitching, 4) the sleeve tabs (okay, not really a necessary detail, but a very nice one!), and 5) the opportunity to add a little flash to the lining with edge-piping.

I’ll cover the sleeve tabs first since they were the detail in question in my last post. 

 As you can observe, I decided to leave them with the buttons facing forward.  Several comments left by readers (thank you – you know who you are and I am very appreciative!) got me thinking anew about the orientation of the tabs.  Then I had an aha moment when I realized that the one button which is visible on the front of the coat, at the neckline, might look a bit disconnected without its counterparts showing on the sleeves.  Decision made, with confidence!  However, I doubt I will ever look at a sleeve tab in quite the same way again. 

The three welt pockets with flaps are quite likely my favorite detail on this coat.  First of all, I like making them.  There is a certain feeling of empowerment, although slightly nerve-wracking, to cut those big slashes into the front of the coat and be confident it will all be okay. And this type of pocket is just so pretty when they are done.  In addition, while they are utilitarian, they also suggest refinement, elevating a simple car coat to a coat with some sophistication and flair. 

Here is the underside of one of those pockets, with the slash” clearly visible.
As you can see, I used lining fabric (Bemberg from Emma One Sock Fabrics) for the facing on the flaps. And here’s a fun fact – that small pocket on the right side is called a “ticket pocket,” small and shallow, perfect for a printed ticket. As printed tickets go the way of the dinosaurs, this little pocket may become obsolete – but I sincerely hope not. It adds so much to the visual pleasure of this coat and other similar garments.
A good view of the small “ticket pocket.”

I must have a certain penchant for concealed coat fronts.  This is the third one I have made and I can let you know there may be more to come (but not soon.)   As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to reduce the bulk of the closure by using my lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the front flap.  

I made three machine buttonholes for this part of the flap, which made everything lay flat and neat. 

The gray buttons – 6 of them, which is what I needed – were in my collection, so that was a happy find. They are 1950s’ vintage gray pearl, very appropriate indeed for this 1957 pattern.

Although this coat pattern called for some topstitching, it was minimal.  Just the sleeve tabs, the pocket flaps and the collar, plus the front detail on the right side.  I was unhappy with the machine topstitching I did at the front closure.  There was enough bulk from the wool and the facing and the fly front, that it interfered with the smoothness of the topstitching.  So I took it out.  Initially I was going to do without topstitching and the arrowhead detail, but it looked a bit plain and unfinished.  So I did my fallback to what I know works – topstitching by hand.  Because of the hand-worked arrowhead detail, I felt hand topstitching would not look out of place.  Of course, I had never done an embroidery arrowhead before, so I had to practice, practice practice  so it hopefully does not look amateurish.  

I purchased matching embroidery floss for the arrowhead detail and the hand top-stitching.

Finally, coat linings lend themselves so beautifully to that extra little treatment – a narrow edge piping.

  I deviated from my Vogue pattern to add this dressmaker detail, but I am sure they would have approved.  My Avoca wool scarf which is such a perfect complement to this coat inspired me to choose checked piping.  I “robbed” a small corner from some pink silk gingham (intended for a Spring coat, as mentioned previously here) to make my flat piping.  

I purchased the pink cashmere wool for this coat from Farmhouse Fabrics.

Well, there you have it.  My first major project of 2022 finished.  I am happy I chose pink for my theme this year as it has brightened up many a dark day in this troubled world of ours. 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, car coats, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Scarves, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 2

The pattern for a very pink coat has many pieces.  

When I am getting ready to start a new project with a pattern new to me, I like to read through all the instructions just to get a feel for what is ahead.  That lets me know if I can mix things up a bit, deviate from the step-by-step instructions, prepare a component ahead of time (such as sleeves.  If I feel confident about the fit, I will often make the sleeves first and set them aside until I am ready for them).  During this initial study of the instruction sheet, all was straightforward except for one thing.  For the life of me, I could not figure out how the  concealed – or fly – opening on the front was constructed.  I have done this type of opening before (here and here), but this construction was different.  

Because I wanted to use my gray lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the opening (to reduce bulk) I needed to know if I could do that and be confident that the lining would not show.  So I REALLY needed to understand how this detail went together.  I decided I would have to do a trial run.  What better use of a well-marked muslin (toile) than to use it for this task?  Armed with pins, I proceeded to do a mock-up.  

Here are the two separate fly pieces, one attached to the facing and the other one attached to the right front coat piece.
Here are the attached fly pieces folded back from the front edge. This detail allowed me to use the lining fabric for one layer of the buttoned side.
Here the two sides are sandwiched together to show the concealed opening.

Instead of taking my mock-up apart, I decided to keep it for referral when I got to that point of the coat.  And I am so glad I did.  It helped me through many a confusing moment, giving me confidence that I was doing this correctly.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave one a trial run first before facing the real thing – and then stood by to offer reassurance?  Well, you will have to wait to see the finished opening in my next post, but it is all but complete.  And I must confess, I think it is going to be very lovely.

Now here is something to ponder.  A few days ago I walked into my sewing room and was startled to observe something that did not seem right on my up-to-that-point constructed coat.  I had it hanging on my dress form and almost had a panic attack when I looked at the to-be-buttoned tabs on the sleeves.  It certainly looked as though I had sewn them on backwards!  The buttonholes, and therefore the soon-to-be-attached buttons, were oriented toward the front of the sleeve, rather than the back.

Before completely losing it, I went to my pattern, and there, plain as day in the illustration, the tabs wrapped around to the front of the sleeve.  

I still could not quite believe it, so I went to the illustrations in the 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, shown in my last post.  Yep – the tabs were oriented the same way as mine.  Just to make sure, I checked the silk organza under-lining on the two-part sleeves to double check my markings which would tell me that the backs of the sleeves were truly in the back (although my common sense had already answered this question for me.  Of course, the sleeves would not have gone in as smoothly as they did if I had put them in incorrectly).  

After being reassured repeatedly that I had not made a BIG mistake, I started to question why the tabs were oriented that way.  I looked for other examples of buttoned sleeve tabs.  I found one or two in which the tab wraps around to the front, but most tabs were sewn into the inside seam, wrapped around the front and buttoned just past the center point of the sleeve (or seam, if there was a center seam as with my pattern), toward the back.  I wondered if this might one of those things which is distinctly feminine, such as the fact that buttonholes on womens’ apparel are on the right, whereas mens’ are on the left.  But no, I could not verify that.  

Here is one of the few examples I found showing the tab buttoning toward the front of the sleeves.
And here is an example of the more customary orientation of the buttoned tab. Both illustrations are from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, ibid.

Now I am left with a decision to make.  Somehow, I think I would like the tabs on my coat to button toward the back.  I had faced the tabs with my gray lining fabric, again to reduce bulk.  I think that gray lining would better stay undercover should the tabs button in the back. I also think a backward orientation will reduce the incidence of “catching” the tab on things.  Both of those considerations obviously figure into my thinking.  Do I take out the bottom part of the finished sleeves, with their pretty catch-stitched seams, remove the tabs and reorient them?   

This photo of the interior seam of one of the sleeves shows the end of the tab catch-stitched in place along with the seams. The clips you see are where the hem turns back.

Or do I leave well-enough alone and stay true to my vintage pattern? I must decide before the lining goes in the coat. Which brings me to the realization I have just 4 pattern pieces remaining, all for the lining.  Part 3 of this saga is just around the corner.  

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Filed under car coats, Coats, couture construction, Mid-Century style, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 1

Some projects deserve more than one blog post and this pattern and coat fall into that category. 

I am making View A, although with the concealed (fly front) opening.
I purchased this cashmere and wool blend from Farmhouse Fabrics. It has a “brushed” surface, giving it a nap which provides a depth to the deep pink color. I have underlined all the components of the coat with silk organza. Basting holds the two fabrics together and also gives me my stitching lines and other pertinent information.

From the magical year of 1957 (I promise some time I will devote an entire post to the notable spot that the year 1957 occupies in the modern history of fashion), this coat pattern is in a class of its own.  Referred to as a “car coat” in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazine entries, it is a quintessential example of that genre.  Here’s why:

  1. It is a wonderful example of fashion following lifestyle.  The copyright date of 1957 puts it firmly in the early appearance of this form.  To wit, the entry for car coats in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion reads:  “Sport or utility coat made hip-to-three-quarter length, which is comfortable for driving a car.  First became popular with the station-wagon set in suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s and has become a classic style since then.”  (ibid, p. 89)
  2. The flap pockets – three of them – are intentionally utilitarian, but also add a certain finesse to the coat.   Those flaps help protect the contents of the pocket – in the case of a car coat, obviously keys, perhaps gloves, or even a change purse. 
  3. The side slits give a bit of wiggle room to the area of the hips, for sliding in and out of car seats.  And the buttoned tabs at the wrists add to its aesthetic appeal.  No, they are not really necessary, but that is not what this coat was all about.  It was meant to be extremely functional, but smart looking.
  4. The concealed front in View B, commonly referred to as a fly front, steps the appearance of this coat up a notch.  Particularly notable is the arrowhead detail at the top of the topstitching on the front of the coat.  
  5. The busy mother and wife would have looked very “put-together” wearing this coat out and about.  Later versions of the car coat style included Benchwarmer, Duffel coat, Ranch coat, Mackinaw jacket, Stadium coat, and Toggle coat (according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion)  But this coat was a car coat, in its very pure early, but fashionable form.

This pattern is featured twice in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from August-September 1957.

Here is the longer version shown on page 22:

“The coat that goes over everything.” Here is an interesting observation which might not be readily apparent. When I was fitting my muslin (toile) for this coat, I initially thought the sleeves may be a bit too loose. You can see in this photo they are not slim on the model. But then I realized they have a bit more girth to them for a reason – to give the wearer comfort and unrestricted movement while driving. (And in 1957 there was a good chance she was driving a stick-shift car!) I kept them the way they are as I will appreciate being able to wear a heavy sweater under my coat.

And here on page 37 is a drawing (by illustrator Dilys Wall) of the coat in red with this description:  “A hounds-tooth-check car coat with three flap pockets, side-slit seams, and tab-button detail on the sleeves.  Designed in sizes 10 to 18.”  

Interestingly, also featured in this same magazine is this example of a child’s coat, also with a fly front.  This type of opening takes more skill – and time – to make.  I love the affirmation this item gives to the commitment and ability of the home-sewer in the 1950s.  

Because this coat has those extra details which put it a notch above ordinary, there is a lot of preparation work before seams can actually be sewn together.  The sleeve tabs, with their bound buttonholes must be complete before the sleeve seams can be sewn.  Additionally, the set-in pockets with their flaps present a considerable amount of prep work on the fronts of the coat.  Sounds like fun to me! More to come . . .

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Filed under car coats, Coats, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

PINK Plans for 2022

Five days into the New Year seems like a good time to look forward and put down in writing new plans and projects, both personally and in my sewing life.  Occasionally in past years, I have chosen a word to guide me in my thinking, and after a sewing friend (thank you, Debra!) suggested this approach again, I happily went with the first word which popped into my mind.  P I N K.

Pink is undoubtably my favorite color.  I love it in all hues and shades, from the palest pink to deepest fuchia, from bubblegum pink to carnation pink.  I love wearing pink and I love sewing with pink fabrics. Looking at fabrics I have collected over the past few years testifies to this fact.

A few of those selections with “assignments” for 2022 will be scattered amongst this exploration into PINK.

And first up is this length of deep pink cashmere blend (Farmhouse Fabrics), from which I plan to make this jacket:

P:

P of course stands for PINK the color.

P is also a good reminder to keep PERSPECTIVE on the year.  If the last two years have taught us anything, it is to be prepared for the unexpected.  Sometimes things are out of our control, thwarting our plans and timing.  Rolling with the punches (another P-word!) is something I need to become better at.  Which brings me to . . .

P is for PERSEVERANCE.  This is an invaluable asset when it comes to sewing well – and living well.  

I have plans to make a day dress out of this soft and supple dress-weight wool, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics. I am still deciding on the pattern.

I:

I is for INDULGENCE.  I have decided to indulge my love of coats and dresses and fancy clothes even I don’t need them.  So there!  

I is also for INDECISION.  I am not usually one who has trouble making decisions, but sometimes, a fabric or pattern stumps me.  When that happens, I have to step back and let time make the decision for me.  It always works.

I is for INSPIRATION, which is never in short supply among all the vintage patterns, fashions, buttons, and fabrics in the couture-loving-and-sewing online community.

If you follow my blog, you have seen this duo before. Silk charmeuse for a fancy blouse and silk twill for a floaty skirt, both from Britex Fabrics.

N:

N is for NEW ENDEAVORS, both in sewing and in my personal life – NEW patterns, NEW fabrics (YES! Even new fabrics), NEW commitments, determined by answering these two questions:  What can I let go of?  And, more importantly perhaps, What can I not let go of? 

N is also for NOT feeling guilty about all the time I devote to sewing and fashion and dreaming about both. 

The pink gingham on the right is silk taffeta. When I purchased this fabric from Farmhouse Fabrics, I intended to make a shirt dress, but then it did not seem right to me. A couple of years later, I knew it needed to be a Spring coat instead, lined with the quirky vintage 1950s’ novelty silk. The pattern is below, first used by me in 1974 for a trench coat I sadly no longer have.
I love this pattern now as much as I did when I first made it in my early twenties.

K:

K is for Kindred Spirits – such an amazing camaraderie amongst the global sewing community. I am so grateful to be part of the network of friendships we share.

K is for Keeping Focus, and for the need to Knuckle Down in order to accomplish my sewing and personal goals this year.   

K is finally for Kindness which I hope will guide me throughout this new year.

Even when I choose a color other than pink, somehow pink wiggles its way into the design. When I found this fabric at Emma One Sock Fabrics, I immediately thought of making a tunic and trimming it with pink Petersham ribbon.
A Pink-Lover’s Dream Collection: From top to bottom: 1)vintage Moygashel linen, purchased on eBay 2) silk charmeuse, purchased from Britex Fabrics 3)vintage Moygashel linen, purchased by me in the 1970s 4) linen, possibly Moygashel, purchased on Etsy 5) silk jacquard purchased from Britex 6) silk charmeuse, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics 7 & 8) coordinating silks, purchased from Mendel Goldberg.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”  Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy New Year, dear Sewing Friends.  

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Filed under Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

Diversionary Tactics

While bogged down in the fitting of these wool slacks, my mind has been thinking about capes instead. 

Almost ready for the waistband!
But first – finish inserting the lapped zipper and the silk lining.

I know myself well enough to recognize it is always prudent to work on the least favorable item first and save the ”goodies” for later, and that is what I have done with this cape and slacks ensemble introduced in my last post.  There is a reason I have made few pairs of slacks in my years of sewing:  I find fitting them tedious.  So, while I think I am just about satisfied with how they are coming along, the thing which has kept me sane is the prospect of making that beautiful cape. 

All of this has led me to do a little research into capes.  I started with Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, as I often do when investigating a sewing/fashion topic.  Well, oh my!   There happen to be no fewer than 8 pages of entries for capes, cloaks, and shawls!  It turns out a cape is not just a cape, and the history of capes is long indeed.  For my purposes here, the simple definition of a cape is sufficient:  “Sleeveless outerwear of various lengths usually opening in center front; cut in a full circle, in a segment of  a circle, or on the straight – usually with slits for arms.  A classic type of outerwear worn in one form or another throughout history….”  (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003)

Interestingly, Christian Dior has no entry for capes in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, another one of my go-to reference books.  But as luck would have it, the newest J. Peterman Company catalogue, Owners Manual No. 197, Holidays 2021, arrived in my mailbox this week.  And there on page 5, he has offered for sale a Plaid Wool Cape, with the enticing caption:  “Capes are mysterious.  Alluring.  Functional. In the past, they’ve existed as an alternative to coats so you wouldn’t crush your real clothing…”  He goes on to say one will not want to take off this particular cape, as there could be nothing better under it.  Well, I guess that’s an arguable point, but you get the picture.  Capes demand attention, but in a good way.

I started thinking about the patterns I have gathered over the years, and I remembered at least two which feature capes.  Once I got into my pattern collection, I found four besides the one I am currently using.  

The earliest one is clearly this Vogue Couturier Design from the second half of the 1950s.

Its description reads:  “Suit and Reversible Cape.  Easy fitting jacket with concealed side pockets buttons below shaped collar.  Below elbow length sleeves.  Slim skirt joined to shaped waistband.  Reversible, collarless cape has arm openings in side front seams.”  I think this is pretty spectacular, and while the suit is lovely, it is enhanced many times over by the addition of the short cape.

Next is this Advance pattern from the 1960s, a cape in two lengths.  

The more I look at capes, the more I think I like the shorter versions.

I was attracted to this pattern because of its lengthwise darts, its rolled collar and back neckline darts.  

This diagram from the back of the envelope shows the finesse of the design.

The 1970s is represented by the Molyneux pattern I am using and two more: a Pucci design and a Sybil Connolly design.

I purchased the Pucci pattern for the dress (which I now believe to be too “youthful” for me), but its cape certainly completes the outfit.  The description reads:  “…Cape with jewel neckline has arm openings in side front seams; back vent [which I find interesting}.  Top-stitch trim.”

And the final cape pattern I own – almost a capelet – is this Sybil Connolly design.  The caption states “…Short asymmetrical flared cape has side button closing.”  No arm slits in this cape.  

I actually made this cape a number of years ago, but I must admit I have worn it infrequently.  The wide stance of the neckline makes it a little unstable.  I guess there is a good reason most capes have a tighter neckline – and open in the center front.  

So there is my whirlwind cape tour. What do you think?  Are capes alluring and mysterious?   Functional and sophisticated?  I, for one, think capes have a slightly romantic charm to them. Do you?  

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Filed under Advance vintage patterns, Capes, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

What Do You Think of Pockets?

Do you love pockets and add them to your sewn creations wherever you can?  Would you be happy never to have to sew another pocket?  Do you tolerate them in a garment, preferring to do without if possible?  Many people have very strong opinions about pockets or the lack thereof. I think those of us who sew are among those with the strong opinions, primarily because we have it in our power to add them or delete them.  My personal mantra on pockets is “Let’s see if we can do without them, unless we can’t.”   

I generally divide my thoughts about pockets into three categories: those in dress pants (slacks), those in dresses and skirts, and those in dressier coats and jackets. (A little caveat is probably useful here  before I get any further.  Yes, jeans should have pockets, as should hiking and/or activewear pants and shorts.  And absolutely, pockets are part of the functionality of active outdoor coats and jackets and vests. Those categories are not part of this discussion.)  

It was over two decades ago when I first started thinking about the dilemma pockets in slacks present.  I had just purchased a navy blue wool flannel, dressy pair of slim pants, which fit well and were flattering.  There were two welt pockets on either side of the front which were basted closed, as is the custom in better clothes (leaving it up to the purchasing customer to remove the basting.)  I left the basting in and preserved the slim silhouette of the slacks.  Had I removed the basting, the front, I am sure, would have “pooched” out at those two spots and, well, not done my tummy any favors.  Once I started buying vintage patterns a decade ago, I began to notice the slacks in the patterns from the 1950s generally were pocketless.  (I have long thought fashion and style in the decade of the 1950s was at its zenith, both in elegance and in silhouette, which is a topic for another discussion.)  Here a few examples of patterns from the 1950s:

Note the defining tuck in the front of the pant legs.
These slim pants are enhanced with 4 shaping darts each, front and back, with no waistband.
These slim pants do have a waistband.

In my mind, pockets in dress slacks are superfluous at best, detrimental at worst, and just unnecessary.  Although I rarely make pants and slacks, I have yet to put a pocket in any of them.

Dresses and skirts are a bit more complicated.  Fuller skirts often provide the perfect camouflage for in-seam pockets.  I have sewn at least three such styles, the patterns for which included pockets in the side seams.  Interestingly, two of them were vintage Diane von Furstenberg patterns from the 1970s; the other is a more recent Vogue shirt dress.

This DvF dress pattern from the 1970s has pockets in the side seams.
And so does this one!
Again, pockets in the side seams in this Vogue pattern. The fuller skirts in all three of these dresses conceal the pockets well, but only if they are empty! If I make any of these patterns again, I will not bother with adding pockets.

There was a charming article appearing this summer in a Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal by author Jasmine Guillory and her “perfect dress” which, alas, has pockets. (Check her website here to read the article under “About”.)  Here is what she wrote, “The only element that mars this dress’s perfection is its pockets.  This might be a controversial statement, but I don’t like dresses with pockets.  They pooch at my hips, even when empty, and if you put something in them, it’s worse….  What’s this great need for dresses with pockets?”  She goes on to say she regularly takes her dresses with pockets to the dry cleaner to have the pockets removed.  (Alas, again!  Her dry cleaner closed during the pandemic, meaning that her “perfect dress” still has its pockets, making it “almost perfect.”)  

But what about slimmer silhouettes?  In-seam pockets could cause the same “gapping” situation, which begs the question “Would you put anything in those pockets which would cause that pocket to gap even more?  Probably not.  I would place my hankie or my cell phone or lip stick in my handbag, not in my pocket – and that goes for fuller skirts as well.  (Besides, like Jasmine Guillory, I am quite smitten with handbags.) 

However, what about in-seam pockets which are part of the design?  Here is a notable example:

This Vogue Designer pattern has shallow pockets in its side front seams. Somehow, I can’t imagine this dress without them!

And then, of course, applied pockets are often part of the design, but not really intended for practical use.  Take a look at this evening gown: 

Notice that these pockets open from the side.

You might be able to tell I have decided I am not so keen on pockets in skirts and dresses either – UNLESS they are integral to the design.  

Which brings us to coats and jackets.  I think one’s first reaction to this category would be “Well, of course, jackets and coats need to have pockets.”  And for the most part, I would agree with that.  Often pockets in coats and jackets are part of the design and add stylistic interest as well as functionality.  Here are a few examples of coats I have made, with such pockets: 

The pockets in this coat are inserted into the shortened princess seam.
I am very fond of the slanted pockets in this Christian Dior design.
A pocket detail from a Givenchy Vogue coat pattern, with hand sewn topstitching.

Here is a jacket pattern which is in my sewing queue for 2022.  I absolutely love the pockets.

And where would a Classic French jacket be without its pockets?  They are not really functional, but undeniably integral to the design. 

One of the Classic French jackets I have made.

Not all coats have pockets, however.  Take a look at this Madame Gres design which I made in a lavender linen.  It has no pockets, nor would I want them in this Spring coat.

And here is a “summer” coat which I think is just so chic.  No pockets.

I have made this coat pattern twice – once with pockets and once without. 

The wool version has in-seam pockets which I find useful:

A peek inside one of those in-seam pockets.

But here is the same pattern, made as a “cocktail” coat.  I made it pocketless and love it.

No pockets needed when one has a lovely little clutch to carry.

Clearly there is much to consider when it comes to pockets.  When we add them to a garment, or delete them, or change their placement, or baste them shut to eliminate that dreadful “pooch” problem, we are admitting that not all pockets are equal.  Some are perfect in every way, some not so much, and some – are never missed.  

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Filed under Coats, Day dresses, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

A Summer Dress

Summer is quickly slipping away, but before it does, I will share one quintessentially summer dress which I made back in July.  It ticks off a number of features which make it “Summer Seasonal”:  it is sleeveless, it is a bright color, and it is linen.  

I found this vintage piece of Moygashel linen a few years ago on eBay. Always a pushover for vintage Moygashel, I purchased it, not quite knowing what shade of green it would be. I was expecting a lime green, but when it arrived it was “lime green meets mint,” a color reminiscent of the early 1960s.  Actually, not just reminiscent – an actual survivor from that period of time.  The width of the fabric was only 35” which was a dead giveaway that this fabric is from the early part of that decade.  Shortly thereafter, Moygashel began to be woven in 45” widths.  Fortunately I had three yards, which compensated for the dearth of width.   

To keep with the early ‘60’s vibe, I decided to line it in pink.  Although I usually line linen with a cotton batiste or cotton/linen lightweight blend, I decided to treat this dress a little bit differently.  I do not often use Bemberg for lining, usually preferring silk, but this lovely, time-tested 100% rayon lining just seemed to be the right choice. (Why?  I knew the seam allowances of the bright green  linen would not show through the tightly woven Bemberg lining, AND it would be a comfortable, lightweight and slinky fabric with which to line a summer dress.)  I ordered what I thought would be a medium pink, but when it arrived, it was more of a very deep rose.  What to do?  I hemmed and hawed, I thought about ordering a different hue of pink, I even thought about abandoning the pink idea and just using a white crepe de chine I had on hand.  Why I was agonizing so much over the color of the lining had to do with my thought if the dress turned out well, I would enter it in the County Fair. I knew not everyone would “understand” such a deeply contrasted lining.  But not wanting to waste money and fabric – and time! – I finally decided just to go with the dark pink, shown a few pictures below.  

I used this sheath dress pattern again, as I am so fond of the double shaping darts in the bodice front and the real kick-pleat.  

The sheath dress pattern I like is the one on the right, underneath its matching plaid coat.
Not just a slit, but a real kick-pleat!
Here is the kick-pleat on the inside of the dress.

I underlined the dress in silk organza so that I could eliminate facings and have an invisible application of the lining.  (The silk organza underlining gives one a base upon which to tack and secure stitches which do not show on the fashion fabric.)

The neck and armhole edges are stay stitched by machine close to the seam line, then clipped and tacked in place by hand to the silk organza underlining.
Here is one of the side seams, clipped and then also tacked in place by catch-stitches.
A beautiful lining hides all those interior stitches and seams.

I surprisingly found a zipper which was almost a perfect match to the green linen, and I did a hand-picked lapped application.  

Once I had the lining fell-stitched in place around the neckline and the armholes, I under-stitched those areas in waxed and ironed white thread.  (I used white to quiet down the deep pink!) Using this technique keeps the lining in place.  The under-stitching is attached to the silk organza underlining only, not the fashion fabric, as explained above.

I used Hug Snug rayon tape to construct the strap holders.

To complete the early 1960s’ essence of this dress, I can pair it with a vintage ‘60s’ Guillemin scarf, also found on eBay.  The pink in the scarf doesn’t match the pink lining, but since the lining does not show, it only matters to me (and now all of you also know this little fact!)  

So how did I do with this dress as an entry in the County Fair?  It was awarded a Red Ribbon in the Adult Division, which was lovely.  The day was “saved” however, when dresses I made for my granddaughters each won Blue Ribbons (and one of them won Best of Division).

(Those of you who follow me on Instagram @fiftydresses have seen this picture already…)

Good Summer memories, all of them.    

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Filed under couture construction, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Scarves, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

The Last Dress of Summer

Or is it the first dress of Fall?  It depends on your point of view, apparently.  The Autumnal Equinox, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is September 22nd, officially the first day of (Astronomical) Fall.  Meteorological Fall began on September 1st, marking the point in the year when the temperatures begin to fall (pardon the pun.)  Either way one looks at it, I now have a finished dress which is either late for Summer or just under the wire.  I’m honestly just delighted to have it finished!

Although linen is traditionally thought to be a summertime fabric, I have long thought it is also the perfect fabric for early Fall.  Moygashel linen is especially well suited for this time of year.  Its natural fibers keep it cool for those days which continue to warm up, but its sturdy weave and heft give it a substantial enough look for these days of transition.

I purchased this piece of vintage linen from an Etsy shop years ago.

This particular piece of Moygashel, undoubtably a survivor from the mid-1950s, presented me with a couple of challenges.  First, it was only 35” wide.  And I only had 2½ yards.  Laying out pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric always allows me to maximize their placement, improving my ability to do the impossible – get a dress out of too little fabric.  (Here is another Moygashel linen dress which I was able to squeak out of 1 5/8 yards of 35” fabric.)

This vintage Vogue pattern gave me two sleeve options.  If I had opted for the very short sleeves, I would have had ample yardage.  But, for the seasonal reasons mentioned above, I particularly wanted to make this dress with the below-elbow-length sleeves.  So, I fiddled and figured and made it work by utilizing both the straight of grain and the cross grain for the bodice/sleeve pieces.  I was able to do this because of the allover floral design – ie., no directional limitations.

This pattern is dated 1957.

Interestingly enough, this dress with its cut-on sleeves does not have gussets.  Rather, the underarm seams of the dress sections are curved to add moveability.

This shows where the seams join under the arm close to the top of the side zipper.

I underlined this dress with white cotton batiste (from Farmhouse Fabrics) and I finished the seams with Hug Snug Rayon seam binding.

The buttoned upper back bodice is a real focal point of this pattern.  Being 1957, the pattern calls for “fabric buttonholes” – or bound buttonholes.  So that’s what I did.

When it came to buttons, I wanted to use some sort of faceted black buttons.  After searching online and coming up empty-handed for buttons of the correct size and look, I settled on these carved pearl buttons already in my button collection.

I love these buttons, but I still think black ones would be better …  so I will keep searching and switch them when I’m successful.  That will also allow me to use the “leaf” buttons (I have 6 of them) for something which will show them off to better advantage.

The final construction detail of note is the 10” side zipper.  I used a lapped, hand-picked application which lays inconspicuously below the left sleeve.

It is so inconspicuous, you can barely see it here!

I did not leave an opening on either side at the waist for a belt to slip through.  In fact, I did not have enough fabric to make a self-belt!  However, my intention was always to use a contrasting belt.  I think this fabric will lend itself to using belts of varying colors (red or yellow or pink?) as long as I can coordinate with shoes, handbags and/or jewelry.  That will have to wait until I am home from our Summer location.  Maybe I’ll even find black buttons back home!

I could wear this dress without a belt as well. (But I’m not sure I will…)

One final note about this pattern and dress:  it has to go over the head.  It was much more common for dresses from the 1950s and ‘60s to have side zippers and “over the head access”  only.  This can wreak havoc on hair (and make-up)!  So a little pre-planning is necessary – I will need to finish my primping after I have put on the dress.

And everytime I put this dress on, I shall see the original Moygashel linen label which came with the fabric.

I suspect this dress will go right into the cedar closet for the months to come, as I switch out the wool skirts and dresses and coats and sweaters.  But hopefully, in March, at the Spring Equinox, it will creep out from its dark and quiet spot and maybe even actually be worn!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Moygashel linen, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.

 

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Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s