There’s something especially lovely about discovering your personal style. When I first realised how much I loved the full-skirted, cinched-waist 1950s silhouette, and more importantly, how much I loved it on me, it was something of a revelation. I never wanted to wear anything except circle skirts and petticoats again! Sadly, they’re not always a practical wardrobe choice in the life of a busy modern woman, so some further style experimentation has been required – especially as I’m on hospital placements from this year on: wards aren’t really the scene for my usual uni ensembles of swooshy skirts and sweetheart tops.
That being said, I’ve hd a lot of fun planning my new work-wear wardrobe. Finding ways to express my style in ways that practical and professional as well as chic has been a challenge I have relished. I’ve been inspired by Claire McCardle’s designs and the “sportswear” fashion trends of the 1950s, but also by an era a little outside of my usual scope, the 40s. Wartime economy and practicality created less fussy and more utilitarian, though undeniably stylish, silhouettes. In other words, the perfect inspiration for my new makes! And here’s the first of them, 1940s-inspired red shirtdress 🙂
I first got hooked on shirt dresses a few months ago, when I bought one from one of my favourite retro brands, Princess Highway, using a voucher I got for my birthday. It quickly became one of my favourites, at once both pretty and polished. It’s on the shorter size, however, and the hem curves up pretty hilariously at the front (clearly designed for someone with a little less front than me!), so I knew that if I wanted one to wear one placement, it would be up to me to produce it. Rather serendipitously, it was around that time that I saw The Little Tailoress‘ version of Simplicity 1880. This pattern is virtually identical to the one I own, so I knew it would make the perfect starting place for me. It is unfortunately out of print now, but I did manage to snap it up on eBay for a very reasonable price 😉 Fabric-wise, I had originally wanted to make it up in rayon, as that’s what my Princess Highway dress is made of and it’s deliciously soft and drapey. However the colour selection available to me was pretty dismal, so I went with pure cotton lawn instead, which as well as being super affordable ($4 per metre, yes please!) came in this gloriously bright red. Owning virtually no other red clothing, I thought it high time I rectified that situation!
Starting was, of course, the hard part. As much as I like to incorporate new challenges into my projects, this one had a slightly intimidating list of them! Set-in sleeves, side zip, a row of button holes, and of course, the notched collar. Not necessarily difficult tasks in and of themselves (at least, I know that now!), but facing them all for the first time in one project did put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm for a while. But, I dislike having cut out projects siting around for too long – by that point, you’ve already sunk time AND money into that project – so I grit my teeth and got to it. And surprisingly, it all went pretty much without hitch!
Construction sailed along pretty smoothly, with the only real challenge being trying to understand how the notched collar came together – turns out it’s one of those things which is much easier to understand once you’ve actually done it 😛 I used french seams and faux french seams (raw edges turned in and stitched so as to be enclosed, used when a) you forgot to do a french seam and can’t be bothered unpicking and b) under invisible zips) throughout, and skipped adding a lining – the lawn is ever so slightly sheer, but I’ve decided I’d rather wear slips under it (an excuse to sew more vintage-style lingerie, yay!). Two other new little details I added for myself were the self covered buttons and the decorative stitching around the sleeves, collar and hem. Both of these were quite easy and actually fun to do, and I think they really add to the character of the dress 🙂
I’ve decided I really like this pattern, too. The fit was pretty much spot on out of the box -after I’d sized down because I noticed it had an insane amount of ease built in. But making a straight size 12 proved to be a perfect fit! I made View A, the shirt dress (View B is a wrap dress), with the cap sleeves – short puffed sleeves and three-quarter options are also included, as well as a tie belt. I’m already thinking about variations I want to try for my next one (which I’m envisioning in a gorgeous lush forest-green rayon…) – I think I’ll try three-quarter sleeves, a gathered skirt and maybe altering the back pleats to darts…stay tuned for that one! But I’m glad I tried the pattern as-is first – the only change I made was to add a pocket to the right side seam, because all dresses really should have pockets in my view.
Now is this dress perfect? Of course not! I know exactly where little folds got caught in the seams, where my zip didn’t quite line up right, THE ONE BUTTON HOLE THAT MY MACHINE HATED AND LOOKS LIKE IT WAS SEWN WITH THE PRESSER FOOT UP – but after reading this post about ablogogising on Did You Make That?, I’m banning it on this blog too. Sure, I probably put my pocket in a bit low – but does that make it less functional? Does it make the dress an eyesore?? No, of course not – this is one fabulous dress 😉 I’ll still be sharing my battles with my sewing machine, near misses and quick fixes; but listing every tiny mistake so small I couldn’t even be bothered fixing it? Nah, none of that. We should all be pretty damn proud of the things we make: let’s stop putting them down!
Finally, because they’re so gorgeous and I can’t resist showing them off, check out my amazing new stockings from What Katie Did!
I really love fully embracing vintage dressing some days (i.e. whenever humanly possible), and that definitely includes all the proper underpinnings. It’s the little details which really make the ensemble, I think!
On a quick final note – Madalynne is running her annual ‘Best Sewing Blogs‘ competition, and yours truly has been nominated in several categories! To anyone who put my name forward in the first round, thank you so, so much. You can now vote in the second round here – go show all your favourite sewing bloggers some love! 🙂
Even though there was more I wanted to share in this post, I’ve run over 1,000 words (again!) – so I’ll leave you all there, until next time,
Miss Maddy xx