For as much as I love vintage sewing, I’m even surprised that I only recently attended my first ‘costume’/historical ball. It’s held twice a year; once in summer and again in the winter. I bought my tickets back in January and that was about the time I started thinking about what I was going to make. I think I bought about 20 yards of different fabric and changed my mind on about as many patterns. Finally, I settled on one. Here’s some historical details.
The ball took place in 1947 and Tiki was the theme. I’m sure you are all aware that Dior’s New Look hit the scene in February of the same year. This was Dior’s first collection and it was hailed as no less than revolutionary. With the nipped in waists, voluminous skirts and ultra feminine (sexy) look, Dior’s New Look was a sigh of relief from the military, boxy looks that were dominate during the war.
Post war patterns
My pattern is from 1948. A couple things to note. 1) Today there are 52 fashion cycles a year. We have a new fashion (RTW) cycle every week, if you can believe that. During the 1940s and 50s there were two fashion cycles. Basically one for warm weather and one for cold. This was for both RTW and high fashion. Same thing with sewing patterns. Commercial sewing pattern manufacturers didn’t have new patterns coming out every week or every month.
Dior’s New Look is typified by the full skirts with a crazy amount of yardage. Rationing was over and what better way to celebrate than with a 7 yard skirt! My skirt is not that full and the entire outfit including the jacket was less than 3 yards. When you look at vintage patterns circa 1940-1945 you’ll notice a defining look. Many skirts hit right at the knee, with a boxy look to jackets, shoulder pads (military influence). After the war, an explosion of fuller, softer skirts going well past the knee were the new fashion.
Shortly after the war, when you look through catalogs and magazines you’ll notice bright primary colors dominate.
Blues, reds, yellows, big bold beautiful color hits the stores. During the war you’ll notice that military tones take the lead with tans, browns, greens and navy blues and softer hues. Floral patterns were popular after the war years as were gingham, bright red cherry, apple prints and so on.
I had a heck of a time picking fabric. I tried to go ultra historic and find fabric from the 1940s or 50s with no luck. I couldn’t find enough yardage or the colors and print just didn’t do anything for me.
Total I purchased 12 yards of different fabric, finally setting my eyes on this golden yellow cotton print from JoAnn’s and for 5.99 a yard! I snatched it all up (about 4 1/2 yards) and 44″ wide. I like this yellow, it’s one of my favorites.
Canary yellow doesn’t go with my complexion, this suited me very nicely. I also like the print, it seems a nod to an eastern/Asian influence which was becoming popular in the US after the war.
Tiki culture shouldn’t be confused with Tiki or Polynesian fine art, the two are different. Tiki culture is American art form started around the 1930’s with it’s height of popularity in the 1950s. After the war, men stationed in the South Pacific brought back tales and items from their time spent in this exotic locale and it just moved into a movement of sorts influencing music, food & drinks, architecture and more. If you want to sample some fine Tiki inspired music you must check out Martin Denny and Yma Sumac.
The construction of the dress was straight forward. However, these older patterns don’t include pattern pieces for facings. And in the guide-sheet there’s barely mention that you need to cut out a bias strip on your own. I’m so accustomed to having every little detail spelled out for me in the pattern sheet. Back then, home sewers just knew what to do. I lined the dress with a grey poly, that had a weight and feel similar to China silk.
I was warned on Facebook by Katrina Walker that using silk or a poly would be very sticky in a high heat situation, but I didn’t listen. Plus, I was really sick of buying fabric for this thing. Just make it work! I didn’t have time to make the belt or the capelet. I’ll definitely make the belt, but not the capelet. A little to matchy matchy for me. Also, I think next time I would take more care on placement of the straps and their width to match my bra straps.
To get into the dress I do need a bit of wiggling and maneuvering. I’m not sure what I did, but it does not come off or on easily.
The shoes. These were about all I had that could even closely resemble the time period. The terrain was really rocky and uneven in some places and walking in the dark was insane in 3 inch wedges.
The purse is an Enid Collins box purse. I have two. This one, for as small as it is can hold a lot. Enid Collins purses and bags were popular in the 1950-1970’s.
Jewelry is a gold and silver cuff bracelets.
The gold one is from my mom, the silver is from my mother-in-law. I had a velvet brown and green piano shawl as a wrap. And, some diamond drop earrings to wrap it all up.
All in all it was a really fun time, I enjoyed working with the vintage pattern immensely and it gave me a bit of insight in to making a ballgown. Although on a much smaller scale. I would love to do the winter ball this coming December. Stay tuned!