Vintage Vogue 2197: Original 1939 design

This will likely be the first post of many regarding my historic clothing creations, both those from the 1925-1945 era that I am generally making from patterns as well as the medieval items I create for the SCA. 

The pattern envelope

I have had this Vintage Vogue pattern for at least seven or eight years, maybe longer.  I acquired it and four others (2241, a spectacular 1931 gown; 2198, a very smart 1944 suit; 2353, another smart suit from 1946; and 2322, a 1943 day dress) when one of the fabric stores did a clearance sale on them.  I decided to make this one first because of its rather striking, almost military styling. I have not been able to find anything quite like it in the books I have on my shelf on 30s and 40s clothing, but Fashions of the Decade: 1930s does say this: “By 1938, it was clear that war was not far off. That season’s designs were seen by Vogue as being useful “factory” looks. Hair was pinned up safely and hidden under scarves, suits were broader shouldered, and skirts were a little less skimpy, using less fabric….In 1939, European couturiers went to war with clothes that were practical and, in most cases, the last they would design until peace was restored.”  The book also notes that boxy shoulders and military styling were a particular hallmark of the era.  The dress definitely shows continuity with the narrow skirts of previous years, although the length is about the same as it will stay during the 40s. While this is not a shirtwaisted dress–the style that would perhaps be the most characteristic of the 40s–its general silhouette in many ways has more continuity with what would come than with what preceded it.

I originally started sewing the dress in October of this year, intending to wear it to the Swing Out to Victory dinner in November at Canadian Warplane Heritage, but when a conflict arose, I put the project aside for awhile while I concentrated on getting a better 20s ensemble ready for a concert and dinner the day before Remembrance Day.  I did work on it sporadically, but I was only able to finally return to it for a long working session a couple of days ago and finally complete it.

I chose a synthetic fabric I found on sale at Hamilton’s Ottawa St. Fabricland location.  It’s a synthetic in a sort of dull eggplant colour.  What I particularly liked about it was the drape and flow–apparently it was a Japanese sample bolt.  The price of $2/metre was also irresistible – it is by no means a cheap-feeling fabric.  Because this pattern features a drape across the front, I figured getting a fabric that would flow well was important.

The pattern was certainly more difficult than the average Simplicity or Butterick pattern. Vogue has a well-deserved reputation for challenging the seamstress with more advanced construction techniques. This included inset bias panels and an inset drape, and piecing that the picture on the cover does not make readily apparent.  There were all kinds of little details throughout the project that required me to concentrate and not cut corners, including making my own shoulder pads.

The finished project.  I’m not wearing the period-correct foundational garments for this photo,  my hair isn’t styled, and I’m not wearing a hat, but hopefully you can get an idea of how this turned out.

I am happy with the results, although it is certainly not perfect (I think the main issues are with the drape insert).  I may just wear it next weekend when I see the Columbus Symphony perform the Shostakovich 7th Symphony, and perhaps imagine that such a dress might have indeed been worn when the work received its US premiere in 1942.