This 1920 Chemise Dress was one that I finished for Costume College 2015.
A 1920 frock was always on the "To Sew" list, I had just never really gotten around to making one. I had done a lot of research, had the requisite Pinterest board, and even had some true vintage 1920 patterns. Costume College was looming on the horizon and I decided this style dress might make a great "Hall" dress (a dress to wear during classes). I always start with fabric. If the fabric is not right, the look will not be right. It took me about two weeks of pouring over the vintage sari listings to find this one from a seller in India. I made an offer and it was accepted. When it arrived, I was excited to see that it was in as good of shape was was described, a wonderfully light weight silk in shades of cream, old gold, orange, and a brownish burgundy. The overall look of the printed fabric pattern was just perfect for a 1920 ensemble! I was excited to get started.
After a delicate rinse, I was pressing out the fabric when I discovered a designer label on an inside hem edge. On doing some research, I was able to learn that the designer dated back to the 1920's! Now, I can not say that this particular piece of fabric was from the 1920's, but I will tell you that when I opened the package it had that "old fabric" smell! Those of you that buy and work with vintage fabric know of what I speak. I always smell my fabric, I know crazy, but it is part of the creative process for me. I have to "bond" with my fabrics or I can not see the finished garment. Most times I can see the finished piece before I even begin, but I have to have the fabric in my hands.
At first glance a 1920 frock looks pretty straight forward, and it was not until I was underway that I began to appreciate the subtle details and tailoring that goes into making a good looking ensemble. Sure, you can make a rectangle and belt it and you will have a dress, but I did not think that was how they actually made them in the 20's. First needed are a couple of period correct under-garments. A corset to flatten out the bustline and create the cylindrical silhouette so popular in the 1920's. Next, a good full length slip of a heavier fabric to give your lightweight fabrics a sturdy under-support and help provide that cylindrical drape all the way around.
My dress is self designed and drafted and I have to say this style dress is not too terribly difficult to create. However, it is important to know your design and measurements in advance. I always have a drawing to help me stay focused and on track. I reviewed my Pinterest pins for ideas and inspiration, and decided on something that was around the 1923 time-frame which still had the longer length, dropped waist, I wanted hip ties, and the popular 3/4 length sleeves. As a side note, in my poking around I did see this style dress referred to occasionally as a "Chemise" dress, which I thought was pretty accurate in regards to it's overall styling. First off was pattern placement on the actual fabric to maximize impact and fully utilize every inch of this wonderfully vintage sari. After cutting and basic french-seam sewing, next up was some slight tailoring. My frock required more of an A-frame shaping. I also checked the sleeve lengths, and the hem length taking into consideration the overall proportion from top half to bottom half. Lastly, I worked on slimming down a careful amount of "ease" thru the body so as not to create a "baggy" looking garment. The dress really comes to life when being worn and one can watch the movement of the body and the fabric together. I was quite happy with the overall finished product.
Lastly, it's the little details that helps create the perfect vintage look. Details such as hair, makeup, shoes, purses, hats, gloves etc. Attention must always be given to make certain the overall look is co-cohesive with the era that is being portrayed. Referencing my Pinterest pins again, I came up with hairstyle and makeup ideas that worked. My vintage hat selection was based on some true vintage hat pins as well. However, I could not find a true vintage "horse-hair" wide-brimmed hat, only a couple cloches.
I attended a wonderful 1920 event last weekend at the Homestead House and was happy to wear my 1920 frock. Here is the link to all the pictures of that weekend: http://dnalofdesigns.zenfolio.com/p180149104