January 12, 2015

What's your decade?

I hope I'm not chasing away any readers who don't have a specific interest in vintage fashion but I thought I would share some more thoughts about the upcoming 2015 Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge.

If you look at sewing blogs in general, or at the 'Projects' page of Burdastyle or even at last year's Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge Pinterest board, the term 'vintage' most often seems to refer to 1950's styles. By which I actually mean clothes which were designed between 1947 and (roughly) 1965. 
Of course it's easy to understand the appeal: These looks are quintessentially feminine, they are referenced in modern fashion often enough to keep them from looking too costume-y, the patterns are not too hard to find and these dresses and separates work for a large group of women who are not served very well by a lot of today's fashion: Ladies with curves. 
Still, this one decade doesn't suit everyone and there is so much more to explore.
Because a lot of my sewing is 1950's inspired I will, once again, aim to use the pledge as an inspiration to explore other decades.

You sometimes see fashion history broken down by body type. In that case, 1950's is ideal for the hourglass figure, 1920's is for rulers and 1930's for the inverted triangle. There is a lot to that because the ideals of physical beauty and even of the 'average body' moved with the time and fashion.
But who wants to dress purely for her body type? I don't believe in that in present-day fashion and I don't think it has to be true for vintage either. Certainly not if you make it yourself so you can be in charge of the fit.

When I use vintage patterns, I still want to make garments which will work in my every-day wardrobe. I've seen some great purely period outfits on other blogs and I have a couple of hats which I may wear occasionally (and for photoshoots for this blog) but I'm never really going for a historically accurate look. I could say I don't want to look costume-y but I realize that my definition of that may be some distance removed from most other people's.

There are very simple tricks to make unusual vintage styles work for. 
Fitting is one of them, of course. Obvious but potentially tricky. You want your new garment to fit you properly but you don't want to end up completely removing the period character. This is one of the reasons why, despite making so many of my own patterns, I like to collect and sew vintage patterns: Learning about the fit and the pattern making styles which belonged to each decade.
Another, much simpler trick is fabric choice. I usually operate with the motto: "When in doubt, make it in black". No matter how unusual the design of your choice, a neutral, unobtrusive colour will partially neutralize that and keep you from looking like you are in fancy dress. 
On the other hand, plain fabrics will show off the style lines and the fit. If you have reason to doubt those, a small, eretic print like a ditzy floral can work wonders to obscure that. And if you keep the colours a bit muted, the whole thing can still seem kind of neutral.

Another important thing to realize is that in any era, there were women who didn't really have the bodies to follow the heights of fashion. And there have always been clothes to suit them. The completely unshaped flapper dresses of the 1920's only really worked for the young and slender. There were styles with more flared skirts or defined waistbands (well below the natural waist) as well. And not all 1930's dresses have bias cut skirts and huge shoulders and sleeves, not all 1950's dresses have huge skirts from tiny waists. 
And there is no real reason why that nightgown pattern can't be used for a party dress or why the evening gown design won't work as a great little summer frock.
If the style of a certain decade appeals to you, you can usually find a design which is at least more suitable to your body type than the 'main' look of that time.

This is what I tried with my 1930's pick from EvaDress. I know I don't really have the body type for this period, way too much of a waist-to-hip ratio. This design is belted and has several seams in that area which should allow for easier fitting. And it doesn't have the huge shoulder line which I don't really like.
I hope I will receive the patterns next week, so we'll see how that works out. 

Oh, and then, of course, there is cheating. This is easier the more experienced you are at sewing for yourself. Because that will help to recognize what may or may not work for you and you'll know how to alter the pattern.
Making a neckline higher or lower is usually fairly simple and it can have a huge impact on how a bodice works on your body. For example: High, round necklines are really common in the 1940's and 1950's but they can make your torso look like a block (especially when you are fairly small-chested). Making it a bit deeper, or turning it into a little V can give a much better look (make sure to test the fit first though, you may need to make a gape dart). 
Converting tucks to darts, or the other way round, is no rocket science either.

In the end, you want to have fun with vintage patterns and make clothes in which you look and feel good. 


  1. i love that graphic! my eye is instantly drawn to the 50s & 70s for my style (and shape). but you're 100% right about that small chest tuning into a block... i made a 50s dress last december that is in dire need of a V neck. i look like dolly parton, without the busty curves, in it. at first it was interesting but the more i look at it, the more i need to hack it!

  2. Lovely blog post, the kind I wished I had written, nodding along to everything you said.
    I'm curvy, I love 40's styles, but they don't always suit me and so I make a lot more late fifties early 60's, always on the lookout for shape rather than a particular era though. And like you, even though I draft my own patterns, I still love using vintage patterns, the techniques are often so different.

  3. I've often thought about this - do I like 50's fashion so much because it suits me so well, or do I like it on its own? I think 20's fashion is gorgeous, but in another way - would I have liked it as I like the 50's if that would have suited my body type better?

  4. I do have a great love for 1950s silhouettes, but I also really love the lines of the late edwardian period (although they aren't as practical for my daily life). I do find myself extremely drawn to more 1930s and 1970s lines in recent years, though.

  5. Very insightful post on how we can expand our love of vintage!

  6. This is very interesting! I think I'm drawn to some detail in each one, and mostly to 60s and 70's. The 80's had some really great styles too although I always removed any and all shoulder pads from everything. For the purposes of the challenge I'm definitely including the 80's in the vintage range.

  7. You have a wonderful blog. Warm greetings and Happy 2015 from Montreal, Canada. Even though I was born in 1956 I love things (clothes, music, etc.) from especially the 30's and 40's.

  8. Wow, these illustrations clearly show the influence of 1940s on the 80s, the 1900s on 1950s etc. We live in the best of ages, these days you can go with any of these decades and find the resources online. For sewing purposes I tend like most people towards 40s and 50s, but I do dream of 30s and 40s evening wear which to me is the most elegant fashion created. Then Mccall's initiative to reproduce their old pattern archives had me all excited that they would re-produce their amazing 40s evening wear but that has yet to happen, guess what they are putting in their latest catalogue, yep it's the 1950s. Because I suppose it's the easiest thing to do.