middle to late 1940s fashion: Dresses and Trench Coats
It wasn't until 10:30 AM on 12 February 1947 that a relatively unheard of Christian Dior unveiled his "New Look"
Taking inspiration from flower petals he celebrated femininity with defined narrow waists and full flowing skirts. It was a defiance towards the rationing which had restricted fashion for several years.
Before this monumental event though , and even when WW2 had ended, we were still gripped by austerity and it was getting worse. We were encouraged to take two very worn dresses and coats for example and somehow make the best bits of each into one wearable garment. Shoe leather had run out and women's shoes were made with wooden soles which were very much hated. Everything was becoming more and more difficult and it seemed never ending, so the advent of a new fashion house really brought excitement to life.
If you are after a 1940s look then many of today's styles are very similar. Go for a low heel, preferably a chunky heel, a brogue or a wedge sandal and they will be fine.
One item which did prove popular was the Siren Suit, Sir Winston Churchill loved his and had one made from pin-stripe suiting (of course)
But the rest of us loved them too, they were designed to wear over normal clothes, or night clothes when the air raid siren went off. Air raid shelters were dirty, cold and smelly and these garments were very much necessary.
Today we still wear a type of this garment in the form of jumpsuits. Take a look at the pattern range available from Jaycotts Jumpsuit pattern
I have a blog post too An easy Simplicity Jumpsuit so do take a look at the tutorial. Did you see the Sewing Bee 2019 As one of the challenges was to sew a jumpsuit and they all looked fabulous.
Factories were still being run by women - it took a long while before the men came home and women were forced out of work. Supplies were still not reaching us so even after WW2 had ended we were still very much rationed - we were short of everything. Even those tiny ends of thread which we cut off and throw away were kept and treasured.
The women's land army wore dungarees, or trousers and jumpers much like my outfit below.
Slacks as they were called then were usually made from Gaberdine, this is actually fairly hard to sew if you are a beginner. True it is hard wearing and almost crease resistant but I would choose a plain heavy cotton drill or similar. Other than that choose a denim or other medium to heavy weight cotton.
The usual colour for utility suits, slacks, skirts and so on was Black, brown or blue - military colours.
The blog post for the trousers is Simplicity 1940s style trousers
And the blouse which is from the same pattern is Simplicity 1940s style. Blouse
I do enjoy wearing this outfit by the way, it is a good mixture of smart yet comfortable.
For most of the time hair was tied up or back. It wasn't always possible to have it washed and besides it was dangerous to have loose hair when operating machinery.
Hats were worn with coats but it became commonplace for headscarves to be worn even with pretty dresses.
To make your own take a triangle of fabric ( so that it can also be tied around your neck or the strap of your handbag) ,and hem using a narrow hem foot.
Narrow Hem foot there is quite a selection of types and makes so if you are unsure give Jaycotts a ring and they will help you.
They come with instructions and they are easy to use. If you struggle with corners then a little tip is to sew right off the end on one side and start again as soon as you can on the next side, then just complete the missed section with hand stitches. Nobody will know.
This fabric is Liberty Tana Lawn, but use any you have to hand. In "Make do and mend" style I am not purchasing anything new for these posts, I am using whatever I can find in my stash. Besides what is the point of relentlessly purchasing new fabrics when the one you loved a year or so ago is still there gathering dust?
The 1949's Dress
I love love love this dress. In fact it is my favourite and it was made from fabric so old I cannot remember where or when I bought it.
The fabric appears to be a linen and viscose mix, (not unlike the Rayon which would have been used back in the 40s) and it is beautiful.
I washed it before I used it, and I washed it again after I wore it this week. I hung it up to dry and it hardly needed any ironing.
It is easy to work with, easy to care for and swishes when you walk. Perfect.
It is a simplicity design again ( I love simplicity patterns, they always fit me so well)
And is available from Jaycotts Simplicity 8686
I just about had enough fabric but not enough for a belt .Which I am not worried about. I also did not want a collar so I left that off too.
If you are not familiar with patterns all the information you need is on the back of the pattern envelope. Your body measurements help you to choose the size you need to cut and the finished garment measurements give an indication of the wearing ease allowed so take that into account when choosing your size. Your pattern size will almost always be larger than your commercial dress size. That is normal. I chose size 12 and it needed no adjustments.
The pattern has some very nice design features which I love. It has a side zip, gathers along the front yoke for shape,and a buttoned back yoke. These are easily tackled even by someone new to sewing.
For the back yoke we need to make rouleau loops, and I made covered buttons too. I love gadgets of any sort and look for any excuse to use them.
Rouleau loops are totally a doddle to make if you have one of these clever little things which easily turn your fabric the right way out. This Prym turning set is incredibly easy to use and I find that I use it a lot. It comes in a pack of three sizes and for this i used the smallest size. You sew one long tube and cut it into smaller lengths after it is finished, so there is no fuss.
Another thing I like to use as much as possible are hand covered buttons. They are also fun to make, use your scraps of fabric and always match perfectly. What is there not to love?
You need one or two items ,all available from Jaycotts.
Firstly you need the buttons to cover. They come in various sizes. Self cover buttons These are plastic but you can also choose metal if you prefer .
And - to make it easier - a Prym Button Maker
They are very simple to make. There is a template on the back of the button pack which you use to cut your fabric. Gather the circle of fabric and place the button face down onto it and pull the gathers tight and fasten off. Put the button in the relevant part of the button maker and at this stage I like to add a couple of drops of Fray Check
This is optional but it ensures that the button fabric stays put and does not fray.
Press the disc over the fabric using the top of the button maker and that's it done.
These are my rouleau loops prior to sewing the buttons on. Make sure that your buttons are the right size, if they are too large you will struggle to fasten them, too small and they will annoy you by keep popping open.
I used small shoulder pads and covered them in my fabric . Shoulder pads
I used my Blind hem foot to make invisible hems on the skirt and the sleeves.
These are available for most models of sewing machine - mine is a Brother Brother sewing machines and I love it.
Whenever I use a stitch which I have not used for a while I need a reminder of the settings so I always make sure that the manuals for my machines are close at hand. It is particularly useful in reminding me how to fold the fabric for blind hemming.
This is the back of the dress, I do like the fact that there is no zip down the centre breaking up the pattern.
This style of dress with a calf length full skirt, short sleeves and high neckline is very fashionable at the moment - but at a price. The ones I have seen, which do not have the added touches such as shoulder pads and self covered buttons retail in excess of £100! If that is not an incentive to make your own I don't know what is.
This dress is so lovely that I would not hesitate to make it again.
The Trench Coat
Trench coats were extremely popular as were all things Military style.
They were normally made from a wool fabric and were lined with rabbit fur so they were extremely warm, shower proof and durable..
Faux suede is not shower-proof please note
My pattern is a more modern take on this classic design Simplicity 8554
In my stash was a length of tan faux suede and a small piece of black. Faux Suede
It is unlined and has no fastenings so it is perfect for a beginner.
The pattern has vents up the sides but I wanted to change it to one vent at the back. You can use this method to create vents or pleats at the front or back of skirts and dresses too.
The coat back does not have a seam on the pattern. So we need to create one. In order to add a 5/8" seam allowance to the centre back I used this clever little gadget
- it is an Ergonomic parallel tracing wheel and it is brilliant for measuring and marking seam allowances and hems all in one easy process. I have to say that it is my favourite toy at the moment
As you can see I have marked the seam allowance and also the vent. All I need do now is to cut it out. You probably should make a new paper pattern, especially if you are doing this on something you will make again.
This coat as I said is unlined and it was obvious to me that in order to make the inside attractive I needed to bind the seams. This is called a Hong Kong seam. I realised that I would need several metres of bias binding and as I prefer to make my own this was my next task.
Remember the liberty Tana Lawn scarf at the beginning of this blog? Well this is what I used to make my binding. I never buy bias binding ready made, the quality of my own is so much better. It is easy to make with the right equipment too.
Cut your bias strips to whatever size you need, remembering that a 1" binding takes double the width in fabric. Clover Bias Binding Maker
This set contains five different sizes so choose the width you need. It is a good idea to have a practice first.
Cut the end to a point to make it easier to thread the fabric through - use your seam ripper point to help if necessary and pin this end to your ironing board.
Slowly pull the binding maker away from the pinned end pressing the newly formed binding as you go.
What we have just made is called a Single Fold Bias Binding, to make a double fold binding - which is what we need - simply press it in half.
I knew that I would need a lot of binding so I had to join several strips together.
To keep the binding neat I wound it around a piece of card.
Attaching it to the seam is simple if you use an Adjustable bias binder foot there are other makes available so do contact Jaycotts for more details.
It is so easy to apply the binding, just thread the binding through the binding foot, put the fabric inside the binding and adjust the width so that the machine stitches just along the edge of the binding. And then stitch. It really is that simple, and makes a huge difference to the inside of any unlined garment.
I had a small piece of contrast faux suede which I used for the top of the front overlay.
It is very easy to sew, for any seams that you do not want to bind use a felled seam or a French seam - see All about seams my blog post showing how to achieve lots of different seam finishes.
I put binding all around the facing, the back seam, the coat and sleeve hems and for the sleeve and coat side seams I used a flat felled seam.
I think that with all the rationing and saving of coupons it is incredible how very well dressed everyone was.
The government really got people to rally round and take up the challenge and it couldn't have been easy.
Homes were bombed frequently and people were left with absolutely nothing, yet people gave what they could and they somehow managed.
Food was restricted yet people were healthy, clothes and furniture were rationed but people stood together and made the best of it.
I actually love 1940s fashion it was high quality,elegant and simple. Clothes were made to last and "throw away fashion" was a term which would have been abhorrent and to be honest should be today.
This Trench coat is in the style of the era in a modern fabric which I feel works very well.
It is very simple in design but looks great. Don't be afraid to experiment. The front overlay could be lined with the same fabric as your binding, you could add buttons or a really wide belt. Patterns are just ideas and are open to interpretation.
In these last two blog posts - my previous one is Dressing 1940s style - there is a Sew Over it tea dress to make too, so do take a look.
My next two blogs will continue with the advent of Dior's New Look, Chanel couture, and by complete contrast, poodle skirts, Rock and Roll and the 1950s in general. Very different to the 1940s
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