History has always fascinated me. When it comes to fashion and clothing, I am still stuck in the past in many ways. I have always been entranced by the intricacy of Victorian fashion, the lost colors of ancient Egyptian and Greek clothing, and the everywhere in between. My original foray into costume was through cosplay, but once I developed more sewing skills, historical costume really began to appeal to me.
I thought for a good long while about where to begin. What decade? What style? How? Who? When and why? There’s so many time periods to choose from! So I decided that I would start in 1920s and work my way backwards by decade. It seemed the only logical way to approach this, as I otherwise would waste time contemplating where to begin.
The 1920s has always been a really fascinating time to me. In high school, I read The Great Gatsby and was captivated with Fitzgerald’s style and description of this time period. The Jazz Age took on kind of a mystical quality for me. It was such a turning point in time for so many things; women’s liberation, the auto industry, industry in general, music, film, art; everything was blowing up and it was a pivotal point in time where people really were throwing off the mantel of the Victorian era and paving the way for a different world. It was so modern, yet it still has that smokey, antique veil of the past on it. While it doesn’t seem that long ago, in reality, it’s now nearly almost 100 years ago. Two more years and we will once again be in the ’20s.
So with that in mind, I wanted to start in this decade. And of course, in my way, not only did I want to make an outfit for me, but for my beau. More on that later!
I started off with a rough sketch. I have this green straw cloche hat that I decided to use as color palette inspiration for both outfits. However, since where we live is generally pretty warm, I decided to change his suit from the classic dark wool to a light summer suit in vanilla.
I had no idea where I was going to find the fabric for this dress. I originally wanted a color similar to a rich emerald, but my fabric store options here are fairly limited and ya girl is on a budget. Ever the crafty costumer, one is always thinking “how can I make this as cheaply as possible?” First, I went to the thrift store, to see if I could find any bedding or curtains that would work. While I didn’t find anything, I did come across a dress in my size that had a similar style (mostly in the waistline) to a 20s dress.
I took a picture of the godets for reference, even though my dress has none. I passed on this dress and moved on. While perusing online for patterns, I came across one on Etsy for a book from 1923 called “The One Hour Dress.” Someone had turned it into an e-book, and for $4, I was all about it (purchase your own here!).
A book with endless variations on the simple 1920s dress? I’m on board! But first, the fabric! Again, I didn’t find much in the way of what I wanted. My original intention was for a nice summer frock in a light, breathable fabric. I scoured Joann, and again didn’t find quite what I was looking for, so I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I decided to try Target, and as I was wandering around, I found a white, gauzey curtain panel for $7 on clearance, and I knew that would be it. So off I went to buy synthetic green dye, and after letting the dye vat simmer on the stove for a while, I had my fabric! It was nowhere near the color of my hat (which is a darker, close to sage green). The fabric turned out closer to a mint color. Oh well, make it work!
I followed the instructions, and they were fairly simple. I bet women in the 1920s making this dress would have appreciated disappearing ink markers, because god knows that made my life so much easier during this project! The result after putting it together was very close to a tunic, which I suppose one could argue that very many a 1920s dress resembles. Unless it is on a body or dress form, it really does just look like a bag with sleeves haha.
Now I had my dress, but what to do with it? Here’s where I got a bit carried away. I wanted to add some darker green elements, so that I could still wear the hat with it. I put it to an Instagram vote between embroidery or beading, and though most voted embroidery, I knew that would be such a pain because of the flimsiness of the fabric. I opted for beading and painting, which kind of undid my whole “casual afternoon dress” plan. But…but…it looks so pretty!!
I also decided to add some side panels of tucks, just to add a little texture. I’ve never done them before, but I’ve had The Art of Manipulating Fabric sitting in my library for so long, I was dying to do something from it.
They didn’t come out perfect, but that’s fine. Now what? At this point, I had a very plain mint dress. However, it really is amazing how much silhouette can change your appearance. I put this thing on and looked like a 6-foot stick. I decided I wanted to try some beading. I sketched a design on the bias tape neckline (again, marker to the rescue!) and put some lovely green beads on there. I know nothing about beading, so not my finest work, but also not my worst. But the dress needed something else. I ravaged Pinterest for reference images of art deco prints, women’s dresses of the period, and catalogue images, to see what kind of prints were common. I didn’t get a solid answer, as it was everything from chintz to intricate beading and everything in between. All kinds of collars and odd dress cuts and wow, what an interesting decade for fashion!
I sketched out a few art deco patterns/motifs that I liked, but I didn’t want something too blocky or heavy that would overwhelm the simple style of the dress. It might have beading, but it’s not a “beaded dress.” I also was drawn to something botanical or floral, but not straight flowers or leaves, so I doodled until I got something I was into. Sort of a hybrid between art deco and botanical.
I then proceeded to plot this thing out. Again. MARKERS. Best innovation in sewing, along with the rotary cutter and clear flexible rulers.
I made a line down the center front, and measured 3 1/4″ increments on either side. Then I just started putting down the pattern with some gold glitter fabric paint. I originally just wanted a matte gold or metallic, but glitter was all they had so glitter it was! I also decided to bead the center points with a few green beads, and I had to redo a portion of the neckline beading.
Huzzah!! After too much beading, I am finally done, and really pleased with it actually (tho I may do a line of beads around the sleeves as well? Who knows).
All in all, it didn’t really take me that long to do, particularly the construction. I do have to make a slip for it, since it is so sheer (or I could do the scandalous flapper thing and not?), but now it doesn’t match or even go with my hat at all! Haha dammit. It’s like not quite and evening dress, but not quite a day dress. I’d still wear it in day time, but I think I need to make some kind of headpiece for it, or get a different hat.
I honestly had such a good time making this dress, that I want to make more! Especially with such a versatile dress pattern, the options are endless!
Stay tuned for the men’s companion piece to this! Currently under way.