I always like a good excuse to make and wear a historical garment. A murder mystery party set in 1936 that my housemate decided to throw was the perfect opportunity to make another 1930s evening gown.
|Carole Lombard, 1933|
|Jean Harlow, 1933|
|Paulette Goddard, 1935|
|Marion Davies, mid-1930s|
At first I wanted to do something similar to the white dress that Reese Witherspoon wears in Water for Elephants.
But then I sketched this design (to which a slit in the front was later added):
For this project the drafting was the hardest part. Not only did I have to do a mock-up but the original fabric (which was a non stretch silver-white satin) and the original design, with the curved hip seam lines, didn't work - after I'd spent at least a day sewing. Why? Because the fabric frayed A LOT. In fact there was so much fraying that the dress just started to split at the seams.
So, I was forced to start again. Eventually I decided to go with something different, which was hard because there were too many design ideas in my head to choose from! So I told myself that I had to just pick something and make it. Finally I settled on creating something similar to this gown from the film 'Glorious 39'.
|Glorious 39 Screencaps courtesy of The Butterfly Balcony|
It ticked all the boxes: it had a slit up the centre of the top like I originally planned, and it also had a halter neck type effect, without actually being one. Not that halternecks were uncommon in the 1930s. In fact the 1930s was when the halterneck became big... really big, and was popularised by famous designers such as Madeleine Vionnet.
|Evening Gown by Madeleine Vionnet, 1936-1938|
I just decided against the halterneck because I wanted to have a really deep plunging back that was also popularised during the 1930s.
My 'Glorious 39' inspiration is also very period accurate and certainly reminds me of a few contemporary dresses from the mid 1930s.
|Joan Crawford, 1935|
The new fabric I chose was a bright white stretch satin (the same type I previously used for my other 1930s dress). The dress is cut on the bias, as most evening gowns were during the 1930s, and this makes it hug the curves, drape spectacularly and the stretch makes it easy to put on over my head (I didn't want to put an invisible zip into the dress as it is not historically accurate to my knowledge).
I tried to research whether stretch satin was common in the 1930s - after all it was the decade when synthetic fabrics such as rayon became really popular. I think my fabric is made from a polyester blend, and this fibre wasn't used in clothing until the 1940s. So the fabric is probably the least historically accurate part of the dress, but I wasn't about to go out and spend $100+ on silk.
Rather than throwing it away I decided to cut up my fraying dress and use it to draft the final gown:
|Pattern pieces made from the failed first dress before the cutting|
|Side seam detail on skirt|
After all the hemming was done I finished it off by adding an antique silver marcasite brooch that I inherited. I think its probably from the 1940s, but hey that can be our little secret!
The only thing I regret about the design is that where the top meets the skirt under the bust, it forms quite a straight line whereas in most of the designs during this period the skirts met the top in a 'triangle' shape like this:
|McCall's pattern # 9919 from 1938|
Regardless, it doesn't take away from the authenticity of the dress as many other designs from the period show that the bust of the dress was connected to the skirt without forming this triangle shape, like Wallis Simpson's wedding dress below.
|Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, 1937|
|Just because we could...|
And one from the murder mystery party...
|The 1936 Watersdown Murder Suspects...|
The Challenge: #15: White
Fabric: 4 metres of white stretch satin, 0.5 metre of nude coloured lining
Pattern: I drafted my own pattern with the help of an original pattern c. 1930 from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library [link].
Year: It could really work for nearly the whole decade. However its probably most accurate to the mid 1930s.
Notions: White thread and an antique silver marcasite brooch.
How historically accurate is it? The fabric I used isn't historically accurate as its a stretch satin made from a polyester blend (silk or lamé would have been better). The lining isn't accurate either. 85-90% accurate.
Hours to complete: If you include all the drafting and the first dress I made that failed probably about 20 hours.
First worn: To a 1930s murder mystery dinner party.
Total cost: $60 for the finished product + $26 for the fabric that went into the failed first dress.