Sunday, 12 July 2020

Bulk up the volume - dressmaking with 1960s fabrics

This new-to-me Vogue Pattern Book for winter 1968-9 arrived this week.

Excellent pattern matching on the front!

I assumed that the item on the cover was a jacket, so I was surprised to find this image on the contents page.

It's a dress! Vogue 2023, by Galitzine

The fabric is described as a 'novelty Lurex', and cost 49s 11d per yard. This equates to around £45.75 today, and the dress required three yards. The pattern itself cost 11s 6d, so all in all this was not a cheap project.

Leaving aside the cost, what really struck me was the thickness of the fabric. It looks fairly substantial, which is why I initially thought that the garment was a jacket. However a number of other dresses in this issue seem to be made from similarly bulky materials.

7415, a half-size pattern, in velvet and organza

The very structural shape of dresses at the time called for cloth without much drape, and the required stiffness seems to have been achived largely by the thickness of the fabrics.

2030 by Yves Saint Laurent, in matelassé

2052 by Givenchy, in brocade

It was also an era of synthetic metallic fabrics, such as the one used on the cover, and this.

2038 by Oscar de la Renta, in metallic brocade

Naturally with this being a winter issue of Vogue Pattern Book there are a lot of evening clothes. But daywear uses unusually (to modern eyes) heavy fabrics, too. The wool tweed chosen for this jumper dress looks more like what would now be considered a jacket weight.

Vogue 7419

Even the wool gaberdine of this waistcoat appears quite thick.

Vogue 7429

No fabric details are given for this dress, but it gives the impression of being something substantial.

2027 by Jean Lanvin

Similarly, the hems on this wool crepe suggest that it is thicker than the wool crepes I'm used to.

2026 by Guy Laroche

Of course, these are winter clothes, so for daywear at least you would want something warm. But these two dresses combine wintery fabrics with distinctly non-wintery styles.

2045 by Pucci, in wool flannel

2046 by Jean Patou, in faconné

The back cover of the magazine is an advert for Lightning zips, which by 1968 were available in both nylon and metal. In amongst a box of sewing materials which I bought at auction was a large quantity of old zips still in their packaging, both Lightning and other brands. I must admit that I haven't used any of them yet: even though I frequently use vintage buttons for a period-appropriate look, vintage zips just seem too heavy.

The advert, and some of my vintage zips

All of this reminded me of some of the reading I did for my dissertation. Heike Jenss, who is a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, has carried out extensive research on people who wear 1960s style clothing; both reproduction and genuine vintage. Her work has explored the selective nature of recreations of the past and the extent to which the authenticity of such recreations is a cultural construct.* While some of the 'sixties stylers' whom she interviewed appreciated the stiffness and heaviness of period fabrics, and understood that these qualities contributed to the garment’s shape, others found them uncomfortable to the point of being 'unwearable'. Looking at these patterns, I wondered whether anyone making them up now would actively seek out thick, period-appropriate fabric - even if it is available. Or would it be like my zips, a level of bulk too far?

* - Jenss, H. (2005). Sixties Dress Only! The Consumption of the Past in a Retro Scene. In Palmer, A. & Clark, H. (Eds.), Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion
Jenss, H. (2015). Fashioning Memory: Vintage Style and Youth Culture

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