1940's Swing Dress Inspiration

Vintage Aircraft Weekend is quickly approaching , which means its time for a new dress! This is my big event of the year, with a dinner dance on Friday night, and the airshow the next day; it's a great weekend.

I love dressing up and every year I tell myself I should make a dress, but somehow I never end up actually making one and end up wearing something either authentic vintage or vintage inspired. But not this year. I'm determined to actually make my dress this year even though my schedule has been crazier than ever. But it's 1940's, it should be simple enough, right?

While I'm busy scrambling around sewing, I thought I'd share some of my inspiration for the dress I'm making this year.

Before I decided on doing a 1940's swing dress, I threw around several different idea's and era's. I really love the elegant beauty of the 1930's and the full skirts of the 50's, so I was open to any of those era's as well. For a while I was throwing around the idea of a 1950's cotton lawn dress after I found the perfect pink lawn online. But I decided I really wanted to do a 40's swing dress since I usually ended up doing 50's.

Late 30's, early 40's Fashion.

1940's Day Wear

Early 1940's Fashion

c. 1942 Via


I cam across the below picture and I loved the bow neckline but I knew it would be too time consuming to draft up a pattern. But I loved the dress so much, so I kept it in mind.
c. 1942 via


Then I came across Katherine's dress on Mode de Lis and fell in love with the similar design to the one above, and I realized she had used a Simplicity pattern that I've had in my stash for several years now.
Katherine's dress

Like Katherine, I'm using Simplicity pattern 1587 for the bodice and drafting my own skirt pattern. I'll be sure to write more about that in a future post. But for now, it's time to get sewing!

Sisi's Gala Gown Research

I remember when I first saw the famous portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Sisi. It was a stock photo used in a picture frame my mom bought for me. I had originally planned to put a picture of my own in it, but I loved the picture that was in it already and never changed it. It sat on my desk for years before I finally took it down and put the frame in storage.

The dress she wears in the portrait quickly went on my mental bucket list of costumes I wanted to one day make when I had the skill. That stock photo lead to my interest in Sisi, and she remains one of the most fascinating historical figures to me. She had such an interesting life that ended tragically with her murder in 1898. There's a wonderful German musical about her life called Elisabeth Das Musical. If you speak German or don't mind looking up translations, I highly recommend listening to it.

The famous painting of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1865)

Back to the portrait, or rather the dress. After Costume College last year I got it into my head that this dress would make a perfect Gala gown. However, I wasn't able to attend this year and I didn't start the dress. After CoCo ended this year I heard that next years theme is Dressing the Royals. Could the timing be any more perfect?

I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend CoCo next year, as I have a lot going on the next several months and am not sure if it will work out schedule wise or financially, but I've decided to take the first steps in creating this dress starting with the research.

Winterhalter's sketch for the famous star dress portrait of Sisi


This has been a difficult dress to research, because the portrait is the only real reference there is for the dress and there's a lot of unknowns. But here's what I do know:

  • The dress was worn in 1865 to a gala event (though I still can't find out what gala event it was)
  • The dress was designed and made by Charles Worth
  • The dress was likely only worn once and is no long extant (existing)
That's not a lot to go on.

I've been asking around on some costuming groups and here's what I found:
  • The gold "stars" were likely embroidered of gold thread
  • Worth was a big fan of tulle, so there's likely tons and tons of silk tulle in this dress
There have been various reproductions of this dress, from the German musical I mentioned early to the 1955 movie titled "Sissi". This dress also served as inspiration for one of Christine Daae's iconic dresses in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Left, Elisabeth Das Musical; Middle Sissi (1955); RightThe Phantom of the Opera (2004)
I was chatting with my friend Michaela about this dress, she knows a lot more about 1860's fashion than I do, and we were talking about the color of the gown. The painting is likely romanticized in a lot of the details, one of which is the color. The lighting in the painting is very warm and makes the dress look like an off white/cream color, but in the 1860's white gowns were just that, white. Crisp white.

I decided that I really like the romanticized version of the dress, so I've decided that when I do make it I will make it to look more like the painting than what the actual dress would have looked like. The colors will be an off white and because I don't want to spend the next eight years of my life on embroidery, I want to look for either,

1) tulle with a gold pattern already printed on it or a bead type embellishment

or 2) find some sort of bead type embellishment and stitch it on myself. I don't mind sewing something on, but I'm not going to embroidery 20 yards of tulle. That sounds like a nightmare.

Although this project is dependent on a lot of things coming together in my life right now, I'm very exited to be starting the beginning phases of research.

My Internship Experience - AKA, how I spent my Summer

Guess who's back from her blogging break? That's right, me! With only a month left in Summer, it's time to get back into this blogging thing after my absence. It was nice taking a temporary break, and I really wouldn't have had the time (or energy) to blog this summer if I had tried. I'm really excited to get back to blogging.

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to intern at the Village Theatre on their amazing production of Beauty and the Beast. While this production was part of their Kidstage Summerstock, it was a beautiful production with an amazingly talented cast. I'm really sad that the show is closed, because it was so much fun.

Photo Via 
Photo Via 

There was a cast of 50, most of which had 2-3 costumes. Luckily we didn't have to make all of them in the short 2 months we had to pull everything together. The theatre has a huge stock of costumes crammed into a closet far too small and we also received a ton of costumes from one of the local high schools that just did this show.

As Costume Design Intern I did a variety of jobs including cutting, sewing, fitting, and making fit adjustments. During the run of the show I also filled the roll of Dresser, which is someone who maintains costumes and helps actors in and out of costumes before, during and after shows as well as laundering and making any repairs that need to be made during the run.

From the Finally

My favorite part of the show. I watched it from the wings at every performance.

Our Belle and Maurice
I found that my favorite part, and the most fun, was the Dresser job. Running around backstage, making sure all of the costumes looked just right, and keeping everything organized is right up my alley.

We had several quick changes throughout the show, which we divided between the four of us in the costume crew, plus our wig master. The fastest quick change we had we got down to about 35 seconds, and that includes a wig change.

You know how they say with live theatre something goes wrong at every performance? Well, it's true. The audience usually just doesn't know. Things get a little chaotic backstage, especially when you have a dozen actors doing a quick change for the biggest number of the show and pieces suddenly go missing or break. But you keep going, and either find the missing piece or make do without it.

It was such a wonderful experience and I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to intern on this show. I hope that I will be able to continue working in theatre in the future.