Golden Age of Travel Dream Birthday — Wardrobe Planning Week Two

Last week, we did an outfit for daytime wear. This week, let’s do something for evening.

But first, some history (come on… you know this is what I do). The distinguishing characteristic of the clothing of the 1910s is the break it made with the styles worn before. Not since the French Revolution had clothing changed so radically in so short a period of time. In the 10 short years from 1913 to 1923, corsets went away, necklines plunged, and hemlines rose to the knees.  Can you imagine what it must have been to live back then?  Here you are, wearing chemises and corsets and petticoats and corset covers and bloomers and all this stuff even before you put on your dress.  And then suddenly, women are running around wearing dresses that are less covering than your scantiest slip!  And it wasn’t just the highly fashionable Parisian crowd who were scandalously underclad in the 1920s.  It was everyone!  The Sears catalogs from the 1920s show these short skirts and deep necklines.

But the beauty of this time period for Costume Historians isn’t the radical change of fashion.  The most interesting bit the change in construction techniques.  In the 19th century, clothing was highly structured.  Every layer depended upon the layers under it.  Fabric was cut to fit the shapes that the undergarments gave to the wearer.  When the corset and crinolines went out, there was no longer any reason to cling to this concept of structured clothing, so it went out too.  Designers such as Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin and Madeleine Vionnet were renown for their technique of draping — as opposed to pattern drafting — and their exploitation of the unique properties of each fabric and how it conformed to the body.

Today, dear RH fans, we’re going to make a dress like Vionnet did… in the same manner that Vionnet did.  And you could probably do it in the time it takes you to read this blog post.

You’ve all heard of the One-Hour Dress?

Meet the 20-minute Dress.

Yes. I’m going to teach you how to make a gorgeous 1910s evening or party dress in 20 minutes, start to finish.  And by “finish”, I mean done, in the bag, ready to wear.  No finishing work required!

This is a design originated by Madeleine Vionnet in 1919. Vionnet was a master of drape, and this dress (known as The Jabot Dress because of its distinctive handkerchief decoration) was one of her favourite designs.

What you need:

Lay one of your square scarves directly on top of another, wrong sides to wrong sides. The right side of the top scarf should be facing up.
Pin the top scarf to the bottom scarf along a diagonal line running from approximately 11″ from top corner to 8″ from the bottom corner (the path of the pins is shown by the position of the rulers)
Open up the scarves on their non-pinned corner and add another scarf, wrong sides to wrong sides, to the pile. Pin the second and third scarf together as pictured above.
Repeat the pinning process with the fourth scarf.
Repeat once more, pinning the last (fourth) scarf to the first scarf. Your scarves should look like the photo at right: two rows of pins traveling diagonally across the scarves.  (The fabric has been plumped up around the pins to better show their position.)

Pin each of the two adjacent corners to each other, wrong sides to wrong sides.

Put the dress on your dress form.  Adjust the pins as necessary at the neckline and armscye.  Sew along the pinline with your needle and thread or sewing machine.

Add a sash around the hips and you’re done.  (See, it’s already hemmed!)

The 20-minute Vionnet


Next:  More wardrobe planning!

© 2012 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material.

22 Responses to Golden Age of Travel Dream Birthday — Wardrobe Planning Week Two

  1. Holy cramoly! You are right–I do love it!

    You know, I was thinking about the drastic change in dress while watching Downton last night–mostly with the scene where the servants get their gifts. There Mrs. Patmore is in her floor-length work dress, and the upper class ladies are showing their shins and arms to the shoulder. I wonder how Lady Violet felt!

      • Tie Dye or dip dye it for a modern look.

        I haven’t even tried it yet, but after the frustrations of the so-called ‘simple’ no-pattern dreses ( I won’t say which book )that I sufferd through recently, this seems easier. I am certainly ready to try something that doesn’t require finishing work as that has never, ever been my favorite part of sewing.

      • I’m going to be in an August wedding. My dear friend has said that she mostly wants us to be comfortable. The other bridesmaid and I are now discussing getting silk scarfs, dyeing them to one of her colors, and making this dress up for our bridesmaid dresses, as long as S. says she likes the idea. 🙂

  2. very fun. I would also like to see it done in painted scarves. It has a very Nymph like appearance. I bet it feels wonderful on.

      • Well, in the period, many dresses were see-through. But they wore slips under them. So you could make it out of habotai or even chiffon, but you’ll need to make a slip too.

        I made mine out of charmeuse but only because charmeuse scarves are just what I happened to have.

  3. It occurs to me that I could even wear this as a modern dress, if I pinned carefully, which just means bringing the pin lines up high enough to cover the bra. (At which point, I know, it’s no longer historical, but leaving the bra off is painful, so …)

  4. Do you have an idea of what sizes this would fit? I’m just having a hard time figuring out what the range of potential measurements could be.

  5. Hi! I have read this tutorial a number of times, and I practiced the instructions on some fabric scraps and *think* I have it down…but do you have any photos of what the scarves look like when you open them to pin on the third and fourth scarves, and how the scarves look when they’re all pinned together but not on a dress form? those parts of the tutorial were a little unclear to me (I am new to sewing!)and just want to make sure I am doing it right, because your finished project is so gorgeous and this is such an exciting prospect! Thank you for sharing this tutorial!

  6. Thanks for this amazing pattern idea. I have to make something to wear to a 1920’s party and now will I have something really authentic to wear that hopefully won’t take too long. I had a look at some other Vionnet dresses too…she was such a genius.

    • She really was. Her designs are so easy! Once you start thinking geometry and stop think about how clothes are “supposed to be”. Good luck. Please post photos of your creations! =)