How to Gatsby
It's Sew gatsby
By Karen Geer & The Fashion Salon Team.
1922, pochoir print by Thayaht
"During the sessions at Madeleine Vionnet's"
Sometimes the best way to get something vintage is to make it new. Fortunately sewing a Gatsby Summer Afternoon classic isn't that difficult anymore. Many companies produce vintage inspired patterns so the need to drape or draft your own has gone the way of the crank engine.
First find a pattern that you like. Pattern Review has a fairly robust search engine. Search under "vintage", "20s", "30s"or "flapper" Beware of anything you find under flapper as the word is misused a lot and sometimes gets you a costumy version of a 20s dress like Simplicity 5400 (ack!).
You can also find actual and reproduction vintage patterns at the Vintage Fashion Library or Google "Vintage sewing patterns". Vintage patterns are not for the unseasoned. The sizing is different and the instructions often nonexistent. Great data on vintage measurements here at The Fedora Lounge.
Be sure to check out the Greater Bay Area Costume Guild for their pattern reviews and terrific articles on the 1920-30s and every other period. Now you've got your pattern, your next step is the most important - picking the fabrics.
For summer day wear you want a matte finish of a lightweight natural fiber fabric in silk. linen, cotton, or rayon. No: lycra, matte jersey, iridescence, pleather, or lurex. The quintessential summer dress is a sheer dress over a plain slip. The top dress should be very light and a little see through. Don't go too sheer or your design will end up being all about the slip dress underneath which should be a plain as possible.
Study the period, but it's hard to go wrong with solids, stripes, dots, simple geometric and florals. You may come across floral that would be good for 30s but something about it makes you think 1960s. This is common. Do yourself a favor and walk away. Even though it might be technically correct, you will never be completely happy with the results.
Crepe in rayon, wool and silk was very fashionable through both decades. But humble cotton was the most common. If you go with silk invest in some silk pins and use them, regular pins will leave holes in your fabric. For super light fabric start a new machine needle and replace it whenever you start feeling drag on the stitch. It makes a big difference. These feather light fabrics don't take much abuse so never work in a rush. Some fine fabrics will only give you two tries before those needle tracks turn into tears.
The Devil is in the Details
1920s - Pour over the images from the period. Notice that while the 20s silhouette is boyish and simple the details are not. Ruffles, ribbon, organza, and lace abound. Collars lay flat and have an open, almost haphazard, look. The overall effect is girlish, carefree, and expensive. Bone and jet carved buttons, hand embroidery, tissue weight silks, this list goes on and on, but a hand stitched hem is at the top.
The 20s is not the most flattering look for the average American, but the figure of the time was a little plump. They did not mind at all and neither should you. Actually, the women of the time did complain about the new style, and then wore it anyway . . . and you should too.
30s - The depression had a massive effect on fashion. Trims cost money so designers built detail with seams, decorative stitching, and buttons. From Susan Cramer:
"Novelty buttons were all the rage in the 1930’s. Like the costume jewelry developed during the depression, showy, colorful buttons were an inexpensive way to freshen up last year’s frocks when new ones were out of financial reach. . . . Buttons were made of glass, porcelain, wood, pottery composite, celluloid, and metal, but by far the most common material was Bakelite."
Entire Article Here
The mode of the 30s is "less is more" because less is all you've got. Fabrics are simpler and longer wearing. Machine stitching is the norm. Fashion plates wear the more expensive rayon and wool crepe though cotton was most common. Nothing was wasted, dress patterns used smaller pieces to allow the use of scraps from other projects. This is the reason you see a lot of two fabric dresses. The Gatsby Summer Afternoon is a party so you should wear your best. The styles are more modest and less extravagant than the decade previous. These are not silly times so the style is conservative and smart. With its lovely natural curves this period is much more wearable than the 20s.
1930s Sewing Patterns
Undergarments are a must in both periods. Slips are mandatory. Add girdles or garter belts to keep your seamed stockings from falling down. Bras differ. In the 20s the breasts are flat and down, basically as out of the way as possible. You may have to alter an older bra to create this effect.
In the 30s the look is more natural, but still demure so no bullet bras or wonder/miracle/look-at-these! contraptions. Your everyday bra should do the trick. Straighten this all out before you fit your garment or you will regret it. A girdle can take 1-4 inches off your hips and this will make the entire dress drape differently. Different bras, even the same style that is more worn in makes things wildly different.
The best Bay Area store for great vintage look fabrics has to be Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley - 2518 Shattuck Ave. They also carry Decades of Style patterns. The staff is helpful and they even offer sewing classes.
Other Bay Area stores:
Britex - Expensive, unique, and fabulous.
Silk Road - Great for wedding and bridal. Huge selection of satins, taffetas and silks.
Discount Fabrics - You'll have to dig, but it can be very rewarding. The San Francisco store is enormous.
Lacis - Unusual vintage items, laces, trim and everything for hat making this place is mecca.
Stonemountain and Daughter - Great fabrics and staff.
Embroidered Linen Dress
Mena, of the Nested blog, chronicled her ambitious (and very succesful) preparation for her first Gatsby Summer Afternoon. Some great photos as well.
Books on hats, handbags, beadwork and costumes.
Great article on fabrics of the 20s and 30s (through 1959)
Metropolitan Museum: Blythe Spirit, the Windsors
1934 Cotton Dresses
The Fashion Salon Team is and has been: Kimberly Manning Aker, Sara Klotz de Aguilar, Karen Geer, Alice Jurow, Derek Kerr, Cherie Oliver and Maria Rivero care to join us?