Claire McCardell

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This is the only Claire McCardell pattern I own; I'm almost afraid to sew with it. What if I did something thoroughly boneheaded, like cut through it? It's been known to happen. Also, I'm waiting for the perfect fabric to present itself. I would like to think that I could pull off red shantung, as in the illustration, but that would be just fooling myself, sadly.

Claire McCardell was a pioneering American sportswear designer who made gorgeous and practical clothes women could actually move in. (Check it out — this dress has pockets!) She's practically my hero. Someday I will own a copy of her What Shall I Wear? but not while it's topping $150 at Alibris …

Rules for Dresses at Weddings (not Rules for Wedding Dresses)

I was lucky enough to attend a lovely, lovely wedding yesterday. The bride and groom were glowing with happiness; their families and friends were there to support them and share their joy; and the bride chose (and wore with élan) a perfectly suitable and elegantly simple gown.

I was also pleased to see how many people were following the rules for dresses at weddings (that is, rules for the dresses that are not the Wedding Dress–the Wedding Dress has its own rules that are beyond the scope of this blog). However, seeing so many people dressed beautifully and appropriately reminded me of the many weddings I've attended where many were not, so here is a refresher for those who need it.

One: do not wear black. I can hear somebody whining that she only has one nice dress, and it NEEDS to be black because she has to wear it on New Year's Eve, and besides, black is slimming. I am not listening to you. You do not wear black to weddings. You do not wear black to weddings because wearing black at weddings means you disapprove of the marriage. You do not wear black to weddings because someday, god forbid, you might actually WANT to wear black to a wedding in order to show your disapproval and your deep grief over somebody's ill-advised nuptials, and no one will know that this is what you intended because there will be a roomful of women in LBDs dancing barefoot to "We Are Family" and your grand gesture will be for naught. MARK MY WORDS. (Besides, black is BOR-ing. And not as slimming as you might think.) Black and white prints are allowable if they would be unsuitable for a funeral.

Two: do not wear red. Wearing red is an attention-grabber, and it is rude to try to take attention from the bride. (A corollary of the "do not wear red" rule is "do not wear dresses cut down to (or slit up to) THERE".) This rule goes double for the groom's ex-girlfriends. This rule goes triple for the groom's ex-girlfriends who are there as the "and Guest" of somebody else.

Three: do I even have to tell you not to wear white? And yes, ivory, candlelight, pale shell pink, and pearl grey all count as white. Better safe than sorry. If you have to ask why you can't wear white, you are no longer allowed to attend any weddings at all. If you are the mother of the groom and you wear white or a whitish shade, you will not be allowed to ask "why? why?" when the newlyweds move someplace you need a visa to visit.

Four: if you are wearing a dress with spaghetti straps or no straps at all, or one that is far enough off the shoulder to need special undergarments, AND the ceremony is in a place of worship, please bring a shawl, a wrap, or something to cover up with. Yes, I know that God doesn't care, but churches are usually cold (it's all the stone) and goosebumps are unbecoming.

The general idea is that a wedding is NOT simply a fancy party to which you wear your fancy-party clothes; a wedding is a wedding, and it has its own rules. (However — if you are a bridesmaid, and the bride asks you to break any of these rules, you suck it up and say "yes, whatever you like, it's your day." Without eye-rolling where she can see you.)

Now I can hear that same somebody asking, "Well, what CAN I wear?" Weddings, especially summer afternoon weddings, are the place to wear dresses. A simple sheath in a bright color or print is nearly always flattering, appropriate, and pretty. An A-line or full-skirted dress will be a pleasure to wear while dancing. (I myself use nearly every wedding as an excuse to sew a new dress–if they care enough to invite me, I should make my best effort, shouldn't I?) Summer weddings are one of the last places where a frivolously pretty dress is recommended, if not required — why ruin it by crowding out the dresses with sparkly cocktail gowns and business suits? They have their own turf.

The Power Collar

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I'm only showing you this dress from the waist up (the skirt is a perfectly ordinary four-gore skirt) to emphasize that this dress is all about the collar. Look at how the sleeve cuffs echo the flare of the collar points; look at how the model in the illustration has her nose in the air! She knows this collar makes her UNSTOPPABLE. She's practically a superhero (look at the mask of veiling), all because of this collar.

If you click on the image, you'll see the whole pattern in a new window. Next to our heroine you will see her nemesis, who is wearing the same dress in black, with button detailing along the sides of the chest opening. (Those evil types always go in for hardware.)

Best bib and tucker

ebay item 8305987417
Here's another pattern I look at every couple of of months, idly think about making, and set aside. The bib dress has been sadly absent lately, but I don't think I'm the one to bring it back, unfortunately. And the curves on this bib seem very unfriendly to sew.

However, I keep looking at this pattern because there's something about the Peter Pan collar that I find immensely charming. I am perhaps the only person that feels this way, or perhaps the only person not involved in parochial education that feels this way, as I don't find many Peter Pan collars making their way to the stores. (Although the school uniform website, French Toast, has Peter Pan blouses up to a 46 bust!)

The sad result of there not being many Peter Pan collared dresses to buy in the store is that I automatically buy whatever I find. I swear, I would buy a fluorescent orange pleather catsuit if it had a Peter Pan collar.

Click on the image to see it full-size in a new window.

Pure Sugar

Daddy-O dress
This dress is pure sugar. The collar. The bow. The piping. The pockets! Don't wear this out in the rain, it's so sweet it just might melt. (It's actually made of polyester, but this dress is so adorable that I'm trying not to hold that against it.) Click on the image to order it from Daddy-O's. Their whole site looks great for retro repros. Don't miss the Stop Staring Betty Polka Dot Swing Dress and the Stop Staring Carina Swing Dress. If only they were made of natural fibers … hint, hint.

Two classics meet cute

Lanvin Fall 05 dress
Grecian-inspired dress and raw-edged jersey make a nice couple. Not too pretty-pretty, not too trying-too-hard edgy. From the Lanvin 2005 collection. Click on the image to go to the slideshow. Lanvin has some nice (and when I say "nice," I mean "huge") prints for the fall, too, so it's worth clicking through the slideshow.

And a big hello to everyone here by the recommendation of the darling Manolo!

All Hail the Master

Dior dinner dress
You can't really see the detail on this Christian Dior dinner dress in this image, so click on it to be taken to the Met Costume Institute page so that you can enlarge to your heart's content. Or at least enough to see the buttons holding the drape along the hip.

I love this dress, I really do, although it is a full-day's drive past anything I would (or could) ever realistically wear. This is clothing as art, which is beautiful (as opposed to art clothing, which, with a few–very few– William Morris-y Liberty-ish exceptions, is horrific). In fact, I am so convinced that this dress is art-with-a-capital-A that I have a very, very large poster from the Met exhibit hanging in my apartment, and I am otherwise philosophically opposed to museum-exhibit-ad posters. But I will gladly put up with a little extraneous typography to be able to look at this dress every day.

I do wish, however, that I could see this on a live model. What happens to those side drapes when you stand up straight? Do they hang like panniers? Or stick out straight behind like tailfins? I suppose wearing something like this makes you incapable, physically and spiritually, of standing up straight. A dress like this compels one to slounge, that sophisticated combination of slouching and lounging. I wonder how many he sold of this model, and I wonder who wore it, and where, and I wonder if anyone tried to get him to make it in something shockingly vulgar, like hot.jpgnk duchesse satin. Like all great art, this dress asks more questions than it answers, and one can return to it again and again and always find something new.

Unclear on the concept

Esprit Embro dress

Esprit calls this a dress. It may possibly be a dress (albeit a suspiciously shiny dress with unfortunately placed embroidery), but it's being worn as a coat. That is not auspicious.

Either there has been a terrible translation accident or the dress looks so desperately fugly being worn as a no-kidding dress that the catalog stylists were driven to this extreme. "Yes, we know it's a wrench, but it doesn't actually work very well as a wrench, so could you show it being used as a hammer instead?"

Remember when Esprit designs had, well, esprit? ::sigh::

Clicking on the image will take you to the catalog page. If you must.

Dresses in Literature, Wodehouse Edition

There are times when one feels that other people's objections must give way. When a girl is pretty (I believe I am) and has nice frocks (I know I have), it is perfectly criminal not to let her go and show them in town.

It was a beautiful day on the Monday. I wore my pink sprigged muslin with a pink sash and the pink chiffon hat Aunt Edith sent from Paris. Fortunately, the sun was quite hot, so I was able to have my pink parasol up the whole time, and words can't express its tremendous duckiness.

both from "The Wire Pullers"

He isn't good at explaining his feelings, but I think I understand what he meant. I have felt it sometimes myself when, directly after I have had my best dress trodden on and torn at a dance, I have gone down to supper and found that all the meringues have been eaten. It is a sort of calm, divine despair. You know nothing else that can happen to you can be bad enough in comparison to be worth troubling about.

from "Petticoat Influence"

He thought of bed, but bed seemed a long way off — the deuce of a way. Acres of carpet to be crawled over, and then the dickens of a climb at the end of it. Besides, undressing! Nuisance — undressing. That was a nice dress the girl had worn on the fourth day out. Tailor-made. He liked tailor-mades. He liked all her dresses. He liked her. Had she liked him? So hard to tell if you don't get a chance of speaking!

from Intrusion of Jimmy

You've no conception, laddie, how indescribably ripping she looked, in a sort of blue dress with a bit of red in it and a hat with thingummies.

from Love Among the Chickens

Sewing Without a Net

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I finished the black eyelet dress (mentioned here), although I'm not entirely pleased with it. I needed to do some revisionist cutting in the midst of construction, which I don't like to do. It's like finishing a jigsaw puzzle with the help of an X-Acto knife. However, it's finished and it's wearable, but the pattern is not suitable (as I had hoped it would be) for this gorgeous car-print Liberty fabric that I have. Which means I need to find another candidate.

I'm thinking this one is it, even though I'm missing the instructions. It's really a very simple pattern. The only part of the construction I'm unclear on is whether the bust tuck is sewn before or after the center bust seam. My money's on before. And if I'm wrong, that's what seam rippers are for. (Well, that, and stabbing yourself in the thumb.)

Before I cut into the stunning (and very expensive) Liberty fabric, though, I'll make a test run in either a green and yellow ditsy print (ditsy in sewing contexts means tiny and busy) or a black and white geometric. I'm leaning toward the black and white geometric. Did I mention this is for a wedding this coming weekend?