First Make a New Dress and Then Go

Dear Madam,–I know enough of your sex to be aware that you will be staggered at the idea of bundling down to the seaside without certain solemn preparations and waste of time.
Moreover, feminine instinct will say, “First make a new dress and then go,” and this is the usual order of events wherever women are concerned.
But here it would be objectionable on many accounts. I will make you a proposal.
If you will write to me from your new address next Tuesday evening, I will beg your acceptance of a piece of dark blue serge which will make an excellent seaside dress for yourself and daughter.
Cutting and making this will help to relieve the weariness of being in a strange place. Don’t waste time. Go with a good heart; and don’t doubt that your husband will get better; and that you will yet enjoy bright days. All the brighter for this dark cloud.

Yours sincerely,

Charles Reade

From “An Author At Home” The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1882.

[Charles Reade (1814-1884) was an English novelist and playwright. He also worked as a reformer against prison abuses and abuses in psychiatric institutions. This is a letter written to the wife of one of the men he helped.]

That Dress Again, the Midriff One

ebay item 6274399256

I know I keep coming back to the wide waistband, but with a pattern like this, who could blame me? I wish that this weren't a B32, or that I weren't too lazy to scale it up, because it's just perfect. I think I would even make the jacket with this one, and I never make jackets (see "too lazy" above).

Let's see, what would I make this in? Well, I'd like it in a HUGE houndstooth print for fall (yes, I haven't finished–make that "really even started"–summer sewing yet, and I'm already thinking about fall). You know, a houndstooth where the repeat is about twelve inches? That huge. For summer, I think a very crisp pique (you have to get that A-line skirt to stand out, somehow). If I did pique, I'd pipe the band and the neck in a contrast piping, of course.

ebay item 6252839843
There's also this one, which has an interesting crossover midriff band, which, on the narrow-skirted version, I can't help picturing done belt-style in leather. (Nevermind that sewing leather would basically be euthanasia for my sewing machine.) I'd like a big floral for the full-skirted version …

These are both up on eBay, source of all good things, right now. Click on the images to go to the listings.

It's all about the process.

Helen Cherry nouveau dress
I was pointed to this site last night and there were lots of lovely dresses there, but this is the one, by Helen Cherry, that I was still thinking about this morning. Obviously, the fabric is very close to my beloved Liberty of London, if not actually from their looms, and the shape is elegant and simple. I wish the picture was clearer, because I really suspect a little smocking or tucks at the waist, which would be just the kind of unexpected, witty touch I'd need to see to even think about paying $400 for a dress.

I used to think that if I were fabulously wealthy (and if you really think about it, I actually am, compared to 99% of the world) of *course* I'd hire someone else to sew up my dresses. No more hemming, no more redrafting, I'd just dump the fabric and a rough sketch on someone else's sewing table and show up for a fitting or two. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I'd miss the process of actually putting dresses together, of feeling that exhilaration when the sleeve cap slides in nicely to meet the armscye, and the fascination of watching the way the needle bites into the fabric, drags the thread down to meet the bobbin, and then runs away again.

When you think of it that way, I'm reluctant to pay $400 for a dress, not because I think it's an unconscionable amount of money (it isn't, really) but because I'd be paying someone $400 to have my fun instead of me. It'd be like hiring someone to go on your vacation for you and then showing up two weeks later to collect the snapshots.

So if this dress calls to you as an object (and you wear a size 4, 6, or 8), click on the image to go buy it. Where would you wear it? What would you wear with it? If this calls to you as both an object and a process — how would you make it, and make it your own? I think, for this one, I'd extend the shoulder line a little for a bit more sleeve, and I'd maybe trim the neck with a wide bias band of the same fabric — I love that look where a fabric with a strong vertical element is banded with the same element on the diagonal.

For summer, I'd love to wear this with a little 3/4 sleeve cardigan in that same blue, with my favorite Fornarina cream-and-blue spectator ankle-straps. In winter, brown tights and shiny brown leather round-toe wedges and a thicker sweater … I'd probably hit Toho Shoji on Sixth Ave to get cheap blue ceramic beads to make a choker to go with it, too, and then take the necklace off before I walked out the front door, as I always do. Or maybe tawny topazes …

Carnival of the Couture: Every Day Can Be Halloween/When You're Alexander McQueen

This week's Carnival of the Couture is hosted by Style Graduate, and the question is:

For this week's Carnivale, I want to know what runway look you would wear as a Halloween costume. And no cheating; it has to be an outfit actually sent down a runway by a designer! So go forth, fashion bloggers, and find photos of your costumes!

I checked the rules VERY carefully, and nothing says you can't use Alexander McHenry! (Or Galliano, either, that would make it much too difficult.) So, I present to you my runway outfit/costume for Halloween: Quarterback in the Lingerie Bowl, in a uniform designed by the Rev. Howard Finster.

Alexander McQueen

This is the Pink Team's uniform, of course. If you click on the image you'll find what the Blue Team's uniform looks like, too.

It's a shame this was from the Spring 2005 show and is no longer in production, because I would TOTALLY wear this for Halloween. It would certainly top my previous favorite Halloween costume, which was "Bond Girl" — I made a silver satin mod-style dress and carried a toy M-16 spray-painted silver. (That was also the year Mr. Dress A Day went as J. Edgar Hoover — he had a brush cut, and he wore wingtips, hornrims, a fedora, and … an orange polka-dot dress. Genius.)

My next choice was "Mad Max Beyond Glasgow":

It's the duck's guts!

wild print alert

ebay item 8421847546

I thought the deer-head print dress was going to be the weirdest print we'd see for a while, but then Lisa sent me this one yesterday. This is just a cute little halter dress with matching bolero (I'm showing the bolero picture, because the buttons are so adorable), right?

Check out the close-up view of the pattern:


This would be the perfect dress to wear to a cryptozoology conference, don't you think? Imagine the fun you could have — people could have Bigfoot sightings while they were talking to you! (If actual cryptozoologists want to jump in here and let me know which unattested hominid species this fabric might be portraying, I'd be interested to hear your theories.)

There must be a lost episode of "In Search of …" that deals with these fun guys, right? I'm sure it was slotted to run right between the ones on Jack the Ripper and Loch Ness. Lots of stock footage of Pacific islands, shot from the air, while Nimoy's voiceover intimates that IF these guys existed, THIS would be EXACTLY the kind of island they'd be running amuck over.

The dress itself has some slight flaws, but nothing like what you'd expect, considering the original owner probably had to flee the island in terror. Click on the image to check out the eBay auction. It's 34/28/40, and has a BIN price of $199. Well, a price in dollars of $199 — what price you will pay for angering the ancient gods by wearing this has yet to be determined.

A Perris from Paris

Housing Works Perris dress

I don't usually start out by showing you the back of a dress, but the back of this dress is the whole point. Look at that–I don't even know what to call it! Tail? Peplum? Bustle? Whatever it is, it's 100% pure drama, and not the bad online-journal kind.

Even better, this dress is up for auction by HousingWorks (thanks, Margaret, for the link!) the NYC charity that works to provide housing and services for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS. They have several thrift stores in NY, and run the Housing Works Used Bookstore and Cafe (where, incidentally, I will be June 11th for the Literary Magazine Festival–show up to browse the hundreds of literary magazines on sale for $2, all proceeds go to Housing Works! Wear a dress and I'll give you a free pen.)

Back to the dress. The label is "Bernard Perris, Paris" and its measurements are given as "28 waist, 32 shoulders, 32 bust, 38 hips, 35 length" which seems suspiciously small in the bust for a dolman-sleeved dress, especially compared to the hip measurement (you'd expect at least at 34 or 36 inch bust) but stranger things have happened. Bidding right now is at $116.50, not at all bad for a dress this interesting! Go click on the image to see the front of the dress and views of the cuffs and underside of the peplum.

I have to say I'm fascinated by this design element, and I am not even a big fan of the sheath-and-overskirt look. It just seems so fun to wear! I can see someone in this dress at a crowded party, laughing, drink in hand, and every time she moves that peplum flares out and flashes white. Can't you? Is it going to BE you?


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I'm sorry, did I not say that loud enough? I said, NO CULOTTES! I swear, culottes are the work of the Devil. And I don't want to hear any guff about riding bicycles or horses or whatnot — a real lady can ride a bicycle in an actual skirt, not some bastardized waste of fabric designed to bunch where things shouldn't bunch and split where things shouldn't split.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but someday I think we'll find out that the same secret Trilateral Commission/Knights Templar/Elks Club-type group is responsible for culottes, carob, that guy you always think is Bill Paxton but isn't, corn syrup, David Blaine, and the vice-presidency, and that only by refusing to wear culottes will we manage to thwart their evil plan. And you know it's evil if it involves culottes.

In fact, I'm wondering if some misguided misogynist too chicken to show off his spindly shanks in a Utilikilt (guys: if you have the legs for this, it is a "do"–except not the leather one, eeewwww), in some fit of rage, designed the culotte. "If I can't wear a skirt, no one can!" (Cue evil laughter, the kind that ends up in an asthmatic coughing fit, and a "no, no, really, I'm okay, I just need a sip of water.")

You know, the lesson of the culotte is this: be what you are. If you're a skirt, embrace the skirtiness of your essential being. If you're a pair of pants — deal with it. Don't be straddling that pants/skirt fence. Don't be a sartorial mugwump. Choose a side, dammit! (The culotte does not have a side. It is all middle.)

(I'm very tempted to buy this pattern from eBay, just to make sure no one makes it. Like those police programs where they trade baseball tickets for guns. And, did you notice how none of the women in the illustrations have a direct gaze? Do you know why? Shame over being forced to wear culottes, that's why. Shame.)

So, one more time for the cheap seats: NO CULOTTES!