I blame June Cleaver.

pink stripey housedress

I blame June Cleaver. Or maybe 1950s advertising in general, with their perfect housewives doing laundry in freshly-done hair and high heels. Or perhaps sunspots. All I know is, somebody has to pay for putting out the idea that doing housework in a housedress is ludicrous. In fact, I think that if you have to do something messy, unrewarding, and unpleasant, you might as well do it in a loose, airy, comfortable cotton housedress, which has plenty of extra fabric to wipe your hands on, dries faster than a pair of old jeans, and still looks neat and tidy if you have to answer the door mid-task or run to the hardware store for another essential doohickey. And you won't feel like changing when the job is over and it's time to put your feet up and drink lemonade.

There are still a couple of places where you can buy old-fashioned housedresses, like the ads in the back of Parade magazine and the Vermont Country Store, but they tend to be, at best, half-polyester, skimpy, and with inadequate pockets, nothing like this adorable example. Click on the image (from Klassic Line Vintage Clothing and Costume) to see more pictures, so you can ooh and aah over the positioning of the stripes and the rickrack trim. It's B40/W30 and is $75 … I'm not recommending you spend $75 on a dress to do dishes in, but if you see one in a thrift store for a couple of bucks (and you ever have occasion to do a bit of light housework) you might consider picking one up and trying it out.

I bet you thought I forgot about the book contest AGAIN, didn't you?

The winning book!

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie 1950s Omnibus — 105 votes!

Submitted by P (of Petulant Feminine), who wins her choice of one of the books in the contest.

And the random winner of all those who voted is: kismet! I'll email you (as I cleverly asked for your email address with your entry). You also get the same prize — one of the books in the contest.

The grand totals were:

Technique of the Love Affair Technique of the Love Affair — 102 votes.

Mommy Dressing
Mommy Dressing — 64 votes.

Rosie Dunne
Rosie Dunne — 38 votes.
Cinnamon Peeler The Cinnamon Peeler — 33 votes.

As you can see, it was a very close thing between Technique of the Love Affair and the Agatha Christie Omnibus. But murder will out.

(Some links, just in case you're late to the party: The nomination entry. The voting entry.)

questioning assumptions

little brown dress

Lisa sent me a link to The Brown Dress Project, which I found very interesting. Alex Martin, an artist/dancer/mother in Seattle, made a brown denim dress that she has been wearing every day for nearly a year.

Her artist's statement says that the project is "one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism by refusing to change my dress for 365 days." And, in her FAQ, she says:

But on a feminist note, let's stop agreeing that the best way for women (in particular) to "express themselves" is by purchasing new wardrobe items and putting together daily outfits.

Whoa! When did I miss the memo that the best way for women to express themselves is through their outfits? Because, really, I should have been on the distribution list for that one, right? You'd think I'd be right up near the top! Dress is ONE way for women to express themselves, certainly, but I feel you'd be hard pressed to find consensus that it's the BEST way. Even *I* don't believe that and I write a blog about dresses.

It's confusing to me that an artist who has spent a year living a project that involves clothing (in other words, expressing herself through dress) could make a statement like that. Perhaps the key word in her statement is supposed to be "purchasing", but, if so, it could have been clearer. And what's with the "feminist note"? I am proud to call myself a feminist, as I believe in equal opportunities for women and men. Last time I checked, feminism didn't have a dress code, and, in fact, now that we're on the subject, I am fed up with people who claim that women who enjoy wearing dresses can't be "real feminists". Yes, dresses are traditionally feminine, but really, part of being a feminist, in my opinion, is finally internalizing that "feminine" does not equal "bad" or "weak" or "unworthy."

Elsewhere, in her blog, Ms. Martin says:

Since I am continuously engaging in conversations about my attire this year, I have become really sensitized to our cultural slant towards giving "compliments" on each others' daily outfit. "Oh, I just love your (fill in the blank – bag, hair, shoes, socks, sweater, dress, earrings, jacket, bracelet, hat, scarf)" – and tragically often, this is the intro to a conversation about where the item in question was purchased, a perfect segue back into our place as consumers in this economy. These conversations are not out-and-out evil, but I do think they are a symptom of the insidious fashion culture that keep us, and here I mean ESPECIALLY girls/women/ladies, so ridiculously busy consuming. waxing, accessorizing, and beautifying to perfect our wardrobes and fashion alignments that we can't possibly find the time to accomplish anything more revolutionary or important.

The scare quotes around "compliments" are odd — does she think such remarks are insincere? Not actually compliments? I just don't get it. I think she's cavalierly dismissing the communal, aesthetic, human pleasure of creating something beautiful and finding it appreciated. What artist doesn't want to be asked about their process of creation? If we consider that we all have the daily opportunity to create sartorial art (even if we don't always take it), why begrudge us a few simple responses?

As for dressing and accessorizing interfering with "real" accomplishment — this is a strawman argument, I'm afraid. When I think of the women I know who are interested in clothes, they're not people whose accomplishments tend to the lighter end of the scale. They're not bubbleheaded dilettantes brainwashed by the glossy magazines, unable to lift anything heavier than a charge card; they're writers (novelists, journalists), they work in public policy, they are doctors and lawyers and artists and mothers; they run their own businesses and they work for causes they believe in. (And I have to say that I don't see male activists calling each other out for being under the sway of the consumerist sports industry.) Sure, there are things in life more important than clothes, but to say that an interest in clothes is irreconcilable with achievement is both ridiculous and wrong.

The Brown Dress project is interesting (although I have to say I'm more intrigued with Martin's nebulous plan to spend next year wearing only things she's made herself) but I feel the artist's assumptions as to what are valid and invalid ways to express oneself through clothing need to be questioned as strenuously as she herself is questioning consumerist culture.

Ms. Martin is right to have problems with unbridled consumerism; I do myself. But a blanket condemnation of taking pleasure in one's appearance does nothing to further anti-consumerist agendas–if anything, it sets them back. She's painting with too broad a brush. People who feel fast food is soul-killing and planet-damaging don't say "don't eat"; people opposed to throwaway fashion and consumerist culture shouldn't say "don't buy clothes." The appropriate, more nuanced tack would be to discuss how to fully enjoy what you wear, where it came from, the story behind it; a kind of slow food movement for clothing, but one that allows for joy and creativity and yes, even has room for fashion.

It wasn't the pattern's fault, really!

Butterick 7130
Here's the pattern for the abject failure dress of the other day; see — it was the fabric's fault (or rather, since cotton poplin is not yet known to have either consciousness or agency, my fault). The pattern, Butterick 7130, is blameless. Innocent of any wrongdoing, and without stain. Okay, with a little stain–the pattern's pretty beat up.

I have to admit that I approached this pattern with considerable trepidation, when I first went to make it up. It looked a bit ambitious; I was daunted by the place where the bodice meets the waistband.

However, it couldn't have been easier. You pull the gathers, you snip a bit to a corner, turn under the edge of the waistband, and topstitch it over the gathers! Easy-peasy! I only ripped it out once, and that was because the tension in my machine was wonky and I didn't like the way the topstitching looked.

The whole thing, in fact, went together nicely. Since I am shorter from shoulder to waist than the patterns think I should be, I always shorten bodices. I find the easiest way to do this (and a reason why I love kimono or otherwise non-set-in sleeves) is to sew the shoulder seam deeper — with a wider seam allowance, tapering off at about the bicep of the sleeve. I bet there's a better way to do it, but not a lazier way, since this is a fix you can do even if you forget and have to do it after the facings are already in. (Not that I would know this from constant, repeated trials, or anything. Oh, no.) This also has the benefit of making a deep vee neckline less "where's a safety pin?" deep.

I always meant to make this dress in a dull black silk, maybe twill or something with a little heft to it, with bloody-maroon topstitching and deep garnet buttons, so red that in certain lights they would look black. It would be a real black-widow dress, for sure. Nobody'd mess with you while you were wearing a dress like that. A dress like that makes a slightly raised eyebrow have the force of a right hook. Of course, sewing with black fabric bores me to tears and gives me the headache (I can't tell you how many half-finished black garments I have hanging around in UFO limbo), so I just keep making non-weaponized dresses that don't have the power to make the insolent quail in fear. More's the pity.

Every Woman's Fantasy; The Rest of the Story; Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Caroll dress

Okay, get this. Mrs B. in Paris wakes up one Saturday morning to find her husband, instead of wanting to watch Dr. Who (not that there's anything wrong with that), wants to go shopping. Did I mention that "Mrs. B in Paris" does actually live IN PARIS? No? Well, she does. So she goes shopping with her husband. Who, after buying Parisian pants, (that's "trousers" for you Brits) says "oh, honey, it must be hard for you to go to all these stores with me without even looking at anything for yourself." While Mrs. B is boggling from THAT, he goes on to urge her to buy a new dress. In Paris. With a budget four times what she would have set for herself.

Anyway, go click that link to read the whole story, instead of my Cliffs Notes, but this is the dress. Isn't it lovely? And I don't know what kind of additives she's putting in Mr. B's pot-au-feu, but if she can figure out a way to market them, I think she's got a winner. She's my new hero. I mean, I can barely get my husband to put on ANY pants, and she's got hers buying pants in France. Which even if it didn't rhyme, would be the greatest thing ever.

And, for the rest of the story — the crow-megaphone dress? Went to a good home in NYC, with Stephanie at Klosekraft. Whew! Sometimes, when you see a great eBay auction that you know you can't bid on, it's like seeing an especially cute puppy or kitten at the shelter. Will someone kind and loving take them home, or will they have to suffer rough petting at the hands of an oblivious jerk? This dress went to a good home and will have lots of walks in the bright sunshine, I'm sure.

Oh, and just for complete randomosity, I dreamt last night I was making a dress out of those zip ties you use for garbage bags. I was using those narrow plastic straps that hold cardboard boxes together for the weft, and then zipping the ties over them so the long edges stuck out like fringe. Each tie would zip over two straps, and I did a kind of herringbone thing so that the whole mess held together as fabric. Very hard to explain, like most dreams, but I woke up disappointed that I hadn't actually done it and taken a picture to post here.

Abject Failure

HoJos Dress
Oh, it's not all puppies and popsicles here at A Dress A Day headquarters. Not everything that rolls off the assembly line gets worn, or even looked at without a shudder. This is one of my more spectacular failures. So spectacular, that even though this was completed more than a YEAR ago, I couldn't bear to even look at it until now.

It shouldn't have been this way. I've made this particular pattern three or four times, and it always looked pretty good, as far as I could tell. (I made it twice in Liberty prints, one lawn, one Jubilee, and once in a big print of pink roses.) And when I saw this fabric, shimmering happily on the computer screen, I figured, "Oh, fun, HoJo's blue!"

I swear, if I had a time machine, one of my to-dos, right after killing Hitler and visiting Claire McCardell, would be to go back and prevent myself from pushing the "place order" on this one.

It was pretty obvious from the beginning that this was the wrong fabric for this dress; it was too stiff, even after a few washings, and it showed every little spot. Yet I kept on. I didn't try it on at all (why should I have? I'd already made the pattern three times) until I was about to hem the skirt. Then — oh lord. The dress hung as if it were made of cardboard, and the color left me looking like some minor character from a horror movie. Not any character with a name, but someone you see in the credits noted as "Zombie Girl Who Loses Eyeball in Punch Bowl." Yes, it made me look like a bit player in Zombie Prom, which, now that I check IMDB, is not just my fevered invention but a real actual movie coming out this year. (Why didn't they call me? I have my own costume.)

The only redeeming feature of this dress is the buttons. They're vintage, and very nice. I'm not quite sure what to do with the rest of it. I could cut it up for an A-line skirt; if I kept this color (which seems to be my Kryptonite) away from my face it could still be cute. I could just put it in the pile for the Salvation Army (they take anything); I could put it up on eBay (sucker born every minute); I could send it to the producers of Zombie Prom II: The After Party; I could find a farmer and offer it to him for his scarecrow. Lots of options. The only option closed off to me is actually wearing this as is.

a little bird told me

ebay item 8424844207

Thanks much to Holly at Lucite Box Vintage for the link to this one. She's so selfless, it's not even one of her own auctions!

I love this fabric with an obsessive and stifling love:
ebay item 8424844207
I wish I could have met the textile designer. After sitting a safe distance away from him or her, I would casually venture to bring up what creative process had led to shouting stylized crows with megaphones. "It's such an … inventive design! How on earth did you come up with it?" Of course, if the answer was "Well, I see them all the time, along with the dancing elephants wearing propeller beanies," I might shift my chair a little further away and pretend to get a text message on my phone that needed immediate attention. But I sure as heck wouldn't leave without four or five yards for my very own.

However, I can't imagine that I would be able to choose a better pattern for this fabric than this designer (the label is "Ann Sutton"). I love the surplice cap-sleeve bodice WITH the midriff band (perhaps the crows are cheering for the midriff band? Seems reasonable to me) and the lovely full skirt. I should be able to fake this up. This is absolutely a "no, but hum a few bars" style of dress.

If only I had some of this fabric! If you want the whole dress, it's B36 and a $125 BuyItNow — no auction close date, so hurry up!

doesn't this sound cool?

sonic fabric dress
Do you know what this dress is made of? It's made of reclaimed audio tape. And, even cooler, it's playable. You can hold tape heads in your hands and run them over the dress, and noise will come out! This is so cool the temperature in the room when I read about it dropped eight degrees. (Many thanks to Ursula for the link!)

Now, I'm not suggesting you actually wear a sonic fabric dress for longer than it takes to mess around with playing it — I'd bet it's pretty hot, and the silhouette is not one that I would choose. But as an art object? It's wonderful. I would get one just to hang on the wall, or keep on a dress form.

In fact, I actually have a dress on a dress form in my living room — not a sonic one; a great 1940s beaded taffeta sweetheart-neckline full-skirted dress, and it was one of the first pieces of vintage clothing I ever bought. The woman who sold it to me looked like Morticia Addams, never wore shoes, chain-smoked menthols in this giant abandoned garage full of random items (all of which were flammable in degrees ranging from 'three-acre brush fire' to 'towering inferno'), and kept a roll of bills in her cleavage. I always tried to have exact change. But, that burst of quasi-nostalgia/horror aside, I like the idea of dresses as art and this one is art in two dimensions, as it were. It's art and music. Next step: a dress that is art, music, and moves by itself — dance! Oh, wait, I'm thinking about robots again. Dammit.

Click on the image for more information about sonic fabric. They have messenger bags and suchlike, too.

Wrap pattern sought …

zara broderie anglaise dress

Helen in the UK is hoping that some kind and helpful reader of A Dress A Day will know where she can find a pattern for a dress similar to this one — a wrap with a full skirt and collar/sleeve options. I know, it should be easy, right? But no.

And if anyone can tell me where to buy broderie anglaise online, I'd be very happy. Preferably at less than "oh-my-god-they-want-what?" per yard.

If you click on the image you can buy the dress featured here — it's a Zara dress listed on eBay.co.uk.

Coming up soon on A Dress A Day … the Esprit giveaway is this week, if I can get everything ironed and pictures taken before Friday. And I'll have the winners of the book contest, I think. Plus, I'm feeling a bit ranty! Watch out!

So Darling

London Times floral shirtdress

I saw this yesterday at Darling and the slightly bemused clerk let me take pictures to show you. Isn't it, well, darling?

Check out the very vintage-y fabric:

London Times floral shirtdress

And the belt, backed with a coordinating green:

London Times floral shirtdress

I'm not sure if Darling takes phone orders but if you MUST have this, it might be worth calling. I saw a size 10 and a size 4 on the rack. I think this one on the mannequin is an 8. It looked well-made, and the label is London Times. It was $145, which is not outrageous for a dress in a boutique in the West Village!

There were a lot of darling dresses there, unsurprisingly, but what I ended up buying (surprisingly) was a stretchy wide multi-buckle slightly bondage-y belt. I'm feeling the very, very cinched waist for fall …