New Book Help?

So … I have a new book coming out next year. It’s called The Hundred Dresses, and it’s about the most iconic dress styles of our age, and how and why to wear them.  What do I mean by “iconic dress styles”? Well, it’s everything from fashion classics like the Fortuny column and the Chanel jersey dress, to folklore styles like the wench and the “Guinevere,” ethnic styles like the flamenco, the cheongsam and the sari, as well as pop-culture icons like the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” dirndl, and modern touchpoints like the J-Lo (yeah, you know the one I’m talking about) and the Mouret Galaxy. Whew!

Here’s a quick excerpt from the current draft — a dress archetype familiar to regular readers of this blog, the Airship Hostess.

The Airship Hostess dress is not for present-day flight attendants or even stewardesses: it is a purely notional dress for an alternate history where giant cruise-ship-like dirigibles float through the skies, doing the New York to still-exotic San Francisco run at a leisurely 135 mph.

The Airship Hostess dress is vaguely 1930s; vaguely 1940s, but with a distinctly official air. There are useful pockets (usually asymmetrical); there are buttons (usually asymmetrical); there’s a long, narrow skirt and a little collar, and definitely something pointy and art-deco-y going on. It’s worn bare-headed, or with a jaunty little hat, and purses or bags are not carried while on duty (that’s what the pockets are for). Dickies and gloves? Optional.

The women in the Airship Hostess dresses are the heroines of screwball comedies: they’re heiresses running away from their inheritances, grifters on the make (with hearts of gold), dames both dizzy and hard-bitten. They have secrets; they have repartee; they do their safety briefing before takeoff as a patter song. They always fall in love on their voyages, either with the poor boy in steerage (who is a prince in disguise) or with the older, world-weary war correspondent, or (occasionally) with the semi-sloshed and semi-louche lounge piano player.

Even though modern airships are limited to thrill rides and hovering over major sporting events (yawn) the Airship Hostess dress is not. It’s amazing how competent a trim, tailored, functional dress — one that isn’t trying to be a man’s suit — can make you feel. The Airship Hostess is prepared for any disaster on the ground or in the skies (short of a full-on Hindenberg), and you can be too.

So here’s where I could use your help — I need a subtitle, and I need it *now*. The usual publishing practice of just adding “… and how they CHANGED the WORLD” as a subtitle isn’t really working for this one, sadly. Any suggestions? I will pick my favorite from any comments left on this post today, and send the winner a copy of my last book (signed, if you like!) and also a random piece of fabric or pattern from my stash! (How’s that for incentive?)

I’m also looking for some “who wore it best” type links to pictures of famousish people wearing the archetypes. I’ve set up a Pinterest Board and tried to put up pictures of all the types … if you know where to find a picture of, say, Cameron Diaz wearing the Airship Hostess (oh, if only she WOULD) or Zooey Deschanel wearing a “Face” dress … or Drew Barrymore wearing the Flower Child Bride … and so on, Pinterest lets you leave comments on the pins. Which would be awesome.

What else can I tell you? It’s being published by Bloomsbury (they’re wonderful). It’s illustrated — every dress! — by Donna Mehalko, who is super-wonderful. It will be out in 2013 sometime, available wherever books are sold.

Fabric 411

I am looking for some of this fabric — I think it’s called “corded cotton,” but does anyone know another name for it? Because all my normal fabric searches are coming up empty.

blue corded cotton shorts

It’s not quite seersucker — it’s that slightly raised corded cotton. I can’t find it anywhere. Did J.Crew buy it all?

Any help gratefully appreciated … I really need a Simplicity 1577 in this fabric, while it’s still summer …

Alcatraz Dress

So this pattern:
McCalls 3528


Turned into this:
Alcatraz Dress

(For this picture I dragooned my husband into taking it. He’s easier to persuade to take pictures, but the pictures aren’t as good because — insert “awwww” here — he thinks I look good in every picture, and so is not motivated to take a lot of them. Thus the weird expression and weirder hair in this one.)

I made the sleeveless version, which right now in the office is showing off what, in my childhood in the south, we called a “farmer’s tan.” The Keds are gray, the belt is a super-cheap one from Amazon, I’m wearing my default Swatch, and the sweater is a J.Crew “Jackie” cardigan. The cardigan is my favorite part, since the gray of the sweater and the gray of the dress stripe are EXACTLY the same — that’s so hard with grays!

The fabric is (I’m pretty sure) from last year sometime … I thought I had a picture of it, but perhaps at the time I didn’t think it would need one. It’s a charcoal gray and just-barely-off-white stripe. It’s shirting, and heavy for shirting but light for cotton, which is why I decided to attempt this dress in it. As you may have seen in the pattern illo, the skirt is BOTH pleated and gathered. Crazy! (It’s like that moment of revelation I had — I must have been about seven — when I realized that you could totally put BOTH caramel and hot fudge on a sundae.) It was a little more difficult to gather than I thought; the bulk of the pleats (you have to pleat first, then gather) plus the resistance from the tightly-woven cotton conspired a bit. I ended up having to run separate gathering threads for each of the four skirt panels (there’s a center front and a center back seam, lost in all those stripes).

The stripes on the bodice match exactly, or close enough. (I ripped it out twice before I got to “close enough.”) The pattern calls for something like five yards of 45″; I think I got away with 4 of 54″, helped by making the sleeveless version, shortening the bodice by about an inch, and cutting five inches off the bottom of the skirt (it was super, super long). I also discarded the armhole facings in favor of bias tape; the neck is self-faced. I added pockets. (Do I even have to add “I added pockets” anymore, or is that a given?)

Oddly enough, this is actually a little big on me. (I made the 36 bust.) I love it, though, so I’m going to look for a similar dress (maybe with a leeeeetle less skirt?) in a B34, to make in a stripey seersucker. Links appreciated. 🙂

New 1577; Same Old Me

I know this is a terrible picture, but here it is anyway:
Simplicity 1577

Note to self: ambushing sleepy twelve-year-old son on first day of summer vacation, saying “hey will you take a picture of me?” does not result in quality photoblogism.

But, this is a new Simplicity 1577, made in a few hours over the weekend. It’s blue chambray purchased at Fabric Outlet in the Mission *last* weekend, which is probably one of my fastest fabric-purchase-to-garment-sewn turnaround times in years. It’s really, really nice fabric — not terribly wrinkly and super-comfortable, especially since it seems to have no stretch to it.

Anyway, you’re seeing a picture of me in it since I have been really lazy about wrasslin’ my dresses onto the dressform for Proper Photos. By the time I get one made, I just want to WEAR it, and then I have to remember to go back and take the pictures, and that means waiting for good light, which means the weekend, and … with one thing and another, it just becomes TOO MUCH. So I figured I could either get over my laziness when it comes to new-dress dressformage, or I could get over my apprehension that posting pictures of myself leaves me open to “helpful” feedback on my weight and general appearance in the comments. (Which has actually never happened that I can remember, so … bad pictures of myself it is!)

Accessories here are a pair of Liberty Bensimons and one of my favorite Swatch watches (it has a really difficult clasp and the face is hard to read, but other than that it’s a very nice watch). I was going to wear this with a pink sweater, to match the shoes, but I ended up taking it off — the weather was gorgeous here today. The pockets are lined in a different Liberty fabric — when I do get this one onto the dress form, I’ll show you.

Newsflash! Horizontal Stripes Won’t Make You Look Fatter, Say Scientists

Stripe-lovers rejoice! Two vision scientists at the University of York, Peter Thompson and Kyriaki Mikellidou, have scientifically determined that horizontal stripes will not, after all, make your rear look like the broad side of a barn:

stripey ladies


A square composed of horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than an identical square made up of vertical lines. Reporting this illusion, Hermann von Helmholtz noted that such illusions, in which filled space seems to be larger than unfilled space, were common in everyday life, adding the observation that ladies’ frocks with horizontal stripes make the figure look taller. As this assertion runs counter to modern popular belief, we have investigated whether vertical or horizontal stripes on clothing should make the wearer appear taller or fatter. We find that a rectangle of vertical stripes needs to be extended by 7.1% vertically to match the height of a square of horizontal stripes and that a rectangle of horizontal stripes must be made 4.5% wider than a square of vertical stripes to match its perceived width. This illusion holds when the horizontal or vertical lines are on the dress of a line drawing of a woman. We have examined the claim that these effects apply only for 2-dimensional figures in an experiment with 3-D cylinders and find no support for the notion that horizontal lines would be ‘fattening’ on clothes. Significantly, the illusion persists when the horizontal or vertical lines are on pictures of a real half-body mannequin viewed stereoscopically. All the evidence supports Helmholtz’s original assertion.

(full text available here)

I love science. I also love stripes! (Okay, I didn’t love these, but I did love these.) How nice that one is enabling the other! (Although, truth be told, I never really worry about how big my rear looks in something: once it’s over a certain critical mass, there’s really no point …)

I expect to see a flotilla of horizontally-striped dresses in the coming months. That’s how this science stuff works, right?

Why I Love Gray

I got asked my favorite color the other day and, purely through knee-jerk reaction, I said “green!”

But lately I’ve been mysteriously attracted to gray … like this blue-gray dress from LuciteBox:

LuciteBox Gray Dress

Or this gorgeous dress (from MAKVintage4U on Etsy):

or this shiny utilitarian dress (from NightofJoy Vintage on Etsy):

And of course, gray and collars is an unbeatable pair (this is from littleveggievintage on Etsy):

Gray just goes so well with all the colors I like best … pink, yellow, pale blue, red … even green, and isn’t as harsh as black, I think. Gray spans the elegance continuum so well, doing both casual/utilitarian and dressy/elegant (something that one of my other favorite colors, yellow, just doesn’t do so well).

Of course, it’s not all that auspicious, according to folklore, but I’m willing to ignore all this:

Except for the “matured judgment” part … I’ll accept that!