Visual Arts and Crafts

I’ve been meaning to put up more of my photos from my trip. Normally, I shoot in camera RAW format, which means that I can’t just throw them up as if they were jpegs, but I have to process them first and then save them as jpegs. Not very difficult, but it just adds one more step. So, I should be getting more photos up soon enough. However, instead of processing the photos, I decided to make myself a pair of pants.

More and more, I’ve been noticing women walking around in loose-fitting, lightweight pants. Every time I see them, I think to myself, “Those look some comfortable. I need something like that.”

Secondly, I have this fantasy that I can actually sew. It’s not exactly delusional, but let’s say it’s a bit of an exaggeration. I keep starting ambitious projects and then get frustrated half-way through. So, I think to myself, “I should try making a few simple things and build up my skills.”

Since I think that I can sew, I check out the new arrivals on the website of Mood, a very large fabric store in midtown. Whenever I see a really great fabric on their website, a few days later it says, “Sold Out.” A few days ago, I saw a great fabric, a lightweight mercerized cotton in a bright stripey print, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to buy it right away.”

I put number three with one and two and decided that I was going to make a pair of simple pants that will be really comfy on hot summer days.

Success!!! Yay! And I’m not going to show them to my mother so she can’t rain on my parade by telling me I look fat – which I probably do, but I still have to leave the house.

Which brings me to another thing. When I was young, I used to like to incorporate a lot of menswear pieces into my wardrobe. I would have worn more of it, but good quality menswear is expensive, and I’m short and I couldn’t have afforded the tailoring for it to look right. Menswear inspired women’s wear often just doesn’t have the right feel for me. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what’s wrong. Meanwhile, now that I’m older, and heavier, it’s easier for me to find dresses and feminine things that look okay on me. I can’t figure out what to do. Should I follow my taste? Should I worry about what makes my ass look big, to put it bluntly? It’s not just a matter of looking pretty or not. It’s about a loss of identity.

Anyway, one of my little fantasies is getting my sewing skills up to the point that I can make some tailored suits. So I’ve been browsing on the internet this evening trying going back and forth between men’s suits and women’s clothes trying to get a handle on what it is that I actually like and what among those things might actually not look dreadful on a dumpy fifty-something.

My next project is to make a loose-fitting tunic to wear with the pants. After that, thought, maybe somewhat more tailored pants might be the next step up.

Making our costumes last Halloween got me back into the idea of sewing. Now, it’s not the action of sewing itself that I like. In fact, it’s a time-consuming drag sometimes. However, I get ideas in my head and I like getting them out of my head. Since I’m not famous like Kanye West, billionaires are not going to give me money to bring my beautiful ideas into the world. Therefore, I’ve got to do the plebeian sewing myself.

Recently I came across the Steely Seamstress’s blog. She says, “I’ve just been drawn to various projects either because I like the pattern or fabric or because I feel that the techniques I’ll use in the project are ones that I can do. I have tried to challenge myself incrementally; I don’t want to try to run before I can walk.” Oh, no! I’ve just been taking the scissors and running with them! I keep thinking that I should sew a few simple things and build up my skills, but the real reason I want to sew is to make the things I imagine in my head.

I’ve been bookmarking some things that I found inspirational. Then it occurred to me, that websites don’t last for ever, and it’s going to take some time for me to actually make the stuff. So, it occurred to me that I should copy to my hard drive (keeping in my own grubby little paws, not in the cloud) some of the things that have really struck me and I feel like I’ll want to see again. Indeed, I went back and one of the sites I had been looking at seems to be down. It was a Tumblr site called “Giant Pants of the ’30s,” or something like that. Somehow, I had a hunch that a blog devoted to great big trousers from one decade in the twentieth century would not last forever. I came across it by accident a couple of years ago and thought, “These things look great.” Although that site seems to no longer be accessible, that person, or someone else, seems to have migrated some of her pictures to one of those photo sharing sites. So, I took the liberty of copying some of the pictures. Mainly I intend them for my own use, but since they look so great I thought I’d share some of them with you.

(It was searching the internet for fashions of the 1930s that lead me to the photo of the woman with the thong and the garter belt.)

Although there have been a few attempts in earlier times, most famously, perhaps, by Amelia Bloomer, to make garments for women that were as practical as those for men, they didn’t catch on, at least not as fashion. Women occasionally wore trousers and skirts that were split to ride bicycles or engage in other activities which were difficult to do in a skirt. The Steely Seamstress mentions Amelia Earhart as an example, but they were not widely accepted. The flapper era changed that. According to the “Wearing History” blog:

Enter the 1920’s and the “flapper”.  Pajamas are all the rage- in the boudoir and by the seaside.  Some daring women even started wearing men’s trousers.  Was it accepted by the majority?   Definitely not.  But they started gaining in popularity thanks to the seaside, the boudoir, and the new collegiate co-eds!

It was the nineteen thirties when trousers began to be worn widely. I remember my mother once telling me that, before my grandmother was married, she used to dress like “Joan Crawford,” in pants and flat shoes. My grandmother was a wiz a sewing. My grandfather, however, didn’t like women in masculine clothes and made her stop dressing like that.

Joan Crawford Vintage PantsHere, we can see several of the characteristics of women’s trousers in the thirties, the wide legs, the generally loose fit, the “drop front” with two rows of buttons. It is also paired with a striped shirt and she seems to be holding a beret. Trousers for women were becoming acceptable in active or sporty situations and were sometimes called “beach pyjamas.” According to “Witness to Fashion,” the beach pyjamas were derived from the clothes worn by French sailors and the French and nautical references are no accident.

Cartoon of sailors and young fashionable women.

While looking through the photos I was able to find online, it seemed to me that the look was closely associated with the Côte d’Azure and was often pair with surprisingly skimpy tops.

A group of young women One thing that struck me and seemed to contradict our stereotypes of women in earlier ears, was the lack of bras. The natural shape of breasts is unmistakable.

Vintage Beach Wear Striped HalterAs someone who frequently finds herself expected to be dressed up in restrictive clothing and painful shoes while strolling alongside a man who is in sneakers and jeans, I found this photo of a couple in Biarritz amusing:

Couple Biarritz 1933Note the extra flare at the bottom of the pant leg. Also, note the length of the crotch. “Wearing History” compares vintage sewing pattern pieces:

Pattern pieces showing the crotch length.

It probably doesn’t need to be pointed out the the waist of the pants falls at the natural waistline.

A few more that are worth pointing out…

I love the pleated flares that start just below the knee in this picture:

Pleated FlaresLook at these dots!

Women bowling on a lawn in trousers.Here is the actress Joan Bennett in a very simple outfit that works incredibly well.Joan BennettAnd what would be a post about women wearing trousers in the interwar period without Coco Chanel…

Coco Chanel Cannes 1939and, of course, my own personal “style icon,” Marlene Dietrich.

Marlene Dietrich

The other day, I put up my Halloween mask. In the comments, Noel suggest that I not add any more. Well, I didn’t on mine, but my sister phoned and said, “Don’t listen to him. He’s an architect. He probably thinks ‘less is more.’ I want bling!”

Sissy wants bling, then Sissy gets bling!

Halloween mask with rhinestones

Now here’s another part of the costume. I’ll leave all of you to guess what part.

Small blue lights

mask more progress

Now I need to make a silver one for my sister. My sister’s will probably be better since I think I’ve gotten a little better with the technique. This is my first time making a mask. Considering that I was making it up as I went along, I’m pretty satisfied with the result. The gold is imitation gold leaf. I put a coat of acrylic gesso over the traditional gesso so the whole thing doesn’t melt if there’s a light rain. Needless to say, it wouldn’t hold up in a down pour.

I’m tempted to do a bit more embellishment, but we’re on a countdown until the big day. I’ll probably wait to put on some varnish in case I decide to add more. Originally I thought I’d add some rhinestones and glitter, but at the moment I’m thinking it looks sufficient as is and I should spend time on the rest of the costume.