A few weeks ago I had never heard of Geoffrey Beene, an American designer. Since purchasing a 1988 Vogue pattern, and making it up I have found that Beene produced several patterns for Vogue. Here are a few I like, but there are several to choose from. Because many are from the currently “unfashionable” 80s it is possible to pick them up for £2 or £3.
Geoffrey Beene was an American designer (d2004) who specialised in “tricky, complicated clothes that moved effortlessly on the body” according to SFGate.
“He made dresses without side seams; he created the curving zipper, a technological breakthrough in design; he showed ball gowns inspired by football jerseys; a denim, strapless evening dress. He became known for the bolero and the jumpsuit…A quintessential American designer, he often said that comfort and versatility were his top priorities. “He always believed that it was important for the body to be free, for the woman to be able to run for a bus,” said Gladys Perint Palmer.
He started his own company in 1963, one of the first American designers to do so. Along with Bill Blass, Beene is considered one of the founding fathers of American sportswear design…A decade earlier, when the House of Dior was looking for a designer, Palmer recalls suggesting that Beene apply for the job. “He said, ‘No, no, I’m not suitable for Dior; their philosophy is to confine the body with a corset on top and hide the rest of it under a big skirt.’ “
He is the most original, idiosyncratic, autonomous creator in his field. Beene’s architectural complexity, elaborate serpentine seams, and iconoclasm thrilled the crowd, as did his blunt dismissal of everything that fell beyond the scope of his own interests. “I hate trends,” he said. He led fashion while also remaining aloof from it…His lifelong quest became to create ever lighter, and ever more fluid looks. Beene went in for jersey and did away with side seams, which he found unflattering; he dismissed his earlier (1960s) work as “uptight little dresses.” Of this radical, mid-career shift, he said, “I wanted to let the fabric move and flow, with a minimum of darts and seams.”
I am now a total convert. Previously passing up many of the eighties styles, Beene included, I realise now that they have something about them that I love. This was the era where women were begining to get important jobs – the power suit era – and designers were really thinking about what would be good to wear for work. If you look at the suits without a “urgh, the eighties” mindset, they are actually pretty wearable. Even if the jackets are voluminous (to emphasise the close fit of the skirt or dress) the skirts, trousers and dresses remain very acceptable. As I look carefully at these patterns I realise they are both contemporary and desirable.
Design and style
I enjoyed making and wearing this dress. Although the 1980s silhouette is unmistakable, the hips and shoulders balance perfectly. It is both comfortable and feminine, but also very smart. I made few alterations, mainly lengthening the torso. I also omitted the shoulder pads, mainly because I didn’t have any at home. I cut the skirt to finish more or less on the knee, and included a lining as I was working with white fabric. White has a tendency to transparency that is not exactly “Vogue Career”.
Materials and Construction
I used a fairly heavy white cotton with a little Lycra in it. Making up was straight forward. I followed the instructions precisely, save only for the addition of a white silk lining. I used cotton organdie for interlining at the neckline, and put the zip in by hand. The most beautiful features are the pleating behind which are deep pockets, and the cap sleeves. I think the neckline could be just a touch higher.
I love this dress, but despite my careful fitting it is a little bit too big. You can see the back neckline gapes, and the armhole opening is just a touch too deep. So when I make this up in wool I will taper the back seam, taking out as much as 2″ at the neckline and about 1″ at the waist. And I will raise the side seams by about half an inch. Otherwise I am very happy with the fit and style of this dress. I am speaking at Oxford Planning Law Conference this Saturday and I plan to wear this dress, despite its flaws.