A couple of weeks ago I wrote a love letter to Perry Ellis, saying what great clothes he designed for Vogue in the 1980s.
This pattern, Vogue 1522, was one I picked out as being useful and beautiful. Lisa (who, like me works in housing), left a comment to say she owned this very pattern, if I would like to borrow it. So I did. Thank you so much Lisa – very kind and generous of you. I have made the dress and the pattern will be returned to you today.
When I first showed these patterns some (younger) readers said they had never heard of Perry Ellis. I am glad if you are now aware of him and his lovely patterns.
But many more mentioned how they had made and worn Perry Ellis designs in the 1980s. Alix said she “definitely bought into that whole relaxed linen lifestyle he was selling” but had now sadly binned or lost her patterns. Christine Burns wrote “The first suit I made back in the 70’s was a lovely short sleeved Perry Ellis pattern. A timeless item. I wore it for years and still wish it was in my wardrobe.” Su of Sewstyled said “My mother made the V1521 dress for me in a striped pink white and grey cotton and I remember running around campus and nearly having a wardrobe malfunction. I had the skirt too in yellow cotton – I only threw it out a few years ago always thinking I could reuse the fabric. Perry Ellis had a great sense of proportion. My mother also made 1522 for me.” How nice to capture these personal stories and the sense of excitement the new shapes brought with them in the 1980s.
Pattern and alterations
Another discussion concerned the ease that was now coming into Vogue patterns. Helene made a strong point “These patterns from the 1980s and the 1990s ran HUGE. Not only were the designs oversized (it was the trend then, and it’s back now), but these patterns included tons of ease. So much in fact that I would systematically go a couple of sizes down.”
As you may know many 1980s patterns (especially Vogue designer) were offered in specific sizes with all the details arranged correctly and to scale. The pattern that came from Lisa was a UK size 12 (34-24-36). So, just as a test, I made my dress up unaltered. The bust is right for me, the waist fine (although not defined in this dress), but the hips would be at least two inches too tight. Theoretically. But I measured the pattern and found that the actual measurement was 40″ – to me that is about the right amount of ease for 38″hips. However I realised the top half might be a bit roomy, but figured that one shoulder slipping down (or the “wardrobe malfunction” Su mentions above) was par for the course in the 1980s. In some ways it defined the look – clothes that were so big they were already coming off.
There is also the question of the length. I tend to remain faithful, when making vintage patterns, to the original length and proportions of garments. This is because I actually like the fashion history part of making and wearing vintage, rather than diluting the look so it is more contemporary (eg I like big 70s collars too). I thought about shortening this dress considerably as it is ankle length, but then, for a holiday wardrobe, this length is rather nice – especially worn with sandals as in the envelope picture. So for the first time in ages I made up a garment with no alterations whatsoever.
The pattern suggests a lightweight linen. I had a few lighter linens and silks in my cupboard. I thought about finding a harmonious fabric for the sash and had a range of choices. Here are a few I considered. There are three pieces of Nani Iro in there as this dress had a very Japanese feel. When I had the dress on the stand my husband thought it was a 1920s pattern. Well during the 1980s, of course, there was intense interest in Japanese pattern cutting and 1920s styling. So the dress feels like it has the right kind of parentage. In the end I chose the bottom left – a lightweight indigo linen (woven with white, like jeans), and the yellow Nani Iro that I was sold short.
When I was making the dress up two 1980s details struck me – ideas that were new in the 1980s, but commonplace today. First was the absence of a bust dart. The bust shaping is taken into the armhole creating a great simplicity of line across the upper body. The second feature is the use of bias binding as opposed to facings or linings. During the 1960s and 1970s you would also have both the bust dart and facings. I quite enjoyed making bias binding and using it as a facing. I rarely use this finish and it is nice and neat. The instructions were generally straightforward and this dress was a joy to make.
The silhouette of this dress is not my usual one, and a tube is not the best shape for someone with a curved figure. It would suit a straight body much better. But the sash is used to shape in the dress and to pull it in over the high hip. I tried a scarf, a belt and the sash and created some nice looks. The wide sash prevents me using the pockets but is more shapely across the hips. The narrow scarf is patterned both sides so is probably more suitable. It actually looks fine with a leather belt too. If I was going on holiday to Greece this week (as Ben, Mel and Maia are) I would definitely take this dress.