Black Lace!


So Shana left me a link in the comments to the (go check it out, it's hysterical!) and I found this dress at left browsing the seller's other items.

This is a gorgeous dress, although the waist is very defined (the waist measures 28", so you'd have to measure at least an inch less than that) and you'd probably have to wear a cincher of some sort under it. It's B38, too.

This one picture doesn't really do it justice — go check out the auction, which has three days to run, and see the rest. The lace is a very nice rose pattern and seems to be in tip-top condition!

I really like the shape of this black lace dress — I do still believe black lace is not for ingenues, and this is not an ingenue-style dress. It's designed for women, not girls. I'm so tired of slip dresses, strapless tube dresses, and drop-waist jersey monstrosities all designed for folks who are too young to know about Logan's Run or to worry about the concept if they did.

It's just pure laziness on the part of the designers, in My Opinion. Admit it — almost anything looks good on a nineteen year old with flawless skin! You could dress most runway models in burlap and tin foil and they'd still look beautiful. (And I bet I could spend ten minutes on Style.com and find an example, honestly.) But older women are more demanding. They want to wear the dresses, not have the dresses wear them. They want to look good because of what they're wearing, not in spite of it. I think that's why I love vintage so much — it seems to me as if the 1950s were the last time that women were the focus of designers' energies. Juniors patterns from the 1950s are all the same: puffy sleeves, big skirts, jumpers and party dresses. They are just one step up from little girls' clothes. The women's sizes, on the other hand, are triumphs of draping, with neckline variations and skirt details and cuffs and collars and sleeves of every kind. They're interesting, and they show interest.

It might be a supply-and-demand thing, that older women are buying "career" clothing (suits and whatnot) or that they've just stopped buying dresses that are either impossible to wear or unappealing, which makes for fewer dresses targeted to the older demographic. Whatever it is, I wish I knew how to turn it around.

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Detail-oriented.


I love the little details on this dress, especially the completely gratuitous button closure on the bodice. That would be a perfect solution to the (literally, hand-to-God) BOXES of fabulous single buttons that I have. I believe my sewing room is like the elephant burial ground, but for single buttons. If one falls off a garment anywhere in the western hemisphere, it rolls its way somehow to me. I find buttons the way some people find pennies, and I need to find projects to showcase them that don't involve bracelets, handbags, or (shudder) art vests. Of course, in the hierarchy of needs, this comes way, way under "just get a damn dress sewn, already" so I'm afraid I would buy this pattern and then it would always get pushed aside for something quicker to sew. And it's $28. That's a bit steep, even for something as nice as this. It's B34 at So Vintage Patterns; click on the image to check it out.

Dresses Poeticall

Strong sun, that bleach

The curtains of my room, can you not render

Colourless this dress I wear?–

This violent plaid

Of purple angers and red shames; the yellow stripe

Of thin but valid treacheries; the flashy green of kind deeds done

Through indolence high judgments given here in haste;

The recurring checker of the serious breach of taste?

No more uncoloured than unmade,

I fear, can be this garment that I may not doff;

Confession does not strip it off,

To send me homeward eased and bare;

All through the formal, unoffending evening, under the clean

Bright hair,

Lining the subtle gown. . .it is not seen,

But it is there.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Dress and the Idea of the Dress.

Part of the joy of making my own dresses is that I'm not just wearing the dress, I'm wearing the process. I'm wearing choosing the fabric. (This past weekend my young son went with me to the fabric store, and picked out some fabric for me. Will I think of him saying "Mama! This one would make a GREAT dress!" every time I wear whatever I make from it? Damn straight I will.) I'm wearing choosing and altering the pattern, I'm wearing the mental gymnastics involved in cutting it out and putting it together, I'm wearing whatever sleep was forgone to get it done and I'm wearing whatever I was singing along to on my iPod. I'm wearing my husband's grandmother's sewing machine and how I think about her sewing while I'm sewing. All that goes into the dress. It's the terroir of the dress, if you will.

Even when I don't sew what I'm wearing, I prefer my clothes to have complicated backstories. Like, "I bought this shirt at when he was in New Orleans, before he moved to New York." Or "This coat was $13 at Nordstrom Rack!" or "My sister-in-law gave it to me and she has the best taste!" or "It was my mother's, she wore it in college." How can "I ordered it from the J. Crew catalog" compare?

In fact, sometimes I feel it's not the dress so much as it's the idea of the dress. (Okay, I feel this way all the time.) This is a kind of corollary to the "if it doesn't make you happy, don't wear it" rule–if there's no idea behind the dress, don't wear it. You don't want fast-food, assembly-line, prefab-McMansion clothing, not just because it's boring and soulless and blah, but because there are no ideas behind it. Nobody smiled making it, or envisioned you wearing it, just like nobody outside the TV commercials smiles about making you a Whopper Jr.

When you have enough psychic energy built up into the dress, how it actually LOOKS can be less important than how it feels.

This is an excerpt from a letter:

Did I tell you in my last letter that I had a new dress, a real party dress with low neck and short sleeves and quite a train? It is pale blue, trimmed with chiffon of the same color. I have worn it only once, but then I felt that Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared with me! Anyway, he never had a dress like mine! …

The writer of the letter? Who, obviously, must have been taking more joy in the idea of the dress than in any rational assessment of it in the mirror.

So, even if you don't sew, try to build some process into your own clothing. Find a local alterations place and have your dresses altered for a better fit. Take along someone you love when you go shopping, and take time for a real conversation. Buy clothing when you travel, so you can think "Oh! I bought this in Baltimore!" (or Portland, or Albuquerque …) Post a picture to your blog and ask for feedback, or just rip out the catalog picture and tape it to the bathroom mirror for a week. Imagine yourself in the dress before you buy it. Who will you be seeing? What will you be doing? What will you be laughing about? Set yourself a challenge — can you think of wearing something ten different places? With ten different people? I'm not saying you should overthink every $59 dress from H&M, but a well-planned dinner party is always nicer than a drive-thru meal. Try to have more scintillating parties, and fewer hamburger wrappers floating around the car.

Another one.


I suppose at some point I will have posted every midriff-band pattern in the world, and then I will have to find a new thing to obsess over. (Madelene sent me the link to this one, which is very nice.) I think the shoulders are a mite too wide on this one, and of course I dislike the sleeves or lack thereof, but that's easily fixable.

If I were going to make this up, it would have to be in a printed silk, heavily interfaced for the midriff band. I'd ditch the facings for the surplice top and do bias trim, instead; getting those facings to lie flat as you sew on the band is a pain and a half. This would also be good in stretch velvet, made a size smaller than usual. If you were the mother of the bride you could probably get away with pastel satin. I would probably ditch the tie belt, but I don't think I'd replace it with what looks like (from the smaller illustration) a kilt pin with dangling charms. Every once in a while one of the fashion magazines advises "pin a jeweled brooch at your waist! It's charming!" when it's not charming, it's a health hazard. You would (I assume, having had the good sense not to Try This At Home) scratch up the underside of your arm, snag your handbag constantly, and pull all your sweaters. No, thanks.

I wish I understood the hair and color choices in this photo, too. I like that goldy-beige color quite a bit (even if it is undeniably upholsteryish) but somehow on the model it looks just plain weird. And why didn't they have time to brush out her hot-rollered hair? Were they under attack from the McCall's people? Did they run out of Cokes? The world is full of mystery.

Click on the image to go to the eBay listing for this pattern.

Worst. Oscar. Dresses. Ever.

Charlize Theron Oscars 2006
Okay, does everyone agree with me that these were the worst dresses ever worn at the Oscars? C'mon, people! It's like you weren't even TRYING.

Look at this one, for instance. Charlize Theron is so beautiful, most days, that it takes an army of makeup artists and serious prosthetics to make her look *ordinary*. But in this dress she looks as if the one role she really wanted last year was that of Zaphod Beeblebrox. (Matt Dillon was pissed to be seated behind her, he couldn't see a damn thing.) And origami, I might add, while a beautiful and worthwhile art form, should be limited to paper. Those big foldy X's across the front make her look like a railroad crossing sign. Or some kind of cryptic pirate "Here Be Treasure" X. (I'm sure none of you will be surprised that this is Galliano for Dior.) And she couldn't get her roots touched up for the big night?

Of course, at least you could tell Ms. Theron was there. A large group of other gown-wearers decided that it was "pretend to be invisible and/or naked" night, and trotted out the whitey-beigey-nude skin-tone dresses. Reese, Uma, Jennifer Garner, Naomi Watts … it didn't work, guys! We can still see you! I'm not even linking to your pictures, the dresses were so boring.

The black-dress brigade was okay. was the best of the lot, which is no mean feat when you're seven months pregnant. (Although I suppose it's easier when you can call Narcisco Rodriguez and say "hey, I have this thing, would you mind whipping me up a little something? Ta ever so …") did not need a train; needed quite a bit of double-sided tape.

And then, of course, were the colors. I loved the yellow of I just wasn't sure it should have been worn by her. But the cut was adorable. was in a very fitting electrified-corpse blue; too bad the cut of the dress was pure "Prom Night 1988"–perhaps that was part of the horror theme? Works for me. … I love that color green. Unfortunately, when you wear it in a dress that is styled like a theater curtain over your hips, it loses nearly all of its charm. All it wanted was a drop-down banner that said "Coming Attractions!" was definitely channeling Slave-Girl Leia. And not in the good way, if there is in fact any good way to do that. (And if there is a good way to do that, please don't tell me. Tell Maggie. Not that it will do her any good NOW, but maybe she'll pass the message along in case Chloe Sevigny gets any ideas.)

The folks who were trying looked pretty good — dress was super-cute, and it had pockets! (Carolina Herrera, of course.) Too bad she was mugging like crazy. I know it gets boring making the same "I'm so glad to be here!" face a gazillion times, but that doesn't mean you get to amuse yourself by practicing your "manic" and "hysterical giggling" faces. was a little too matronly (one-shoulder, heavy jewels, dark color), but at least it was pretty. The best dress of the night, though, had to be That color! That alone did it.

(By the way, am I the only one who has a "if I ever go to the Oscars" dress planned in her head? Mine would have a huge portrait collar around a sweetheart neckline, and be form-fitting to the knees, then bell out (to balance the collar). I just go back and forth on the color. It would have to be something odd, of course. Because the only way I'd ever be there would be for something odd, like being the subject of the Best Documentary Feature, so I'd have to do a weird color just to get photographed at all! Please spill your own personal imaginary Oscar dresses in the comments, okay?)

one grail down …

I've been looking for a pattern like this for a long time — square-necked in front, but not in back, kimono sleeves, and full or slim skirt options. Now, it's mine, and in my size even (I'm so lazy about grading).

I like the idea of doing this in a seersucker stripe, or I might go Lydia's colorblocking route with this one, and have the bodice panel be a solid color against a print. Or, if you planned it right, this would be great in a fabric with a big floral motif. Center one in the bodice panel, and let the rest fall naturally across the sleeves and back. And, of course, anything with a center panel like this just demands contrast piping!

I found it at which is well worth checking out …