Thursday, 19 January 2012

Researching style lines

This suit isn't typical of its period. I am certain of the fact that it would have been specially commissioned and made for Joan Crawford, because she was a Star, and also because it was used in her publicity material.

Nonetheless it does bear relation to stylistic elements of the period. To analyse the suit:


To me, with the wide-brimmed hat and her canine companion, the suit suggests Parisian chic, nonchalance and elegance. The suit is feminine, with its pencil skirt and the belted, narrow waist but confident and assertive, in the emphasis on the shoulders with those dramatic lapels. She appears to be walking that dog but the slimline pencil skirt isn't really suitable for much walking. The suit is made for visual impact, designed to make an impression, rather than being a more everyday suit that a woman who worked in an office, for instance, may have worn. 

The slimming effect on the body from the waist downwards means that the emphasis, again, is on the shoulders. From my research into the period I know that the shoulders would have been padded. Photographed in 1935, the suit anticipates the strong shoulder-padded silhouette which became so iconic in the late 1930s and especially the 1940s. Shoulder pads were iconic to Joan Crawford herself due to her already-wide shoulders; they are undoubtedly her signature look. 

What I am curious about is how the jacket has been shaped, and how it looks at the back. I am looking at line drawings and illustrations on sewing patterns of the 1930s to glean information on what it could have looked like, and the extra details. From these analyses, I will draw a clear and detailed line drawing to consolidate how I draft the suit.

1) This sewing pattern from the 1930s is more of an everyday suit. However it shows construction details.


With its inverted pleat into a centre front seam and lack of centre back seam (suggesting that a zip was encased into the side seam), the skirt on the right hand side most resembles the one I am going to make. Crawford's skirt is longer and narrower: it tapers in at the knee rather than flaring out. Nonetheless this pattern gives me really valuable information regarding the outline of the skirt.

In terms of the silhouette, despite the shorter and more flared skirt (which makes it a more practical garment) the emphasis is overall on the shoulders. They look padded and the jacket sleeves are gathered at the very top of the sleeve head . The high lapels also curve up directly towards the shoulders. 

The jackets above are shaped at the front by darts: waist darts under the bust, and a bust dart which comes vertically above the apex of the bust. They differ in shaping at the back, and here is where my options come in. On the left the jacket is shaped by side back seams which gives a clean line and a fitted look. The jacket on the right has a horizontal panel (described as 'back belt', below) coming across the centre back at the waist and in the hollow of the back, giving the visual effect of drawing the jacket in at the waist. This balances against the puffed sleeves. An inverted pleat at the centre back also serves as a back vent; this would allow for movement.


Whilst the inverted back pleat (aka back vent) is a nice detail I feel that it does not suit the formality or the elegance of Crawford's suit. It speaks more of practicality rather than glamour.  The back belt, however, is a really nice detail and is in keeping with the belted effect of Crawford's 1935 suit.

2) This 1930s pattern shows a skirt which is near-identical in silhouette to Crawford's, albeit without the centre front pleat. Importantly, whilst the jacket differs in style, the overall silhouette places a similar emphasis on the shoulders above any other part of the body. 


This one also has waist darts below the bust, and bust darts intersecting the shoulder line; as opposed to shaping achieved via princess seams. If you look at the line drawing to the right (see the image above), the jacket also features a belted effect at the back waist. The shaping at the back is achieved through darts which have been aligned carefully; it mirrors the front, in this respect.


I believe that the jacket illustrates the same silhouette as Crawford's suit. There is also the narrow belted waist effect, and the fitted, slim hips. The lower portion of Crawford's jacket is cut away at the centre front, almost creating the idea of a peplum. However I believe that it is still fitted to the body, and therefore cut on the straight; as opposed to flaring out to create a more skirted peplum effect. 

The lapels, whilst involving a stepped collar, are really very similar. Their positioning above the waist is in a practically identical way to the Crawford suit. I believe that if you extend the diagonal line of the lapel upwards, ignoring the collar, they would come to end at a similar point to on the Crawford suit.

On this suit, as with the suit above, there is the option of the puffed sleeve or the more fitted sleeve. The puffed sleeve jacket is illustrated with a more feminine, possibly frog closure; a frilled blouse, and a dainty hat. It is clearly meant to suggest femininity. The fitted sleeve jacket, whilst still placing all the emphasis on the shoulders, is nonetheless illustrated with a smart but more utilitarian belt; a blouse with a tailored fall collar; and a jaunty feathered hat, resembling a masculine trilby. Both suggest the same kind of smartness and chic as the Crawford suit; but the connotations of frilly, frothy femininity and sharp, incisive masculinity are very clear in the illustrations. The question is - which do I choose to draft for my suit? 

Ultimately I feel that it is not necessary to add the extra pleats at the sleeve head. The strong-shouldered look will be created with shoulder padding anyway, and the lapels are of so wide a width that they would conceal the extra "puff", as viewed from the front. I feel that the lapels (and specifically their points which end at the shoulders) are the most important element of the suit and I don't want extraneous details to distract from them.


The skirt is a similar length to the Crawford suit and has a similar effect in fitting across the hips, tapering in at the knee, then flaring out a little again below the knee. This skirt has side vents below the knee but I will achieve this flared effect with the centre front pleat.

Unfortunately, thumbnails of the pattern pieces are not provided on this pattern so I cannot glean further construction information beyond analysing the line drawings.

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