Thursday, January 26, 2012

1940s Red Dress Showdown (Du Barry Edition): Sweetheart vs. Peplum?

1940s Du Barry Dress Showdown Enevelope Illustration with my croquis

I totally went back in time to 1942 and posed for some Du Barry pattern envelope illustrations!

Vintage lovers, I have the most exciting news for you! I HAVE BENT THE FABRIC OF THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM... all in the name of sewing, of course.

The idea came to me when I showed my husband the below two vintage pattern envelopes and asked him which dress would be more sexy and adorable for our upcoming Valentine's Day date.

"Sorry babe," he said, "It's really hard to tell—those illustration models are way too bony!" (Apologies to the more slender among you--this is his husbandly way of saying "honey, you look great the way you are", and I won't pretend I don't love it.)

So I tinkered around with some presser feet, rick rack and stretch lace for a bit, cobbled together a workable time-travel device, and paid a visit to the Du Barry pattern studios. I was like "Guys, all your super-stylized illustrations make it hard for the not-totally-waspwaisted among us way-in-the-future seamsters/seamstresses to picture how a dress will look on our actual bodies" and they were like "Wow, that's an excellent point."

Sadly I lost the device on my journey home, but c'est la vie! Anyway, the dress pros and cons:

Du Barry 5525 (early 1940s?):

  • Pros: Sweetheart neckline, reverse sweetheart fitted hip yoke, beautiful drapey skirt.
  • Cons:Will require grading up a size, something I've never attempted. And the sweetheart isn't as low-cut as I'd like. Also, I'm totally nervous about attempting 40s shoulder pads for the first time--I have really narrow shoulders!

Du Barry 5505 (1942):

  • Pros: Love the princess seams, love the skirt gores, LOVE THE PEPLUM. Also, no grading--just a little tweaking of fit and my usual major FBA.
  • Cons: Neckline super high, not very sexy. I tried to mitigate this in my croquis sketch by colorblocking and making the sleeves into cap sleeves, but not sure if it worked.

I did play with some other color options, but red clearly won the day:

1940s Du 1940s Du Barry Dress ShBarry Dress Showdown Alternative Color Options

For fabric, I went a-swatching at my favorite Garment District store, Paron's:

Fabric swatches for vintage 40s dress

They were having a store-wide 30-60% off sale, so I didn't limit myself to the half-off annex this time. My options were (clockwise starting with the purple):

  1. Purple rayon crepe. (Not red, but it was the only rayon crepe in the annex).
  2. Christian Dior red rayon/silk blend. Really nice but a bit orange-y in real life (and this is the rare case where I didn't want orange.
  3. Deep red silk crepe with a hint of stretch.
  4. Lovely soft thin 100% wool crepe.
  5. Lovely soft thick wool/nylon/stretch blend crepe.

The wool/nylon/stretch was my initial favorite—I just love working with wool, whether sewing or knitting—and would have been perfect for the bodice... but it was too thick and didn't have enough drape for the skirt. I went back the next day to get the red silk crepe stretch mainly because it looked so awesome when I stood in front of a mirror trying to pretend the bolt was a real dress.

And there you have it. So: who wins the showdown? Which dress would YOU make? I've already chosen, but I'm not telling—yet.

P.S. This is a case where a croquis really comes in handy, as I demonstrated recently in my little "How to Dress Your Digital Dress Form" demo/tutorial video (see related blog post for references, tips and details):


  1. This is genius! I want a pattern envelope with me on it :-)

  2. What fun! Personally, I find the sweetheart neckline MUCH prettier, along with the lines of the dress. As far as grading, that's something I know nothing about, but I don't think going up one size should be too daunting for someone with your skill set. Looking forward to hearing which one you chose!

  3. You melt right into the envelope like you're just meant to be there! I love the hip hugging 5525, but anything in red is hot.


    My fave is the sweetheart, too, although I like the princess seams from the other one. I totally think you can grade it! (Y'know, in your copious extra sewing time)

    Good luck! :D

    ... off to begin research on this rick-rack time machine...

  5. I really like the peplum over the sweetheart neckline, but that's not my favorite neckline in general, so I might be biased.

  6. cant wait for your croquis tutorial :-)

  7. Love the peplum. Also, how did I miss that video? Very cool. Did you say there was a paint type program that was free?

  8. Sweetheart neckline in the wool/nylon/stretch blend crepe. I love the blue-based red and the purple, I've heard that men prefer orange-based reds, and since you have three of them, you must too.

  9. This is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! I just love the pattern covers....You already know how much I love 5525 :).....and I love all the fabrics with wool in them! ooohhh...can't wait!

  10. Oh, and on the topic of which dress I prefer - it's the one with the princess seams and the higher neckline. I think it will flatter your shape more - not that they won't both be flattering, of course. And, secretly, I don't love sweetheart necklines. But that's just a me thing.

  11. I love your pattern envelopes! So clever. I prefer the look of the sweetheart neckline. Can't wait to see what you pick!

  12. This is the most inspired thing I've seen around the sewing interweb in a long time!

  13. oh hahah I totally had to do a double-take there (thank god I wasn't sipping tea at the time!).

    You have such mad Photoshop skillz!

  14. Your illustrations are so much fun! I love looking for what's next on your blog. I vote for the sweetheart; I think it suits your shape much better than the high-necked one.

  15. I love your illustrations! I'd definitely pick 5525, the sweetheart neckline one.

  16. Definitely 5525 with the sweetheart neckline is my vote. Like didn't even have to think about it, it looks way more flattering on your croquis.

  17. A red sweetheart dress for V-day? Sounds like a winner to me! I think you are having WAY too much fun with your croquis! Ha!

  18. I would choose 5525. Not only does it flatter you more but it gives you a chance to practice a new sewing skill.

  19. I love the pattern envelopes! You always do such fun illustrations!

    I am definitely loving Du Barry 5505 - the waist definition is amazing and will do nothing but show off your lovely hourglass figure!

  20. Love them both but that husband is definitely a keeper!

  21. Oh definitely the sweetheart neckline - gorgeous! I have to grade up patterns a lot, and I'm not as good of a seamstress as you are and I can do it. You might want to make a muslin first, but I bet you'll do it beautifully! Can't wait to see it! PS - I'm surprised you didn't consider orange for your dress... I bet it would be pretty!

  22. I love, love, LOVE 5505 but think 5525 is more you. I can picture you layering over it and using it more often than as a special-occasion dress.


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