Way back in the mid-90s when I was a young whipper-snapper of a fashion design student my favourite designer was the amazingly creative, yet highly wearable, Anna Sui. Her collections always had a huge influence of the past and she created clothes that I would’ve, at the time, sold my own mother for. In 1995, at the tail end of Grunge, Anna Sui took inspiration from the 1940s and 1960s creating two collections that were steeped with her unique style of feminine wistfulness mixed with the strength of the 90s ladette. I spent hours lusting over them in Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, particularly the 1940s style dresses which you can see in the fab video below of her Spring Summer ’95 collection.
So imagine my excitement, in the same year, when Vogue announced that Anna Sui would be doing a range of sewing patterns based on her collections! I was hysterical.
As soon as my bank balance would allow me (it was a time before student loans so money was extremely tight) I headed to the local fabric shop and spent a good while going through them all. In the end it was definitely the 1940s style dresses that I knew I just had to make and, even though they weren’t exactly the same as the ones on the catwalk, they were about as damn close as you were going to get.
And this was the one I chose, paid my hard earned cash for and then, for some unknown reason, never made. Yes, I know! Perhaps I got swayed by another designer. I did do a lot of sewing back then and was always trying to replicate what I saw on the catwalks or the high-fashion magazines, so maybe I ended up making something else.
Anyway, this fabulous pattern sat in my huge box of sewing patterns for years until a couple of years ago I dug it out deciding now was the time to get on with it. I went in search of the perfect crepe fabric, which I picked up from the best fabric shop, Fabricland, (ignore the absolutely hideous website which is still firmly stuck in the 90s and trust me the shops are incredible) and set about cutting out the style C dress.
And then I put it away! What was it about this dress that made me not want to make it? It stayed in my favourite Joel & Son bag (another amazing fabric shop but much, much more expensive) right up until about two weeks ago. Because I was going to be on holiday from work for a week I made myself a promise to tackle all the alterations that had been piling up of vintage clothing that just didn’t fit right and as I was looking through them I spotted the unloved cut pieces of this dress. So, I told myself it was about time I finished it. And, boy am I glad I did!
I absolutely love it! It’s so 1940s looking and I’m already planning to wear it for either the Dig for Victory show or the Royal Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford as it will fit in perfectly.
In the end it was fairly easy to make and the crepe was a dream to sew, apart from on the gathers which took quite a bit of adjusting and holding down as you were sewing. There are sections, particularly on the sleeves, where the gathers look more like folds than anything but the front section behaved perfectly.
The dress is a complete wrap-around and does have a tendency to open on the skirt when you sit down so I have to wear a slip underneath for modesty purposes! But I do love the way it drapes down from the waist and curves at the bottom of the split.
I took about 4 inches off the original length because it was far too long on me and looked a bit frumpy for this style. Now it sits about 2-3 inches below my knee which is perfect.
Unfortunately when I first cut it out I was a size bigger so cut it in a 12. Now I’ve lost the weight it does take a bit of adjusting to get it to sit correctly across the bust and I probably pull it in more than I should, hence why there is a bit of tension across the chest. If I make another one I’ll definitely go for the size 10.
But I love the way it folds into the tie at the side. It’s very flattering and really easy to wear, and it hides my stomach too, so mega-bonus! The pattern is made up of retro looking pink and orange flowers with lime green stalks. It almost has that novelty print feel of the 1940s so suits the style really well.
The pattern recommended creating pads to sit inside the puff of the sleeve and I did make one up following the instructions. However, when I put it on there really wasn’t much difference between the two sleeves as the shape and gathers of it create the look anyway, so I left them out.
The sleeve itself is made up of three sections, with the longer middle section gathering into the shorter outside sections to give it an even bigger 40s style puff. You can see my bad gathering in this shot. I think the sleeves are really what makes the dress feel vintage. Without them, and the gathered detailing across the front, it would just look like a modern one.
I have to say I really enjoyed putting this together, even though I had to remind myself of some of the techniques I used to be able to do blindfolded. It’s really inspired me to carry on and make more vintage clothing for myself and I’ve already dug out all of my old patterns and shed loads of fabric buried under the spare bed. I found a lovely length of red crepe with a small blue flower which I’m hoping will be long enough to make a 1940s dress from an original pattern. It’s got a full length skirt but I think if I take it to just below the knee I should have just enough fabric.
I also want to make a 1940s bag to match this Anna Sui dress and have been looking at downloadable patterns online such as the Dinky Little HandBag on Sew Vera Venus’ page of free vintage patterns (there’s a 1930s skirt pattern on there too which I might just try) and this cute Vogue loop handle bag on Va-Voom Vintage.