Style Inspiration: Gingham Dresses

1940s lady in a gingham dress

Gingham, seriously, who doesn’t love gingham? I’ve become quite obsessed with it every since ordering samples of organic cotton gingham fabric and now I want everything made in it!

I currently only have just one dress in gingham, which has big one inch black and white checks. It’s a 1950s dress I made many years ago using a combination of two original 1950s patterns. I liked the top of one but the skirt of the other and it actually worked out pretty well. However, although it’s a beautiful dress, it’s fairly dressy and not really my style anymore. I now want to make one for everyday summer wear that’s much more me. This means 1930s / 1490s style, which gives me a good excuse to have a look at gingham dresses from this era!

1930s gingham dust bowl dress
1940s ladies
One thing I love about gingham dresses from this period is the way they play with the direction and mis-matching of the design. The two above show this perfectly.

The one on the left is from the early 1930s and I believe it is a diagonal print check rather than having been cut on the bias, although it’s hard to tell without seeing the bottom of the skirt. What I love about this one though is that there’s no pattern matching at all. This was common in the early 1930s to make sure they used as little fabric as possible.

The pretty 1940s one on the right has wonderful bias cut strips going across the straight cut dress to add really interesting detail. I wonder if these are just placed on the top of the dress or are actually painstakingly inserted individually. I sure hope it’s the first option because that would take forever!

Jean Harlow gingham dress

Myrna Loy gingham detail ensemble

Another detail I like is when gingham is used with a solid plain fabric, often picking out one of the colours of the check, to draw the eye to certain sections. The two examples above from these Hollywood starlets show exactly what I mean.

Jean Harlow is wearing what looks like a dress with the sleeves cut as part of the main front and back pieces. This reminds me of the T-shape 1920s One Hour dresses. The eye is instantly drawn to the white collar that matches the white background of the check.

Myrna Loy on the other hand is wearing the most incredible plain dress with gingham used for the detailing. Your eyes can’t help but focus on that huge bow and puff sleeve extensions. (I seriously need this entire outfit in my life!)

1930s gingham fabrics

The colour options in this era are outstanding, just look at all those different hues! Just on this page alone you’ve got cinnamon, black, sunshine yellow, bright red, navy, chocolate brown, bright pink, violet, emerald green, pale blue and candy pink. I bet you can’t get all of those shades now and the choice for organic cotton gingham is even more limited.

1942 Sears catalogue dresses

Now that we’ve gone into technicolour, what do you think of the 1940s pinafore dress at the bottom right? Doesn’t it make you think of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz? Okay, so that’s not really the look I’m after but I do love the white ruffles around the top edge and the skirt. I also like the fact that it’s sleeveless. I’m severely lacking in cool sleeveless summer dresses and, having just completed my first one in green, I now know this is a hole I need to plug in my wardrobe.

1930s gingham maxi dress

And here we have gingham ruffles! Isn’t this dress stunning? It was sold on Etsy by Sea of Vintage and I so wish I’d got to it first but you win some, you lose some. I’d love to do gingham ruffles on my dress but as the organic cotton is woven, rather than printed, it’s a bit heavy to do this with.

1930s gingham dress

This mid-brown large check gingham dress was sold on Etsy by Dronning and was from the mid to late 1930s. I love the added cute black bow that, along with the white collar, really draws your eye to the neckline. All of the different sections of the dress are cut differently, with the skirt being cut entirely on the bias. That would’ve taken a fair amount of fabric to do as it’s quite a full skirt.

1930s gingham dress

This 1930s one from Autumn of Grace is just so cute. I love the bias cut pocket that’s edged with white bias-binding to match the edge of the collar. And, as with the previous dress, I also really like the way the white buttons stand out on the small gingham print.

1930s green gingham dress

Now this 1930s dress from the brilliant Fab Gabs is really quite special. I literally adore all of the detailing on this, especially the red appliqué on the pockets and matching red belt. They really make this dress pop. Whoever made this dress all those years ago really had an eye for detail.

1930s gingham house dress

However, this beautiful 1930s blue gingham dress from Viva Vintage Clothing has pretty much all of the elements I want to include in my dress. It’s got white detailing, ruffles, white buttons, mis-matching of the print and has sections cut in different directions.

By the way, this dress is still available to buy. It’s an unusual larger size, it’s deadstock, so it’s never been worn and it’s only $95 (US). Sadly it’s too big for me but please someone snap this up and give it a good home!

Mccall 1930s pattern 5955

So, this is the pattern I chose to make my dress with. It appealed to me because it looked like a more grown up version of the 1940s Dorothy inspired one earlier. This pattern is actually from 1945, which is quite late for me, I don’t normally stray that far into the 1940s. However, it does have quite a 1930s feel about it and, teamed with my 1930s accessories and hair, I think it will end up looking more of my era.

Gingham fabric

The organic cotton I’m going to buy from Organic Textile Company comes in two sizes, normal and tiny, and three colours, red, navy and black. So, having decided on red, because again it’s severely lacking in my wardrobe, I’m going to get one metre of the tiny check and two of the normal sized check. The tiny one will be cut on the bias and used for the yoke, straps and pocket inserts. I may also make the belt in bias cut, but I’ll decide that once the dress is made up.

I’m also going to add a strip of broderie anglaise along the bottom of the yoke to add my white detail. I actually found this in my scrap box and I believe my mum bought it in the 1970s when she did a lot of sewing. I’m going to try and ruffle this, although not too much as I don’t want it to end up bulky. I’m also going to add white buttons down the back and on the pockets as in the pattern but I also want to add one to the bottom of each strap at the back, so it buttons on rather than being sewn into the top of the dress. I have a Bettie Page dress that has this detail and it’s a lovely touch.

So, what do think? I can’t wait to get started on it, especially as it looks like our summer is nearly over already!

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

21 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to see your finished frock. It’s going to be a terrific dress and you have a bright red bag to wear with it, if I’m remembering from your last post 😉
    The Myrna Loy dress with the bow, above is to die for! So much fun to read your posts! I’m not getting any work done.

    • Thanks Jennifer! I do indeed have a bright red bag, it’s one of my favourites. The Myrna Loy dress is so incredible, I will definitely try and replicate at some point. Maybe next year as I have so many I want to get finished this year already! xx

  2. Those gorgeous gingham images totally cheered up my day. Your post made me mentally browse my own wardrobe and I’ve come to realise I’ve hardly any gingham. Must do something about it … Can’t wait to see your finished dress! xxx

    • It’s funny isn’t it? I love gingham and I love plaid too but have barely any of either in my wardrobe. That definitely needs to be rectified! xx

  3. I can totally see you in Myrna Loy’s outfit! And while personally I Don’t Do Ruffles, I really like the Viva Vintage dress – it’s got the perfect mix of crisp detailing and frills. Really looking forward to seeing your creation! xx

    • I didn’t really ‘do’ ruffles either before I saw Daisy’s green dress in The Durrells. For some reason that dress just completely changed my mind and now I love them! I” going to get started on the toile of my dress today. I just hope there isn’t too much messing about 😉 xx

  4. I love the brown check dress it’s beautiful. I can’t wait to see what you make.

    • That one’s really pretty, isn’t it? I love the white collar and black ribbon bow. I’ve made a start on mine but there’s a few adjustments needed to the pattern before I cut it out. xx

  5. Oh these are gorgeous, I want to make them all! If there was only Gingham left to sew, I would still be the happiest girl in the world. It’s just perfect.

    • Hehehe! Yes me too! That’s the only problem when you research into what you want to do, you end up wanting to make more than what you’d originally planned. xx

  6. I love gingham and this post has given me serious dress envy and a need to boost my gingham dress collection ASAP. The brown was was drool worthy and I loved the blue as well (too big for me as well though). Can’t wait! to see your dress 🙂

    • It’s funny how everyone has said they need to get more gingham in their lives after reading this. I not want to make a blouse too, I just need to decide on the style! xx

    • Yes, you always wear gingham so well and I bet I can guess the dress you were wearing too! xx

  7. Your dress is going to be glorious! I like the mixture of the two sizes of checks and the lovely white edging. So many fantastic dresses to drool over here. The Myrna Loy dress is really super and you could crochet the little hat!

    • Thank you! Yes, I think that hat would be pretty straightforward to do. It looks like it has a black feather plume at the back that could easily be attached. Oh stop it, I want this whole outfit so bad!!!! xx

  8. Your post is so timely! I am hemming a gingham two piece dress right now. Although mine is more late 70s prairie inspired. I hope I will have it photographed and on my blog in a week or two. It is my first time sewing with gingham and I like it so much I think I will have to sew some more. . . Good luck with your dress! It looks like it will be wonderful!

  9. So much lovely inspiration! I like the brown gingham dress the best, but they are all great. Although I don’t think I could bring myself to wear green gingham (Junior school uniform!). I look forward to seeing your creation!

    • Hehehe! My summer school uniform for junior school was green and white gingham but I actually did love that dress! It was probably the only school uniform I actually liked xx

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