Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Review: Rago 721 Waist Cincher from Hourglass Angel

The more I study and wear vintage clothing...and the older I get...the more in favor on body shaping I become.

Sure, a variety of underpinnings is historically accurate for the first 60 years of the 20th century (yup, the 1920s and 1960s too!), but I know on more than one occasion I've skipped them. I've thought, "oh, my modern bra will do. Oh, I'm thin, I don't really need to wear a girdle. Oh, I can get away without a petticoat." But I never feel or am "fully dressed" when I go half-way on a costume, and ultimately the silhouette just isn't quite right.

Enter the shapewear. We call it "shapewear" these days, but it doesn't have to be particularly squeezy. My review today is of one such item that does a nice job, but isn't uncomfortable - the Rago 721 Waist Cincher, from Hourglass Angel.

This waist cincher (AKA girdle) comes in pink and black, which is kindof cute/sexy, and works very well as a smoother-outer. It didn't reduce my waist measurement hardly at all, but gave a nice trim line from about about the underbust to the high hip.

One thing I really like about the Rago 721 is that you can pull it up high under your bust, or pull it down lower over your hips, depending on where you want the shaping to be. The central zig-zag stitched band is the squeeziest part, and can be used to control belly or love handles, whichever you prefer.

The materials are good quality, with stiff lace over the central panel. The majority is a polyester stretch satin. It's not a garment you might choose on a really hot day - I wore it out in the heat and found it quite sweaty, and it also stretched out a bit by the time I took it off.

One thing I didn't like was that the boning in back pokes up at the top and bottom. For a dress with a loose skirt, this isn't a problem, but for a thin wiggle dress or bias-cut '30s gown, this might cause unsightly bumps on the outside.

The cincher hooks closed at center front and has removable garter tabs. I was impressed with the quality of the garter tabs, which isn't always the case. I do recommend wearing the cincher with the garters and stockings, as it helps keep it from shifting upwards as you wear it.

All in all, I 'm pleased with this item. It's easy to wear and provides just a little shaping and smoothing, nothing crazy, and is a good introduction to vintage foundation garments. Pair it with a vintage style long-line bra and full fashioned stockings and you're good to go.

Rago 721 can be found here at Hourglass Angel for $44.
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Friday, July 24, 2015

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Miss Fisher's Fabulous Fashion

I'm *deep* in Costume College prep fog, but I have been winding down my nights watching Season 2 of "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries," an Australian series that is everything you would ever want a detective show set in the 1920s to be.
Geometric blouse + solid pleated skirt and matching beret or cloche hat = Insta-vintage!
Charming acting, fun mysteries, and good music aside, my favorite thing about Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is Miss Fisher's fashion. The show is an hour-long feast for the eyes, with drool-worthy dresses, trousers, coats, and hats, OH THAT HATS!

Via Fashion in Nostalgia
One can't help but feel drawn to dress like Miss Fisher in today's world. The character's clothing is refined but bold, elegant but playful, and oddly accessible. A basic pair of wide-legged trousers paired with a geometric blouse, and a deco-trimmed, long jacket will get you most of the way there...

This coat is my *everything* - could you pull this off in today's world, I wonder?
My favorite outfit from my favorite episode in Season 2 - "Blood at the Wheel" - taking place around ladies' participation in racing rally cars, 1920s style!
...and don't forget the cloche hat! It seems to me that a cloche hat is 90% of a 1920s look. A-OK by me - modern ones are easy to find and re-trim, or you can even steam your own straw or felt cloche with just a basic head block.

Chiffon dress or blouse + cloche hat = insta-vintage
So here's to Miss Fisher's fabulous fashion buffet. I think I'll dedicate my Fall wardrobe to being a bit more stylish in her fictional footsteps. How 'bout you?

For more Miss Fisher Fashion, check out my Pinterest board with tons of glorious inspiration!

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Friday, July 17, 2015


The Silver Ghost Francaise - Progress

After posting about where to find patterns for Robes a la Francaise, I thought it time to share the one I'm working on.

This is "The Silver Ghost," and it's huge. I found the warm silvery brocade in a forgotten corner of our local mill end warehouse and bought it all, immediately seeing this gown in my head. Here's hoping the real one matches my imagined one!

So far so good.

Gowns like this definitely start from the underpinnings out. I'm using the Simplicity 3635 grand pannier I made awhile back, with some alterations, primarily that I added an extra hoop into the hem, and a ruffle to help hold the skirt out. This is very important - without the extra hoop on the bottom, your sacque skirt will not hang in that attractive trapezoidal shape.

Simplicity grand pannier pattern - out of print, but still available on Etsy or eBay.
My grand pannier made from the Simplicity pattern - I added a hoop in to the hem and a ruffle at the hem too.
The Petticoat 

I picked up a tip from Starlight Masquerade on using the pannier pattern to cut the petticoat for the gown. This is a *fantastic* tip - it uses significantly less fabric that a pleated petticoat, reduces bulk, and fits over the pannier absolutely perfectly. Historically accurate? No. A really good idea? YES.

Using the pannier pattern to cut the petticoat. I had to extend the hem to floor length and pink up the sides a bit.
Trimming went on the front skirt panel before stitching it to the rest of the petticoat
Petticoat all trimmed and put together except the hem. I interfaced about 8 inches up the hem all the way around, which helps keep the trapezoidal shape
The petticoat didn't take very long at all, and I had a chance to try out my trimmings on the front part. I interfaced just the front panel to keep it from collapsing under all the furbelows, then with a dish plate, drew out the circles for my trim placement.

The Gown

She's not done yet, as you can see, but the most challenging parts have been accomplished. The first step was the basic linen lining, with adjustable lacing at the center back, and lacing across the front of the body, which the stomacher will cover.

Basica pattern for the bodice lining
Once onto the gown itself, I started with the back lengths/width that were pleated into the iconic Watteau pleats. I always find this part challenging, and even now I realize my technique needs improving.
The back length - I ended up cutting quite a lot of this off.
The Watteau pleats stitched to the lining at back, with the bodice piece cut out around the sides.
Once the back pleats were stitched to the lining, I cut out the back shape (according to the lining piece), cutting the rest of the skirt out perpendicular at the waist. All that was then pleated up to about the side seam. I did this a couple times to get the voluminous skirt to lay well over the pannier. It's tricky, and effected the train of my gown quite a lot, which indicates to me that I still didn't have enough width in my back pieces for the method/pattern I used to fit over the side of the pannier.

Pleating the back widths around to the side of the pannier. Easier said than done.
Next up were the front skirt panels. Lots of work here, interfacing, lining, and trimming these. They're heavy and stiff, keeping the right line and showing off all the fluffy stuff that makes these gowns so impressive.

Front skirt panels in progress. These pieces are interfaced and lined in lightweight silk taffeta.
The Trim

The trim for the whole gown is alternating pinked-and-ruched self-trim and puffed "candy wrapper" self-trim, framing large puffs of gold tulle in a circular design. This is all put on by hand and has been the most time-consuming on both the petticoat and gown so far.

Trims - finished on the petticoat and in progress on the gown front panels. 
And Then...

Now I have the bodice, sleeves, and stomacher to do. I draped the bodice piece with the robings extension last night, and will mount the fashion fabric tonight. I've never used the method of robings + pins, but I'm looking forward to the adjustability this offers, both in construction and wearing.

Draping the pattern for the bodice front with robings, which will be faced and trimmed. The stomacher is pinned under there robings, which then fold back (as shown) to cover the pins.
The sleeves aren't going to be too bad for patterning (she said). Sacque sleeves can be pretty loose, with pleating at the back of the shoulder, which makes them way easier to set. I already have the lace sleeve flounces, too.


Costume College, the first weekend in August. I have about two weeks to finish, eeeek!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Happy Bastille Day! (And Happy SALE!)

Happy Bastille Day! For me, Bastille Day marks the middle of the year. It says, "you've come this far, and now it's time to look towards the Fall" (may favorite time of year). Phew!

It's also the time for our big 18th century sale! There are some great Ba-steals and Ba-deals to be had (har har har) over in the SALE section at - free buckles or stockings on 18th c. shoes, Antoinettes, Nankeens, and Highburies on sale, 25% off Cavendish buckles, major reductions on Imperfects, and even a few deadstock Exclusives. Go check it out.

And now for the pretties. Sales are a good excuse for photo shoots, and I've been itching to show you "proper" pictures of the Midnight Chemise a la Reine. I bribed Abby, a historically-inclined young lady, to model (it was her first time!), and trussed her up in the full complement - chemise, stays, bum pad, ugly puffer, petticoat, neckerchief, gown, sash, beret, and of course....that hair!

Abby Hersey modeling the Chemise a la Reine for

What a good sport. It took 2 hours to do hair, makeup, and dressing. With the exception of the little curls down the back, all of this is her own hair! For makeup she's wearing a pale foundation (Ben Nye "Clown White"), with Heirloom Haircare's 18th century rouge on the cheeks and lips.

Abby is wearing "Kensington" 18th century leather shoes in "Oxblood," arriving in stock very soon
Two hours to dress, 30 minutes to shoot, and 30 seconds to disrobe. That's how it goes!

Abby Hersey models the Chemise a la Reine for
Vive La France!

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Monday, July 13, 2015


Where to Find Patterns for 18th c. Robes a la Francaise

Those of you who follow me on Facebook will know I'm working on an enormous Robe a la Francaise for the Costume College Gala. I'm calling her The Silver Ghost. I'm about a third of the way through the project at this point (and I'll share progress images soon!), but I spent as long in the planning phase as I will in actually sewing.

The big question was - use a pattern, or drape this thing to fit?

The pro's of using a pattern:
  • Pattern pieces already worked out, particularly the back width
  • A guide to pleating the Watteau pleats
  • Taking the guesswork out of the sleeves
  • Instruction on pleating the skirt around the pannier

The con's on using a pattern:
  • The gown may require quite a lot of alteration through all pieces to fit you
  • Pattern may not be made to fit over the size of pannier you're using
  • Historically accurate construction favors draping over flat patterning - there's no guarantee that the pattern you buy will be period accurate in fit, construction, or closure.
The Met
In the end I decided to consult my books and drape my Francaise on my dress form, but before I came to that decision, I sought out every available printed pattern for a Robe a la Francaise. Here's what I found:
JP Ryan Francaise Pattern
JP Ryan
Many consider JP Ryan the best in historically accurate 18th century patterns, and I agree. The pattern comes as a full length sacque or a short sacque (Pet en l'Air), with no waist seam. The pattern includes sleeve flounces and a stomacher, and directions are given for making a petticoat to go over pocket hoops.
Simplicity 3637
Simplicity 3637 (Out of Print, but still available on eBay, Etsy)
This pattern goes with Simplicity 3635, for the stays, chemise, and grand pannier (which I have used to make mine). I have not made the pattern up, but it is meant to be a costume pattern rather than a historically accurate one. The sleeves and bodice construction are modern, but the overall effect is grand. The skirt creates kindof a rounded shape rather than the trapezoid silhouette of originals, but this can be altered by adding another hoop to the hem of the pannier, and stiffening the bottom 18" or so of the gown
Mill Farm - Available from Burnley & Trowbridge

Mill Farm
This pattern includes both a Robe a l'Anglaise and a Robe a la Francaise pattern. I've never seen one of these made up, but fellow blogger Idle Hands has begun working on a Francaise using this pattern and notes that the pattern doesn't come with construction diagrams, and the written instructions are confusing, but the shapes seem to work well.

Period Impressions

Period Impressions Robe a la Francaise
I have never used this pattern (if you have, please comment and tell us how it was!)  
Rocking Horse Farm

Rocking Horse Farm Sacque Back Gown & Jacket
I have never used this pattern (if you have, please comment and tell us how it was!). From the picture, it looks like the back pleats are of a different style than the typical Watteau formation. This also appears to be a closed-front sacque, which would put it later in the 18th c., and intended to go over small pocket hoops or hip pads.
Wingeo Sack Back Gown

Sack Back Gown (Robe A'la Francaise) Pattern
I have never used this pattern - anyone who has is welcome to comment. This pattern has a favorable review on The Great Pattern Review

The Mantua Maker 1740-1780 Robe a la Francaise Pattern
I have never used this pattern - anyone who has, please comment! This pattern appears to be a closed front sacque with very wide, square panniers beneath. This is an early 18th century style (even though the pattern says up to 1780)

In the end, I decided to go with my own draping informed by a few really great books. These are:

Gridded pattern diagram for a Robe a la Francaise, from Patterns of Fashion 1
The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930
This books contains several pattern diagrams for sacque gowns, along with original 18th c. plates for pattern shapes, and primary source material describing these gowns.

Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress 1500-1800
This is the most practical book I'm working from, with gridded patterns, full instructions, and "watch points" for tricky areas. It's a book aimed at theatrical costumers, but I find the patterns within very accurate and easily altered.

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen's Dresses and Their Construction C. 1660-1860
There are a couple patterns for sacque back garments in Arnold's book, with gridded patterns for each. While I did not scale up any of the gridded patterns, I am using the diagrams for reference in draping and drawing my own pattern shapes.
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Friday, July 10, 2015


Double Vintage 1970s-does-1930s Wide Legged Pants

1970s-does-1930s white twill trousers by American Duchess

If you've been following me for awhile you'll know I have a bit of an obsession with vintage pants. Although I own and wear modern low-rise jeans, I much prefer trousers with something closer to a natural rise. I go so far as to shop in the men's section just to find pants that come up above my pelvic bone (I'm not ashamed!).

For a long time I was deathly afraid to sew my own trousers, but too many years of going without forced me into it. And you know what? Pants aren't nearly as hard as I thought they would be!

The Wearing History "Smooth Sailing" trouser pattern converted me. The instructions are super easy, and I made a pair in 5 hours. Since then I've become a bit of a vintage pants fiend, diving into bins of thrift store sewing patterns looking for any design with a natural waist and a wide leg.

And there are many.

The fantastic thing about pants patterns is that you don't need a true 1930s pattern to make a great pair of 1930s pants. Trouser patterns really didn't change much between the '30s and the '80s: a straight-legged, high-waisted pant is a straight-legged, high-waisted pant.

Where there are changes may be in the crotch depth (1930s and 40s crotch depth is lower than 60s and 70s); treatment of darts, pleats, or lack thereof at the waistline; and method of closure. All of these things are easy to alter for a more authentic design, but to be completely honest, there was so little difference between the '70s pattern I used for these pants, and a real 1930s pattern, that I didn't bother with alterations.

About the pattern and my make:

Etsy seller: PatternTreasury
The pattern is Simplicity 6659, which contains a maxi skirt, the wide-legged pants, and a wrap top. The pattern envelope is oh-so-70s, complete with gag-inducing leopard print jumpsuit thing, but the diagram on the back shows a basic pattern for a wide-legged pant resembling styles from the 1930s.

Etsy Seller: PatternTreasury
I made these pants from white rayon/cotton twill. They're lined in white cotton muslin, which makes them much heavier than I originally planned, but makes them opaque. There is *a lot* of fabric in these pants, but they're a ton of fun to wear.

Interestingly there are no waist darts or pleats. They're flat at front and back. I did a slight full-belly adjustment to help them hang smoothly over my 30-something abdominal addition and handles of love at the back. I also moved the zipper to the side.

The result? Great pants. I freaking love these pants. Paired with any number '30s style blouses, these pants are unbelievably chic. Score one for the 1970s!

1970s-does-1930s white twill trousers by American Duchess
My white twill trousers paired with a thrifted '30s-look top, red fedora hat from Etsy, and mustard yellow '40s style platform shoes by b.a.i.t.
So next time you're at the thrift store, even if you don't see any telltale yellow envelopes in that bin of old sewing patterns, have a flick through and look for any good basic pants patterns. They're easy t0 make, fit well, and have a great vintage look!

p.s. You'll want to wear your big girl knickers with pants like these - yup, "granny panties," all the way up to the waist. You may feel silly in them when getting dressed, but they make all the difference in keeping the line of your pants smooth. More on light shaping and vintage underpinnings later...

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

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Introducing Royal Vintage Shoes - Shoes for 1920s through 1940s

Royal Vintage Shoes - Shop for 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s Style Footwear

For the past few years I've been running a historical footwear company called American Duchess. We make a lot of really old fashioned shoes, all the way back to the 16th century, and I've poured my heart, soul, and savings into that passion.

I love designing, and I've learned a bit about manufacturing, so now it's time to expand. I'd like to introduce...

Don't be afraid! We're not closing or changing American Duchess! Royal Vintage is our sister company, an offshoot with a slightly different model and focus, that will hopefully become a go-to source for ladies needing shoes for the early decades of the 20th century.

Royal Vintage Shoes 1930s 1940s Style Deco Pumps - shop

I'm constantly getting requests for 1920s, 30s, and 40s footwear, but American Duchess' focus is really Edwardian and older. There are quite a lot of options out there for shoes from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, whether they're original vintage, reproductions, or fashion shoes with a strong retro vibe. However, they're spread all over the place... and how do you know just what to look for?... and what if the heels are too high or the materials are crappy?... and holy cow shipping is expensive!

Not anymore.

Royal Vintage Shoes Shop by Shoe Type -

Royal Vintage is a curated collection of shoes specifically chosen for their vintage styling and retro qualities. I've applied all my knowledge of historic footwear to selecting shoes that have certain style hallmarks - for example, t-straps for the 1920s, snappy oxfords for the 1930s, and platform slingbacks for the 1940s. I've sourced from several great companies (and I'm constantly seeking more, so if you have a suggestion, please let me know!), with a variety of styles for each decade, and price points to fit every budget.

Royal Vintage's selection will always be changing, but one thing will remain constant - great shoes carefully picked to complement your vintage outfits.

Royal Vintage Shoes 1940s Advertisement - Shop

Ultimately my goal is to manufacture our own in-house line of reproductions: perfectly styled, well-made, comfortable shoes developed from originals, according to what you, our customers, need and want. We've a little ways to go before we can start on that, but I wanted you all to know it's coming. :-)

So please take a moment to check out the new website Chris and I put together, and share with your friends who may be looking for shoes to wear with their vintage makes. Feel free to drop us an email, Instagram comment, or Facebook message, and let us know how we're doing and what you'd like to see.

Thank you!

Follow Royal Vintage:
Instagram - @RoyalVintageShoes

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