FlapperHacks: Retro-cycling a Hat and Dress for Gatsby 2015

As all you modern Flappers will know, original 1920s clothing can be hard to find and scary to wear (don’t sweat on it!), so it behooves us to collect our retro style through upcycling – or retrocycling – modern and thrifted clothing, creating that Jazz Age look without chewing through 90 year old chiffon.

Enter FlapperHacks, tips and tricks on re-working simple pieces into 1920s ensembles.

The outfit I wore to the Gatsby this year was 100% new stuff. Normally I wouldn’t admit that, but I was pretty proud of having tweaked and altered my dress and hat myself. Here’s how…

I bought this dress on sale from Modcloth, at a serious discount. I was pleased to discover it was a popular brand, but when I put it on I could see why the style didn’t sell so well. The design cues were undeniably ’20s, but the skirt was just too short.

1920s inspired dress on the left – Retrocycled on the right to take it a little bit more into the ’20s

The dress was made with a chiffon top layer and underlying slip hanging free. The chiffon overdress had a high-low skirt, longer in the back and curving up in the front. In the front, where the skirt curved up, the slip beneath peaked out, with two rows of chiffon ruffles sewn on.

The back view of the dress without alteration – very flattering!

The easy alteration was to remove those two ruffles on the slip, extend the slip to just below the knee, and stitch the two ruffles back on to the extension. I used lightweight black crepe for the extension, a fabric appropriate for an intentional under-dress rather than a cheap polyester spandex slip. A last detail, but no necessary, was a black sash/band around the drop waist.

The length of the slip on the left, with the two ruffled flounces removed – Right is with the extension and the two flounces re-applied.

The whole thing worked fabulously and I felt instantly more appropriate for the Tahoe Gatsby garden party.

The next essential piece of the outfit was, of course, the hat. Most of us have hats in our closet that can be re-fashioned into historic chapeaux, so don’t discount the possibilities of what you already have in your stash, when thinking about hats!

This hat was originally white with black trim. It was decently close to a 1920s shape, with the short back, but could use a rounder crown and more interesting brim.

A very old photo – the white straw hat I started with

And it needed to be black.

Solution? Paint. Now, not all paint for hats is created equal. I used spray paint from the hardware store, and it did a really good job covering all the white, but boy did it smell. And it still smells! Even with three days drying in front of a fan, the paint was not fully cured when it came time to wear the hat. The fumes weren’t such a big deal, but the hat stuck to my head and hair. I peeled it off painfully at the end of the day!

That being said, don’t use hardware store spray paint. Instead, use sprays made specifically for millinery and floral applications. Design Master Colortool Sprays
were recommended to me, so next time I get creative with hat coloring, I’ll get that.

The hat with the trim removed, brim cut into a different shape, and the crown re-blocked to the round cloche shape.

The hat was easy to re-block. I bought a basic round head block in my head size (23″ measured around the forehead) on eBay last year, and it’s been a great thing to have for working on any kind of hat. With straw, you just wet it or steam it thoroughly into shape. The hat holds it shape when dry.

To trim the hat, I bound the edge with black petersham, added a black petersham hatband, and made a few ribbon flowers and leaves (thank you, Costume College, for the ribbon flower class!) in colors to complement the dress. I recommend Ribbonwork: The Complete Guide- Techniques for Making Ribbon Flowers and Trimmings for quick and easy-to-follow tutorials on making a bunch of different kinds of flowers.

Flowers and leaves made from ribbon, stitched to black net as a base, then tacked onto the hat.

The last little bit was the feathers. I used two spindly red ostrich feathers clipped into spear shapes. I didn’t want them to be overpowering, so I used Lynn McMaster’s instructions on chemically “burning” ostrich plumes to liken them to egret sprays, or just give them a different look. I bleached the feathers for about 5 seconds each, then rinsed. The red color was uneffected.

Ostrich feather trimmed and “burnt”

Then the hat was done!

The finished hat, re-colored, re-blocked, re-bound, and re-trimmed!

I wore the whole outfit to the Lake Tahoe Gatsby festival last weekend and had a great time not worrying about damaging my clothing.

I was really happy with this outfit, even though it wasn’t original vintage. It was comfortable, cool, and looked the part.
Hat – Made by me!
Sunglasses – Forever21


Leave a Reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading