Get What You See: Diary of a Lost Girl

In my Review post, I showed a ton of dresses, then boiled the key points down to 5 basic elements, to reiterate, they are:

  1. The fabrics are incredibly lightweight, but present in high volume and layers. That also means loads and loads of skin showing through the dresses- arms, necks, and legs.
  2. Asymmetry, especially in the hemlines- most of the hemlines that I saw were handkerchief.
  3. Lots of V-shapes- seen in the handkerchief hems, but also neck- and back-lines. Actually, a general emphasis on geometry, reflecting the tastes of the Art Deco period. So, not just Vs, but also squares.
  4. Sparkle! So much shine- while there wasn’t a lot of jewelry, the fabric was its own accessory. The fabrics had lots of metallic treads woven in, or were embellished with beads or stones to give a very decadent feeling.
  5. The silhouettes range the range from tight-fitting to fairly loose and drapey, but the prevailing detail is a dropped waist and general disregard for the necessity of undergarments.

Rather than try to work through each dress one by one, I’ll give you a guide to recreate the late-20s look for yourself.

Fabrics: If you are browsing online, search for chiffons and georgettes- silk whenever possible, though polyester blends are surprisingly good. Do not be tempted to browse in the home decor fabrics for your sheers- the texture will be too stiff, and won’t drape and flow as it ought to. Truthfully, lightweight fabrics are best bought in person, so you can feel them, and observe their drape and movement before you commit to yardage. When you are in the store, unroll at least 18-24″ from the bolt; run it over your arm to make sure it’s not scratchy and that it catches a breeze nicely; crush some in your hands so you get an idea of volume and what you may look forward to in terms of wrinkles. Finally, try to gather a bunch together (like 8″ gathered to 2″-3″) to see how it will look gathered- does it fall straight down with gravity, or does it pouf out? All these elements will be important in how the fabric will react with your garment pattern.

I dragged a few different fabrics out of my “Sheers” bin and took some pictures so you could get an idea of what to look for.

  1. This is tulle. Very stiff, it is your typical tu-tu staple- great for adding volume, but terrible to feel directly against your skin. It will never fray, and you don’t have to hem it, but seams can look messy if you don’t trim them carefully. It can also be stretched and shaped to some degree by carefully applying heat and moisture. 
  2. Crinkle-textured chiffon. This is a polyester sheer that has been permanently (intentionally) wrinkled. The print is an abstract orange on a colorless background, and there is a bit of shine to it. I’m posting this one so you can get an idea of some of the options you have when looking through transparent fabrics. This fabric is interesting, but you have to be careful where you would use it- it would make an interesting wrap to go with an evening gown, but a fairly shapeless blouse. This is not a fabric meant for structure. 
  3. This is stretch tulle, and is easily one of my favorite fabrics that I have been hoarding. Red polka dots on a very transparent black background. Like regular tulle, stretch tulle will not fray at the edges because of the way the fabric is woven like a net. It is also (obviously) stretchy and is very easy to sew with. Like this one, most stretch tulles are fairly soft and drapey, which makes them suitable for casual tops and dresses, and even layering into more formal gowns. 
  4. This is a polyester georgette with a very cool deco print- brown on a cream background. Georgette is a bit heavier and less transparent than chiffon, so this has more fullness when gathered, and more body when draped. It would still need to be lined, but it is very soft and drapes nicely. This fabric only stretches slightly on the bias, so it would be better suited to a more structured pattern than some of the other sheers. 
  5. This is a silk-blend georgette with cream spots on a medium blue background. The fabric has moderate stretch and a slubbed, almost sticky texture to it. It drapes beautifully- the gathers flow straight down, and the dots on the fabric are very slimming on the bias. This is also a good illustration of an important consideration with sheer fabrics- they have to be faced or lined at the neckline, and possibly at the arm/ sleeve openings. Make sure you are comfortable with how the fabric looks layered over itself, or look for a flesh-colored lining- but even then, the seam allowances will show through. A fabric like this is a great time to experiment with French seams, in which the seam allowance is neatly enclosed within a second seamline; and also narrow hems. 
  6. Good Day Sunshine! Doesn’t this just make you happy?! This is a white chiffon with loads of sunny yellow spots printed all over. It has a smooth texture- smoother than the blue and brown georgettes, and it practically floats with movement. This is a good illustration of how even lightweight fabrics can be manipulated to show volume. I have a matching chiffon that has thin yellow and white stripes- rather than lining this with an opaque fabric, I would pile layers of those two fabrics to make a light, but full skirt. This would be a perfect fabric to use for a handkerchief hem. 

So, now that you have a good handle on some of the fabrics, lets look at some patterns that could translate to a late-20s silhouette. The key points here are little structure, dropped waists, and geometric elements.

Vogue 8241: I like this one because of the loose fit and the relatively low waistline- it doesn’t qualify as a dropped waist, since it sits right at the navel, but it doesn’t form a wasp waist like we see in patterns a decade or two later. The keyhole closure in the back is also a nice detail that could be accented with a little dangling bauble.

Vogue 1240: OK, I know this is not at all like anything in the movie, but I do think it is a good, modern interpretation of the spirit of Thymian’s colleagues. Not like it’s a dress a prostitute would wear, just that it looks very free and uninhibited. The high neckline gives way to a nice scarf detail, and the hem at mid-thigh is a bit risqué. If I were to make this dress with Diary of a Lost Girl in mind, I would probably add a sheer layer over this that  drops at least to the knees, if not mid-calf.

Vogue 2900: This is more of a dropped waist, with a nice full(ish) skirt. I like that the top is very fitted with the slit at the neckline. The pockets are also a nice detail. Note that all three silhouettes are very simple- this gives you a lot of freedom when choosing your fabrics. Choose something that looks rich and decadent to make these really stand out in a crowd.

Simplicity1939: If you’re venturing over to the Simplicity site, I recommend checking out all of the Cynthia Rowley patterns. They tend to look very similar, but I like that she almost always includes a sleeve option, and her wide waistbands allow a lot of creative interpretation. I like the loose fit with the gathered skirt on this dress and all of the little tie details, though the top looks a bit dumpy. Imagine it in a cute chiffon with a tank slip or cap-sleeve lining beneath, and it brings the sexy back.

New Look 6775: This is another very simple silhouette, and it’s almost girlish- more like something Thymian would have worn before she became a Lost Girl. You can put your belt anywhere you like with this one, making it a more flexible look.

Burda 8045: This is probably one of my favorite patterns that I found for this post- I love the dropped waist, halter neckline, and especially the ruffles on the skirt! My disclaimer is that this is a “Burda Young” pattern, so now just go ahead and ignore that- make it and wear it if you love it. If you don’t love any of these patterns, browse your favorite vintage pattern sale site, using the search term “193*” to find patterns from the 1930s. You can also search for “drop waist”- this will pull up a TON of 80s patterns, but some of them may be workable if you correct the fit as you go, especially through the shoulders. Also, try out “handkerchief” as a search term- you will probably pull up more skirts than dresses, but that’s OK. Finally, for a DIY option, go through your existing pattern stash and pull out all of your princess seam dresses that don’t have a seam at the waist. Pick one with a neckline you like, and cut (or fold) the pattern right at the top or just below your rump. You can attach a separate handerchief hem there, et voila! OK- the final element is embellishments. I am a devoted collector of ribbons and trim, though I hardly ever put them to use. If you don’t have a go-to stash of trims, I recommend checking out your local fabric store just to see what’s available. If JoAnn’s is all you have, don’t bother (sorry JoAnn’s- don’t sue me). They are moving away from being a sewing-oriented store and moving towards crafts. Over the last few years, they have seriously reduced their standing inventory of decorative trims. I really like as an online source for trims- it’s fairly inexpensive and they offer a lot of options. Be mindful of just what you are capable of sewing by hand or machine.

Lastly, there has been a request for a tutorial on the scrolled embroidery on the dress that Thymian’s madame gives her to wear for her first night as a working girl. I’m going to stew over that for a week or two and see what I can put together- I have a few ideas already, so it will probably be a “good-better-best” type post so you can pick the method that appeals to you.

5 responses to “Get What You See: Diary of a Lost Girl

  1. I’ve never worked with this lightweight stuff with any success–these patterns make me want to try again. I liked the Simplicity 2281 by Cynthia Rowley when I trotted on over for a look-see. Not quite the look from this flick, but I love the beltwork and the short sleeve option.

  2. I actually have Simplicity 2281, but I haven’t made it yet. I picked it up during one of JoAnn’s $0.99 simplicity sales. I loved the belting too- and I thought it would be a good pattern to try out some colorblocking on. And, because I am a lazy seamstress, I love that there is no zipper! If I ever get around to making it, I will post the results

    • I have always been plagued by the fact that I don’t have a lifestyle that supports wearing a new cocktail dress every day! There are so many dress patterns I would love to make, but never have any occasion to wear them out. I bet you could get away with wearing V1240 as a tunic over some skinny jeans and high boots if you wanted.

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