Monday, 28 April 2014

Cinna and the Costume Design of the Hunger Games







Warning: if you have been living under a hole for the past few years and still wish to be ignorant of the storyline of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this post contains major spoilers.

I have a confession. I'm 33 and I think The Hunger Games books are the best books I've read in years. There I've said it. After jumping on the 'must read' train and obligatorily reading and watching the Harry Potter and Twilight series, with varying amounts of enjoyment and frustration (not going to critique them here because it's irrelevant) and steadfastly refusing to read 50 Shades of Grey, I've gone and got completely obsessed with popular teen fiction. I read the books, then watched the films, then repeated the whole process again in the past few months. I wasn't a huge fan of the first film when I saw it (probably a case of too much expectation combined with fairly lacklustre directing). But I saw Catching Fire at Christmas and the romance rekindled. I loved it. I re-read the books and then this weekend I introduced my husband to the two films (he read the books when I did), watching them back to back. And I had a break through. I realised why the story resonates so strongly with me personally.

The Costumes

And I'm not talking about the films costume design. I think Trish Summerville, costume designer for Catching Fire, particularly did a wonderful job. To come into a world where there was already a 'look', and then take that look and improve it exponentially, while still keeping it faithful to the original, is quite a feat. And there are some stunningly beautiful pieces of clothing in the film. But more importantly costume is used in the film constantly to define character and class. The people of the capitol dress elaborately in stark contrast to those in the districts just struggling to survive.

But that's not what I mean. I mean the role of costume design within the story. Because the majority of the decisions that a film costume designer and director would make to help the clothes define the story are already well entrenched in every part of the book. I'm talking about what Suzanne Collins added to the story. I mean the Costume Design in the book.

I mean Cinna.



I've been mulling it over, and I cannot for the life of me think of another time in fiction when the role of the costume designer is so perfectly understood. All through the series costume is of vital importance. It's NEVER 'And then Katniss wore a pretty dress'. Every single item of clothing she makes a statement, clothing always has a purpose. Katniss is almost always in costume, we very rarely see her in her own clothes. From the minute she puts on her mother's old dress to go to the reaping, she is putting away any choice she has. But that is only the first hint of what is to come.


For it is only when Katniss meets Cinna that we really start to understand the importance of clothing. Cinna uses costume design to pique the crowds interest in an otherwise fairly boring District 12 tribute, both in the chariot and the interview. Particularly in the 2 chariot scenes we are shown how superior Cinna is compared to the tired old choices of other tributes stylists. He is a visionary.
For the record, I don't personally like the interpretation of this dress as seen in the film. I think more could have been done with the design of the dress (I'm sure it's described as having crystals in the book), and less of the CGI. I think the second film chariot costume combines fire and clothing much more effectively. But either way it's the costume that defines Katniss in this scene. She's not good at the PR side of things. Not for the last time does her clothing tell a story that she is incapable of voicing.



I don't think it's underestimating the story to say that costume is used within the story as a matter of life and death. Cinna dresses her as a young, innocent girl when she exits the arena with Peta, to help back up the story of young love, and deflect the anger of the capitol.



But more importantly he gets to make the ultimate heroic act in the wedding dress in Catching Fire. By designing an ingenious costume of political significance, fully knowing what the repercussions will be. The Costume Designer gets to make a heroic act and ultimate sacrifice. He knows that by making a statement with this dress, by thwarting the capital, he will die. And that's why his death scene is so moving. Katniss is too naive to realise it but Cinna is fully aware that this dress signed his death warrant, it was just the timing that took him by surprise.

Of course his work also appears with equal significance in Mockinjay, but for those who have only seen the films and not read the books I won't spoil that.

Of course it's not just Cinna. The clothes worn in the arena are important hints of what is to come. They are infinitely practical to their surroundings. And other characters too. The Peacekeepers are always mentioned in reference to their white uniforms. it is impossible to picture a citizen of the capitol without their styling coming into play. This is a book drenched in the significance of how things look.




But it's not just the clothing, it's the personality of the costume designer. I was REALLY worried when I saw that they had cast Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. My previous knowledge of him was some shirtless glam rock star who dated Nicole Kidman. Surely he couldn't play the role of Cinna with the subtlety and empathy he deserved? But I've been converted. Because that is the important flip side. Suzanne Collins understands more than just the clothes, she also appreciates the relationship of stylist and client. It is somewhere between trusted ladies maid and artistic salesmanship. To get the best out of your clothing you need the person wearing it to believe in it. You have to sell your art to them so that they believe in it (and themselves) too. Sometimes that requires obsequiousness, flattery is very useful, and at other times you need to be bossy, but it is a relationship based on trust. The costume requires both the designer and the model to exist, and so it's a relationship that relies essentially on mutual trust and respect. And when that's not there, believe me, you can tell.

Anything that is as popular as The Hunger Games is by definition going to get as much negative as positive attention. Is the idea really original? Is Katniss really a hero? I don't really care. I like the story of Katniss and her world. It's bloody good storytelling. But even so, what I think is truly great about this world is that is gives costume a platform. Hopefully people will begin to understand that good costume design is almost never about who has the prettiest dress .



Just a personal addendum: this is my favourite costume from the films, The beautiful Cleopatra-esque design and use of colour is stunning. But we're also not allowed to forget that she is the Mocking Jay

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Period Fancy Dress

I'm a little bit obsessed with period fancy dress, especially when they dress up in the costumes another period. To me there's something endlessly fascinating about the blending of two periods as one era blends historic ideas with their contemporary aesthetic.

Take this photo of Prinzessin Viktoria von Preussen aka “Moretta” from the 1880s.The silhouette and neckline is unmistakeably 1880s, but the frills, sleeves and pannier skirt loops (without the shaping undergarments) show us that she is dressing in her interpretation of a Rococo costume. What I particularly like is the hair, the front curls are very late Victorian, but the height is, what we would call, Rococo 'inspired'.


Here is a dress from the 1760s, the sort of style she is imitating
This is an 1880s evening gowns from Charles Worth, the style she might have worn to a normal evening party.

Here's a few more period fancy dress gowns:

Princess Louise of England in rococo costume. 1865 - note the 1860s crinoline: once again the silhouette is entirely contemporary, but the hair is more authentic and she has the elbow length sleeve with lace. I wish we could see the front!

Queen Maude of Norway does 17th C style fancy dress 1897. I love the fabric choice here but the proportions look so odd with the the large shoulders and narrow skirt: much more 1890s the 17th Century. The collar is superb though.

A Lady's 17th C Dutch servant girl fancy dress - Charles Worth C1900. This costume feels very romanticised fairy tale character, and apart from the severe corseting, not unlike the sort of thing you would find in a Simplicity pattern

It seems that it's hardest for Victorians to accurately interpret pre-1800 costumes, when the corsets were more angular and petticoats more dramatic. The dead giveaway though is the Victorian curved corsets, as opposed to the straighter style used in previous decades.

Not everyone would have had family portrait galleries to use as inspiration. Here's some fashion sketches for fancy dress parties that would have been available, much like we would use fashion magazines for inspiration. They've done a pretty respectable job with the ones below.

1845 Fancy Dress Costume of 1700s
Duchess of Devonshire from 'Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls,' by Hold, Ardern, 1896

Dress of Tudor Period from 'Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls,' by Hold, Ardern, 1896
For me part of the fun is dating the actual period when the costume was designed. I like this one, because I don't know the date. I'm guessing it's probably from the 1870s or 1880s trying to do Elizabethan, soldier, and I can't even hazard a guess on the pink gown. I'm tempted to say Moulin Rouge, but given that she appears to be a child, it doesn't seem appropriate.



Please don't think I'm criticising these costumes, if anything I'm admiring them. This is the real anthropology of costumes, an insight into how previous periods perceived other eras. We romanticise the fashions of Victorian times, who in turn also romanticised previous periods. And we are no means immune to editing period fashions to suit contemporary ideals (but that's a post for another day).

This one below is my absolute favourite: Yes that does say Marie Antoinette period: she is of course famous for her leg-o-mutton sleeves. There is a slight nod to a panier petticoat and split front skirt but apart from that there is no resemblance to anything Marie Antoinette would have worn. Perhaps there was a different Marie Antoinette who lived in 1895???


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Titanic: Switched at Birth Part II

Regular readers will know I'm fascinated about where the line falls in costume design between being inspired by others designs and creativity. After my post on the similarities between Amidala and the Cobra Woman you'll understand my excitement when the picture below appeared in my facebook feed yesterday.


1912, Les Modes (Paris)
Tailored suit for the afternoon by Linker & Co.
&
Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic
Costume design by Deborah L. Scott


Obviously they are the 'same' outfit, but equally obviously changes have been made. I much prefer Scott's use of black on the collar and the stiff man shirt collar and tie underneath, very necessary for a film costume where the area framing the face is the most important part. Equally I think her skirt is a much neater, geometric shape and the thinner stripe of the fabric is much cleaner. However I do think something has been lost in the sizing down of the buttons, and while I think it was a wise costume design choice to lose the fur trim, I am an absolute sucker for vintage fur and part of me is disappointed by the choice to remove it. Almost unbelievably, Winslet's (or should I say Scott's) massive hat appears to be a scaled down version of the original, but is a much more opulent design.

I was blown away by how beautiful this ensemble (the Titanic one) was when I saw it at the V&A Hollywood Costume Exhibition. My major memory of this look is the famous shot of that amazing hat as her head turns to reveal her face, but the actual outfit below the neck is far more striking.

While studying I was lucky enough to be taught a class in costume design by Australian costume designer Margot Williams - probably most famous for costuming 'The Proposition' (2005). She used a moderately successful horror film that she worked on called 'Ghost Ship' (2002) as an example piece for us. The IMDB blurb for the film reads as follows: A salvage crew that discovers a long-lost 1962 passenger ship floating lifeless in a remote region of the Bering Sea soon notices, as they try to tow it back to land, that "strange things" happen... 

 If you're not too squeamish, here's the opening sequence of the film on YouTube. And believe me when I tell you that working with both vintage styling and blood together is the sort of thing most costume and makeup professionals dream about (as long as they don't think about the stressful practicalities too much). Not being a fan of the horror genre, I wasn't that interested in the rest of the film, but I love the opening 4 1/2 minutes.




I'm not unaware of the similarities between the two films: ocean liner where majority on board die, modern day crew revisit the remains... a happy coincidence used to illustrate my point.

Because of the practicalities all the 1962 costumes had to be made from scratch. Noone wants to get blood (even of the fake variety) on vintage clothing, but also they needed multiples: clean ones, bloody ones, half ones (or sometimes both halves at the same time for different actors) and whole ones.

I remember her telling us that she did extensive research into designs and styles of the period, and then drew all the dresses from memory without any first hand material in front of her to distract her. All the designs, though inspired by historical accuracy, were her own.

That has always stuck with me as how good costume design works. In theory.

However in practice it's never that simple.

How is copying a vintage design any different from choosing and styling an actual vintage piece from hundreds of other pieces, because it perfectly suits your vision? Or even buying a dress from the high street for an actress to wear? 

Scott made some very conscious decisions on customising the dress to suit her purposes. Nobody could accuse her of making a direct copy. But it's definitely an 'inspired by' piece. Either way it's fascinating to see the inspiration.

What are your thoughts? Is this clever costume design or downright plagiarism?

Friday, 10 May 2013

Peter and Alice

The storeroom where the meeting takes place
 
Last night I went to see Peter and Alice, a new play directed by Michael Grandage, about when Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Wonderland) met Peter Llewelyn Davies (Pan) at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. Oh, and stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. Yep, that was pretty much all I needed to know to be interested. In August of last year I booked tickets, hunting through an already fast selling catalogue to ensure we found a night where we could sit front and centre, three rows back. Being close enough to see the genuine tears glistening in Judy Dench's eyes during the curtain call made the wait and the expense worth it.

I've never had much interest in Peter Pan, but have always been rather obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Not so much the many film adaptations but the books, and particularly the original drawings. (Although, in a similar manner to Winnie-the-Pooh, it is hard to divorce them from Disney's interpretations.) As well as avidly reading both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass when I was younger, I was also obsessed with one of my fathers' books by Raymond M. Smullyan, 'Alice in Puzzle-land', a book of logic puzzles based on Wonderland characters, which really brought the Lewis Carol spirit alive (I must have been a strange child!).


When we arrived in Britain we were based in Oxford, and were invited by a friend to dine at the top table of at Christ Church, where Charles Dodgsen aka Lewis Carol spent a large portion of his life. We walked down the spiral staircase from the staff room, which supposedly inspired the rabbit hole, and saw the various features of the room, such as the long necked fireplaces. But particularly I remember walking under the statue of Reverend Henry Liddell, and our friend said: "I walk under that every day and all I can think is 'That poor man, it doesn't matter what he did or didn't do in his life, he'll always be Alice in Wonderland's father'"

Which pretty much brings us to the point of the play. How do the Real Alice and Real Peter feel about being immortalised in fiction? What does it mean to go through life under the weight of such a burden? It's a complicated thing to achieve fame for doing nothing, to have everyone blur the lines between reality and fiction. As the two share their experiences, their current real life misery is contrasted with happy childhood memories, and the store room becomes a magical stage, full of Wonderland and Neverland imagery. They are joined by Lewis Carol and J. M. Barry, and by Alice and Peter Pan who represent their childhood, storybook naivety. It is a story, that in the wrong hands, could have been terrible, but playwright John Logan managed to get the slightly sinister nature of the relationships the children had with the authors, the world's intense possessive love of the stories, and the leads own battle with real life tragedy, pitch perfect.



Dench and Whishaw jumped perfectly from old and bitter to young and naive seamlessly. Brilliant actor Nicholas Farrell (above - one of those 'you'd recognise him when you see him' actors) played Lewis Carol with a wonderful stutter and a brilliant mix of kindness and creepy. And the rest of the cast were strong. The us of fictional Alice and Peter Pan was a wonderful conceit, contrasting the naive almost pantomime style acting and the authors words with real world emotions. It was a play full of humour, but I was swallowing back tears on more than one occasion.


The design, as you would expect with such a subject matter, was magical. It stayed respectful to our memories, but then took them to another level beyond imagination. Older Alice wore a 1930s style blue floral dress, and a hat with a big bow on it; older Peter wore a crumbled jacket with a green knitted waistcoat and grey trousers; wonderful allusions to the costumes of their fantasy namesakes, but subtle enough that my husband didn't even notice until I pointed it out afterwards. Fictional Alice's dress was a childhood dream, with stiff skirts and puffy sleeves and exquisitely tailored. If I have one fault, the hem of Peter's brown jacket was roughly hand hemmed, distracting enough to make me wonder if it was dodgy sewing or a deliberate attempt to make him look rumpled, but I don't pretend that this would have bothered anybody less costume obsessed.

At the beginning Peter and Alice meet in a crowded store room, complete with subtle details like a pirate ship, a mirror and a white rabbit toy mixed in with old boxes and junk. But once they began to talk properly about the past, the storeroom dissolved into a magical theatre, where lush red curtains were painted onto felt and we lived an breathed scenes of storybook fantasy. Particularly beautiful was the Neverland cavern where, through lighting and paint they somehow managed to recreate the effect of moonlight on water. It reminded me a lot of Matilda(see my review here) in its beautiful way of combining childhood ideas for an adult audience. 



I have this belief that the best theatre should embrace a sort of suspended reality, a magical place that film and television can't go, and this play perfectly illustrates that idea. But it also requires collaboration under strong directing: script, acting and design have to work together in harmony in order to create a really successful piece of theatre, and this is where Peter and Alice really excelled.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Old jobs and new jobs and getting a Work / Life Balance

I've had a quiet Winter work-wise. Part of the problem with being self-employed, and more specifically working in the entertainment industry is that you can get so absorbed with working towards projects and deadlines that you completely forget about your own body's needs. So I'd work long hours, with high stress, low sleep and rubbish diet, and then crash afterwards. That's OK when you're in your teens and twenties, but now I'm a bit older my body doesn't take as kindly to that sort of behaviour.

Even more than the physical needs, I've come to a rather startling conclusion: I like spending quality time with my long-suffering husband, curling up with him and my cat on the couch of an evening; I like seeing my friends; I like having hobbies and spare time and learning how to dance; I like reading books and watching films and going to the theatre; redecorating my house and gardening and cooking healthy meals from scratch. My whole life I've imagined myself as a rebellious artistic type and now it turns out I'm rather boringly domesticated.

And I like sewing for myself. Sewing for a job means that last thing you want to do is come home and sew for fun. I have friends who seem to think I could imagine nothing more exciting that sewing clothes for them for free in my spare time. But for most of the last 10 or so years I've been lucky if I can pluck up the energy to re-sew on that button that fell off my coat. (You'd be amazed how many professional costumiers have clothes held together with safety pins because they can't be bothered to spend five minutes on themselves).

Call it a mid-life crisis, call it my biological clock even (although I still don't want kids), or maybe just call it getting older. But I rather like having a life outside of work.

So after working flat out making (many, many) Wenlock mascot costumes for the Olympic Games, then designing for two films pretty much in a row, I took a much needed rest. Lucky for me I have a very understanding husband who earns enough money to support me. I don't for a moment pretend I could do this on my own. But it's been good for him too. After he took on more responsibility and hours at work around Christmas we have found that we've got on better than we have for years with me being at home to pick up the pieces and make sure he has food to eat and clean clothes to wear. Yep, I'm not ashamed to admit that I became a bit of a Housewife. And while it was hard for the first few months retraining my body how not to survive on sheer adrenaline, I've actually quite enjoyed it. (Even more surprisingly, when I've confessed as much to friends, a lot of my career orientated feminist London peers have been verging on jealousy). After years of being a chronic workaholic, I've worked a few odd days, but mostly I've been learning how to enjoy the quiet time.

Until now.

Over the past few weeks I've taken up two new jobs. One is costume designing a feature film teaser (basically a trailer so you have something to show potential investors) with a producer that I've worked with several times before, which is great because I have a fair idea of how things are going to work from the outset. It's less than a week of filming, and even though it's set over a few days, it's contemporary and fairly straight forward (as much as any of these things ever are).

But I'm much more excited about the second job. I'm going to be doing freelance dressmaking tutoring for teenagers and adults. Ever since I started teaching my 4-8 year old nieces a few years ago, I've been flirting with the idea in the back of my mind that I really love helping others learn how to sew: to unleash their own creativity and a passion for making clothes. While studying I lived and worked in a girls boarding school as a junior resident mistress, and apart from the red tape and politics, I loved it. Now, with almost faultless timing, an opportunity has come up. Basically I have an agent who finds the work and worries about all that side of the business, and I get to see if this is something I potentially want to spend more time doing, but under the safety of someone elses umbrella and without the annoyance of organisational red tape.

I'm not giving up on costuming completely - I doubt I could even if I wanted to - but I'm going to be a lot more picky about the projects I take on. I'm going to choose a smaller number of projects that I really want to do, rather than just anything that comes my way. It's possible that if I was permanently employed in a costume house or workroom on a hourly rate I could have a more sensible life, but I enjoy being self employed, I enjoy the variety in the work and I go mad when I have no creative outlet and get stuck in a rut. Lets face it, if I enjoyed the regularity (sorry did you say monotony?) of a 9-5 desk job, I would have made a much more lucrative career choice.

I'm really excited about the idea of following a career path that goes some way towards getting a work/life balance. Where I can have work variety and flexibility and still follow my passion. But even better I now have a job where part of my self-promotion will be wearing beautiful clothes that I have made myself, so I might finally get the motivation to begin properly sewing for myself again.   

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Lichtenstein at the Tate





Yesterday i had a meeting in town, and on my way I noticed a sign for a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern. I decided to have a pleasant sunny London town walk along the river and have an impromptu art gallery exhibition. Looking at paintings is one of my favourite things in the world. I love dragging my husband around the galleries of the world when we're on holiday to appreciate art I probably won't be able to see anywhere else. I can't stand tourists who just go an take a photo of the famous painting. If you can't enjoy looking at it in and experience the emotions you have looking at it person, why on earth do you think anyone, especially you, is going to want to see a photo of it?? But one thing I have noticed: there's usually a pretty good reason why the famous artists and paintings are the famous ones. Not always, I adore falling in love with a painting by someone I've never heard of in a corner of an art gallery, but look at Botticelli's Birth of Venus surrounded by thousands of other paintings of the same period and you understand why it's the one you've seen in art books.


Lichtenstein is one of those artists that everybody recognises his work, most teenagers with art aspirations go through a phase of thinking he's uber cool, but I didn't really know all that much about apart from the 'he does big paintings of comic books' thing. The thing about Lichtenstein is that because his point is about playing with texture and scale, enlarging small 'low art' pictures and turning them into 'high art', you are never really going to understand his work by looking at it in an art text book. Yes that is true of all artists to a point, but you can still appreciate the composition and technique of a Rembrandt or Vermeer in a picture. Even more modern artists like Mondrian and Picasso's ideas come across in 5" square prints. But they just don't for Lichtenstein, because what you are looking at is more or less the small commercial drawing that he was inspired by.

It's only when you see his precision work with dots in a 1.5m square canvas that his work comes alive.

But more importantly the exhibition is excellently curated. To those who believe art should be about final picture rather than ideas and motivation, it's very easy to be dismissive of what Lichtenstein did. But the way the exhibition is laid out: his different styles and themes, his understanding and homages of other artists such as Picasso and Monet. The most hardened cynic could not but learn to appreciate the true artist behind the images from the information and layout of this show. It's on until May 27th and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you have any enjoyment of art.

Without sounding too much like an art wank, when walking into the gift shop at the end of the exhibition I had that feeling you get where you enjoyed yourself so much that you want to buy a memento of what you saw. But it's like I said above, his work is pretty much about small scale commercial art made into large scale high art paintings, so shrinking them down to be printed onto mass produced mugs and t-shirts kind of defeats the point. Although I think he of all people would appreciate the irony.



Monday, 29 April 2013

How Not to Style a Vintage Dress Pattern

Warning, this post contains ranting!

Looking at retro and vintage pattern ranges for a jacket pattern recently reminded me of a bugbear of mine. I can't stand the majority of styling on the photos for vintage pattern covers. I think a lot of them aren't the best constructed garments or fabric choices, but it's more than that. They just don't seem to understand what people who are buying vintage patterns actually want.

To be fair, I've picked a worst case example, but there's still no excuse for sloppy marketing. Here's the original 1945 pattern illustration for Vogue Vintage pattern V1136. Isn't it stunning?

I'll be the first to admit fashion drawings are stylised perfection rather than anatomical accuracy, but the point of both drawing and photo is to be aspirational. To make us believe that we could look that good if only we made that dress. 

With that in mind, here is the contemporary photo they chose to advertise the pattern.


I showed the picture to my husband and his response was "That's not the same dress". For a start the pose seems to actually have been designed ensure the beautiful cut of the neckline, sleeves and waist is lost, and the styling is awful. To me this photo looks like something from the late 80s or early 90s, (I'm thinking it wished is was Pretty Woman-esque). It's like they are trying to hide everything that makes the pattern desirable in the first place.
Don't they realise that people who buy vintage patterns do it because they actually like the vintage look?

Butterick are doing better with their Retro range, trying to appeal to a younger audience with their own and  their 'Patterns by Gertie' range, but even they have kind of missed the some of the point of vintage patterns. I know I've said it before, but you simply can't expect to look vintage without some nod to appropriate underwear. You don't have to to go to What Katie Did to get an authentic look. If girdles are required, wear some control top tights or magic support pants. If it's a busty period like the 1950s, at least wear a good balconette bra (As opposed to a push up bra which will push them together, a balconette will push them up separately).

Here's Retro Butterick pattern B5748
The pattern sketch for Butterick B5748

And here's their photo.

It's a gorgeous fabric choice and the styling is pretty good. It manages to look both fresh and modern and late 50s (the pattern is 1960). But there's a huge problem: this woman has NO shaping from her bust to her waist. I'm all for celebrating different figure types, and she would be a great model for a 20s or late 60s mod pattern, but they could at least have attempted to get a 50s style figure for their photo. Let's be honest, at least part of the reason most of us like the vintage look is because we have curves and are sick of coming up against modern fashion and clothes cut for an idealised, boyish, supermodel figure.

Surely if you want buy a reissue of a retro pattern it's because shock, horror, you're actually after a degree of authenticity? I'm by no means saying these pictures have to be styled as period reproductions, but they should at least aspire to give us the glamour and elegance that we love about vintage clothing.

In fact one of the best retro/vintage style patterns I found from the big brands was this Butterick pattern that's just being sold in the normal dress section. That's right, apart from the obvious fun the stylist had, there's no attempt to sell this as anything other than a modern pattern. With a tiny bit of tweaking, a cute fabric and a few more inches on the hem this would make a fabulous swing dancing dress (and actually isn't dissimilar to one I paid quite a bit of money for). The cut and the details are great: I love the classic shape of the yoke and the waist darts. Sure the flower is over-sized and the belt modern, but her hair and makeup is a pretty convincing 1940s style. Am I the only one concerned that this makes a more authentic nod to 'retro styling' than a lot of the patterns that are sold as authentic period reproductions?


This dress is so flattering to so many figure types. I just love the back yoke detail.


Just to show you that I'm not a complete grump, here's some examples of how to style a vintage pattern photoshoot properly. I'm not saying that these are 100% period accurate, but they are stylish and gorgeous and more importantly, you'd actually aspire to look as elegant as the girl in the photo in your own completed garment. They are perfectly aimed at the modern girl who wants to sew authentic period dress patterns.

Vogue 2787
Butterick B5895. Patterns by Gertie