When I saw that the theme of the Refashioners this year was ‘Inspired By’, there was only ever one garment I was going to make. I love visiting fashion exhibitions and have lots of fashion reference books, and there are brands (Biba) and decades (30s-40s) that I’m fascinated by, but there are only two actual garments which I love inordinately: Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress & Christian Dior’s Bar suit.
I’m a huge fan of the Refashioners and devour the blog posts every year, but have only participated once before (the 2015 men’s shirt challenge). My project for this year actually started with last year’s men’s suit challenge, and I’m very happy to have brought it to fruition a year later. (I still have a selection of jeans – old ones Phil was chucking out – from the 2016 challenge which will also eventually get refashioned).
This time last year I was in a hectic period at work and had decided that I wasn’t going to add to my to-do list/stress levels by taking part in the Refashioners, but then I popped into a charity shop during one lunch break and came away with a British wool suit, made in the UK, which was too good to resist. The suit consisted of a jacket and waist coat. I posed in it for the pre-refashion pictures below last year, and Phil told me that I looked like three children stood on each other’s shoulders trying to buy alcohol.
I always intended to refashion the jacket into a version of Dior’s Bar jacket and I made a first attempt at fitting the body last year, but it turned out way too large and I had no time to fine tune the fit, so the jacket ended up hanging on my wardrobe door for a whole year. When Portia announced the theme of this year’s Refashioners, I knew it was time to return to the jacket – and to go a step further and try to recreate a whole ‘look’.
My favourite (and also the most famous) photo of the Bar suit was taken in 1955 (or possibly 1957) by Willy Maywald, modelled by Dior house model Renee, and shot in Paris (more on that later). As you can see from the original photo below, the full outfit consists of the Bar jacket, plus skirt, gloves, hat, and shoes. I’ll go into detail, but for information I refashioned a jacket, skirt, petticoat and hat. My gloves were new as I couldn’t find suitable second-hand gloves in a local charity shop and didn’t want to pay what was being charged online. My shoes were second-hand and are 1950s originals purchased on eBay (for £30).
Once I had decided to recreate the outfit in the photo, I set about finding the other components. I found a suitable skirt (shown pre-refashion below) during another lunch break charity shop trip. The skirt met my criteria for a black pleated skirt and, as an added bonus, already fit me at the waist. To modify the skirt for my refashion, I simply removed 6 inches from the bottom and turned it up by another 2 inches to create a nice deep hem.
To give the skirt volume, I used an existing petticoat I bought on eBay years ago but have rarely worn, partly because the shaping never seemed quite right. This project finally convinced me to take my scissors to the petticoat and alter it to my liking – which was as simple as reducing the length of the top layer of tulle (the picture below shows the petticoat after I’d taken my scissors to it). While we’re on the topic of undergarments, the minuscule waist in the original photo suggests a corset, but I had no desire or intention of trying to reduce the size of my waist.
The hat was a bit more of a puzzle. If I had been starting out with new materials, I would have been tempted to try crocheting a hat out of raffia (inspired by Emily’s bag), but there was no way I was going to find raffia suitable for crochet in a charity shop. I decided my best bet was to look for woven bowls, and spotted the bowl below in the window of a charity shop while on holiday with my family in Dorset. As you can see from the photos, a refashion was in order since the bowl was too large, flat, colourful, and far too heavy, to use as a hat in its original form.
Once all components of the outfit were ready, one further element was required to recreate my inspiration image – location. I knew that the original Willy Maywald photo had been taken in Paris, and could tell that it had been taken along the Seine, so Phil and I decided to take a trip to Paris to recreate the photo! This wasn’t quite as extravagant an act as it sounds (well maybe just a bit), as we’d been talking about taking a short break and the photos decided the location for us.
We took the photos on a Sunday morning, and on the previous Saturday night Phil and I walked along the banks of the Seine for a couple of hours looking for a suitable spot. We determined that the original photo had been taken on one of the ramps leading down to the Seine from the path above. We became extremely picky with our comparison of these ramps against our criteria (height of wall, cobbled, wide pavement, trees either side, etc.). We didn’t find a ramp which looked exactly like the ramp in the original photo (it my still be out there somewhere…), but we did pretty well.
To avoid writing an epically long blog post, I’m going to discuss the details of my jacket and hat refashions in a separate post or two, and finish here by revealing my finished outfit, photographed beside the Seine. For reference, I used Gertie’s Butterick pattern #B5962 as a starting point for the jacket, but very much working with the existing features where possible.