Thursday, May 27, 2010

Recreating Dior's New Look

I've been dreaming of a New Look style suit in red linen for my mini-break weekend (which is creeping up on me rapidly, so this may just be a pipe dream!). Dior's suits of this era, with their full skirts and curvy peplum jackets, epitomize vintage glamor. And, of course, the Bar Suit (pictured above) is the most famous of them all. Who wouldn't feel glam in a get-up like that? Especially traveling by train on a super romantic mini-break weekend in the country! So I was thrilled to come upon a fantastic page of information from the Vintage Connection called "Inside Christian Dior's New Look."

On this site, you'll find fascinating insights into the construction of a Dior suit of the era. The biggest thing I took away is that these garments were truly works of engineering. As the author puts it: "If re-created accurately, New Look garments should nearly stand up by themselves; the interlining, linings, interfacings, bonings, and stiffenings Dior used all but supported his garments on their own."

A great example of this is the skirt: I'd always assumed a crinoline was solely responsible for the voluminous skirt. Actually, the construction had a lot to do with it as well. Skirts were interlined with stiffened muslin, and then lined with a crisp silk like taffeta.

A shoulder with a sloped silhouette was integral to the look, in stark contrast to the square shoulder of the WWII era. I always thought the soft kimono sleeves were responsible for this rounder look. Instead, it seems that specially shaped shoulder pads were used, sometimes in conjunction with a dropped shoulder seam.

It seems that everything in the New Look silhouette was strictly engineered, especially when it came to foundation garments. The New Look brought back the corset in the form of the "waspie," a narrow corset meant to take several inches off the waist. (If you're interested, What Katie Did sells a reproduction of the New Look waspie. I own one, and I'm still getting the hang of wearing it. It's serious business!) But perhaps the undergarment that seems most foreign to our modern ways is the hip pad. These, obviously, further accentuated the hourglass shape.

I personally think the New Look silhouette is striking on its own, without all these feats of inner engineering. I've been on the hunt for New Look type patterns, and the lines of these garments are so beautiful: the soft shoulders, the shawl collars, nipped in waists, peplums, and full skirts. A few lovely examples (the first one is now in my collection!):

So that's where my flights of fancy are these days. I certainly don't have time to make a suit that will stand up on its own! But perhaps I can pull off a modern, casual homage.

What do you think of these looks? They're awfully formal for today, don't you think? But so beautiful!


  1. I love this look! And do you think it's too formal to wear on a regular day? I'd wear it without a doubt. I think it's timeless and very beautiful!

    I say: go for that hommage. I am sure it will turn out lovely and will be perfect on you.

  2. I also think that it can be "not so formal", and wearable under normal circumstances, but, in my opinion, on the strict condition that -like on the first picture) the jacket would be of a contrasting colour.
    I think that what makes a suit formal for us, "modern people", is the "matchy-matchy" aspect of it.

  3. I think it doesn't have to be very formal, especially if you make the jacket and the skirt from different fabrics or colors, like Judith suggested.
    Thanks for always giving such interesting info! Apparently, wearing a new look suit (of the era, with all the construction) for a train ride to the country would be awful uncomfortable, don't you think?

  4. You know I adore these fashion-history geek type posts that incorporate construction details? ;) I love how much thought on the engineering of these couture pieces from the New Look period took; they're really a feat of design and construction! It's amazing to realize just how much went into each garment, because the design is deceptively less structured looking on the outside (than say the early 40s, when wide shoulders and tailored looks reigned).

    I think a homage suit would be a fantastic project!

    ♥ Casey
    blog |

  5. I think the way to take some of the formality out of this is through the accessories - sandal-y shoes, straw bag. But IMHO, considering I am wearing a plaid pencil skirt, no hose, and a knit whit top and have been asked twice if I've got a job interview today, we need to re-educate people to how great a more formal look goes. Enough with the crop pants and tee shirts!!

  6. Simplicity 3853 reminds me of a suit I made in the '80s ... same peplum detailing on the jacket, but the skirt was more pencil than full. Still, fashions seem to go in cycles, and these are pretty classic (I'm with Karin on this). A contrasting jacket and skirt is especially striking. I wish people would dress up more ... so tired of seeing jeans and flip-flops everywhere.

  7. I think a Gertie-brand update of New Look would be apropos. It'll be interesting to find what changes will be made for wearing comfort and which changes will be for construction practicality. It's a project that will make your updated dress form even more essential, huh?

  8. It is a formal look but I think a pretty timeless style and without the hat and gloves could look more "everyday". I saw this outfit in an exhibition along with some corsets - my goodness the waists were unbelievably tiny!

  9. I think it's very beautiful. I think you can pull it off to where it doesn't look too formal, more for everyday wear. I didn't know so much went into the engineering of the garments. Thanks for the education.

  10. I especially like the last one (red gingham version), but then it's probably the least extreme of all of them.

    Hip pads, eh? I missed the boat on that one. Here's hoping my (all natural) padded hips come back into style someday.

  11. I'd say go for the first pattern since you have it and it truly has the feel of the new look era. I love the rounded yoke on that pattern. And its all about the femininity of pumps for this look imo.

    You have to absolutely adore the craftsmanship that when into dresses of that period. Particularly with Charles James, of which, you will be seeing a ton of amazing garments from at the Brooklyn Museum tour ;)

  12. As a lawyer, I wear suits fairly frequently (and always when I'm going to court). The problem with these (which are beautiful)is that somehow they look too "girly" or frivolous. They just don't look like "work" outfits. And if I wasn't wearing them to work, I can't imagine where else I would wear them!


  13. The engineering of vintage couture is amazing, isn't it? I recently finally got hold of a copy of Claire Shaeffer's "Couture Sewing Techniques" and it's making concurrently drool and shake with fear and awe (which is a messy business, let me tell you) at the processes involved.

    I agree that styling is probably the clincher for it not being too formal.

  14. I found this at the Kwik Sew site that would work for me seeking to re-create this style for my wardrobe:,_Vests,_Skirts&QL=MissJacketsVestSkirt#

    It is a peplum styled jacket pattern 3738. I thought with a circle skirt, it could work as a modern New Look style. Especially in my little small town in prairie Canada, I cannot afford to buy real vintage patterns.

    I could see this being worn to church, or to a play, or a concert, or on a plane, train, etc. . .

    Love this post, Gertie.

  15. Ohh I love them, and agree that they don't have to look so formal. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

  16. Although it doesn't have anything to do with this post, those madcap guys over at TLo are discussing Mad Men female characters and their wardrobes. Thought you would enjoy it.

    Love your blog!

  17. Holy cow, if you could pull that suit together before your trip it would be amazing. ADORE that suit but am too weak in my skills right now to even think about attempting it. Would love it if you would.

  18. I love these suits, and don't know whether to feel relieved or devastated that they are totally unsuited to my lifestyle, climate, and figure (although I wouldn't have to fuss with hip-pads.) Please make one so I can enjoy some vicarious thrills!

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  20. While you are constructing your getaway travel wardrobe (something I would love to do, but never plan for) I took special notice of this project on Burda Style yesterday.

    Somewhere she found a set of patterns designed as an extensive travel wardrobe. I want it. All though the poster indicates that she doesn't want it to look vintage when she is done, I'm still excited to see the complete set.

  21. Hi Gertie,
    I just blogged about Dior New Look on monday lol, the amount of work that went into each piece was incredible wasn't it?
    If you look at the Christian Dior collections designed by John Galliano today there are many of these signature styles still there.

    Dior also used to allow American chain store buyers attend the shows providing they bought an agreed upon number of styles, which they could then take back to their machinists and re-create stitch by stitch and sell to the mass market. The original designer knock - off??
    I'm thinking I need to check out those waspies a.s.a.p!!

  22. I adore the bar. If you didn't take the waist to hip ratio to the nth degree and like Judith's suggestion, used contrasting fabric, the look is very modern and I think quite wearable. Personally I'd prefer if more adults gave up slouching about like perpetual students, but that's another conversation.

    Also, I was thinking Charles James and another commenter beats me to it! He will absolutely take your breath away. I recall a conversation with my mother when we were discussing Claire McCardell and her innovative philosophy, and mother kept saying, "but Charles James, Charles James!"

  23. I love this post Gertie and I love Dior's New Look so, so much. As others have said, the engineering is incredible. Formality is an interesting thing - people often comment that I'm formally dressed or 'dressed up' for everyday, but I think the structure and timelessness of vintage formality suits my figure more and I've just become used to it. Working at a university does help - there's more freedom to wear whatever you feel you want to wear. I guess it also means that people tend to dress more casually, but I like the freedom it allows me.

    I think you should go for it. As others have said, there are ways of deformalising some of these ensembles and in any case, I think a mini-break is the perfect opportunity to experiment. Can't wait to see the results!

  24. I'm just reading the chapter on "New Look" in "The Thoughtful Dresser"...those weren't just hip pads, darling, they were full-on panniers.
    The "New Look" was no buts about it uncomfortable, but totally gorgeous.

  25. Lisette, I just got that book! I know a lot of the New Look was taken from Victorian fashion, so panniers makes sense. I took the term "hip pad" from Vintage Connection, but I've seen them referred to as hip pads explicitly on literature of the time. Check out this cool blog post that has an actual pattern of the time with instructions for making your own hip pads!

    Perhaps this was just the DIY version of Dior's more complicated structures?

  26. I love New Look suits and I'm entertaining the thought of making something inspired by them myself for the winter (so that won't happen before September). The formality of them is in the choice(s) of fabric(s), I think. However, to make one in linen looking sort of like the real thing, you'd need rather heavy linen or at the very least some rather serious fusible interfacing (as a timesaver of course, I know it's not at all the couture method)
    I've read that Dior studied Renaissance and Victorian clothes and underpinnings when designing the New Look, and took a lot of construction ideas from those. Including corsetry and hip pads. One other thing: I've assumed New Look suit jackets had peplums and kimonosleeves for quite some time, however many, including 'Bar' don't. 'Bar' has a heavily darted bodice with what looks like a peplum actually cut with the upper front and back, and a set-in sleeve on a dropped shoulder seam.

  27. i'll be really interested to see how the look stands up without the foundation garments.

    seeing the underpinnings on their own makes apparent how extreme they were. once the clothes go on over the top the look somehow appears much less bizarre to modern eyes.

    you get a good view of the undergarments at around 1:15 on this video

  28. Thank you for this my dear - a really interesting post to start my day. I have recently become really interested in Coco Chanel (maybe because of the film) and read about the engineering involved in her designs. it's so fascinating. I love her thinking behind things too. She was a pioneer. My hero!

    i am looking forward to what you do with your pattern. I have a forties coat pattern which i made out of denim (this was when i was at six form, about ten years ago now!) - it had a totally different feel, but it worked really well because the shape was so flattering. You can definitely use these patterns with modern fabrics to create something that fits with the contemporary aesthetic. Do it do it do it! It's good to be top banana in the style stakes.

    My latest pattern is a 1960s tent dress... my challenge is to not look too psychadelic!(60's tent dress is not quite as classic and timeless i fear!)

  29. that waspie is nothing more than a short under bust corset. I could make one of those in 2 days. :)

  30. Gertie, I just love your blog. I check on it often. I too am obsessed with the Dior look and all things retro. I just finished sewing my new look wedding dress for my New Year's Eve wedding and it was such a success! so now on the the regular wardrobe. I thank you so much for the info on the belt and button lady. I have my cataolue all ready to go :) One last thing you will love - go to the Louis Vuitton website and find your way to the 2010/2011 Fall/Winter collection (The World of LV - bttom left had corner)and just watch that show. Incredible inspiration!! Happy Sewing!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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