Sunday, May 1, 2022

Sewing a 1930s Wardrobe


One of the most incredible discoveries in my costuming journey has been the amazing people I have met and the extraordinary experiences I have had.


One event I had organized was at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina during their Titanic movie costume exhibit in 2018.  Everyone went all out in their costuming for our Champagne Cellar dinner, our Biltmore House tour, and our Royale Tea.  After the tea Lynn gave a very special presentation of Titanic photos and memorabilia from her association with Ralph White, photographer during the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985.  As a special surprise to our guests Rochelle Rose, the actress who portrayed the Countess of Rothes in James Cameron's 1997 movie, joined our event.

Patrick graciously agreed to let me costume him as Captain Smith which meant study of the White Star Line uniforms as I sourced the correct insignia and buttons and stitched braid on his coat.  But I didn't do the hard work because although the event was in mid-April, I had planned the event the previous October and Patrick grew the appropriate Captain beard.  Patrick and Rochelle portrayed the Captain and Countess with ease and the costumes commissioned for Rochelle were perfect.

And I had a great time with the Captain and as his buddy Thelma at the afterparty. 

As I prepared for that event I read many books about the Titanic and the White Star Line.  Both the White Star Line and Cunard were having serious financial difficulties due to the Great Depression.  Work on Cunard's newest project, Hull 534, was stopped in 1931.  In 1933 the British government agreed to provide assistance to the two competitors on the condition they merge.

Hull 534 was completed, renamed, and the RMS Queen Mary sailed from 1936 to 1967.  She was retired and is permanently moored at the port of Long Beach, California.

I had the fantastic opportunity to spend a weekend aboard the Queen Mary during an Art Deco weekend.  I toured, ate, danced, sang, had tea, and toured some more.  All in costume.  The evening I dressed in my Miss Phryne Fischer gown and shawl and stood on the deck of the Queen Mary I dreamed that one day I would stand on the deck of the Queen Mary 2.  Also in costume!

That day was to come in May 2020.  But after a year of planning the trip was cancelled as Cunard, the Queen Mary 2, and the rest of the world dealt with a world health crisis.

Fast forward to summer 2021 when I learned of Ahoy Vintage Cruises.  They were the organizer of three cruises on the Queen Mary 2 with limited attendees but unlimited fun.  All in costume, of course! 

1920s, 1930s, and 1940s are the themes of the three Transatlantic crossings from Southhampton to New York City.

By October 2021 I had my deposit paid, my confirmation and cabin assignment, and I'm soooo excited to think the dream may finally happen!

While costuming isn't required, I believe it will definitely add to my enjoyment of the vintage vibe.  My 1930s fashion experience is very limited.  I have a 1930s dress made from a retro 1933 Vogue pattern.  I wore this for the Nancy Drew Tea at Costume College the first year I attended.

I also tested a great pattern and created a costume for a Movie Stars and Moguls costume event.  I was Polaire, the French singer and actress who brought her pig when she visited the United States.  The pig wore a diamond necklace.  I would have liked Polaire, I believe.  

Knowing that the silhouette is so important for any fashion era, I did find a vintage Camp corset and girdle for the 1930s silhouette.  It is an engineering marvel!  And it is very comfortable and holds everything exactly in place including stockings.  Seamed stockings, of course.

I began my research into 1930s fashion with a book by Stella Blum called Everyday Fashions of the Thirties, As Pictured in Sears Catalogs.  The book has reprints with dates.

Day dresses, including knits which were very popular.  These are really cute!

Evening gowns.  So elegant!


And jewelry. 

I'm beginning to get a sense of the styles I like and am very inspired by this page.  A younger me had a hobby which had my friends calling me Amelia.  I think that style is very appropriate for the 1930s and for me.

I find movies from the 1930s and study the fashion.  But everything is in black and white, of course.  Which is also an inspiration.  I will make my entire wardrobe in shades of black and white!  With interesting patterns and textures and for fun I'll use pops of bright red.  Especially the lipstick!

This research has taken me into November 2021 and the sales will be starting soon.  All my shopping will be online.  I begin to review vintage pattern websites and choose those which will fit the style I'm searching for and my size.  I make notes of recommended fabrics.  I make a list and watch the sales closely.  The holiday sales fairies are very kind to me and not only do I find excellent patterns, but I find fabrics which carry me a long way toward the 1930s wardrobe. 

The Underthings

From Mrs. Depew on Etsy, a 1930s Bra and Tap Pants and 1930 Slip.

From the Historically Accurate Atelier on Etsy, another 1930s slip.

All of these patterns are digital download and I will print them at home.  

Day Wear

There are several days in London before we sail.  One of those days is to be a tour of Highclere Castle.  I will want to be very comfortable for that day and decide on a 1915-1916 fashion for that day.  I'll use these patterns from Silk and Thimbles and have already made the mockup which I used for my Whimsical Witch costume last October.  For an overjacket I'll use the 1915 Jacket from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library.  I have an ivory raw silk fabric and soutache buttons from Facebook destash groups, and found a cotton printed with London signage.  

Also from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library is this extremely wonderful 7-piece 1930s pattern with two coats, a hat, and day and evening dress patterns.

The VPLL patterns arrive and I've already used the hat pattern in my Gunne Sax Holiday ensemble.  

Amy is an extraordinary costumer and we have attended extraordinary events together.  She has a collection of patterns and graciously loaned me one which is so stylish.  I love the pleating on the front of the skirt and the jacket is a wonderful addition.

The pattern and instructions are fragile with age.  The pattern is a light tissue without markings and shows the signs of years of being packed away.  I gently open and iron the pattern pieces.  They are now rolled in the paper that I will use to trace the pattern so as to retain the delicate tissue original.  This pattern is a true treasure and I'm looking forward to making the dress and jacket.  Thank you, Amy!!

It was perfect timing that Gina decided to destash some of her patterns and I picked up these two Simplicity re-release of their 1930s Vintage patterns.  Thank you, Gina!!

Wearing History patterns are a favorite of mine as they always fit me well.  They also offer such stylish vintage designs.  I've purchased the pattern in a digital download for the Moderne 1930s Art Deco Dress and am looking forward to sewing and wearing it!

I've previously purchased and sewn the Wearing History Smooth Sailing Trousers pattern.  This will be a perfect piece to coordinate with other pieces in the wardrobe for a more casual day look or for the time in London prior to sailing.  Very Katharine Hepburn!

And speaking of Katharine Hepburn, I couldn't resist this pattern from EvaDress!  It is from an original 1933 Butterick pattern and Katharine Hepburn wore the original suit in the 1933 movie Christopher Strong.

I purchased this as a paper pattern and will be making a wearable mockup for a stash swap and the release of the new Downton Abbey movie in May.

And the pattern includes THAT HAT!  

The last pattern I have for daywear is by Lady Marlowe on Etsy who has some beautiful vintage patterns.  This divided skirt will also be perfect for more casual days.


The patterns for accessories are a combination of Wearing History, Vintage Pattern Lending Library, Mrs Depew, and Vogue with hats, scarves, gauntlet gloves and gauntlet cuffs, purses and bags for both day and evening.

There was a 1930s beauty that found me through Etsy and it now resides in my home.  This will also be worn with the new Downton Abbey movie costume.

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

There are some stylish and perfect shoes for a 1930s impression.  Saint Savoy, Memery, Aris Allen,  Modcloth, Re-Mix, and American Duchess.  None have made it to my house just yet, but they are in online carts waiting for that moment of weakness.  Ha!

Evening Wear

I'm not one to dress flashy but I think if there ever was a time in my life to do that, this crossing is the perfect time.  This trip is truly a once-in-a-lifetime and as I view patterns I make informed and solid decisions based on what gets my heart racing.  That is the only criteria.  There are six evenings and I decide to go all out for fun and flash!

The sleeved evening gown in the center of the 7-piece Vintage Pattern Lending Library packet is one that I envision this in a black velvet.

A Wearing History pattern from their Resto-Vival offerings, Manhatten Evening Dress.

From Bright Young Things on Etsy, a 1935/36 Evening Dress with skirt, blouse, and waistcoat purchased in digital download for me to print at home.

McCall 9009 Dinner Dress in a paper pattern.  Yes, it was the sleeves that got me!

And a dream gown from Everlasting Art Design on Etsy, a seller based in Latvia.  A 1930s split sleeve evening gown from a 1934 German sewing pattern magazine.

The two paper patterns from international sellers arrive on the same day.

The crossing is 7 days and 6 nights and, you're right, that's only 5 evening gowns.  Because  I have to save something for a surprise!!

Fabrics and Bits

As I mentioned before, my colors will be limited to shades of black and white creating opportunities for mix-and-match and wearability of the daywear when I return home.  

In my research of vintage fabrics I discovered rayon.  Rayon is a great travelling fabric and a great choice for this era.  It is a semi-synthetic fiber made from natural sources such as wood and agricultural products, but chemically treated.  While rayon was invented in 1846 and manufactured in the United States since 1911, it was called artificial silk until 1924 and a less expensive alternative to silk.

Some of the rayon fabrics I find during the November sales include a solid black and the pattern very popular in the 1930s - polka dots!

A glen plaid was on sale and the perfect amount to make Amy's pattern.  It will pleat beautifully for the front of the skirt.

In a costumer's destash group I find a gray silk Matka and have the right amount for the Wearing History Moderne Art Deco Dress.

This herringbone is fabulous, was the right price, and I'm so inspired by the details that can be added to this classic pattern.

There was just a bit of this fabric in an estate clearance on Etsy and I believe it will make some wonderful accessories.

This fabric was a bonus from a seller when I bought yardage for another project.  It is exactly what I need for the Bright Young Things blouse.  Paired with a luscious black fabric for the skirt and waistcoat and pearl accessories I think this evening ensemble will be fun to wear.

Inspired by Ginger's gown, I found a sequin gradient fabric and it has the perfect weight for a flashy evening gown.

The 1915 Jacket for the Highclere Castle tour day is a London signage cotton and ivory raw silk and soutache buttons from a destash group.

There are other vintage buttons from costumer's destash groups...

.... and some from Etsy.

Etsy also offered a vintage 1930s rhinestone buckle which is a perfect match to some buttons left from a previous project and destined for the Wearing History Manhatten Dress.  Or maybe the McCall's 9009.  Or maybe.....

Everything was arriving around the same time and now is ready for me to sew mockups.

Although I feel good about my plan and the savings I realized by shopping over the holiday sale season, there are still four fabrics I don't have.  A white silk satin, a black mid-weight satin, a black velvet, and an all-season black wool.  I don't want to purchase those fabrics online as I want to feel them in person.  I'll be attending a seminar in the summer and will be driving through a wonderful fabric and trim mecca, All About Fabrics, on my way to the seminar.  They are a wholesaler  but open to the public one weekend a month.  Their buildings are connected and everything is under roof.  They usually have an entire area dedicated to 25,000 yards of remnants and you can find me there.

Thank you for reading this blog post or watching the companion YouTube video.  If you aren't subscribed to my channel, please subscribe as I'll be creating separate posts and videos for each project.  They won't be in any particular order and I will still have my usual whim-directed Victorian, Edwardian, 18th century, Regency, and fantasy projects that make up my costume journey.

Thank you for being here!


Companion YouTube Video:


  1. Jeanette this post is pure enchantment! I am so excited to follow along on this wonderful journey. Thank you so very much for all this wonderful information!

    1. Thank you! It promises to be a very fun journey!