Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Autumn Leaves Charity Dress

Often I will see something in a charity shop for a bargain price, snap it up and then it will sit in my wardrobe waiting for it's time to come again in the limelight.  I bought a wonderful Marlene Birger dress and a vintage handbag from a local charity shop way back in 'summer dress' season for less than a tenner, and then promptly sent them both to the back of the wardrobe.  There they have remained, in clothing Narnia, where all the out of season or out of favour clothes live until they are recalled.  

The dress is a beautifully flowing, pleated silk creation with black sequins around the waist, a button back and small embroidered embellishments here and there.  The neckline is gathered in pleats also and a broad waist band defines the silhouette nicely in a flattering hourglass shape. The fabric is in shades of deep browns, greys and bright teal featuring a pattern of large autumn leaves.  You can see a big horse chestnut leaf in skeletal form at the bottom hem here.  

The silk does a fairly convincing, season-appropriate, autumn-leafy rustle when moving around too.  I think the fitted bodice shape and pleating from the wide waistband is just gorgeous and I wish I could find a pattern to reproduce something like it. I may have to undertake some serious research into finding either a near-as-dammit pattern or cobble together a separate bodice and skirt section to get the look. 

I dare not unpick the dress to copy it, that would be a leap of faith to far in my own sewing skills.  That brings back memories of a time when I unpicked a much loved, stuffed toy dog given to me as a child.  I had every intention of making another identical one for a young relative, as I had loved the fifties style velvet doe-eyed puppy from my own childhood.  Why didn't I just make a different dog?  What possessed me to disassemble the already perfectly adorable dog?  Let's just say it didn't work anyway and my poor patchwork doggy's remains have been languishing in a carrier bag ever since, in about 48 completely unidentifiable pieces. And no I'm not adding it to my next 'seasonal wish list of sewing' list!

Back to this bargain purchase, which has been reintroduced to the world as it seemed perfect for an event I attended at the end of last week.  It was a day to night affair, beginning with visits in the afternoon that involved quite a lot of walking distance between different venues, followed by some fairly swish networking and then a party.  Combined factors equalled the need for footwear that could carry me some distance, a day to night outfit, weatherproof layering, and a reasonably polished turn-out for cocktails and dancing.  No mean feat for one outfit.  I think this one covers all the bases and looks reasonably well turned out even with boots.  I photographed this outfit in a rush before catching the bus to the event in the afternoon and so unfortunately the boots got missed off the shot.  However they are black, pointy and with a mid heel and fairly pedestrian as boots go, so I don't feel you're missing out on anything. 

The high neckline and cut away shoulders are flattering on me as I'm broad shouldered.  The neckline pleats are also a nice feature and the arm holes are finished with bias binding.  I think the bodice section could be quite easy to reproduce with the right basic pattern.  The button and loop back fastening is a nice feature, although there is also an invisible zip at the side seam.

Dresses are a good bet from charity shops I find. Good finds especially are special-occasion-wear that is offloaded by their original owners without being worn very often.  Even fairly expensive garments bought at great expense are often jettisoned, as the pressure to wear something new and different for each wedding or party demands each new purchase is quickly resigned to the scrap heap.  Those that don't make it to eBay are usually in need of a button, a zip or a few stitches to repair them, which can be but a few moments work.  In this case the Marlene Birger beauty was in need of a handful of replacement sequins around the waistline, where they form a zig zag pattern.  As they are fairly generic black sequins that can be found in pretty much any haberdashery, the repair job was quick and simple.  

The designer label, quality of the finish and fabric is likely to have made this dress beyond the reach of my pocket when it was new.

Investment buying pieces that you will wear time and time again and sewing garments that I will equally love is much more my style.  Most of the garments in my wardrobe will be rotated around year in, year out.  I have garments that have been gifted, handed down, found and re-discovered, all of which hold memories and have history.  I love fashion, but I like clothing with style even better and even though some of the things I make are fairly 'statement' (and sometimes quite loud), I usually choose classic shapes that will stand the test of time. Something that is old, past season, preloved and refashioned will always be more interesting to me and more rewarding to wear if I believe it fits well, is beautifully made and I still like how it looks on me.  

My vintage python bag came out to play too, also a charity shop find and possibly harking back to the sixties or seventies with its prim structured form, combined with slightly psychedelic, hand tinted copper and teal colours.  There is actually some slightly snakey print on the dress too, as you can see in the above shot, so the two chime quite nicely together.  The bag has gold clasps at the top which come together with a very satisfying and efficient snap, sits on little gold studs at the base and has a soft, camel coloured suede lining, so it has been well made of it's time.  

The dress pleats look very crisp here on the bus stop shots.  This silk forms very tidy folds indeed gathered at the waistline (hidden underneath my leather biker jacket here), but a design feature to remember for future home sewn garments.

This bag also acts a bit like a tardis, in that it looks neat and demure, but holds an enormous amount of essential work-a-day cargo.  In my case the luggage stowed on board included two phones, bunch of keys, lipgloss and compact, pocket diary and pen, large purse, tickets and business cards, mints, an umbrella, two birthday cards and a pack of tissues. One great thing about the vintage handbag is you can stuff it to the very gills with everything but the sink, and it will remain totally unfazed.  No bulging, bursting or unsightly overspill with this stout leather frame. No wonder the Queen likes a nicely structured bag, (she favours Launer), capacious and revealing nothing of its contents.  It's also clear why lady spies in old 1940's film reels carried these things around as standard issue. I reckon you could have stashed a litre of vodka, a complete change of clothes with matching wig and fedora and a fully operational undercover surveillance unit and nobody would be the wiser!

Dress by Marlene Birger from charity shop
Python bag, vintage with no label, from charity shop


  1. Beautiful dress, how on earth did it make its way to a charity shop? Lucky for you it did and you spotted it - I'm envious!

  2. Thanks AWR! It was one of my best finds I think. Sarah X