1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | Katherine's picks | Pants / Trousers

In Defense of: “Mom” Jeans, “Granny” Panties + “High” Waists

By on April 23, 2012
High Waisted Denim Love

“But you don’t want to wear MOM jeans, do you?”

Said my mom, to me, after a frustrating hour-long jeans try-on-a-thon at our local Old Navy. I had just rejected yet another pair of “classic-rise” jeans that weren’t even making a serious attempt at approaching my belly button (or covering the stretch marks), and I was about to cry.

My sole pair of halfway-decently-fitting jeans are falling down and falling apart, and I had searched high and low for a pair–just ONE pair–of jeans that might replace them, even if that meant trying out the skinny jeans trend.

Well, maybe I do want “Mom jeans” (minus the stonewashing and pleating, anyway). Because I’m sick of jeans labeled “high rise” resting five inches below my natural waist. What conspiracy decided that “modern” jeans should sit barely above the hips, requiring tunic-length shirts to awkwardly hide exposed bellies, and belted tops to emphasize a natural waist that could just as easily be emphasized by a well, waistband?

I am perfectly fine with my post-baby belly–stretch-marks and squish and all–because I couldn’t begrudge anything having to do with the birth of my amazing wonderful little girl. But that doesn’t mean I covet the muffin-top look, and I would much rather the emphasis be on my waist than my belly, thank you very much.

And as a vintage lover, I reject the idea that a low-waisted jean is inherently superior (though it certainly works awesomely for many, of course). Seriously, when and how DID this happen? If you look at any pants or skirt sewing patterns from the WHENEVER up to the 1980s, they pretty much rest on the so-called “natural” waist:



Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest


Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Oh wait!

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

Yeah, there you have it–the hip-hugger jean (and that pattern envelope girl is even striking a pose worthy of Tant-Isis, queen of the low-rise jean!). Perhaps we can blame the 1970s? The natural waisted jean had a brief revival in the 1980s:

Source: etsy.com via Mikhaela on Pinterest

And then somehow, somewhen–in the 90s?–someone permanently decided that it was more modern to ignore the laws of logic and gravity and figure flattery and decree that natural waists were not only outdated, but UGLY, PASSE, and FRUMPY, retraining the eyes of millions over time until we could not but be horrified and terrified by so-called “Mom jeans.” This (admittedly hilarious, thank you Tina Fey) Saturday Night Live video didn’t help.

So where does this leave me? Frustrated and jeansless, pretty much. That Craftsy copy-your-favorite-jeans Jean-ius class wouldn’t work for me, as I have no jeans I’d even want to copy, so I think this means I need to do a little vintage-inspired jeans sewing (pattern TBD–I think I have some good ones in my stash).

And speaking of natural waists–what’s a girl supposed to wear with her high-waisted jeans, pencil skirts and so on? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to find cute, reasonably priced high-waisted underthings… in fact, most of these are actually retro swimwear bottoms from Modcloth:

Not Your Granny's High-Waisted Panties

So I think a little sewing might be in order here, too!

Finally, some questions for you:

  • How do you feel about natural-waisted women’s jeans and panties? Do you think they can be sexy, or do they automatically scream “FRUMP-VILLE” or “80s” to you?
  • Do you have any favorite sources or sewing patterns for high-er waisted jeans and panties?
  • Have you ever been accused of wearing “Mom jeans”?

Cross-posted in slighty modified form on my blog, Polka Dot Overload.

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1960s | 1980s | Dresses

Gift of the Wind Dress

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My extra credit project from the recent Simplicity blog hop, from pattern 2444, a modern pattern based off one from 1964. All the lovely versions floating around in the blogosphere tempted me, so I set aside my usual shyness with full skirts. The fabric is an 80s windfall from my mom’s stash, and I just love it. Can you believe she has this in yellow, too?! Might have to confiscate that. Gift of the Wind is a local public art kinetic sculpture, also from the 80s, and its blustery movement truly ties in to the fabric to me.

I fully lined the dress in batiste (also stolen from mom), added stay tape to the pockets for support, and hand-picked the zip. I made my usual adjustments to the back bodice, but am still working on fitting the front. There is some gaping, but not enough to dissuade me from donning the dress. I might be coming around to full skirts… in small doses 🙂 (I love them on others!)

More photos over here

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1980s | Pants / Trousers

Simplicity 5110 – Khaki Shorts

By on April 12, 2012

I’ve actually made these before (Here’s the We Sew Retro link!), but I wanted them in a nice neutral khaki fabric. No changes to the pattern other than what I previously did for the red ones. This sewed up pretty quick! And I love my new shorts, so yay 😀

Khaki Shorts & Green Striped Renfrew
Psst – I also made the stripey shirt, it’s a Renfrew!

Khaki Shorts & Green Striped Renfrew
The pockets have polka dots 🙂

Khaki Shorts
I know, I need to push the hooks over closer to the edge so the waistband doesn’t flip open like that.

More info & pictures on my blog, LLADYBIRD 🙂

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Out of the Eighties Top

By on March 20, 2012

Pattern: McCall’s 4632 (1989)

I created this top using McCall’s 4632 from 1989. Originally the pattern was to be sold in my Etsy shop but that view F in the bottom left hand corner looked attractive. I was thinking of making it in a fabric with more drape but I’m trying to sew out of my stash. Therefore, I located just enough of this cream/oyster twill to try it out. The fabric (which must be old, I can’t remember what I made with the rest) is pretty luxurious with a smooth hand and a slight sheen.

The style is loose, basically a square but the gathered shoulders add interest. It reminds me of a lot of the simple shells I’ve been seeing around from independant designers. It was extremely easy to make and I especially liked the fact that the yoked area on the front is actually overhang from the back pattern piece. I was thinking I could use that detail on many more projects so why not work off of this pattern piece than make my own from scratch.

Since the pattern was created in the late eighties it was designed for 1/2″ shoulder pads for that big shoulder look; therefore, I had to remove some length from the armholes and quite a bit of width at the sides. I ended up taking two inches off the length and two inches from EACH side, so four inches off of the width. I will be using this pattern again with a more suitable fabric, like crepe de chine or voile. It could also make a really cute dress.

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1960s | 1980s | Children

Sew Grateful Reflection: “Surrounded by Sewing”

By on February 13, 2012

Above: A lovely doll my mother made when she was learning to sew in the early 1960s. “She’s lost her face and is a little sad-looking but notice the fancy hairstyle and the gathers on the sleeves and bodice. She used to have a petticoat and pantaloons but they are gone now.”

How much did you love Debi’s Sew Grateful week challenge?

I’m running a bit late on all my posts–soon I’ll be sharing the story of how my beloved grandmother Melba taught me how to sew in a bittersweet week book-ended by a road trip to a Mississippi funeral and a scary ambulance ride to a small Georgia hospital–with some photos of her clothing from the 1930s to 2000s.

In the meantime, here is a guest post from my amazing mom Beryl Reid about how HER grandmother taught HER how to sew. (Along the lines of this family tradition, I think my mom will have to teach my daughter how to sew!)

“I grew up surrounded by women who sewed. My grandmother Drue was my first sewing teacher. I was living with her in Corinth, Mississippi in the summer of 1960 (I was about eight years old). There was, of course, a sewing room in the house, with an amazing pedal driven sewing machine.

“Me (in school photo) the year I learned to sew… in Corinth, Mississippi.”

I had been sewing “by hand” for a long time, for as long as my memory goes back. I had just finished making a doll that wasn’t really for playing with… it was a Civil War era doll that reflected my obsession with history. I wanted to make a really detailed and authentic period costume for the doll.

“This is a photo of us kids, sitting on one of the rag rugs my grandmother made at the house in Corinth. I’m on the far left.”

My grandmother decided I should learn to use the sewing machine for the doll’s costume. She sat with me for days, making sure I knew how to thread the machine and run it. Her method of teaching was gentle, but “hands off”. She let me make all my own mistakes and knew that getting me started was all that was needed. There was no “hovering” or nagging or recriminations… at all!

“This is a picture of my sister Melinda, my cousin Pam and my brother Michael… my grandmother Drue made all these clothes.”

Most of the time I was left alone with the machine, my imagination and time to figure out what to do on my own. She might suggest some techniques… especially the gathering of the skirts and pantaloons. She would show me, then leave the room. Often, she would be in the next room, working on one of her own projects.

Every woman I knew in my family and extended family did some kind of home sewing or “making.” Drue had grown up in the rural South, the wife of a sharecropper—and in that culture, you often couldn’t buy something nice to wear, but you could make it yourself. She loved to make clothes, quilts and rag rugs… it was a legitimate creative pleasure for her and the women of my family. Both of her daughters (including my mother) had learned the same outlook and were both skilled at sewing, knitting and the art of “making it yourself.”

“Drue (center, between my sister Becky and grandfather Garland) sets up a quilting frame in preparation for a quilting bee.”

By the time I returned to my mother and father after that summer, I knew how to sew. I had to re-learn it a bit when I started using my mother’s electric Singer, but that didn’t take too long. My mother Melba didn’t have to teach me. She added a few practical tips to my outlook on sewing, mostly of the time-saving sort:

  • She scorned the use of pins… a few upside coffee cups on the pattern were enough.
  • She also didn’t really believe in chalk or marking… a dart should be memorized and just done.

Speed was important to my mother. She worked full time as a book-keeper when I was growing up, so sewing was done after a long day and was often because she wanted a new outfit for herself or me and my siblings—it was a practical activity. She did love to dress up (she inherited this from her mother!). They looked like models from a magazine to me and I admired them as gorgeous, stylish and capable women.

By the time I was eleven, I had progressed to making my own dresses for school. I remember one dress, it was a turquoise blue “mini” dress (remember this was the time of the “British Invasion” and skirts were inching up!) it was sleeveless and had a large double ruffle around a scoop neck, almost like a big necklace or flower lei. I can’t tell you how proud I was to wear it to school!”

——Beryl Reid (aka Mikhaela’s mom)

Four (sewing) generations:Beryl, Melba (holding Mikhaela) and Drue in the early 1980s.

I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures of my mom’s ruffled blue mini dress, or of any of Drue’s beautiful quilts (my mom thinks there might be one in her attic but she couldn’t find it)… but here’s a bonus photo of me in 1980 as a newborn in an outfit my mom sewed for me–I love the sweet purple rick rack!

So tell me–do you have any family sewing traditions?

(Cross-posted in slightly modified form from my blog Polka Dot Overload).

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The Revisiting Joan Collins in Dynasty Top

By on February 5, 2012

Been lurking for a while and enjoying seeing everyone’s creations.

My daughter gave me this pattern (Butterick 4655), and when I first saw it I had visions of Joan Collins-Dynasty-1985 dancing in my head. Due to the fact that my daughter has an impeccable eye when it comes to the “bones” of clothes, I gave it a second look. I’m glad I did. This top is destined to become a favorite. It was easy to make, it’s comfortable, and I used warm wool jersey so it’s cozy for our New England winters. I paired it with Colette Clovers here, but it would be perfect with leggings if only I were less mature! Next time I make this top I’ll try to sew the front and back panels at the shoulders and insert a slit opening at the back of the neck. That would eliminate all of the fiddly hooks and eyes that the pattern calls for.

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1950s | 1970s | 1980s | Children | Kids | Lingerie | Modern Patterns | Rompers / Playsuits | Vintage Sewing

50s toddler/baby undies!

By on January 21, 2012

I’m making matching heirloom dresses for my nieces–one is eight months and the other is three years old.  🙂 When those are done, I’ll probably post about them here, because that particular pattern has been in print for about 30 years!  Anyway, the volume of the skirt really needed some poof under it, and a full slip because the affordable entredeux I found is about 1/4″ wide and thus, see-through.  (Entredeux is supposed to be 1/16″ or 1/32 wide, but that stuff is $6 a yard, and each dress wanted 10 yards!)  So I hunted through my pattern collection, and came up with Simplicity 3296.

This was my starting point, complete with what my mother dubbed the “does this make my butt look big” rhumba panties.  I made views 2-4, plus a full crinoline slip from Simplicity 8429 (with a few tweaks) for added fluff.  All of these were done in a size 3, and lengthened so that they end an inch shorter that then 27 inch dress they go under.  (The three-year-old is tall for her age!)  The biggest challenge here was making a matching set for little sister when one single pattern didn’t exist to do it!


  This is all of them together.  The panties and the top slip are poly/cotton batiste, while the half slip and the crinoline slip are made from poly organza to keep away the itchies!  I also inserted a knit inner gusset into the panties so that they’d be functional, sort of like a poofier, rufflier version of RTW.  I sewed jingle bells into all the slips (which the three-year-old loves!) just for fun.


I found a RTW crinoline slip, but since I know where to get organza for around $3/yard, there was no way I’d spend $30 on a RTW slip that I could make (and have a prettier one) for less money.  (Ebay can be a wonderful resource for both plain fabric and lace!)  I added an extra skirt to both the crinoline slip and the half slip, fully lined and changed the crinoline bodice so that it buttons at the shoulders instead of zipping up the back.  From previous experience, (the pumpkin dress I made in November) I knew that the bottom middle panel was the exact same length as the middle middle panel, so I lengthened it a bit for a better tier.


Both of these also have jingle bells sewn into them, and the half-slip has a bow at what I decided was the front, and a ribbon loop in the back.  The combo of the three slips makes for a wide, fluffy skirt, which will be great under the heirloom dress, and fantastic under the 50s dresses I’ll be making for spring and summer!  She’s in love with the undies, even the panties, and pleased as punch at the idea of wearing them.





I cheated a bit on the panties, because there was supposed to be ruffles cut from the same fabric as the panties, and then edged in lace.  I think the ruffles might’ve been more dramatic if I’d done that, but I went for lace that I didn’t have to hem first!


For the baby’s set, I used the modern Simplicity 2291, a modified pinafore from Simplicity 9784 for the slip, McCalls 6349 for the panties, and one vintage pattern– Simplicity 5956.


The only real difference in appearance is the lack of darting in the top slip.

I’m happy with the way these turned out, and they should make the skirts on the dresses look really good!


More on my blog!

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