Style crisis: Vanity Shared, Pt. 2

Vanity Shared Pt 2

Who hasn’t been inspired at some point to create a garment based on something seen on the screen? As previously blogged, one of my favourite ever projects was my jacket based on the one worn by Kay Kendall in the film Genevieve.

I’m not the only one partial to a spot of screen inspiration though. One of our most frequent enquiries:

“Have you got any brown material with cream spots? Like that dress that…”

and this is where we usually finish the sentence:

“…like that dress worn by Julia Roberts in the polo scenes in Pretty Woman?”

To which the response is invariably an excited:

“Yes! That one! You know it?!”

Yes we do. We love that dress too – and just for the record when we (very occasionally) come across a similar fabric we never fail to snap it up. However although the dress itself is all across the internet, similar fabrics are a bit like hens’ teeth.

Fashion-inspiring films aren’t news. From Audrey Hepburn’s Little Black Dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s through Charade (black polo necks and trousers) Annie Hall, (oversized men’s clothes), Grease, (50s skirts) Fame (leg warmers) Flashdance (more leg warmers) and Clueless (Calvin Klein slip dresses). The references have fuelled blogs, magazine articles and theses aplenty.

I’m no innocent in this department as my handful of photos surviving from the 1980s will attest. (Mostly Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan although I would argue that by the time the film came out I’d already moved on).

Before we get dragged any further down that particular rabbit hole however, the event that brought me here was my recent makeover. Low-key though it might have been, it prompted me to think of other makeovers I’d seen in film. The scene it brought to mind was one towards the end of a 1990s romcom, One Fine Day, starring Michelle Pfeiffer with some unknown named George Clooney.

One Fine Day is a tale of school-run chaos, swapped phones, work juggled with impromptu childcare and standard slapstick ingredients of water, sticky food, trips, falls and snogging. All with Manhattan as a backdrop, which means it’s in a different class to the equivalent that you or I might recognise.

Just a regular day in NYC…

In our neck of the woods, we were usually late because we could be found sitting in a traffic jam as the level crossing gates went down, up and down again. Not because we missed the Staten Island ferry. There’s no following a potato trailer down the lane in a queue of 17 cars for Michelle & George, who hurtle down Lexington in a yellow cab. And if our children were very good, then just maybe there’d be a McFlurry, whereas for this photogenic pair there are sumptuous ice cream sundaes in the charming surroundings of the Serendipity café.

So far, so improbably predictable. However on the upside it also features Michelle Pfeiffer in a variety of fabulous coats, 90s tailoring and a dinosaur T-shirt, hauling around a fabulously capacious and stylish leather bag.

At the end of the single action-packed day in which the film is set, George pitches up unannounced at Michelle’s bijou (never cramped) apartment. Michelle’s in the middle of cooking supper; she opens the door dressed in a food-covered t-shirt. She invites George in and they put the children on the bed to watch The Wizard of Oz. (NB – this is 1996. We’re a year out from Teletubby fever and Peppa Pig hasn’t been invented yet). Back in the kitchen, George makes his move on Michelle, up against the kitchen cupboard – and – whoah! She stops him in his tracks. She’s concerned that she looks like shit.

Of course she is. No sense of ‘I’m Michelle Pfeiffer, I look adorable with mussed-up hair and covered in egg, he should be so lucky’. Perversely, no hint either of the fact that George has been running around in the rain wearing that same checked shirt and mac all day. At this point he must smell like a wet retriever who’s settled down in a pile of unwashed running shorts. But she’s the one who scuttles off to the bathroom to shower and change. Meanwhile he settles down on the sofa with the remote and that morning’s newspaper. By this time I want to scream:

Get off that sofa! You smell, you’re wet and I was about to read that paper myself!

But no. Off we go to the bathroom for a sped-up makeover. Michelle has a shower and then bizarrely, instead of shaving her legs while she’s in there, we see her trying to clean her teeth with one hand whilst shaving her legs with the other, balancing with one foot up on the sink.

Vanity fail

Now – I have a patchy history with depilation. My problems with it are wide ranging.

First, there’s a principle at stake here. We don’t catch George shaving and plucking while he’s on the sofa – and I do worry about the amount of hair-removal that seems to be regarded as the norm these days. Am I alone in this?

Then there’s the style issue. Sun-bleached leg-hair on the beach in the summer is surely quite outdoorsy and fetching in its ‘girl-next door’ way is it not? Having said that, I accept that half-inch long leg-hair bristle sticking out through opaque black tights can be a bit of a distraction. So I’ll accept there’s an argument for paying some attention on occasion.

But then comes the practice. My first encounter with a razor as a teenager required me to make up some tale about having dropped the cutlery drawer down my legs. Then there was the case of the hurriedly-concealed hairy towel following my first encounter with Immac at university. (The smell! They don’t tell you about the smell! Or the mess! Or that the stuff apparently eats towels.)

And as for standing on one leg and brushing your teeth at the same time – who on earth wrote this script? I still relive the time I tried shaving mine in the shower before my sister’s wedding. I had to follow her down the aisle with a paper tissue stuffed down my tights to stem the flow of blood. Just one of so many depilation disasters, and one that still has the scar to show for it.

The big reveal

After a nonchalant blow-dry, apparently expert impromtu make-up application and the aforementioned shave, Michelle then dithers through several changes of clothes. None of which requires her to dash back and forth to the bedroom wardrobe, dripping wet and clutching a towel. Where on earth were all these clothes? We can only conclude they were in an unseen pile of dirty linen – eeuw.

Finally she spins round, transformed, in a deliciously simple, elegant and understated, grey short-sleeved polo-neck top.

Oh, it’s just something I threw on…

And there we have it. The garment I covet. I love the freshness of it, the hint of luxury but also the unstructured comfort. The sportiness of the ribbing and the marled grey knit. It’s all very 90s but also quite timeless and relaxed.

In the meantime of course George has fallen asleep on the sofa. I have some sympathy for him as it’s been a while since Michelle disappeared. There then ensues some nuzzling on the sofa (Michelle) while George (by now possibly pretending) apparently slumbers on.

Eeuw – a bit whiffy – I should have dragged him into the shower…

The scene is frankly, a bit problematic on so many levels. But – the grey top! The grey top! Finally I realised that the grey top is within my grasp. We have in stock our ‘Odense’ silver-grey viscose ribbed jersey fabric and surely I can find a polo neck pattern?

Finally, the sewing bit

And indeed I can. The symmetry of these threads coming together is pleasing. It was a failed polo neck that prompted my Back in the sewing saddle post a couple of months ago. Here’s the perfect opportunity to have a proper shot at it, this time with an actual pattern. Enter the Debra Zebra Top from Style Arc.

Like its inspiration, this is an unassuming pattern design. It’s a quick win, too. Three pattern pieces, six overlocked seams and unless you really want to hem it then the job’s done.

…aaand spin!

Honestly, this couldn’t have been easier. Mine’s a 12 based on the Style Arc measurements. Being a jersey fabric it’s forgiving across my shoulders but doesn’t cling around my waist which is probably a bit more than listed in the measurements chart for the size.

I cut off the bottom and the sleeves once it was assembled, based simply on where it sat on my body. I didn’t want a long top; just enough to sit on my hips or to tuck in at the front perhaps.

I used a twin needle to hem with, taking it sloooowly so as not to skip stitches. An earlier test on a scrap of fabric indicated that I needed to reduce the presser foot pressure which I did, by a couple of notches. This reduced any stretching around the hem, although the act of turning the rib over to hem inevitably made it slightly stiffer than the single thickness of fabric in the rest of the garment.

It was incredibly easy to make and wear. After the photograph I didn’t take it off for the rest of the day. Despite the sun this last week, there’s a north-east wind blowing through the house that makes it chilly. I haven’t been in the least overheated in it.

So enchanted was I, that I made up another, literally inside a spare hour. This one’s in our Vitebsk green & orange printed ponte Roma jersey fabric. This time I cut the pattern pieces to the body and sleeve length I actually needed – and as a result the whole top required less than one metre of fabric.

I haven’t been bothered to hem this one yet (the needle change and extra thread being too much trouble in a busy week) but I’ll get round to it eventually. Or not.

Don’t you just love trousers with pockets?

There’s no sense of suffering under an illusion here, I can assure you. I’m not Michelle Pfeiffer, nor is this a feat of Grand Tailoring – it’s just a top. But I do like the sense of spare elegance which I think my grey polo neck top conveys (not much illusion then…). It makes me grin a bit when I think of where I got the idea. And I have vanquished my polo neck sewing gremlins. Itches all scratched; job done.

Have you made anything inspired by a film? Or have you a film-inspired outfit on your sewing ‘bucket list’ that you’d love to create at some point? Tell me I’m not the only one heading off on flights of fancy here!

Thank you for reading – and have a peaceful and creative Easter.

Oh George – just let me read, will you? Perhaps make me a coffee, there’s a love…

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