Have you ever found a silhouette that you just love? For me, it’s been the pencil skirt, the skinny pant and the wrap top. I don’t wear skirts all that often (with the exception of my cruise collection 2019 skirt) so searching for a pencil skirt is a bit of a time-waster. I have actually found my perfect skinny jeans (Paige denim – no, I do not make jeans and will never make my own jeans as long as Paige continues to exist).
But…I have been searching for the perfect wrap top for years and this season wanted to add one or two perfect ones to my wardrobe.
Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve experimented with a couple and my desire to create one in (expensive) silk knit set me off on a quest to ensure the perfect silhouette, the perfect wrap and the perfect fit – before I take the plunge into an as-yet-unpurchased piece of (expensive) silk. But first, where did this little gem of a piece of clothing begin? It’s a fascinating history.
Of course, Diane von Furstenberg has been credited with “inventing” the wrap dress more than 40 years ago back in the 1970s (not all the clothes during that decade were hideous), and we can all be forgiven if we believed, up until this minute, that this is where this silhouette began. It did not. If you look closely, you might even conclude that DVF borrowed the idea from an American designer who preceded her by some 40 years.
According to most online sources, the wrap silhouette can be traced back to American couturier Charles James in the 1930s when his body-hugging designs were just short of scandalous. Of course, he was also known for his extraordinary ball gowns, but it is the wrap silhouette that is the most avant-garde as far as I’m concerned.
Until I began looking into the origins of the wrap design, Charles James hadn’t even registered with me. But there he is. This little video, hosted by none other than Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, provides a terrific overview for those interested in the history of fashion. But CJ’s wrap creation doesn’t really appear here.
However, if you have a few moments and the interest), you’ll notice that buried among all his other voluminous creations, the CJ wrap dress appears (at about 3:27 of the video is you want to skip ahead).
What’ really interesting about the design as far as I’m concerned, is the way it wraps. And not every one of his wrap dresses had the same inner construction. The one featured in the videos above is actually a wrapped skirt.
If we move forward into the 1950s, you can see that even the pattern companies were offering home sewers options. The silhouette in general is a very ’50s look the way I see it.
I started my own wrap journey with a faux-wrap tank top that I designed based on a favourite top from, of all places, Landsend. (I wrote about it here.)
It’s kind of cute, but not the real deal. I do like the fact that with a faux-wrap you don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction, though!
Then I moved on to Butterick 6517. (Note the same striped bamboo jersey).
I liked the outcome, although I did think that the wrap-over bit at the front was a tad bulky. So many folds. Nice, but not worthy of (expensive) silk jersey.
I finally hit upon Butterick 6628 and with a few tweaks I’m happy to say that it became the first piece of my 2019-20 F/W wardrobe. You might remember my inspiration board for this season along with its colour palette.
I picked up a drapey synthetic for the purpose of trying out this pattern before the (expensive ) silk knit that I plan. It turned out better than I had expected and this will be the design for the final product when I find the right fabric.
In the meantime, I’ve put this one into the fall/winter rotation and am still searching for the perfect silk knit. On to the next design!
More images of the Charles James wrap dress: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/171965