Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

In praise of the bateau (boat) neck!

I am so easily distracted these days. So many projects, so little time! My usual approach to life is to streamline my projects so that I have two to three (at the most) major projects ongoing at the same time. These days, however, I am finishing a publishing project, working on two books simultaneously (not so uncommon for me – I write both nonfiction and fiction and do like to have one of each going on to balance off against one another), and I have a number of design/sewing-related projects that are edging ever closer to the front of my mind. I have plans to move forward with my fall-winter wardrobe blueprint, yet I find myself with a few left-overs from the summer to complete.

Recently I seem to be stuck on tops with waist definition (as I discussed in my last post), and have finished another one in a woven rayon fabric. (I picked up a Simplicity pattern when we were on our summer road trip in upstate New York. Can’t get them any longer in Canada.)

 

 

I do love how it drapes, and I will pick up some silk twill this fall (I hope when we visit New York) to add to that unfinished design board, and perhaps make it again. But, what about that neckline? I’ll have to do something about that.

It’s something of a “bleh” neckline, n’est ce pas? It’s more than a crew neck, but not quite that true bateau neckline that is my favourite.

Two summers ago, I spent months perfecting my “perfect boat-neck” T-shirt pattern. (This was before anyone had even an inkling that Meghan Markle would choose this neckline for her wedding dress.) It wasn’t that the T-shirt was a challenge: the challenges was getting that boat neck to be precisely the right width and depth for my personal fit and style preferences. Why, oh why, do I seem to be wanting to make everything with a boat neck these days? I thought it might be useful (and fun) to have a look at the history of this oh-so-appealing design feature. Then I’ll tell you why getting the pattern just right is a matter of both mathematics and squinting. Anyway…

Boat neck. Bateau neck. Sabrina neck. Are they all the same? Well, it seems that there are a few differences. (Well, bateau is French for boat in case you’re a bit French-challenged!) But it all officially started back in 1958 in France when the now ubiquitous white and navy striped shirt became an official part of a French sailor’s uniform.

french sailors
French sailors back in the day…

Rumour has it that the stripes were supposed to make a man-overboard easier to see in the water. As time went on, the so-called French sailor shirt – or Breton shirt – became a wardrobe staple made even more famous by iconic American actress Jean Seberg who spent half her life in France, artist Pablo Picasso and the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

jean seberg
Jean Seberg does it right.

Not to mention Jackie O. and Coco herself. But it was all about the stripes in the early days. What about that neckline? (Jackie’s boat necks helped it to move along past the stripes.) 

 

 

If you examine the original design on the French sailors closely, you can see that the neckline was widened slightly. When you see an homage to the Breton shirt on Jean Seberg above, you can see the allure of the widened neckline exposing much more of the collarbone.

Then, of course, there is my personal muse, Audrey Hepburn. According to legend, Audrey didn’t love her neck or décolletage. So, many of her necklines were high and wide, exposing just that touch of collar-bone that is so sexy on almost every woman. However, when she was doing the film Sabrina, the boat neckline came up even slightly higher, thus creating a new kind of boat neck now and for all eternity to be called the Sabrina neckline. It isn’t clear whether Givenchy (who designed many if not most of Hepburn’s film wardrobes) or Edith Head (personally my favourite costume designer) who actually designed it since they both worked on the film. [The Sabrina neckline, higher and straighter than the others is on Audrey in the upper left photo below. On the lower right photo of Jackie, hers is almost a Sabrina.]

Jacki & Audrey

Anyway, stylish women have been picking it up ever since. *bats eyelashes*

I learned about drafting boat necks from the pattern-making course I took online from Suzy Furrer. What haunts me most about them ever since is trying to ensure that the back neckline is taken up just enough to ensure that the front of the neckline doesn’t gape. She has a rules she calls the “wide neckline adjustment rule.”

Inkedsuzy furer_LI
Original neckline at high neck point on the left. Newly drawn boat neck on right exposes the shoulder. As much as the designer chooses.

According to what I learned, if the front and back of the boat neck are the same measurement, the front will gape. And the truth is, I have noticed this on some of the ready-to-wear pieces I have picked up over the years. It’s usually a small bit of gaping, but gaping nonetheless. And if I am going to design and make my own pieces, they have to fit perfectly. So, I learn the rule.

Here is an example:

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When I altered the original neckline of this pattern I made (I didn’t like the shape of depth of the original), I decided that it would be better if it were 1/2″ wider on each side in the front (I also brought it up 2″ but that doesn’t affect the shoulder adjustment). So, after I made this change on the front neckline, of course I had to true up the shoulder seam by making the back neckline 1/2″ wider as well giving me a 2 1/2″ shoulder seam which I like with a boat neck. But, as  you can see in the photo below, I also shortened the length of the back neck by 1/8″ by lowering the high neck point.

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If I create a boat neck from my original sloper where the neckline is right at the high neck point, and I want my perfect boat neck which gives me that 2-2 1/2″ shoulder seam, I generally have to shorten the back by as much as 5/8″. In the case of the above example, the point I moved was already a distance from the high neck point (hope this makes sense!).

The point is that the farther out the neckline is from the high shoulder point, the shorter the back needs to be to prevent that gaping – up to about a maximum of 3/4″. Now, I always check these measurements on commercial patterns with boat necks, too.

 

 

[Two of the designs from the GG Collection basics from last year when I was perfecting my perfect boat neck!]

As I doodle toward my fall designs, I’m noting that this neckline keeps popping up there too. Good thing it works in many fabrics in all seasons. So, now I’m back to my design board. Talk soon!

The patterns…

 

 

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

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Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!