American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns

Have you seen the movie American Hustle? Oh honey, in the 70s, I was there. The knit dresses cut down to there. The men with hair everywhere. The whole feeling of “Vietnam’s over, the feminist movement’s started, and we have birth control.  Let’s dress up and have a party!” We would go to the disco and dance for hours. The scene with the two leads in the Studio 54 bathroom stall? Totally could have happened anywhere in the US during that time.

I’m not sure how American Hustle will translate into other eras and cultures, but everything in it resonated with me, particularly the wardrobe.

American Hustle StillAmerican Hustle Wrap

In one scene, Amy Adams tries on an instantly recognizable Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey wrap dress, which looks like this:

DVF Wrap

DVF’s wrap dress design is now celebrating it’s 40th anniversary. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-designers/dvf-wrap-dress-0214  I was happy to see that the reissue of this dress is made of the original silk jersey, which makes these dresses a cut above the countless polyester knock-offs we’ve seen since.

Seeing that wrap dress reminded me that DVF did a number of patterns for Vogue in that era. So people like me who were living on a shoestring could make their own. That led me to Etsy, where I bought this pattern last night.

DVF Wrap PatternI like how they show the dress as reversible.

A lot of people make fun of 70s, but it was a great time for design and for sewing. In the early 70s, Butterick’s “Young Designer” pattern series allowed teens like me, living in the midwest, to make dresses by new designers like Betsy Johnson, whose clothes we’d only seen in Seventeen magazine.

Betsy Johson pattern

Trust me, no one had done slinky tank dresses like this, and there certainly weren’t patterns for them. I had spent all of my grade-school years in uncomfortable dresses with crinolines and smocking, then freezing cold, constricting mini shift dresses. In junior high, I made this dress out of Quiana polyester with pale roses on it. I LOVED it! The Young Designers line also had patterns by new youthful designers such as Kenzo, Mary Quant, Clovis Ruffin, and Willi Smith. The clothes were fun and comfortable.

By the late 70s, everyone in the country had heard about Studio 54, and what a fabulous, hedonistic place it was. Though in reality, it was probably more like this:

Studio 54

That’s the designer Halston on the left, Bianca Jagger in some odd hoodie next, some other guy, Liza Minelli, and yes, PREPPY Michael Jackson. Were they really having fun? I don’t know. The whole era got to be too much after awhile.

Speaking of Halston, in the late 70s and early 80s, he designed some great patterns for McCalls:

Halston pattern #1Halston pattern #2 Very Amy Adams in American Hustle.

I remember making this knit top and skirt in the early 80s, when I was first working as a television producer:

Halston pattern #3

I wore it on a field shoot, one thing led to another, and the guy I was interviewing and I ended up at the Plaza. Those were the days, my friend.

You can see more Halston patterns on my pinterest page: Make Your Own Vintage Halston. The patterns are not too hard to find on Ebay and etsy.com.

Let’s get back to the wrap dress. Diane Von Furstenberg is known for “inventing” it, but it was around for a long time before that:

McCardell Popover

This rare early 50s Claire McCardell pattern, released by Spadea, was drafted from a retail McCardell dress, like this:

McCardell Popover DressMcCardell Popover in the Metropolitan Museum Collection

The bodice is cut on the bias, a technique McCardell learned by deconstructing Vionnet dresses while she was a student in 1920’s Paris. She had wrap dresses in her line from the 40s through her death in the late 50s, though she called them “popover” dresses. More on this design later.

These dresses never really go out of style. Just today, I spotted this new Vogue pattern from Donna Karan:

Donna Karan Wrap Pattern

Bias cut, very nice. Here’s the link: Donna Karan Vogue Wrap Pattern. Many of Donna Karan’s early sewing patterns (including the ones she did for Anne Klein) were influenced by Claire McCardell’s designs.

Hm, I think I have some wrap dresses in my sewing future…after all, when Mad Men returns it will be in the full-on 70s.

What do you think of 70s fashion? Thumbs up or down? Any fashion memories, good or bad?

20 thoughts on “American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns

    • Hi Carmen, that’s a great take on the wrap. What era is it? Could you recreate it by cutting two front panels of an A-line dress pattern and trimming them diagonally?
      As for the guy, nah, not him. I married the one that took me to Paris.

  1. Man oh man…yes I was there in the 70’s as a teenager and in 1979, a 20 year old. I also made most of my clothes during those junior high school years and some outfits during high school. I remember going to the fabric store at that time and wanting to buy every junior miss pattern they had! I think most of the patterns I purchased at the time were from Simplicity because they looked more conservative which was my upbringing!
    Actually, I hated the 70’s fashions except for the wrap dress and midi skirts which I absolutely loved. Every one at school made fun of me for wearing midi skirts when the style was short or above the knee, but I didn’t care I loved and still love the look of the midi…thanks for the blast in the past. Lamar Mendiola

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’ve been checking out your blog, and you could definitely rock those Halston looks. The costuming really made that movie. As for MJ in the argyle sweater…was his mom picking out his clothes?

  2. Haha, Julie, great post! Not all of my own 1970s fashion memories are fond. But anyway. American Hustle was a lot of fun. Did you know there’s an Inspired by the Movies contest coming up on Pattern Review? Get your wardrobe tape ready . . .

  3. Hi Patricia, I do know about that contest coming up on PR, and I’m tempted to participate. The guidelines are pretty loose so it’s easy to do a vintage look. I’ll have to cook up something that busts some of my fabric stash as well. Are you going to join in?

  4. I just discovered your website and have found it to be very informative and a lot of fun. I saw American Hustle a few weeks ago, and love the movie.
    As an aside, the man sitting next to Liza Minnelli is, I believe, Jack Haley Jr. Ms. Minnelli’s one-time husband and the son of Jack Haley, who played the tin man in the Wizard of Oz. For a little while, Dorothy’s daughter was married to the Tin Man’s son!

    • Hi Betty, Thanks for the trivia tidbit! I just googled Jack Haley Jr., and that is him. Now I feel bad for calling him “some other guy.” But you’re right, I am trying to have some fun. Those of us in the sewing community spend a lot of time in quiet contemplation (with the occasional expletive outburst when something goes wrong), so it’s fun to catch up with other sewing people online.

  5. I used to do a lot of sewing years ago, but sort of got out of it, but reading your site, and other sewing blogs, I’m beginning to get interested again. I’m finding your site very inspirational.

    As for the Jack Haley Jr. trivia, I happened to know who he was, as I’m a huge classic film fan, and an even bigger fan of MGM musicals. So, of course, I know a little about the Oz movie and the actors that were involved in the picture. I knew that Liza, with a Z, was married to Jack Haley Jr. at one point in her life.

    • I’m a big classic film fan, too, and a musical fan, so I should have figured out the Liza connection. So much great fashion in those old movies. I’m a big pattern collector and have a stash of Edith Head patterns from the 50s that look like “Hitchcock Blonde” suits. Also some Spadea patterns from the 50s by movie costume designers such as Travilla (who designed the famous “Marilyn on the grate” dress from “Seven Year Itch”) and Charles LeMaire, who designed costumes for “All About Eve”.
      You know, I hadn’t sewn for more than 20 years, but picked it up again a couple of years ago. I started out making Halloween costumes for my son and got the bug again. Since I learned in the 60s on a 50s black metal Singer, I’m using old-school techniques which have stood the test of time. It’s nice to have some “Slow Fashion” in my closet.

  6. it’s great to know that you’re also a classic film fan and like Travilla. I adore his designs, especially in movies like How to Marry a Millionaire and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I understand that Marilyn Monroe loved how he made her look in her movies.

  7. I’m a huge fan of American Hustle and Diane Von Furstenberg’s inspiration but I must be the only one on earth who wasn’t a Haltson fan.

    “Some other guy” LOL! Jack Haley Jr. was a famous award winning producer/director. I would hope after winning getting two Peabody Awards, eight Emmy Nominations and two Emmy awards, he would be known more than being the tin man’s son and Liza’s husband for a while in th 70’s. He had an amazing talent.

    • Hi Angela, thanks for stopping by! I did love Halston back then because his clothes were so comfy for gals like me just entering the workforce. And those patterns were easy to make, considering I could never have afforded to buy a real one! I did get to see several of his gowns in person, as my sister was dancing with the Martha Graham Company at the time, and he would loan the dancers gowns for their galas. I remember them being in a heavy, drapey knit in oranges and jewel tones.
      As for Jack Haley Jr., well I owe his heirs an apology, don’t I! And what about the “pantsuit” Liza wore at the Oscars…hm…think she got an old Halston out of the closet and said, “what the hell”?

  8. Hi, Just popped over from The Vintage Traveler and have been perusing your blog. I loved the clothing in American Hustle (which, as you probably know was filmed in Worcester and Boston) but it reminded be of how I regretted not being tall and willowy in the 1970s so, I didn’t feel like I could wear those clingy looks. My mother had sewn most of my clothes until I learned to sew in my early teens, and I loved nothing more than pouring through pattern books and looking at fabric. I’m very inspired by your having taken up sewing after being away from it for a long time.

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by! I do remember that it was much harder to wear those looks if you needed a bra and didn’t have legs a mile long (so we wore platforms and jiggled around). Thank goodness there’s Spanx nowadays!
      I’m really glad that I’ve re-embraced sewing, and now it’s quite easy to start over because of the wealth of information and classes available online, particularly at craftsy.com.

  9. Wow, whatever happened to Quiana polyester fabrics? As a poor apparel design student in the late ’70’s I used it a lot for design projects, and later on for custom made dresses. Anyone else remember or actually use Quiana fabrics back in the day?

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