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Apr 11, 2012

50's Glam Alert -- The Opera Coat



Friends, I hope you agree that the zenith of 50's glam fashion was the opera coat.  Alternatively known as the swing coat, this is a long, voluminous, tent-like garment you see all the time in 50's fashion magazines, 50's movies, and 50's sewing patterns.  It lived well into the 1960's, but like so many glamorous styles of the mid-century, it died in the era of mini skirts and jeans.







It usually had 3/4 sleeves, huge cuffs, and either a Peter Pan collar, a mandarin collar, an oversized collar, or no collar at all.  And volume, lots of volume.



The ultimate version is done in something like silk taffeta with a lining that matches the dress.







The opera coat also happens to be the perfect garment for a woman enceinte, so I've decided my cousin Cathy simply must have one.

Remember yesterday's rants?  Well, they're all resolved.  My sewing machine is on its way from Colorado via Fed Ex and my duster/housecoat pattern, Simplicity 3216 -- which will serve as my opera coat pattern -- has arrived!  In fact, I've cut and made it up already.  Voila!





Friends, have you ever sewn up a coat, gone to bed, and the next morning realized that what you'd created what would work much better as a lining?  Well, it happened to me this morning.  This thin glossy, cotton in this lovely floral print is simply too busy to go over a peppermint stripe smock -- you don't see a lot of print-mixing back in the 50's, -- and it's also too light-colored and lightweight.  But it would be the perfect lining for a pink salmon-colored coat.  (Opera coats also tended to be solid.)  So I must find that fabric today.  Four yards of polyester moire collecting dust in a remnant pile would be perfect.  Won't you help me magnetize this, readers?


In closing, what do you think of the opera coat?  Have you ever worn/wanted to wear one? 

I'm not sure Cathy can bring back the scoop-front maternity skirt, but the opera coat -- I think she could have a real impact.

Have a great day, everybody!

Lovely Suzy Parker

38 comments:

  1. Was just having a big argument with my mother about swing coats yesterday! I find them strange! After popping on that nice tight figure-hugging dress, why cover yourself with a tent?

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    1. But doesn't the contrast of full over narrow add to the visual excitement of the outfit?

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    2. Yes, Scorpioninblue, I totally agree! Dramatic contrast is the thing!

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    3. This contrast won't be noticed unless the swing coat is worn open. It's just a slightly lower brow version of the cape shown in that top photo.

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    4. But the key element it creates is mystery!! You want to see what's underneath that coat and nothing is more tantalizing to the male eye! That is simply called allure! It's pleasing and you watch that woman hoping to get a glimpse of what's underneath! On a side note, many young women are also returning back to the veil in their wedding dress choices, no doubt inspired by the recent royal wedding and again that is exciting to see in the eyes of those present at the ceremony. The simple act of lifting the veil makes the bride the true and only star as everyone want to see her radiant happy face!! Bring back mystery, subtle refinement and above all ALLURE!!

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  2. mmm yes, i think i could imagine myself wearing an opera coat made from a luxurious shiny fabric...*wanders off to Etsy*

    I'm so glad you recognised that fabric would make a much better lining than outer fabric for Cathy's coat.

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  3. My husband and I have season tickets to the opera, and I intended to make a fabulous opera coat. Alas, they moved the operas to the summer season and this is Texas. There's no way I'd wear a coat in 100 degree weather.

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  4. Totally agree that the floral print would be better as a lining. As a petite (read: Short Person), swing coats tend to swallow me whole. Cathy, on the other hand, could pull it off -- as she does with everything. Totally jealous, I am.

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  5. Hurrah for a return to glamour for Cathy! I have a very luxurious Alpaca swing coat from the 50's, and I love it! So warm, and looks fantastic no matter what you wear under it. I hope you find your luxury fabric today....

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  6. I can't imagine dragging around all that fabric. I guess if I had a chauffeur I could do it. Does the father of Cathy's baby have a chauffeur or is he a chauffeur?

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  7. An opera coat would look like a tent on many women today, myself included. But, I love the idea of the glamour of the 50s for Cathy. She looks great in everything because she has the perfect figure. *sigh* I guess we can't all be Cathy but we can live vicariously through her.

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  8. Fantastic! I can't wait to see this as lining.

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  9. I have a vintage pattern for the opera coat but this one is reversible so I need 4 mts of BOTH fabrics. That's a lot to purchase for a one-off garment so I'll watch yours with interest.

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  10. I saw a lovely red 1950's coat like this, tailor-made of the finest wool... I could have bought it for $8 but when I put it on, it made me feel like a 500-pound tomato. No thanks! I have read that one reason for the popularity of these coats was the postwar baby boom. I believe that, because I could have smuggled a set of triplets underneath that thing!

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  11. An opera coat has been on my to-sew list for ages. Are you sure 4 yds would be enough? The opera coat pattern that I have calls for 7. I can't wait to see your result!

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  12. I was watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on the weekend and Jane Russell wears two swing coats on the boat, once over a bathing suit and a second time over a black pants and halter top. It was short and adorable. Possibly easier for us shorter of stature people to wear but I still suspect I would be lost in it.

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  13. I made a velvet cape similar to Audrey Hepburn's in the first photo to go with my senior prom dress. I'm sure I looked odd with my hooded cape and opera-length gloves but I felt so glamorous. I must dig it out of the storage bin and wear it more often.

    I agree that the flowery material would much better suit Cathy as a lining for a soft coat. You wouldn't want to draw too much attention away from her figure.

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  14. Yes, but then again, there is
    this
    (from the truly marvellous archives here)

    Kate in England

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  15. I have a lovely black one with a Peter Pan collar. I love it and it really is the thing to wear when your dress is one that begs for a crinoline. Only problem I have is I always end up having to explain to someone that I am wearing a swing coat, not a parka.

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  16. Oh, man, I love an opera coat! One of the greatest influences in my wardrobe and sewing career was a white opera coat lined with brilliant orange sparkly fabric that matched the stunning deep cowl back dress underneath. It was worn by Doris Day in the film Do Not Disturb - pictures can be seen here http://www.eveoutofthegarden.com/2011/09/do-not-disturb-doris-day-rod-taylor.html
    When she entered the room the coat was closed and gave no hint of the dress underneath. I also loved Cher in one in Moonstruck. One day I will sew one for myself.

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  17. Oh yes, I love these. I ended up sewing one to wear over my wedding dress.... i mean, if you have an evening wedding, it's like the best opportunity ever to flounce around in a floor length silk coat! ;)

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  18. My aunt said you wore a very figure hugging dress with the baggy coat. Well, she did anyway. I actually like them, not on me of course. I think you would have to be very tall, thin and have a graceful neck.

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  19. I'm making one now, using Vogue 1083, one of their reissued vintage patterns from 1953. I've finished the wool shell and set it aside because spring came early, but it's fabulous.
    I'm not tall, but by shortening the coat a couple of inches, redrawing the side seamline to take full advantage of the 90" circumference at the hem, and shortening the turned up cuff width a little, the proportions are now fine for my 5'4" frame. I also used one smaller size than I usually do for dress pattern from Vogue. It is a lot of volume.
    Coincidentally, my mother gave me her fur coat from the early 50s last fall, and it is the same style. She is 5'2" and the fur coat looked fine on her and it looks fine on me.

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    1. Vogue 1083 is gorgeous. Good luck with it!

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  20. I love opera coats!!! I agree they are the height of glamour. And yes I have worn one - in the finals of Miss Pinup Australia, I made one to wear over my vintage ballgown. Haven't worn it since though... but its Autumn in Australia and I'm thinking about sewing for winter... I might just make myself a knee-ish length one!

    And I love the idea of matching the lining an opera coat to the dress underneath - but then I think I wouldn't want to wear the coat with a different dress. My wardrobe would end up full of dresses with matching coats that I rarely wore.

    Might do it just once though!

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  21. I have SO many patterns that have these coats, including one or two modern ones. I LOVE them, but I've never made one. I can't imagine wearing it, except maybe for a very special occasion. I don't have many of those.

    Cathy's will be stunning, and she will be stunning in it while she "waits". Love the floral lining. Inspired, that is!

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  22. I have had a couple of "Opera" coats in my life. One was a flesh pink gabardine with a satin lining, peter pan collar, 3/4 sleeves. I didn't wear it much because the lining kept sagging and I couldn't figure out how to fix it.

    Another was a black gabardine cape with hood. Very plain, and went over formal wear that I found myself wearing quite a bit during that period. I always wanted to make it with a faux fur hood, but alas never did.

    The best was a rayon standard opera coat that was navy rayon blend, unlined, 3/4 sleeves and peter pan collar. I always referred to it as my Della Street coat. (I was madly in love with Perry Mason and used to fantasize I was Della Street.)

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  23. Ohhh, I do love them. But I want you to see me in my wiggle dress! As a former fat girl gone glamorous I have a hard time wearing things that make me look big. I worked hard for this figure and I want to make sure it hits you in the eye...

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  24. I have always wanted to make a really full coat in rainwear fabric. But in the Bay Area we have so little rain, I can't justify the expense, unless I find a really good deal in the second hand store.
    Those full coats in the 50's had to fit over those really full "new look" skirts. And I think the use of tons of fabric was in response to the skimpy amounts of fabric used during the war years. Never had a really full coat in the 50's, I was too young to have any interest.
    Cathy will be so comfy even though dressed up, in a really full coat. So many pregnant women have to grin and bear the fact that their coat will no longer meet in the middle! But somehow those hormones keep her warm, coat or no.

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  25. I would make an opera coat out of a deep red velvet and cotton flannel lining if I had the chance. :)

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  26. I love the opera coat. So elegant! Can't wait to see the finished coat. Are you making it for Cathey?

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  27. I love the pattern just above the house coat. ( Black coat and print dress with a red print dress to the right.) Could you share the maker and number?

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  28. I love the pattern just above the house coat. ( Black coat and print dress with a red print dress to the right.) Could you share the maker and number?

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    1. I wish I knew -- I found the pic online and I can't remember where. It's looks to be a Butterick, however, from the artwork. Sorry!

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    2. Thanks for posting it for all to see. For the record, I love swing coats, especially over skinny pants with ballet flats a la Miss Hepburn in Sabrina.

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  29. Swing coats are FABULOUS! I have a pink wool vintage one that cost $1.09 at the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store, a vintage black wool one with all over embroidery of fans that set me back a whole $11.00, and the Vintage Vogue pattern and big plans! I still miss the black swing coat trimmed with red piping and lined in red that I wore, pregnant and not, in the 80's. I'm 5'2'' and slender and think these coats look great on almost anyone. A tall, big-boned friend of mine made the Vogue pattern and looks great in it.

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