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Jan 8, 2013

Restored to Vertical + The Death of the Panel Print



Good news, friends: I awoke this morning feeling only slightly damp (no, my pillow hadn't leaked!), I walked the dogs, and I haven't been back in bed all day.  Even better, I am now nearly 100% caffeine free as I completely lost my taste for coffee (or dairy) during my illness.  I'm calmer with less gas.

Moving right along, readers, has there ever been an historical event or movement in your lifetime that you look back on and say, that affected me directly?  Maybe it's women's suffrage (well, if you're 100), the pill, or the internet.  For me, it is the post-WWII suburbanization of America.  Since for various reasons my family stayed in the Bronx (where my mother remains, in the same apartment no less) while countless schoolyard and apartment building friends disappeared to far-off places like Long Island, New Jersey, and Rockland County, my entire childhood was spent in the shadow of huge demographic and economic shifts that left New York City reeling, the Bronx in particular.  Of course, today, a good many of those original evacuees are aging in the suburbs, too old to drive, and without easy access to the services they need, but at least they didn't have to live with the Puerto Ricans!

Anyway, I bring this up today only because I want to discuss a now-forgotten garment that epitomizes what I consider the suburbanization of fashion itself.  I speak of the panel print shift dress.  Now we all know what a border print is.  But a panel print -- ever heard of it?  (I hadn't.)

Behold!







To me these sunny, casual frocks not only scream "I live in the suburbs," they also proclaim " -- and we have a pool."

Panel print frocks popped up sometime in the early Sixties and lasted through the early Seventies, when a combination of political assassinations, oil embargoes, and a lost war knocked the optimism out of even that most cheerful of types, the home sewer.  Wearing an over-sized strawberry or mutant hibiscus no longer felt in step with the times.









 



Readers, I have never even seen a panel print in a fabric store, have you?  (I noticed on one pattern they're referred to as "engineered prints.")  I did find this one for sale on Etsy.  Looks like it's the real deal too!



Of course, you may already have noticed that many of these panel prints are also suitable for border prints.   Either way they give me the same queasy feeling: forced frivolity.



On a four-year-old, maybe...



NOTE: Please do not confuse the cutesy panel print with the cutesy applique -- another blog post altogether!



Readers, am I guilty of sociological overreach, or can you really see larger societal trends in something as simple as a sleeveless shift dress pattern?  Remember, too, that only one decade earlier, women were sewing frocks like these: hardly the stuff of pool parties or backyard barbecues. 



When people wonder what killed formality in dress, it was the suburbs and the suburban lifestyle.  When there's little public space, no sidewalks, no place to see or be seen other than a shopping mall, nothing to dress up for, you end up with Butterick's "Skimmer Shift."  Then jeans.  And here we are in 2013, watching Mad Men and wondering whatever happened to silk taffeta cocktail dresses.

In closing, what do you make of this largely Sixties American phenomenon, the panel print dress?

Does it ring any bells or just make your teeth ache?

Jump in!

48 comments:

  1. Yes, I remember them! Didn't like them then and still don't, but to each her own. I didn't think they really did anything for the ones who wore them, no style, but I will admit that a simple shift is comfy ;-). Then, I never followed trends, either. Glad you're up and feeling better!

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  2. Ok, I don't like the prints but I like the dresses. I could see myself wearing many of those. Yes, I live in the suburbs and I have a pool! I also live in the south where it is supposed to be 75 tomorrow so I could see myself getting much use out of these dresses.

    -Melissa

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  3. I like the 60's shift dress, but definitely prefer ones that are more geometric or mod to the appliqued nightmares (seriously, why does that woman in Simplicity 5309 have a kitty stitched to her lady zone?! WHY?!).

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  4. Oh that strawberry is mighty suggestive! I like your analysis. I think you're right about suburbs killing formal dress. You need look no further than the streets of Manhattan — a much better-dressed place than Strip Mall America!

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    1. Thank you, Suzanne. A reader once referred to that strawberry dress as "fruit of the womb."

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  5. I remember 60s clothing of the suburbs with painful clarity. Growing up in So. California,my only goal as a teen was to go away to college in the City and get the heck out of there. And to never ever wear anything with giant fruit or kittens on it. Both goals accomplished so far ;)

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  6. likely not so popular in NYC, but panel shifts are still very popular among lilly pulitzer-wearing southern girls (which i admit to being). for example this one with flowers http://www.scsugar.com/lilly-pulitzer-tay-tay-dress-lavish-lillys-placed and this one with an octopus (!!) http://www.michellemignon.com/2012/04/lilly-pulitzer.html
    i see them all over campus in my university town, and not restricted to college girls either.

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    1. My first thought was also Lily Pulitzer.

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    2. Lily Pulitzer was my first thought exactly! Great minds must think alike! :]

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  7. I seem to remember a lot of gingham made up like these shift patterns, and border prints. There was the pink and green pucci prints in Grosse pointe. The golf skirts had some unpredictable prints as well. No panel prints in memory...

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  8. Oh I disagree! I love the panel prints. I was coveting some very lovely panel print shifts at Zara this year. I was not familiar with the term though, I was calling them "scarf prints" in my head, albeit very large scarves.

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  9. Glad you are feeling better! I have had 2 bouts of bronchitis, back to back. A perfect time to sort/organize patterns and stash. I adore 60's shifts. And have several beside me now to puruse. For it to work, like the Lillies mentioned, you need good fit, a great cut, terrific fabric, and your own personal style. I prefer in patterned v.s. panneled fabric. Or in a solid. I am making a violet linen one, with navy with white polka dots as bias facings. My neice says her linen dress, beige with embroidered tulips, is in the works too. Once finished, we will go out together. I suggested adding hats and gloves. We can both pull this off....Agree, in the main, on the suburbs thing. But style is essential to my health....Cathie, in Quebec. (Living in a small city, near Montreal).

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  10. As a European, to me these all scream "Holidays"! I can't imagine anyone this side of the pond wearing these under any other circumstance. Our suburbs were clearly very different from yours!

    Great post. I'd never come across the notion of panel fabric for shift dresses before, only the odd ready-to-cut-and-sew retro circle skirt. A whole new area of research opens up! And although I'm not a shift dress wearer (I need a waist or I turn into a blob), I do like the use of border print in B3079.

    Glad to see you back on your feet!

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  11. Good heavens, Peter! Every time you refer to "the home sewer," I immediately think of the pipes carrying black water away from the home. Cheerful, optomistic pipes, no less. lol

    sew·er
    1 [soo-er] Show IPA
    noun
    1.
    an artificial conduit, usually underground, for carrying off waste water and refuse, as in a town or city.

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    1. What a great giggle for today! I often catch myself and try to use sewist but often say sewer too, though what you describe is always what comes to mind right after I say it.

      All of the 60's are before my time so I can't really comment on this but it is a very good topic. I never thought of the suburbs as where dressing down became the norm but it makes complete sense.

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  12. I agree with Allie. It screams Lily Pulitzer of the 60s. While I am not a LP girl, I do like the panel prints. They are cute and light-hearted. I would totally have worn that on vacation or to a backyard pool party in the 60s or 70s. Yes, taffeta cocktail dresses had their place, but so did these. I grew up in Pittsburgh, in the 'burbs, in a family of country club members in the 70s. This would have been great for taking the kids to the club pool or for a backyard pool party and they would have been great on vacation too. I live in North Carolina now. This would absolutely be acceptable as young sorority girl/young mom summer wear.

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  13. The McCalls 8720 that you show has one version with square panels like big scarves or something. My daughter just brought home a dress with a lace bodice and the skirt made of a similar panel print... and then she showed me almost exactly the same dress in a maxi version in another shop and encouraged ME to buy it (I didn't).
    And WHAT is a "GONK Skimmer"???

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  14. I think you called the death of elegant dress as a result of suburbanization. And you know you're sick when even coffee is unappealing! Glad you're continuing to feel better.

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  15. Do you live in a cave? Do you walk around with your eyes closed? I see panel prints all the time. This dress was a panel print: http://couturearts.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/in-love/

    They have loads of them at Mood. OK, maybe not with the big suggestive strawberries, but with less womb-like themes like flowers. Oh, wait.

    I'm glad you're feeling better.

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  16. I have some panel print in my stash that I "inherited" from a friend of a friend. It's gorgeous! I've had it for about 7 years and been afraid to cut it. I don't want to get it wrong. After seeing this post I'm more confused than ever about how to use it.

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  17. I am still sewing with panel prints. In fact, today I am wearing a dress made from one and it's a sleeveless sheath! Glad you're feeling better.

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  18. I must admit, I'd wear most of those. I love the Lily Pulitzer aesthetic and the panel print dress falls right in line with that. I definitely see these as "suburban wear" though. Something you can wear while eating at tourist restaurant in Florida.

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  19. I bought some panel print yardage and used it for a quilt border; no other possible use for it that I could see. Lilly Pulitzer prints are sui generis; you MUST live in South Florida or risk looking ludicrous in them, but high-heeled mules are a mitigating factor. (3 years in Key Biscayne make me an expert.)

    I'm glad that you're feeling better; keep on keeping on.

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  20. The 60s are before my time. I think of panel prints as the silk panels sold here on the Gulf coast for Vietnamese-Americans who make ao-dao (sp?) patterns.
    You have an interesting theory. I imagine that as church going declined, so did the Sunday best.
    Personally I thought the rise of casual dress came about because of the invention of post-war synthetics which made cheaper un-tailored garments possible- Lycra was invented in '59.

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  21. I think we need to distinguish between panel prints (usually home dec) and border prints. Border prints and border eyelets can be used in many of the same ways. There is creative life beyond the sleeveless shift. Add sleeves to one of these and see what happens. Add some shaping.

    And please!!! do not trash applique with such a large brush (a thoroughly mixed metaphor). My original applique designs (leaves and flowers) are carefully researched, to scale, and as realistic as the medium allows. Not to mention labor intensive. They are not!!! cutesy.

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    1. Please don't take offence. This is all in good fun.

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  22. I have a couple of those patterns. Haven't tried them though.

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  23. The butterick 3579 maxi dresses are lovely. Everything else I would leave.

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  24. These are the sorts of clothes that the late Mother Muscato and her gals in the bridge club would have thought of as "something that second wives might wear." They stuck to wrap skirts, sensible cardigans, and comfortable espadrilles, and in the evenings did their best to pretend that fashion stopped in 1961, running to full skirts, stoles, and everything dyed-to-match. The first new styles that caught their eyes were caftans and palazzo pants, and that wasn't for another eight years or so...

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  25. Hi Peter! Good that you are feeling better.

    What you meant with "but at least they didn't have to live with the Puerto Ricans!" As a Puerto Rican (born and raisedd in PR) I found the comment disrespecful and racist.

    I really enjoy your blog but this comment just made me sad and dissapointed. Well, I guess I should low my expectations.

    Wish you all the best,
    From PR..Cindy

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    1. I certainly understand how that line could be interpreted that way, Cindy. Please rest assured it was meant to reflect the rascism and xenophobia of the millions of white Americans who fled cities like NYC in the 60s and 70s solely out of fear of living next to people who didn't look or live exactly like them. The line you quote reflects that mindset (the Archie Bunkers of the world), not my own.

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  26. They're definitely a Lilly thing. I like them in summer because I can feel dressed up without overheating, but since they're made of cotton and easily washable I have no problem wearing them to work either.

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  27. Hey Peter, I am against the panel print dress in general, but, I must admit, there are some things at Elliott Berman Textiles right now that could change my mind!

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  28. I do remember these types of prints. They really weren't that common in your neighborhood fabric store. My mom had a couple of dresses (both home sewn and RTW) that would fit into this catagory. In my early sewing days I made plenty of shifts since they were the staple of my wardrobe and until I was a senior in high school girls could not wear pants to school. I never made a panel print shift. They sort of scared me and they still do, but for different reasons.
    Glad you are feeling better.

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  29. Glad you are feeling better.

    Have you tried Sanka? It's everything you like about coffee, or so they say.

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    1. I have not drunk Sanka since the Nixon administration.

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  30. Welcome back to the land of the healthy! And happy new year! You ask such interesting questions, Peter. I have fond memories of shifts as a young woman in the South Asian tropics. My sister & I weren't allowed to wear pants or shorts outside the house, and brightly colored shifts were comfortable and showed off our tans (tennis whites OK on the tennis court). They could be shorter with sandals or longer with low heels, but I don't remember my mother wearing them. She never was interested in suburban life; wore beautiful fitted sheaths in cotton or silk. We brought pretty prints in the local market, imported from India or Japan, and adapted the border print sarongs of Thailand and Indonesia. Beautiful fabric, perfect for so many occasions when it's hot hot hot all year.

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  31. Hahahahahaha! I almost lost my tea during the first paragraph! Maybe I should cut our caffeine and dairy ( just sayin')! I will fully admit to recently buying a giant Union Jack panel printed fabric (with the thought of doing a mod sheath dress). Eep! Having recently looked again at the panel.... I would look like a giant flag! Ghastly! Lol.

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    1. Don't you remember Ginger Spice ( Geri Halliwell) of the Spice Girls in her Union Flag dress? Just the thing for attending the musical (in London)!

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  32. Glad to see you vertical, Peter!

    I definitely remember panel prints! I did not own any--I think my mother had one. We lived in southern California, so styles were much less formal, even in the '50s. No air conditioning (for most of us) and temperatures in the 100 degree range four months or so out of the year dictated a different wardrobe than in colder climates.

    I concur with VictoriaR--shifts were the go-to style for most of us in the '60s, as girls were not allowed to wear slacks to school. And boys were not allowed to wear jeans (cords and khakis were acceptable) and t-shirts had to have a pocket (no printed designs)! The dress code at my high school was eliminated the year after I officially graduated.

    Taja

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  33. Glad for you and your recovery! My mom had the design of the middle dress in first pattern. White on top, navy on bottom, and apple green piping! Stunning back in 1968!
    David
    Sanford, Florida

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  34. Glad to hear you're feeling better. This one sounds nasty. As to panel prints, when you mention them, it reminds me of the panels seen in fabric stores and formal shops in the Little Saigon area of Orange County, California. They are hand painted panels of silk fabrics, one of a kind and just beautiful. Unfortunately, you can't be any larger around that 28 inches max in any area because they are made for tiny tiny people.

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  35. It's been ages since I was out and about in the suburbs but I think there is still a huge difference in how people dress there compared to the city (where I live now). I even notice a difference in what people wear if they live downtown or a few kilometers east or West, even if they're still in the city. I guess it has as much to do with trends in socioeconomic status as anything.
    As for panel prints, I just wish there were more prints of any kind available. I have lots of fabric stores in my city but most of the pretty prints are reserved for quilting cotton, which I really dislike for garments.

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  36. I disagree also. I am Peter's age and was a child in the 60's when those panel prints were vogue. A couple of my aunts wore those and they looked great. My mother did not wear those. My mother wore those slacks that were like capri (sp?) pants.

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  37. I have to admit to sewing in the 1960's and 70's and never buying a border print. I did turn a couple of Soulieado cotton scarves into a cool skirt in the mid-70's, but panels were too disturbing.

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  38. I hate the style - there could be nothing worse for my figure than a straight up and down shift. Ugh!
    BUT - I do have a piece of fabric in my stash that would be perfect for one of these garments. It's very narrow and the design goes along the length of the dress. It's cream cotton with navy and gold metallic paint - I guess it's *like* batik but not sure if it actually is. It's so pretty but I've never been able to find the right project for it!

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  39. Own the Shaheen pattern and screen-printed fabric, uncut. HUGE orange poppies
    Love the dresses, some of the prints, if they're Hawaiian florals, and without 'unfortunate' pattern placement!

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