Pattern: improvised based on standard ATS skirt
Fabric: a 100% wool Gordon tartan skirt
Haberdasheries: one button, two snaps, white petersham ribbon (4 cm wide)
As you may know from previous posts, I’ve been doing QAIMNS, VAD and WLA for a while, but more recently I’ve started getting into other WW2 women’s uniforms as well. I’ve got the well-known book World War II British Women’s Uniforms, and there’s a picture in there of an ‘ATS officer, Scottish Command’ which I thought it would be really awesome to make a Gordon version of. Which meant getting a side cap and making a kick-pleated Gordon tartan skirt!
It isn’t that easy to find the right fabric for a skirt like this, so I got an existing skirt from eBay which was basically a women’s kilt:
I took it apart and then made a pattern based on my standard ATS skirt, adding kick-pleats at all four front and back seams using this tutorial.
|The fabric passed the cat test|
|One set of pleats close up|
To create a neat skirt, I needed the yellow lines in the tartan to line up at the seams. My regular method of simply placing pins at those lines and sewing over them (carefully) didn’t work for this fabric (it moved, despite the pins) so I ended up using thin double-sides adhesive tape, which worked surprisingly well! I just sewed over it and tore the tape away afterwards.
|The double-sided adhesive tape in action|
This 1941 fragment of ATS girls sewing their own ‘kilts’ was of some help in making my skirt, but as I couldn’t see all the details or find any photos of an original skirt anywhere, I had to make a few assumptions. Like in the standard ATS skirt, I made a front opening with a button (black version of the standard battledress button) and two snaps and finished the waist with white petersham ribbon. Finally, I used the eBay skirt’s existing hem!
I love, love, love this uniform! I think it’s so lovely and flattering. Apparently the ATS uniform jacket didn’t live up to the wartime fashion and beauty standard at all, and people did not think was flattering at the time, as is accounted on pages 144-5 of Virginia Nicholson’s very interesting book Millions Like Us:
For a surprising number of women the main factor influencing their choice of what service to join “was the clothes. Few of them knew what to expect, so they judged on appearances. Christian Oldham (…) joined the Wrens in 1940. Years later, when she published an account of her time with the service, Christian couldn’t decide what to call it, until she casually mentioned to her editor, ‘You know, I only joined for the hat.’ They both agreed it would make the perfect title.
Christian Oldham claims to have been ‘hat-minded’ from the age of three. At twenty she was even more susceptible to the flattering double-breasted tailored jacket, svelte skirt and pert tricorne hat that comprised the officers’ uniform. Vera Laughton Mathews, director of the Wrens, had commissioned the elite fashion designer Edward Molyneux to come up with the look. ‘The effect was a winner,’ according to Christian, and entirely accounted for the huge waiting list of applicants wishing to join:
‘The great thing was, of course, that the ATS and WAAFs had these frightful belts which made their bottoms look enormous, whereas the Wrens had this nice straight uniform which concealed your worst points. Joining the Wrens was quite the most fashionable war work.’
Admittedly, the ATS uniform lacked pulling power: in truth, a single-breasted, belted khaki jacked bulked out with cumbersome pleated pockets did nothing for one’s figure. The WAAFs suffered from the same defect where pockets and belts were concerned, accentuating hips and bottoms.”
How things change! Or maybe it’s just my taste and my not overly busty and hippy figure, but the Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Service) uniform is my least favourite and I don’t think either the double breasted jacket or the hat flattering! What’s not to love about the ATS jacket, which cinches one’s waist while, indeed, adding to bust and hips? It certainly works for my 8 figure.
If you want to know more about women in the wartime services, I recommend the aforementioned Millions Like Us, a very nice read indeed!
The jacket, side cap and tie are original, the shirt and shoes are post-war military issue, the lanyard is a reproduction by my friend Anne, and the bag is from Soldier of Fortune. I certainly don’t think all their reproduction stuff is good (the ATS caps, for instance, are awful) but they did a decent job on the bag. Also, original bags tend to have lots of stains and look about as old as they are now, but I want to look like I’m wearing this uniform sometime between 1940 and 1945!
What I should add, by the way, is that these skirts, as well as the side caps, were ‘private purchase’, so non-standard items, and were only worn in Scotland, and not overseas.
Aaand when I got home I put my jacket on my ironing board to vent, and the obvious thing happened… :P