Saturday, February 24, 2018

title pic The Catherine Marshall 1940 Easter Dress

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on April 8, 2012


My newly-sewn vintage Easter dress.

Happy Easter!
Back in the days of vintage clothing, a lady’s Easter dress and corresponding accessories were some of her most thought-out and anticipated outfits of the year!  No one went to church on Easter Sunday without a new dress, flowery hat, high heel shoes, and white gloves.  So since this yearly spring outfit played such a huge role in a 1940s woman’s wardrobe, it just wouldn’t seem right to be a vintage dress enthusiast without acquiring and new outfit for the occasion!

Inspired by Jean Peter's film costume, this dress has a definite 1940s feel.

As I was planning to sew for my own Easter ensemble this year, I realized that I far prefer projects where I’m actually reproducing a film costume as closely as possible.  I wanted the outfit to be have a definite vintage feel to it, but not be as “party dress” looking as most of the Hollywood movie costumes from that era were designed.  So without a moment’s hesitation I decided upon recreating Catherine Marshall’s church dress from the 1955 classic movie, A Man Called Peter.
A Man Called Peter Movie
This outstanding film was based on the real-life story of Peter Marshall and Catherine Wood, and is one of Hollywood’s finest motion pictures  (besides being my favorite movie from the 1950s!).  With all the huge musical arrangements and 1940s fashion, this stirring tale is masterfully woven together with the stellar performances of Richard Todd and Jean Peters.  It was Twentieth Century Fox’s highest grossing motion picture of the entire year and quickly became a family classic.

In my estimation Jean Peters was almost as lovely an actress as Olivia de Havilland!

Miss Peter’s portrayal of Catherine Wood/Marshall was so convincing in showing her transition from young college girl to a devoted mother and pastor’s wife.  Richard Todd’s own acting as the warm-hearted Peter Marshall was fabulous.  Marshall’s rise from Scottish mill-worker to chaplain of the United States Senate is equally thrilling,  but if you can watch the last few minutes of the film without sobbing you have to be a close relative of Mr. Scrooge, the Grinch that Stole Christmas, or Oscar the Grouch!

You must see this film!

But best of all, her dresses and hairstyles are FABULOUS!  I’ll be posting a huge study of her movie costumes next week, but for now I will show the details of the dress which I recreated.

Horizontal lines are NOT flattering on short people such as myself, but I kept the pleats to be as true as possible to the original costume

So if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re probably wondering what Jean Peter’s film costume actually looked like! It had feminine but conservative styling, with more 1940s tailoring to the bodice than the year it was supposed to be set in (1936). The bodice has a stiff collar and turn-back cuffs made of white contrasting fabric, and the rest of the dress was constructed from a cream colored cotton broadcloth.  Wide tucks line the upper bodice to below the bust in the front only, and in the back the bodice is completely fitted and straight.  The main point which gives this dress away for pre-WWII era is the apparently bias-cut skirt with an almost circular look to it.  Since I made my entire dress from 1.5 yards of 108″ wide material I wasn’t able to make the skirt quite as full as the original, but this slightly slimmer look only adds to the 1940s feel of the outfit.

This tailored dress was worn by Jean Peters for all the pre-engagement church scenes in the film.

Let it be known that the color of cotton sateen which I used for this dress was much closer to the movie costume than these photographs show!  For some reason the natural afternoon lighting made my dress look much lighter than it really is, so the contrast in my pictures between the collar/cuffs and the main dress is not how it looks when hanging in my closet.
Below are a couple more photos of Jean Peter’s film costume, which she often wore with two different cream hats or without a hat at all.

I think there was always an unofficial competition amongst the women on Easter Sunday as to who had the prettiest dress and the most ornate hat!


"In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it..."


One surprising Sunday Catherine Wood got engaged in this dress as well!

In the photograph above you can see more detail in the split sleeve cuffs and stiff neck collar, which I recreated using a heavily-interfaced silk shantung.  The same weight of interfacing was also used for the stiff belt, which I unfortunately was forced to cut wider than the movie version simply because the only belt buckle I had available at the last minute was wider as well.

You wouldn't believe the amount of hair gel and bobby pins it took to keep my hair in place!


The beaded purse is around fifty years old and was given to me by my late-grandmother.

So with my Easter dress sewing project behind me, I’m looking forward to studying more of this movie’s costumes in detail in the upcoming week here on the blog.  I will also be telling some more about the real life Catherine Marshall, who was a profilic writer until her passing.  Today her granddaughter Mary Marshall carries on the family’s legacy, and she has graciously allowed me to use some photographs of the actual Marshall family from their official website.  Below are pictures of Catherine Wood Marshall in her forties, during which point she was already a best-selling author.  You can find her books and the “Man Called Peter” dvd for sale here.

The middle-aged Catherine Marshall. What a pretty dress!This 1950s shirtwaist dress reminds me very much of Lucille Ball.



So I hope you all had a wonderful Resurrection Sunday, and until next time, happy sewing!