It’s a dress! Tunic! Apron! Whatever. It has huge pockets.
Some of us go to work in a suit and tie, others in a nice shirt and pressed pants. Or we did before COVID-19. Now, quite a few folks are going pants-optional while working from home.
Before the onset of the apocalypse, I’d actually dress up in full pseudo-Victorian glory for work, like this fun number:
For those who don’t know me from a potato, this isn’t even a joke. This really is the sort of thing you wear at work when your job is making and selling Steampunk-inspired fashion at conventions (yes, I made a matching face mask because it’s 2020 and I can’t be arsed to put on make-up). Now, of course, conventions are just a distant memory.
Now, of course, conventions are just a distant memory. True, we still have a website for all the fancy clothes, and I do sew the occasional corset or waistcoat for the discerning lady or gentleman (I like to imagine that they hold Plague-time masquerades in their basement, a la “The Masque of the Red Death”).
But on the whole, the world isn’t exactly clamouring for shiny party wear right now. Like lots of other people, I needed to find something else to do with my time.
What do people do when the world goes pear-shaped?
Me, I turned to gardening. Or rather, farming, given how enormous the whole thing has become. You may have gone with baking, or woodworking, or crochet. Maybe juggling baby geese, for all I know. Possibly you’re just being run off your feet chasing several children who are suddenly underfoot ALL THE TIME.
Musing on all this made me want to make something radically different from the beautiful, but fundamentally frivolous, confections which are my normal fare. Something that everyone needs, whether their new hobby or life conditions involve toddlers, vegetables, or waterfowl. Something utilitarian, yet not totally divorced from my usual design aesthetic.
Yes, I know I’ve been making face masks both for sale and donation, but I wanted to indulge in something not quite so ruthlessly pragmatic as that. A touch of whimsy, not just practicality, is what I was after.
So what is something everyone needs?
Pockets. Capacious, voluminous pockets.
No one ever said “You know, these pockets really needs to be a bit more cramped.” But good luck trying to jam all your daily needs (your child’s spare shirt, favourite stuffy, baggy of snacks, your keys, wallet, tissues, phone, and — times being what they are — a couple of spare face masks and a few wet wipes) into your jeans pocket.
Maybe you don’t mind lugging a giant purse around; then you’re a better woman than I. My neck and shoulders ache enough due to my bountiful bosom without adding the weight of a loaded purse. Plus I’d leave my head in a bus stop if it weren’t sewn on, never mind a purse. Also, it’s kind of hard to throw a purse into your washer and dryer once it’s become contaminated by, say, a used face mask.
For my part, I need pruning shears, pens and plant labels, gloves, seed packets, garden stakes, weed knives, and about forty-two other things every time I set foot into my backyard food forest. And now summer’s finally started here in BC, I need to haul in armfuls of zucchini. But I’d also like to have my hands free to swat that cabbage moth off my broccoli.
So yeah, I need great honkin’ cavernous pockets.
The dress/pinafore/tunic/apron thingie (Attempt #1)
This was my first attempt at the new design:
It has a crossover back with a generous overlap which gives you about as much coverage as a normal dress, but you can just slide it on or off like an apron, no closure or ties required:
The pockets are very, very roomy; I can fit almost anything I need into them, including a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread. I really can wear this to shield myself from garden dirt, or while I’m flinging around flour in the kitchen. The full wrap-around protection is fabulous against pets’ and children’s messes as well as hot stove spatters. Importantly, unlike traditional halter-neck aprons, this dress doesn’t put ANY pressure on the back of my neck and give me tension headaches, even when the pockets are fully loaded.
I could also just throw it over a T-shirt and jeans or leggings, and stroll out for some groceries while looking deceptively on-trend and put-together, as if I’d actually made an effort. I could take along my wallet, phone, keys, water bottle, lip balm — no purse needed! — and still have my hands free to haul that watermelon into my shopping cart (or recapture a 3-year-old, if I had one of those).
The crossed back means the straps never slide off the shoulders (it drives me NUTS when purse straps do that!). And I love not needing to tie any waist ties behind me, since I’m made up entirely of thumbs.
The back overlap makes the fit unbelievably forgiving. I wouldn’t say one size fits all, but I’d be willing to say that three sizes might. See how much it can expand if needed?
Tweaking the design
My rather flamboyant red flocking version did, admittedly, have some issues.
Firstly, I think the pockets sit way too low. I wanted them to be situated well below the point where they would add too much bulk over my tummy, but I ended up going too far down. I can only get my hands into my pockets by extending my arms all the way, and even then, I can’t touch bottom:
Secondly, while the fit is supposed to be loose and easy, I think it’s a bit TOO loose around my lower body, which only highlights my sad lack of hips.
Thirdly, I decided I’m not keen on the contrast pockets and edge binding. I intend this to be an everyday garment, and I don’t need these details to call so much attention to themselves.
Finally, while I love this fabric, it’s not exactly what I’d wear to go spread fertilizer around my tomatoes. This isn’t a problem per se, just me already deciding that I want more than one version.
The next version (Attempt #2)
For my garden cover-up tunic/apron, I used a nice sturdy machine-washable cotton-linen blend.
Yes, the pale colour will show all of the dirt I intend to be rolling in, but I actually quite like the idea — an earth-stained, dirt-digging Kitty is a fun novelty compared to corset-wearing, fashion-designer Kitty. Plus this fabric can bleach beautifully, and I love its breathability in the summer heat.
I moved the pockets up in the front. It was just an inch or two, but the proportions look a lot better. I also took in the sides a fair bit. It still looks like a relaxed fit (it always will, since the back is technically open), but now, I don’t feel like I need a hoop-skirt to support the extra material.
Here’s what it looks like with the pockets nicely loaded up:
These pockets are seriously deep and wide; you actually can’t see most of what’s in there. Under the lettuce and assorted garden tools are pounds of peas, bunches of radishes, a hand towel, and a few other things which I couldn’t get to show up in the photos. I swear, they’re bigger on the inside.
And a unisex version (but this one’s just an apron)
I even made Felix (aka Mr. Kitty) a unisex/men’s version. This one is definitely more of a work apron and not a tunic dress, and he probably won’t wear it out of the house, partly because I made it out of neon-green giraffe print. But he does use it all the time to hold assorted screws, hammers, nails, rulers, and bits of wood or leather during his shoemaking and carpentry adventures, and also to keep the rubber cement off his clothes (BTW, the matching mask isn’t just for viruses; it’s also quite useful for sawdust and glue fumes):
I don’t know what it is about this apron-dress I like so much. It just makes me weirdly happy to wander about in the garden in it, filling my pockets with lettuces and munching peas — happier than being all coiffed and laced into my full Victorian regalia. I do know I can stuff more veg in these pockets than I can fit down my cleavage, even in my most uplifting corset. And during this turbulent moment in time, perhaps that’s the really important thing.
P.S.: If you’re wondering about the masks, yes, I made them as well. You can find them here and here. All the elements in the Victorian outfit are also available somewhere on our web store (except for the hat). The pinafore/apron/dress may be made available on the website as well, so look out for that in the future if you like the idea.