Iconic Dior Bar Jacket

Iconic Dior Bar Jacket - Marcy Tilton Fabrics
The La Galerie Dior, the Dior Museum in Paris is a must-see for all who are interested in fashion and design. No expense has been spared in this intriguing and breathtaking space, 3 floors filled with an extravaganza of Dior garments from the past to the present. The exhibitions change often as the clothes are fragile and cannot take being out in the light and air for long - so be sure to check that the museum is open when you want to go. I was lucky to hit the last day before a closing when I visited last fall. Book tickets in advance. It is a good idea to go as soon as the museum opens to avoid crowds. The Dior museum is conveniently located right around the corner from the beautiful flagship store on Avenue Montaigne. We booked 11 AM museum tickets, then arrived at the store when it opened at 10 to visit the charming small cafe for tea and pastries, an extravagance worth every centime.

The museum exhibition starts by being whisked to the top in an elevator or walking up the exquisite illuminated circular staircase surrounded by half scale garments and accessories organized by color.

The very first garment to be revealed is the Bar Jacket, the iconic jacket created by Christian Dior for his first fashion show post WW2 in 1947 - the fashion show that changed the way women dressed and was famously dubbed 'The New Look' by Carmel Snow, the Editor in Chief of Harpers Bazaar US. The Bar Jacket is ivory, in a soft shape, with sloping rounded shoulders and, very narrow waist which is emphasized with padding at the hips. Shown with the jacket is the ample swinging skirt, dubbed the ‘Corolle’. This legendary outfit would have been very heavy as they used fabrics that were pre-war.

Why is it called the Bar Jacket?

Meant to be worn for the cocktail hours of bars in the grand hotels of Paris, it took its name from the bar at the Plaza Athenee which Monsieur Dior frequented - it is right down the street from the shop and workrooms.

The Bar Jacket has become a signature piece for the house of Dior and is being re-interpreted today.

As part of the museum experience, there is an airy room filled with small bright vitrines containing the ‘toiles’ for many different garments, from jackets to evening gowns, all made with couture perfection in white muslin (toile), complete with penciled-in details and muslin faux buttons. In this room is a demonstration area where retired Dior ‘mains’ (literally, ‘hands’ - the skilled workers who make the clothes), demonstrate their area of expertise. I was thrilled to see that the demonstration that day was on the construction of the Bar Jacket! I was even more delighted when a small group of French women of a certain age stopped and asked to see the entire process involved in making the jacket. From their questions, it was obvious that they sewed and I could just listen in and make photos. (My French is not great, but good enough to follow along and ask a few questions of my own).

For instance, this demonstration jacket uses couture construction for a contemporary jacket. It is not a reproduction of the original 1947 Bar Jacket, but is made to measure and far more elevated in workmanship than the ready to wear versions available this spring in the $5000 range. Sadly, none of us asked Madame what the cost would be on this jacket.

The original Bar Jacket was made of ivory silk shantung and took a whopping 4 yards. This version shown here was in a supple weighty ivory silk.

This shows the ‘toile’, or muslin for the Bar Jacket. The weight of the toile will be similar to the fabric in the finished garment. A special kind of muslin is produced especially for the couture houses and is nothing like the flimsy muslin often found in the US. Each detail is perfectly executed. This fabric is not easy to work with. Every flaw shows, it takes many hours of experience to make such a perfect toile. This would be used for the first fitting and then the pieces will be transferred to paper to make the pattern.

Customers come for at least three fittings during the course of construction. The house will make a dress form to replicate the client’s figure, and may change the dress form as the client changes. The person who makes the dress form is another couture expert with years of training and experience.

The entire jacket is underlined, in this case with a fine cotton and pad stitched using silk thread. At this stage everything is sewn by hand including the seams which are basted and will be machine sewn when the fitting is done. In this photo, in the foreground you can see the collar pieces which have been pad stitched. In her hands, see the inside of the jacket under construction. Every seam is overcast by hand. Just this simple step takes a lot of practice to get the stitches even and perfectly flat - even the clips have been hand overcast. Note the deep hem too - this will also be refined in fittings. From the right you can see the effect of the hand stitching.

The pattern pieces have all the instructions for cutting the outer fabric, the underlining and the pieces that are used as padding to conceal layers or to add structure. Here on the sleeve piece, which is part of a 3 piece sleeve, you can see the straight of grain, along with instructions for cutting ‘entoilage’(interfacing) to be cut at the cap of the sleeve and at the hem. Notes on the pattern piece indicate that it is cotton and cut on the bias. This extra layer softens the cap of the sleeve so the shoulder pad and underpinnings do not show, also adds interfacing behind the buttonholes, and softens the hem edge. In the background you can see how the outline of the sleeve piece is hand basted to the jacket fashion fabric. The basting lines indicate seams. Generous seam allowances will be added when cutting out the pattern pieces - and are not all the same width. In the lower photo, you can see the cutting plan for the lower section of the sleeve.

Both upper and under collar are pad stitched with careful small stitches in fine silk thread, the stitches formed over the hand to sculpt and shape the collar. The front lapel is also hand pad stitched - and, yes, it shows on the right side, and that area will never be seen, but the shaping stays forever.

Once the body of the jacket is constructed and fitted to the client it is time to set the sleeves. This requires a separate fitting. The sleeve is basted together with the hem basted in place. Then the sleeve will be basted to the armhole at the underarm from notch to notch. The client puts on the jacket, and the tailor will ‘walk’ the sleeve up to the armhole, adjusting for the client’s figure, inserting a shoulder pad as needed. The sleeve length will be determined at this point, so the final depth of the vent can be determined and the buttonhole placement can be marked. One of the sure signs of a couture garment is hand worked functional buttons and buttonholes on the sleeve vent.

Hand worked buttonholes use 3 types of silk thread: a fine thread to mark the size and placement, a cord to add depth and strength, and the special buttonhole thread to make the buttonhole. It goes without saying that the secret to this level of perfection is practice, practice, practice.

The colored threads are all the various weights of silk thread that the couturier might use for different tasks. This photo gives a good peek into the inner workings of the jacket.

The jacket under construction will look like this (of course it would be a full garment, not half…). The Bar Jacket emphasizes curves, so a special pad is inserted at the hip. Legend has it that just before the 1947 fashion show that introduced the Bar Jacket and the New Look, Pierre Cardin, who was Dior’s 22 year old assistant was sent out of the atelier to buy cotton wool pads to make the model’s slender frame look more shapely. This detail continues in haute couture today, though not in the more pared down versions of the Bar Jacket being produced today.

This is the chatelaine that belongs to the woman doing the demonstration. It is worn around the neck and carries her tools so they are at hand as she moves around the workroom. Clearly well used!

Youtube video from the V&A Museum in London:

Contemporary Renditions

Contemporary Bar Jackets on the Dior website

If you are inspired to make your own version, Vogue 2018 is inspired by the Bar Jacket in a well done modern interpretation.


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