Happy New Year! My 1930’s Evening Gown

I could always picture myself as a sort of Jean Harlow (sans blond hair) wearing a long, satin, bias cut 30’s evening gown. I found my ticket to achieving that through sewing up Simplicity’s 75th Anniversary pattern #5876. After some persistent Internet combing, I found the pattern – new and uncut yet also in my size – at a VERY reasonable price before I saw a ‘sold’ notice. I was excited to challenge myself outside my comfort zone by sewing a formal, fully lined, vintage garment. It is funny that this dress did indeed proved to be a mind-crunching yet also incredibly fun challenge. More importantly to me from a personal achievement standpoint is the sense that this is the only garment (thus far in my lifetime of sewing) I feel I have completely perfected. My evening gown is so wonderful to wear, and I love it like no other project!

The most dramatic part to the dress is no doubt the deep V back neckline and the godet-style train. It presents a stunning garment whether I am coming or going! I like to wear the closure of the cummerbund at the center back, versus the side as the pattern shows, for even more interest from the back view. I used faux crystal buttons because why not go all out?!

Simplicity 5876 was actually easy to sew together, yet just a bit time-consuming all the same because it has simple design lines, but complex finishing techniques.  It also turned into a very good learning process along the way to completion. However, it seemed like a communal project, too. I need to thank Michelle L (from the Sew Weekly Sewing Circle) for her sewing advice on the sleeve hems. My husband deserves appreciation for doing so much ironing, marking, and sharing late nights with me while doing my sewing just to help me finish something amazing. Then, the bloggers Liz and Laura Mae lately made dresses of their own from Simplicity 5876 so I had lots of tips to rely upon beforehand.  I suppose great minds think alike!



FABRIC: a heavyweight crepe-back satin (polyester with about 3% spandex), bought at 4 yards for $25; crepe-finish lightweight black lining fabric, bought for $9

NOTIONS: set of four ‘faux diamond’ buttons (half priced @ $5), two spools of thread, 1 pack of machine sharps needles, 9 inches of matching blue satin ribbon, 1 pack of matching blue double-fold bias tape, 1 invisible zipper and subsequently 14 inches of snap tape

PATTERN: Simplicity #5876, a year 2002 75th Anniversary Edition release of a 1930’s reprint


TIME TO COMPLETE: I took several hours stretched over a week just to cut and mark the pieces properly; then I assembled the dress (with hubby’s help) in 4 evenings – so technically the dress was finished on Oct. 16 (2012) at about 40 hours of work, but, after a wardrobe snafu and time to make things perfect, I really finished on Dec. 31. I stopped counting time after December came, but probably a total of 50 hours. They were SO worth it!

FIRST WORN: to a New Year’s Eve concert to hear our town’s Symphony perform at our beautiful and historic Powell Hall

THE INSIDES: Very clean, indeed! No seams are showing because the lining is ‘wrong-side-to-wrong-side’ covering up most seams, and the few that are exposed (such as the waist and godet seams) I finished in the bias tape.

1929-white evening dress combo pic

I chose to make view A, sticking to the classic early to mid-1930’s era flutter sleeved, wide shouldered but skinny hip look. I kept with the deeply saturated colors of silky satin that were popular then by using a royal blue. I actually looked at a good number of vintage gowns, old patterns, and 30’s era movies (even the modern film “Atonement”) to help me decide on this combo for my dress. My ideas tended towards looking like a combo of the dual images at left – the 1931 House of Patou original from the MET Museum at left or Simplicity #1719 cover illustration from May of 1935 at right.

It was really amazing how calm (non-stressed/freaking out) I was through the whole sewing process of this involved project. I am glad I resisted the urge to rush things and do all the pain-in-the-neck steps to acquire new skills. There were several major labor intensive parts that demanded a good back rub afterwards! For the interfaced neck facings, I had a very hard time getting the interfacing to stick to the crepe-back. The low heat of the iron (because I didn’t want to scorch the fabric) was not doing the job.

There was only one change I made to the pattern. It was to raise the bottom of the back V several inches – except I did not properly adjust the facings to match. Ooops! The result is only 1/4 inch higher than the original pattern, not my planned 1/2 inch higher V back neckline. All is well that ends well, though, right?!

The fluttery circle sleeves are something I’ve never done…basically a round shape with a hole in the middle for your arm.  Hubby and I were a great tag team working on the sleeves. I do not think I would have done all 4 of them otherwise if he hadn’t helped out like he did. I would sew 1/4 in. from the outer edge to mark and stay stitch the hem in one step, then he would iron the stitched edge under to set the hem. I would come back to sew on the very fold of that hem he ironed down, and cut away the excess fabric very close to my stitching. Next, hubby would roll under this small hem to set it again with the iron, so I could make one last line of stitching to end up with a 1/8 in. hem. Do I hear you thinking that this was pretty crazy (well wasn’t it)?


In contrast, the rest of the dress was much more tolerable. Armhole facings were sewn in by machine, with much unpicking and re-sewing, on account of frequent catching of the sleeves. However, I hand stitched everything else around the sleeves. The interfacing ends were sewn in to just the lining and I added some ribbon loops to keep the dress in place. There are loops at the shoulders to go through my bra straps, and thus end the dress’ problem of slipping off my shoulders. Later I added another loop at the bottom inside of the back V to keep my bra strap from showing. The cummerbund was different to make and so much easier than the instructions made it seem. The horizontal gathering turned out nicely, and I really liked making my own matching fabric loops


The final challenge to my dress was sewing in my first…and hopefully my last…invisible zipper. Taking my time to do the darn invisible zip right cost me a good 2 1/2 hours alone. I am so proud of how perfect it looked when I finished the zipper, at least. My husband couldn’t believe it was there at all!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of how well my invisible zip looked because there is a ‘sewing snafu’ horror story that ruined my happy ending. Nevertheless, snap tape is currently the side closure instead. The way I figure it, snaps are much more ‘authentic’ to the era of the dress. At the same time, there isn’t much that can go wrong with snaps.

Here’s the story. I was trying on the dress, with my husband on the floor just finished with chalk marking the hemline for me. This was at 1:30 A.M., early morning, with 17 hours left before I was hoping to wear this dress to go out. I bent down to show him something on the hem when I felt a rip and heard a pop. The invisible zipper had popped apart right in the middle. Both of us tried to realign the teeth together or even pull the zip down, but to no avail. By then I was quite an upset mess. I just pulled the zip apart so I didn’t have to sleep all dressed up in an unhemmed dress.

The next day I had a talk on the phone with someone at the customer service of Coats and Clark Co., but didn’t get any help beyond an offer for a full refund. (I’ve given up waiting for my refund by now – it never came.) So I just got ready (hair and makeup wise) and needed to do errands. By the time I was home, I really only had about 1 1/2 hours of free time. I knew I would not be doing things right being so rushed. Boohoo 😦 I ended up wearing one of my wardrobe’s store-bought dresses, which itched and bothered me all night. Ugh.

I found out I would have the occasion to wear my dress by the end of the year, so I took advantage of the extra month’s time to perfect any little details. I made an extra cord and sewed it as a wrist strap to hold up my train from my hand. There is a tiny hook hidden in the side seam about 10 inches from the hem for the wrist strap to hook onto. I even spent a few evenings trying, but not doing a nice job, to attach on a strapless bra, but the shoulder strap loops I sewed inside were much simpler and didn’t restrict the bodice.

Wearing this dress is an excellent self-esteem boost. It makes me so happy! I did get a number of looks (both pleasant and unpleasant) at the New Year’s concert I first wore it to, and I wish I would have asked them a penny for their thoughts. Whatever anyone else thought of me doesn’t ultimately matter, though. I was wearing my maker’s pride and a seamstress’ confidence. However, these blog pictures are all from after the event – I like to get dressed up for frolicking when we have a snowfall. Such a beautiful natural setting deserves a dress to match. I threw my Great Grandmother’s beaver fur capelet from the 1930s over my shoulders and I was not only warm but instantly transported back to old Hollywood, just as I had hoped!

If it wasn’t for the motivation and inspiration of Sew Weekly and all the other wonderful sewing bloggers out there I really cannot see myself creating something like this a year or even several months ago. Let’s keep up all the sewing!!!

1 thought on “Happy New Year! My 1930’s Evening Gown

  1. Pingback: Basic is Beautiful | Seam Racer

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