Who doesn’t love a party, especially when it involves making and wearing a fabulous frock?! Our son’s birthday celebration afforded me a very good reason to whip up a fun, fresh, and unique 1961 pattern labeled as a “party dress”. I used an old original pattern which provided me good practice at re-sizing (as it was for juniors) and an opportunity to work with new techniques by using different material. The finished product is wonderfully feminine and my unique personal interpretation of a popular retro/vintage fashion. I certainly love to be able to find reasons for wearing a dress like this!
New fabrics revolutionized clothing and fashion styles between the 50’s and 60’s. Petrochemicals provided easy wash, easy care Nylon,(Polyamide), Crimplene (Polyester), and Orlon (Acrylic mix) fabrics in a variety of pastels and fun colors. It is definitely not the world’s most comfortable line of fabric. However, there is almost nothing more symbolic of the retro era than a sheer dress with a contrast underneath and an uber-gathered skirt. I am so happy to have re-created another small piece of fashion history!
FABRIC: Overdress: a sheer 100% polyester organza-type fabric in a cranberry color; Underdress: a linen-look rayon/cotton blend fabric in an pastel floral print; Lining for the bodice: white matte finish polyester scraps coming from off of a rummage sale bed skirt – leftover from lining my 1940 Vintage Vogue #8811 (link here).
NOTIONS: I bought about 10 yards of cranberry satin ribbon, matching thread, and a zip for the back. I already had a bit of pink bias tape, off-white thread and plenty of clear “plastic” monofilament thread, as well.
PATTERN: Simplicity #3769, year 1961, teen and junior “Party Dress” (the large picture at right). I found it at a rummage sale for pittance – only a quarter! For the sleeveless floral under bodice to the dress, I used the top half of a modern pattern, Simplicity #1876 (picture below left). I was going bold here…a strapless under bodice was entirely my idea, and not in the old pattern.
TIME TO COMPLETE: My dress was finished on May 17, 2013. My nearest guess as to the time spent on my dress from beginning to end is 20 hours, maybe more.
THE INSIDES: My sheer retro dress has nicely finished insides, and that was difficult to do considering all the waist gathers. The side bodice seams are the only ‘unfinished’ seams, but they are double zig zag stitched along the raw edge. Otherwise, the skirt seams (for the under and over dress) are in French seams, all the nylon edges have a satin ribbon edging, and the linen underskirt has a wide 3 inch hem (see left picture). The inner waistband is covered in pink bias tape to ensure a comfortable feel despite all the bulk. My sewing machine impressed me…if it can sew bias tape onto the already super thick, double fabric, tight gathered waist section, well my Singer is a true trooper and can indeed sew through anything I put under it!
FIRST WORN: to a vintage/retro car show displaying old classic models, held at a local antique shop’s parking lot. In the main picture above, by the way, the car behind me happens to be an uncommon beauty: a Nash Metropolitan car, year 1960.
TOTAL COST: I don’t exactly remember anymore, but I think the total was close to $25/$30. All my fabrics and supplies were on clearance but, since I needed a lot of yardage, the prices added up. My finished dress was well worth it!
I had some strong inspiration shooting off fireworks of ideas in my head, allowing me to see ahead of time exactly how I wanted my finished “party dress” to look. My first inspiration was when I saw a beautiful 1957 dress on display (see right side of picture duo) at an exhibit in our town’s History Museum. The exhibit was called “Underneath It All”, and it showed the history of the items women wore beneath, how they created a certain image, and were tied to both fashion and historical events. When the timeline came to the 50’s, it addressed the Famous Dior “New Look”, and the example on display was a summer batiste dress, by Josephine Scullin, with a bluish/aqua/purple floral under a solid sheer aqua. I had to make a dress like this for myself – crinoline slip and all! My second major inspiration is none other than the T.V. show Mad Men, much loved by many seamstresses for inspiring drool-worthy 50’s to 70’s fashions. The character of Betty especially loves to wear the classic style similar to my “party dress”, but other actresses also wore similar sheer floral frocks (see Trudy in the ivory floral dress at left picture).
I really thought ahead before and while making this dress. At the pattern stage, I had to add inches at the waist, adjust the position of the bust (as the pattern was for juniors), and take out a whopping 10 inches from the huge skirt panels to reduce the overabundance of gathers. I tried to use a spray adhesive to tack the sheer panels to the matching under pieces, but I think taking the time to do basting worked out better here anyway. The floral under bodice’s boning was eliminated since I planned on having it supported up by being invisibly hand tacked to the organza bodice.
I was very conscious of the weight that would be put on the delicate bodice and shoulder seams, seeing that they are only the sheer organza. A delicate satin ribbon facing goes under the sleeve, neckline, and shoulder edges for a smooth, non-itchy feel which would fashionably support the barely there seams. The entire hem of the organza over skirt was also hemmed with the ribbon…I love the resulting look but, believe me, the work was long, frustrating torture.
The only fitting that was needed on my “party dress” after it was done was to fix some slight gaping along the sides of the bust and under my arms. I came up with my own out-of the-box idea. Sewing in bias tape “channels” along the top inside edge of floral sleeveless under bodice, I started from the side of the center bust to under the armpits and fed through elastic. The elastic channels gently gather in the excess fullness without confining the bodice at all. Gathers surprisingly also gave the dress’ top half some added complimentary shaping.
A simple sash tie belt was made to wear at the waist of my dress. The pattern called for these two giant sashes to be made and sewn into the side seams, so one could wrap them around the dress and tie into great big bow. I wasn’t sure if I was going to want this feature on this dress, much less be committed to it by having them in the side seams, so I left them out. However, I do still have enough sheer fabric to make the cummerbund sashes. One day I would like to sew them up, tack them to the sides, and see what that would look like. The giant sashes might give the “party dress” a completely different appearance I might love…an update will be posted here if that happens.
My crinoline petticoat under slip helps create the proper shape to my “party dress”. I bought it here at Unique Vintage and I really how soft it is with the layers of ruffles. It features a draw cord waist that tends to loosen a bit as I wear it, no matter how I double tie the bow. So I added little loop at the inside waistband of my dress so I can connect the petticoat and the dress together.
I did cover all the sheer seams in fray check just to make sure they don’t end up with a big run or rip too easily. So far so good!
Someone gave me a wonderful compliment one day when wearing my “party dress”. She told me my dress reminded her of something Grace Kelly wore in the Hitchcock movie “Rear Window”. I went home and did an internet search on the subject and did find a dress quite similar in my respects (deep V-back, sheer poufy overskirt) to my own “party dress”. See the picture below. Grace Kelly also wears another dress in “Rear Window” with a similar sheer bodice which is strapless underneath.
I hope you have enjoyed my post and get inspired to make your own wonderfully fun party attire. Now all that is needed is a party!
I will post more photos soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.