Modernly Vintage 1963 Sheath Dress

An ideal example that vintage fashion is classic and has lasting style is obvious in my newest make, a year 1963 dress.  Really…this is from the 60’s?  Yes, I can truly call this “vintage” no matter how it looks otherwise.  Sometimes those Mid-Century designs will do that deceptive ‘fast forward on time’ appearance.  Would you guess I whipped this baby up in about 5 hours?  Oh, I have found such a winner with the pattern for this dress and I am happy.  I hope you can find a copy of this pattern for yourself and try it, too.



FABRIC:  The fabric was a remnant item on deep discount at JoAnn’s Fabric store, a cut of 1 3/4 yard.  It is pretty much all cotton with just a smidge of stretch.McCall 6799, year 1963 envelope cover-comp

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6799, year 1963

NOTIONS:  I had all the bias tape, thread, and the zipper needed on hand already.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Super quick…only 5 or 6 hours from start to finish.  It was completed on June 16, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  just over $10 for my finished dress – the fabric’s original price was $13 per yard!

The fabric is a very nice woven great for a close fitting sheath dress.  I believe it is technically a twill, the way it is textured with small rows of black and white, but it is lightweight, closer to a chambray.  Yet, the stretch in the content fiber keeps the fabric nicely stable and slightly thicker.  The color and weight of the fabric makes this a perfect all-season fabric so I can have a classic all-season dress, wearable alone in the heat (with a blazer indoors) or cozy with tights and a sweater in cooler weather.  Besides the multi-season wearing ability, my ideal here with making this dress was to have something I didn’t yet have – a classic dress with clean lines, not overly fussy, and professional enough to wear when I go to the University or just get dressed up.  Although I did do a number of fitting adjustments, it was still ridiculously simple for what it appears.

DSC_0987-compThe ‘recommended’ fabrics on the envelope back does not mention anything stretchable, but I had a feeling too much here would be bad and a little might be very good.  I believe I was right and found a good match for the pattern.  Combining the stretch in the fabric with the especially soft cotton content keeps this dress very comfy for as dressy as it might look – a winning combo.  I hate those modern all- polyester knit sheath dresses that is the only thing I see ready-to-wear offering nowadays – they don’t breathe!  I originally had a bland, grey, non-stretch, linen blend chambray intended to use with the pattern, and I’m glad now that I didn’t buy it.  The give in my chosen fabric also compliments for a rather smoking shape and lovely feel as I move, if I must say so myself, letting a sheath dress do to the body what it is meant to do (different from a “shift dress”).

Personally I think my change to the front waist of the skirt was the best thing for this pattern, a touch that makes it much more uniform in style than how it was originally intended.  The pattern has all these darts everywhere for tailored dress, yet it calls for a gathered front waist?  Really?  Who wants extra bulk and pouf over the belly – I don’t!  So I merely changed the front skirt to have slanted pleats instead.  The skirt’s pattern piece was necessarily left unchanged and cut as per the pattern.  I merely made a pleat to align with the darts in the bodice, slanting them slightly horizontal out towards my hips.


I’m loving how this touch accentuates the hips, and visually slims the waist.  Making darts in the waist was my original idea, but this pattern from my stash (McCall’s #4680, year 1958) gave me the better idea of pleats.  The wide ‘sleeves’ of the dress’ V-neckline actually sit on the far outer curve of the shoulders to create a total hourglass figure.  I’m impressed at how well the armholes are cut.  A sleeve like this could be confining but this dress is comfy and easy to move in.

Now, there is a McCall pattern that I made from the year before (a 1962 sundress) that had the same cover style, same look of the pattern pieces, and same sizing guide as this one from ’63.  My pattern used for this post’s dress should have technically been my size, and it pretty much was just how it was expected to be.  My hunch of this pattern was spot on – longer hem and slightly generous fit with great curving and a generous bust.  I now feel like I have this line of patterns from the early/mid 60’s pegged, and this is always a nice thing to figure out as vintage patterns change a lot over the decades.  The oversized bust probably comes from the lingerie commonly worn at the times.  For life practicality and a more modern fit, I merely took in the shoulder seams as well as both horizontal and vertical bust darts, making them longer and deeper.  This ended up bringing the darts together to meet, making them look like some side panel.  Oh well, nothing can make me dislike this dress.


The one last slight change was to raise the front V neckline by about one inch.  The back neckline was left ‘as-is’ because I feel my best in a top or dress which is open enough to show off some of my back and shoulders.  There is a deep lapped zipper placket which I made for this dress.  I was hoping that it would completely cover the zipper and connect the top of the zipper at the dip of the neckline, and it does, thank goodness.  I really cannot put a hook-and-eye at the top because of where it ends…my arms and hands are not able to “blindly” work an extra closure at that level behind myself.

All the jewelry worn with my dress was also made by me as well.  There are many different colors which can be coordinated with my dress but I really like pairing it with light pastel blues.  The necklace and the bracelet are both blue lace agate beads, strung on filament and finished with sterling silver parts.  The drop earrings are sterling and Swarovski crystals.  A complete handmade outfit…except for the shoes, of course.


I have a fabric exactly the same as the green floral on the full skirt version of the envelope and I was really tempted to make a copy but now I am so glad to have gone more creative.  I frequently find myself in a rut of following inspiration (not something remotely bad, don’t get me wrong), but I feel good going on my own ideas, too.  Do you follow the covers or go rogue?  Maybe both, like me?

Vintage fashion cannot be ignored – it is the base for the styles we wear nowadays.  This 1963 sheath dress is a perfect example of this, especially to find a past style which looks straight out of today’s fashion.  What is old is now new all over again.  I have a strong inkling that if this pattern had a modern cover with a 2016 model re-make I might not like it as much as I do looking at it from 1963.

This brings me to a question – do like envelope covers better when they’re sketched, or when they have a model photograph?  For me (for some reason), I think drawing covers are more appealing when they are vintage but I know they are probably not realistically proportioned.  Old pictures are hard to see and you never know what ladies were wearing underneath to look the way they do (meaning girdles and such).  Modern drawn pattern covers and pictures often turn me off and I have to rely on line designs more to judge a style.  I have a feeling this same sheath dress in a modern drawing might look quite plain to me.  What do you think?  Do you have a greater liking towards certain covers or an opinion on the way patterns are presented to you?  Do you also find vintage covers as appealing as they are for me?  Do you have a hard time seeing past the old style to re-invent it for yourself?

4 thoughts on “Modernly Vintage 1963 Sheath Dress

  1. So lovely! Just goes to show that vintage is classic and timeless! I’m preferential to drawings on patterns, simply because sometimes the mockup on the model doesn’t look good. They’re trying to sell the pattern, the least they could do is some basic fitting.


    • Elizabeth, thanks for the compliment. Yes, I know what you mean about the drawings, you can’t really go wrong there because the model garments often aren’t the best representation. I don’t know why there is so many ill-fitting model garments – are they in a hurry to make them or do they not get the measurements they need?! Anyway…


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