A Versatile Wrap-on Evening Gown

I realize it has now been 7 months since I promised to share “soon” the so-called skirt portion to my Charles James designer inspired project, my great and final clincher for the end of 2021.  Life’s ebb and flow carries me away in unintended directions more often than not!  As I mentioned without too much detail in the post for that Charles James outfit, my skirt was really an evening dress.  It happily turned out to be an amazing chameleon of a garment, thus guaranteeing me years of wear and enjoyment. 

I don’t know about you, but I really haven’t ever thought of an evening gown as being something very wearable, much less something versatile and extremely useful.  From a maker’s perspective, I love sewing evening wear but hate that there are so few occasions to wear such things.  It causes consternation that such pretty clothes hang unused and lonely in my closet.  This post’s evening dress is the answer to all such problems.  Leave it to a vintage 1950s era design to offer a smart but glamorous evening dress that is adaptable in both the way it fits and the way it gets worn!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an ivory polyester shantung, contrasted by a burnt orange poly chiffon

PATTERN:  Butterick #4919, a year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern, originally Butterick #6338

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long 22” zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was relatively quick and easy – about 15 hours for the dress and an extra hour to make the chiffon scarf.  Both were finished on April 9, 2021

THE INSIDES:  left mostly raw and merely loosely zig-zag stitched over to prevent fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember what I paid for it, but I do recall it was a good deal for the 6 yards I bought – about $50 perhaps.

This dress has been a long time coming!  I bought the shantung and picked out the pattern to match with it – even cut all the fabric pieces out – back in 2013.  Originally, I was inspired by one of my favorite old movies, An Affair to Remember from 1957, to try and sew my own imitation of the actress Deborah Kerr’s ivory evening gown from the beginning of the movie.  I had planned on this being my entry for the “Butterick to the Big Screen” contest that the pattern Company was hosting in honor of their 150th Anniversary.  I made a Doris Day inspired blouse instead (and became the winner, after all).  The pattern and fabric pieces to this project were then bagged up together and mostly forgotten all these years…until now! 

When I laid out my “Affair to Remember” undertaking anew, I no longer felt like fully committing to reworking the pattern.  Nor was I enthusiastic about adding on chiffon scarf panels to make it closer to the movie dress, as originally planned.  Suddenly I was merely content with making it as-is out of the envelope and having a mere reference to my original inspiration.  One simple, 120” long, separate scarf was still made out of sheer chiffon, as I had bought the proper fabric anyway for this intention.  Nevertheless, I didn’t go over the top or try too hard to imitate Deborah Kerr’s gown.  I love this dress too much to wish I had deviated at all from the original pattern’s design.  It is fantastic just the way it is.  Having a subtle reference to my original inspiration gown is enough to make me happy.

Now, I am aware that all gowns are dresses, but not all dresses are gowns…except in the case of Butterick 4919.  The pattern is even more versatile than my own gown by showing it in a shorter “day” length, and recommending it to be sewn up in a cotton, jersey knit, or lightweight faille.  A gown is a long lined formal dress, while a dress is more general term for an everyday one-piece garment of both top and skirt combined.  Butterick 4919 is so versatile, and it is unlined (being simple to make), so it is really both a gown and a dress, as well as an excellent skirt, too! 

You see, the sides of the bodice are completely open, and the skirt is the only part of this gown that has closed side seams.  The skirt is a full circle skirt, which between that and the cut-on ties which close up the bodice front, is why the pattern calls for at least 5 yards of fabric, whether you are using a 60” or 45” width material.  The short straps attached to the front bodice are hooked together under the back bodice at the waistline.  Then, there is a center back zipper which closes up both the skirt and the bodice.  The front and back are attached at the shoulders, still, after all.  There is a slight halter- style taper in to the high cut shoulders.  They are gathered in at the front half and plain in the back, which was a trick to sew.

Yet, in order to fully get dressed in this garment, you need to have fun with the ties.  They are a yard and a half in length each coming out from being cut-on with the back bodice.  They can be twisted, tied, and wrapped in all sorts of ways.  I even successfully tied it halter style.  For an even cleaner, simpler look, I can go rogue and tuck the long ties into the dress and hook the shorter ties on the outside of the dress.  I wore it has a skirt by letting the entire bodice hang into the skirt portion of the dress and zipping up the back as far as the waistline – easy peasy!  The way the ivory is such basic color helps along the fact that this is one of my wardrobe’s most versatile dresses.

I did do a small adaptation to the ties.  I couldn’t bear to just skinny hem the edges to the ties, not only because I hate doing such a finish on long seams but also since the satin underside of the shantung would show.  Thus, I faced the ties with more fabric by double layering the entire back bodice.  This way there are no raw edges and two ‘right’ sides (with the nubby matte finish facing out) to the shantung.  Having double thickness to the ties might not have been the best idea – it sure makes them much more bulky around the waist.  Yet, there is no wrong side to ‘hide’ this way and less opportunity for the ties to stretch out of shape, as the ties end up being cut on the cross grain bias.  I’m conflicted as to what is the best way to really finish the ties…I feel there has to be a better way to streamline them.  For now though, all is well that ends well!

This is the only Butterick reissue that I am entirely pleased with.  So many of the other vintage or retro reprints have obviously been tinkered with by the company and seem to have wonky fitting, modernized details, and unpredictable amounts of wearing ease.  The back bodice did seem to run long, but that is normal for me to find on both reprints and originals from that era as I have a deep sway back.  The size chart given was spot on with the finished garment.  I ended up with the same as what is shown and it is even better than I expected.  What’s not to like here?  The only downside may be the amount of fabric the long dress calls for, but a discount or second-hand bed sheet set would be the perfect way to cheaply try this pattern out on a budget.  I have a feeling this dress would be utterly fantastic and dreamy in a soft cotton or lightweight linen print. 

For something so elegant to also be easy-to-make as well as comfortable is a big enough draw, but the fact that it is a vintage design still timelessly in style makes for a happy win in my estimation.  Even though this pattern is out of print, if you would like to try it for yourself there still seems to be many readily available and rather reasonably priced through sources over the internet.  The sheer amount of fabric you have to work with and the unusual construction presents a few tricky challenges, yet this wrapped gown is immensely worth the effort to sew, believe me.  It is Hollywood glam for every day.  If this dress was made in a white crepe, it could be reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s 1955 halter dress.  In a bright pink, it would imitate Betty Draper’s taffeta gown in Season two’s “The Benefactor” episode 3 of Mad Men television show.  In a cotton polka dot print, it could reference what Jane Russell wore in 1953 for an “imprint” ceremony in the courtyard at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as publicity for the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.  I could go on with my ideas but I want you to add in your own thoughts, before I get carried away.  Granted, this Butterick gown is not a true halter dress as the back and shoulders not exposed.  However, it still looks the part as a classic 50’s halter dress, and that is part of the clever practicality to this gown.  You don’t need to adapt your normal lingerie and it is no less appealing for the little extra coverage!

Now that I have finally posted this outfit I started way back in 2013 and completed in 2021, I can feel like it is fully finished.  I think I will follow up with some more of these half-forgotten and need-to-be posted sewing projects of mine!  Do any of my fellow bloggers out there have a backlog queue of things you’ve made but never got around to posting?  Surely I’m not the only one!  I think we can all agree this gown was a good one to let out from my archives and share sooner than even later.  Let me know if this post becomes the reason you try Butterick 4919 retro reprint!

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