Monday, October 3, 2011

Quick N' Easy 1920's Dress

Last week, I was going through my copy of Costume in Detail for the umpteenth time and while stopping to look at the dress on p. 357, the cream lace and net afternoon dress, c. 1922-1923, a line drawing of a dress style from a Butterick pattern envelope struck me, with just how plain and simple and comfortable it looked, so I decided to make one for myself. Now, I have never been a real fan of 1920's style but I liked how the skirt is longer here, and the waist is not so low. Less extreme than what you think of when you think of the 1920's.

I draped the bodice pattern directly on my body and the back is exactly the same as the front, with the neckline in the front being cut a tad lower than in the back. The skirt is two 45" wide panels of fabric sewn together and pleated at the hips. The sleeves are 3/4 length and cut so they bell out at the hem.

The fabric was some of that wonderful $1.50 "mystery" fabric that Wal Mart offers. :P I got a few yards of it earlier this year since I liked the plaid so much, but I could not discern the fiber content no matter how I tried. I am pretty sure it is some sort of cotton blend. It is a woven, but is still stretchy, and quite thick and heavy and drapey. I am not sure what all is in it. The bodice is lined with plain brown cotton.

To add some visual interest I sewed on strips of off white cotton down the front and used the same fabric to bind the neckline and sleeve hems and for a tie belt. It was a super easy and quick project and was fun to wear this weekend. Here are some pictures of the finished dress.

At Springdale Cemetery. David and I spent Saturday afternoon lounging about in the city while the boys stayed with their grandma, to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. We stopped here and spent a while looking for the grave of my great-grandpa. I found my great-great grandparents and then David finally spotted great-grandpa, here.

He was born in 1919 and died in 1941, when my grandfather was just a baby. It was very emotional for me to see his grave and read his name and feel a connection to him by being there. He was younger than I am now when he died, leaving behind a young wife and an infant son.

I couldn't help but wonder how my great-grandma felt when she was suddenly bereft of her husband. How did she go on? I can't imagine having that happen to me! Yet, she did go on, and married again and had three daughters - my lovely aunties - and created exquisite, daintily stitched quilts and curtains and rugs for my dollhouse when I was a little girl and when she passed on, I was given many of her sewing and crafting items, some of which I still have and treasure. She was an amazing woman.

My orange cream soda. ;) It was very good. Quite the best soda I've ever had!

I am really happy with how my dress came out! It is not weird enough to look terribly out of place in modern life and it does not require any special undergarments (no corsets!) and this material, whatever it is, is fantastic as it does not wrinkle. At all. Yeah.

I love the shoes I found to go with the dress. Goodwill, $4.99. They aren't *exactly* like proper 1920s shoes as the curve upwards is more drastic than the more gently curved 1920's style but still, they have the general right look and they are super comfortable to wear.



  1. Again, very pretty! And the shoes are lovely :)

  2. Sarah,

    Hi! I found your blog a couple of months ago and enjoy reading about your costuming adventures. I dont know if you have heard about Costume College but you may wish to check it out. There are scholarships that you can win which may be something you are interested in since you are not local.

    I am involved with the CGW so if you have questions etc or are interested in applying for a scholarship feel free to reach out to me on my blog.


  3. Love it!!!! Aaron hates 20's dresses on me, so I haven't made any yet. I hope to sometime soon though, as we want to do a 20's new years party. You have inspired me!

  4. Love it!!!! And the hat and shoes!! :)

  5. You look so pretty in every period!

  6. Wow! That's a lovely dress. I'd like to make one like it.
    You said the bodice was the same front and back. Could you give an idea of the shape. As it sounds simple enough for me to make.

  7. Lady D, thanks!

    Yes, the dress really is insanely simple. It consists of 3 "pattern pieces" if you want to call them that.

    The first piece is the bodice. This is the same front and back, although I did cut the neckline a little lower in the front on my bodice than in the back, and also cut the armholes a little more curved in the front than in the back. However, from what I've read many dresses of the 20's were exactly the same front and back so you can do it as you wish.

    The shape of the bodice looked a lot like any basic bodice you could find even nowadays at pattern companies. . .it needs to fit the shoulders and have a nice neckline, but otherwise hangs straight down from the shoulders to the hips. It needs to be loose enough to pull on over the head. I made my bodice big enough to equal my hip measurement plus about 3" of ease.

    The next piece is the sleeve piece. I did a bell shaped open sleeve, but other sleeve options for the period are no sleeves at all, long skinny sleeves, long sleeves that are gathered to a cuff at the wrist, short cap type sleeves. . .lots of options. A modern sleeve pattern could work well. I'd fit it so there is no gathering or pleating in the sleeve at the top, so it fits smoothly into the armscye.

    The last piece is the skirt piece. Two rectangles, that's it! Long enough to go from your hips to your desired hem length and wide enough to be comfortable to walk in. I made mine about 90" or so in circumference.

    Hope this helps! I am so loving this decade of fashion right now! :)

  8. Thanks. I think this will go on the list. (This was my first attempt at a dress So a 'Tunic' should be ok skills wise.
    One more question. You mention the fabric you had had some stretch would you say that's essential?
    Oh and how much fabric did you use in total?

  9. Lady D, that is a very cute dress! I don't think you would have any trouble making a 20's dress like mine at all!

    I had a 4 yard piece of 58" wide fabric to use for my dress. I used maybe 3 yards of it. I have quite a bit left over. From the period patterns I have seen, it looks like most dresses like this call for about 4, or 4.5 yards of fabric or so, but that is narrower fabric. I'd say if you have 45" fabric and are an average size, 4.5 yards would be plenty.

    The fabric I used did have a bit of stretch to it. I draped the bodice though so it doesn't *have* to stretch. It is loose enough as it is to pull on over the head without having to stretch.

    I am actually brainstorming a plan of renovating a thrift-shop straight dress into a 20's style dress by the addition of skirt panels on the side. It's hard to explain, but I am absolutely eager to try it out and see if it works. I think it will. :) If that is the case, it would be very very easy to make a 20's style dress with a little bit of fabric and a matching/contrasting straight dress from the thrift shop. The dress I will be experimenting with is a medium sized pink linen dress, that pulls on over the head and has slits on the side for walking. I plan to cut away the sides of the skirt on the dress and put in a pleated skirt piece on each side with a pink cotton gauze that (almost) matches the dress. With some trim details in the same cotton gauze, I think it will look very 20's. And hardly any expense and hardly any work, either.

    Good luck! Please share pics of the dress you make! :D

  10. I think I get what you mean.
    I did wonder if I could get away with adding pleated skirt to a tunic top. Or to an 'oversize' (long) jumper.

  11. Yes, you definitely, definitely could. That was one of my first ideas when I wanted to make a 20's dress, just using a tunic top pattern and adding a skirt to the bottom. Then I went to the thrift shop and saw SO MANY tunics there since that style has been popular the last season or two. It would be so easy to just sew a skirt to the bottom of a tunic. Tie a sash belt, add trim if you want, and there you go. I found pics of a vintage 20's dress just yesterday that was a one piece dress but made of two different fabrics so it looked like a separate skirt/bodice. I believe it was an orangey red top and a chocolate brown skirt, with a big chocolate brown bow attached the shoulder of the bodice to tie it all together. It looked like there were belt loops for a belt, too, but the belt was missing.

  12. P.S. Here is a link to a free tutorial for a kimono tunic that I just got in my email inbox this morning. I think that this with a skirt attached to the bottom would make a striking 20's style dress, too!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!