1940’s Red Floral Dress

Today I finished a red floral dress from a 1940’s pattern – Academy Patterns 2029 to be precise – and I love it! 
Well I love it from a fashion history perspective, but I’m not sure I love it for me personally.  Maybe I would in a less obvious fabric, but in this I feel like I’ve just walked off a movie set and I am no longer the character!  I do think the dress suits my shape and colouring, etc, but a dress has to be your personality too doesn’t it?
Anyway, I decided to “play forties” for this shoot.  I did 40’s makeup, but you really can’t tell in the glaring sun.  I thought my straight hair looked odd (did no-one in the 40’s have straight hair?!) so I pinned it back with hair combs – something I haven’t done since I was fifteen!  My fringe wouldn’t co-operate as usual – ah well, if my hair was perfectly coiffed that probably wouldn’t be a true representation of self.  And I have a perfectly matching vintage snake bag that I planned to use as a prop, but I left it on the kitchen table.  So basically I look just like I usually do!

In case you haven’t already noticed, this dress has shoulder pads!  They look very wide, but are actually located no wider than my outer arm – which is where you would normally place them on a tailored jacket.  The shoulder width on this style is cleverly accentuated by the close neckline, line of the shoulder yoke, and sleeve head darts.  I need to insert some sleeve head wadding because they look so sharp, but my shoulders are quite square anyway and I’m scared of them taking flight!  But if you look at the pattern, they are rather pagoda-y:

This closer shot shows more of the detail – the midriff and shoulder yoke are piped with gathers..  I first sewed it as per the pattern without piping, but thought the gathering detail got lost in the print.  After a long procrastination and a couple of glasses of wine I finally set to with the quick-unpick.  Then I panicked because all I had left was some disjointed scraps to cut piping from, but then I discovered some red piping in stash that was the perfect colour red – some things are just meant to be!

The back view – it was a little breezy but the skirt hangs really beautifully:

I’m going to show you the details whether you like it or not, because finishing this dress took a whole day!  Hemming the sleeves, neckline and hem by hand, making and inserting the shoulder pads…

Each sleeve head has four darts.

…covering and sewing on the buttons:

…making the belt
:

I was going to use an invisible zip in the side opening, but the more I did handwork on this dress, the more I thought I should to do handwork, so I did what the instructions asked and made a placket with a hook and snaps:

This fabric is one of those ubiquitous viscose prints – you know, 80’s, faux Laura Ashley, probably came in navy, bottle green and plum…..   I found it in Miranda last year for a few dollars and after washing it I discovered it was dotted with moth holes!  Some careful single layer cutting both ways was required to squeeze it out of the narrow moth holed yardage.

I also thought the sewing instructions were cute – hand drawn and labelled – and do you remember the typewriter?!

So – lovely dress, but not quite me.  I should focus more.  Perhaps I will remake the longer sleeve version  in a wool crepe for winter to wear with boots – now that is me.

Ah well, at least I used up some stash!

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I'm a designer/patternmaker who loves to share my sewing knowledge with others! Follow me as I sew my personal projects, sharing my favourite tricks of the trade along the way.

51 thoughts on “1940’s Red Floral Dress

  1. Stunningly beautiful, and you look gorgeous in it, even if you feel like your 40's alter ego. I hope it grows on you. It does not look like a costume to me.
    The details are incredible, how unreal to have exactly the right colour piping! I enjoy the detail shots, thank you for including them-did you have a belt kit?

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  2. Oh WOW I love this dress! SO amazing! Seriously – if you didn't say you didn't feel 100% about it, it would be impossible to tell.

    You're such a neat sewist too. I am terrible at my finishings.

    Snap closures are so much nicer for the side seams compared to a zip. They sit a lot better.

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  3. It is a very lovely dress, especially in that print fabric, but I think the sharp shoulder pads and the high neckline make it feel like a costume – at least that's how I'd feel. I would love a dress like this if I could sew it without the shoulder pads and lower the neckline by a few inches. The piping is a gorgeous touch that you just wouldn't see on a commercial dress that wasn't really expensive.

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  4. Oh my, that´s a lovely dress! Thank you for including the detail shots, I love everything about it! Sorry that you don´t feel like yourself in it, maybe you could trough a 40´s theme party, just so that you can wear the dress? 😉 Well done, and I looove the shoulder pads! 🙂

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  5. It's really beautiful Sherry – an absolutely stunning dress and the hand finished details are just lovely. I'm completely with you on the not feeling quite right in such a structured dress though. I feel exactly like that about a 1940's repro dress I made, I feel like I'm in fancy dress! My straight hair doesn't do 1940's either!
    But coming back to the dress: the fabric, the finish and the details are all absolutely perfect, I love it! x

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  6. The dress looks great and not at all costume to me. There's lots of similar dresses in high street fashions shops here at the moment. My daughter bought a dress from H + M this week with shoulder pads. The details are gorgeous. I'd show the dress off if I'd made it!

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  7. The dress is beautiful! Very well made and it suits you. If you feel like it's too 40's to be you, you can wear it with more current styles, like a stylish jacket or a cardigan and get a completely different look. Nevertheless, I think you look great in it just as it is. Great job!

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  8. Oh no, please say you'll wear this dress! It truly is gorgeous and not costume-like at all! Your fabric was a great choice and I loved seeing all the details…how beautiful! You look stunning in it!

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  9. The details are impressive. I particularly like the piping. I understand your feelings about loving the dress, but feeling a little too costume-y. It's so lovely, I would keep it around in case you ever need to “play dress up” for a party or event.

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  10. I think it is absolutely stunning, but see why you don't feel it is quite you. If it were mine I would be opening up the neckline a little, I think it seems quite prim, perhaps more appropriate to someone older. I would just give it a very narrow v at the centre front to about mid decolletage, say an inch wide? That's my two cents, feel free to use Swedish rounding and disregard

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  11. Your dress is so beautifully made and looks AMAZING on you. I especially love the look of the shoulders and the piping.

    A wool version would look just as pretty, I imagine.

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  12. Such a beautiful dress and so perfectly constructed. All the hand sewn details are lovely and the overall effect is fabulously stylish.. But I do know what you mean about wanting to avoid the 'costume' look. When I made a dress from a vintage pattern I, like you, also made a matching fabric belt but I do find that if I wear my dress with a modern leather belt and my knee length boots it 'toughens' it up and looks more contemporary. Personally, I think the dress, as it is, looks stunning on you but you might find that experimenting with accessories makes it feel more like you.

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  13. I think the dress looks beautiful on you. Very flattering. I hope that you will wear it alittle because I think you will get alot of compliments from it. Best wishes

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  14. Beautiful! –and such detailing! I completely understand about the costume dressed up feel – I've had that happen a lot lately myself with vintage dresses. Still I think it looks great on you!

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  15. I love the dress and think it looks great on you. I understand the feeling of it not quite being your style, but I think you could likely make it work for you with different accessories. I, personally, don't think it looks costume-y and I like the higher neckline. I enjoyed seeing the detail work, as well. You did a fabulous job.

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  16. I love this dress on you-it took my breath away when I opened your blog. If you feel self conscious, wear it by yourself one day and just take note of how strangers react. I'll bet you will be pleasantly surprised. Our friends and family often are stumped when we change styles.

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  17. What a great effort . I am very impressed with the fact that you did this at all . I think the wool version would be great.I look forward to see ing it . I have a whole lot of these patterns which were given to me by a client of mine whoes mother was going into a nursing home .I should get them out or pass them on to someone who would use them . !!

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  18. I agree with the other commenters, and with you, that the dress suits your figure and coloring beautifully. And the dressmaking details are impressive- your work is always a treat.

    I liked some of the ideas- add boots or play with accessories. If you style it differently in a way you like, I hope you will come back and blog about it. Lovely dress!! I hope you enjoy wearing it and I feel sure you will get many compliments when you do.

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  19. I love the details on this dress and the fabric you picked is perfect! I love fabric covered buttons, they really add to it as well as the lovely belt you did. Bravo, you look stunning!

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  20. The dress is really beautiful…so well made. I wish mine would look so good so close-to!

    I can relate to the fringe issues you say you have – I have a bad kink in mine which makes it stand on end to the right. It's Very Irritating.

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  21. Oh my, it's absolutely BEAUTIFUL! It's a shame you don't feel it's you, but if I had that dress I would wear it all the time – it's like my perfect dress! Is there any way of dressing it so it feels more you? Maybe with tights, a different belt, necklace or something? The pattern is absolutely stunning – I'm going to keep an eye out for a pattern like that, I simply adore the design.

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  22. I agree that the dress is great and the color wonderful on you. Regarding your hair: You need a Page-boy with this dress, but your hair is a tad to long for that style, which I think would look great on you. Born in 1944, I have worn that style off and on throughout my life. My hair is back to short now and that probably will not change as long grey hair tends not to flatter, and long hair can be a pain anyway.

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  23. You look beautiful!

    Maybe it would help with more vintage-styled hair (at least set hair.) I usually find if I'm wearing anything made from a 40s pattern if I don't do the whole look I just end up looking kind of matronly. :/

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