Stunning, Unique and Flattering Vintage Evening Gown Designs

I’m working on the t-shirt pattern these days; while I work I keep thinking about McCall’s 4425.  My mind goes back to it like a dog worrying a bone- it’s such an unlikely-to-flatter style and so expensive!  I thought I’d share a few designs that I’d personally be willing to shell out the big bucks/drape and draft my heart out for:

This is a style for all ages, and any time.  At first glance it looks like an over-rouched 30’s gown, but imagine it cut from light, slippery, luscious silk charmeuse.  The skirt would swirl with a life of its own as you walk, settling into goddess-like folds when you stand still.  I love watching “A Good Woman,” based on Lady Windemere’s Fan because it’s crammed full of dresses like this.  The costumer did her homework and I appreciate how beautifully these gowns move.  I had no inkling about the plot of the movie the first few viewings, I was so distracted by the gowns- not to mention how obscene the cuts look without any underpinnings.  I never realized.

For the less daring woman, perhaps a little older and wiser, or who prefers to cover up- check out the jacket.  The drawing exaggerates the gathering and shape, imagine it made in a diaphanous cobwebby knit, or a whisper-light lace, lamé or embroidered chiffon.  Yes, it would be irritating to make, but combined with the heavenly skirt it would flatter a very wide range of body shapes, ages, and levels of modesty without sacrificing style.

This is a deceptively simple dress from the late 40’s.  If you click the image, you will find it for sale.  This is another style that would showcase a simple, high-quality fabric to its best advantage, much like the 30’s dress.  Bonus- it would work well as an afternoon dress in cotton.  The sleeves help camoflauge a potential problem area, and the interesting tuck at the hipline both gently disguises a “tummy” or “muffin fluff” and divides the hip just above the fullest part.  The fullest part of the hip is hidden under the swirly skirt.  The enormous skirt also helps minimize the waist- an optical illusion.  What do we think of that neckline for evening?  I’m seriously considering making this soon, first in afternoon style.

Ok- I know this is a little “different,” but check out the design.  Imagine this dress made in a crisp dupion silk in a clear, flattering color- maybe a “mother of the bride” dress, an alternative to the eminently tasteful silk suits so often worn on those occasions.  For winter, a subtle and sumptuous tone on tone brocade.  The front rouching would serve the same purpose as the tuck in the 40’s dress.  The back hem would only flare out like that when you turn.  The models look girdled, but I think the gentle drama of this dress would suit an ungirdled and post-menopausal figure.  I imagine this is a style intended for someone born around the turn of the century, living in the 50’s.  I think it is perfectly tasteful and wearable today if done properly.  I could also see this made in a silk jersey for the more daring among us.

Weird.  Yet the longer I stare at it, the more I like this dress.  Again, I believe the drawings exaggerate the shape of the dress in order to give you an idea of how it is cut.  If you used a very stiff organza or tulle, this would have such a shape.  In a softer fabric, a very thin and light fabric, I think this would be charming.  Again, I think this could flatter a variety of body shapes and ages.  Worn with an ultra-fitted base dress and belted like the black version, it could be sexy but not salacious.  If the fabric itself were exquisite and drapey, it would help to gloss over many figure irregularities while showcasing a beautiful textile (not to mention showing off some serious sewing skills!). Sure, it would look a little “different” but I don’t think it would be unflattering.  A daring soul could make a nude sheath and black flocked tulle overdress.  You’d look naked inside a black spotted cloud!  What fun!

What do you look for in a special occasion frock?  Design?  Fabrics?  Comfort?  I think any of these styles would be quite comfortable to wear, and rightly so.  Would you imagine wearing any of these, or have you made something like them?  When you look at these designs, what fabrics spring to mind?

Tomorrow- I bring you a pattern.  (!!!!!)


  1. I have a version of the red gown, just below knee length in a red jersey, It’s so flattering. I’ve been imagining a long evening gown in a sage green satin since I saw some in the fabric shop, but have no idea when I would wear one, I only have two “going out dresses” they live in the spare wardrobe cos’ I hardly ever go out! X

    • Yes, we hardly go out either… It’s REALLY expensive to go out here, the last night out we had was quite modest and so expensive I’m ashamed to admit it…. Apparently Australia has topped other contenders like Tokyo, London and Singapore for expensivity….

      Oh well… There’s not many places to go out to anyway…

      Your dress sounds wonderful.

  2. I love that first dress, in red. The gathers would be so flattering, in a colour like red or deep burgundy.

    I’ve only made one fancy dress and it was the fabric that came first. Cleaning up my sewing room I saw how good a sheer swiss dot would look on satin, then I had to find a dress that fit on my 2m of 45″ fabric. I ended up using Lekala 5432, my husband likes how my bum looks in it, I feel pretty in the fitted dress. Prior to deciding on the fabric, I had purchased Vogue 8615 after seeing Gertie’s version, I loved the fitted bodice and full skirt. That full skirt wasn’t going to work with my fabric limitations and I was more excited about the fabric than the pattern.

    • I like to put the fabric first, too… So often I work with “found” or very cheap fabrics, so when I can have something delicious to work with, it’s the focus of the garment…

  3. Yeah, let’s just establish first that a reason to wear special occasion would be awesome…

    Then, silk jersey in that first pattern, ruched? – delish! (comfy and sexy?)

    The simplicity 3038 – divine and gorgeous – my fav! And wouldn’t it be glamourous in the right wool??

    The last one, you read my mind – nude sheath – definitely a head turner. I’d love to see it made up!

    • Yes… well… I don’t need any special dresses either, I have a few that get little wear… But it’s fun to day dream!

      I thought of the nude sheath while I was writing, I rather like the thought of it… Especially if I took pains to make the over dress very bubble-like…

  4. Sigh. You have posted 4 gorgeous, complicated, challenging dresses. And I love making that kind of dress, but I’m having to admit to myself more and more that the simpler a dress is, the better I look in it! Ruching and pleating and pinning and swirly skirts and tucks just don’t add anything!

    I am kinda loving the last one though, because it’s basically a super simple dress with the illusion of elaborateness.

    • Ah, well, I like to over-complicated things… Though you’d probably be surprised if you gave them a chance… I have yet to see anyone who isn’t a very very thin person look bad in a swirly skirt…

      The 40’s dress is simple! Minimalist… ish… Kind of architectural in its way…

      Oh how I itch to dress you… ;)

  5. I kinda love that first dress… it pretty much embodies what I look for in a super special occasion dress! For me, I look for class–it has to ass the Audrey Hepburn test seductive without being revealing, flattering, and luxe looking). It also has to be comfortable because, lets face it, if I’m going out to a super special occasion, I’m probably drinking and dancing so something I can move in is a must.

  6. Funny how the ideal woman goes from an olympic swimmer to an hour glass in only 15 years. I love how you have got us to look past that to the actual dresses. :)

  7. I just can’t see the advance pattern as an evening gown. I’d totally wear it, but it doesn’t read as evening to me. The first one is brilliant. If I’d seen that pattern when I was in high school I would have had that as my formal dress.

  8. Thanks for the dreams. I don’t get to dress up much any more, but comfort and ease of movement count; and I fantasize about a formal party at home. Ask friends to bring fancy hors d’oeuvres, we’ll make drinks, and serve forth a simple roast for dinner. Haven’t done it, just fantasized! My gripe about formal dressing is the shoes–I have wide feet and can’t stand for long in crippling shoes. At home, my slippers are handy!

    • You know… It’s funny to me how often I hear that. About fantasies of formal dinner parties… Maybe I’ll make that one of my goals this year, to have a few formal dinner parties and work out how to do it and maybe post about it.. heh. That would be a nice vintage living type project. And fun.

      My feet are rather wide too… I look for sparkly ballet flats, bright colors, etc. Sometimes low court or kitten heels. But mostly flats. Also, my husband is petite and I don’t really want to tower over him.

  9. Pingback: Piracy and Pirate Skirt Re-Fashion « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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