A Sad Day: The Dress I Can’t Wear

Turn a Frown into a Smile!

I have been lusting after an easy-to-wear Victorian event dress for years now. I wanted a dress that was simple, easy-wearing, and inexpensive– the Holy Grail of bustle era costuming! I don’t have the time or money to buy a bustle pattern, but I have successfully used Simplicity 3723 to make dresses, so I thought it would be easy to whip up a dress in a few days for any last-minute spring events. I succeeded, but not in the way I wanted. You see, in my rush, I didn’t take my time to make sure that the finished dress would fit me and guess what…it doesn’t!

The same day I got the idea to make a bustle dress, I found the perfect fabrics right next to each other on the shelf! The main fabric was a polyester woven that’s wonderfully drapey, but lightweight. It is a cool brown shot with threads of tan and olive and reminds me of smooth treebark, especially paired with the shimmery, deep green velour I found right next to it. I would not only have a bustle dress by noon the next day, but it would also be a Victorian dryad’s dream dress!

dress design

My initial sketch. I decided I didn’t like the front drape, so I got rid of it in favor of a single swag over the bustle.

I hate “wasting” expensive fabric on mock-ups, so I trusted my math and previous pattern alterations instead of making toiles: a huge, gigantic mistake! Or, in my case, a too-small, sausage-tube mistake. I thought I had the cat in the bag when I tried the bodice on without the sleeves, but as soon as I sewed the sleeves on, it became painfully obvious that while I had given myself enough room in the bust area proper, I had neglected to widen the area above it. It was not flattering. I would take a picture, but it is so intensely unflattering that even I am embarrassed by it. It’s a shame because everywhere else fits so smoothly! There is no post-production cure for cutting the shoulders 2 inches too small, though, so after letting out the seams as far as I could, I made the agonizing realization that this dress would never ever not-in-a-million-years fit me.

I will admit, I was disappointed. Really disappointed. Bitter, even. It was a rough night that no amount of chocolate and fried food could make better. After being so excited about how well the project had been going, finding out I couldn’t even wear the dress was a major blow to my confidence. I had put all this effort into making a dress that I actually was really, really looking forward to wearing, but I could not. What do you do with something you can’t use, but love? I can put it away in my closet with all my other ill-fitting clothes that I love but can’t wear. However, that just seems so cruel and I’d promised myself to stop keeping things I can’t wear. The other option–throwing it away– hurt too much. Tossing all of that time, materials, and joy into the garbage is not an option!

Instead, I am hoping that someone out there is willing to give this dress a chance. I put it on my dress form and it looked so lovely, I snapped a few pictures and decided it deserved a new home. The listing for it is up on Etsy right now, so if you happen to be a 35-26-35+ gal with 16 inch or smaller shoulders, I know a pretty project dress in need of a friend like you!

Currently plain, but a perfect blank canvas for trims!

This is how the skirt looks with a small pillow bustle. The skirt can also be worn without a bustle for a small train–perfect for an early 1890s look!

The dress is currently listed at $28 (plus shipping), which covers that cost of the fabric that went into the dress (I’m not a professional seamstress, so I don’t comfortable charging for my time.). It is pretty much complete except for closures, the bottom edge of the bodice, and any trimming. For a little extra, I’m also willing to finish the dress for someone who wants it, but doesn’t have the time to do it themselves.

Hopefully my failure can be someone’s success! :)

5 thoughts on “A Sad Day: The Dress I Can’t Wear

  1. Not to fear! There is hope — you have some military-like ribbon details draping over the shoulder — why not turn one of them into an extended shoulder, adding a piece all the way down the armscye, or halfway down, if that gives you enough room. The ribbon details can disguise the seam. Or you could create a little Elizabethan-type shoulder peplum, if that’s what it’s called(?) to extend and cover the addition.
    Good luck. I too hate to part with favorites (ask me what’s in that trunk at the foot of my bed, gathering dust??)
    Auntie Nan

  2. Commiserations! I’m in the middle of a Georgian project at the moment and was due to make a top coat to complete the ensemble. I bought what I thought was enough fabric at the wonderfully cheap price of £2 per meter ($2.50 a yard). Not having worked out quantity (and being hard up!) the 4m I bought just wouldn’t work, but it just happened to be enough to make a jacket for my wife who immediately commandeered it. She’s very happy! I’m sure the eventual recipient will be equally pleased!

  3. What a crying shame! Sad to say, we’ve all had projects like this. But that doesn’t make the pain go away. Main-lining chocolate can only do so much for a project gone awry.

    I also know the tears and self recrimination of moving ahead without enough measuring and trial. My current “Can’t believe this” is a 1913 corset that doesn’t fit. I did make a mock up, made alterations to the pattern and mock up, made the final garment, and unfortunately, it doesn’t fit. I did a pretty good job of construction and even the lovely trim. but it just doesn’t fit. I have been pondering what to do, but no solution presents itself except to start completely over. I am concerned that I don’t know enough to correct the pattern to fit this time, so I’m still dithering.

    Hopefully, your beautiful dress will be someone else’s too-good-to-be-true god-send, and you can move on to your next project. Best wishes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Fortunately, the dress has found a hopeful new owner who is going to give it new life! I have just barely enough fabric enough that if I decrease the skirt fullness, I have a chance to make another version…this time with (hopefully) enough room in the shoulders to fit!

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