Mrs. Mauve Makes Her Debut: My Completed Simplicity 4156 Dinner Dress

April 3, 2014


One of the most common clichés is the woman who needs “ten minutes” to get ready to go out, only to find herself still in a towel, futzing with her eyeliner an hour later. In my case, finishing my outfit took two months! But finally, I am ready to go to dinner:


Walking Dress vs. Dinner Dress vs. Evening Dress
Victorians had different clothes for each part of the day and every activity. Simplicity 4156 is designated as a “walking dress” pattern. Walking dresses had shorter skirts to make them more manuverable and often had a jacket (or a jacket-like bodice) to protect a lady’s skin. Walking suits could be very fancy since they were worn to parade around town or in the park on fashionable afternoon walks. However, I consider my dress a dinner dress because it sweeps the floor and is, for my tastes, rather fancy. Dinner dresses emerged in the late 1880s as a halfway point between daywear and evening gowns. An evening gown is typically very ornate and often has a much lower neckine and revealing short sleeves. Dinner dresses generally keep a daytime-appropriate neckline while being more opulent and daring in fabric and trim choices. It’s like the difference between a sundress, a cocktail dress, and a formal gown.


Big thank you and tons of kisses to Christopher, who suffered his wife’s demands for girly pictures on our anniversary vacation!

I am super-pleased with this pattern! No, I take that back: I am in LOVE with this pattern. After only a few bumps in the road, it came together quite nicely.

Dress Stats:

7 yards of pink polyester-whatever – $7 at Walmart ($1/yard)
3 yards of brown cotton bodice lining – $9 at Walmart ($2.95/yard)
4 yards of grey cotton skirt lining – $9.80 ($2.45/yard)
Maroon faux suede remnant – $3 at Joann Fabrics
2 yards net crinoline for sleeve poof – $4 from Walmart ($2/yard)
Silk shirt for center front – $3 from Goodwill
Hooks and eyes – $1 from Walmart
Twill tape – $5.90 from Joann Fabrics ($2.95/yard)
2 spools of polyester thread – $3 from Walmart
2 sequined and beaded black appliques – $25.18 from Glory’s House on eBay

Total: $70.88

As you can see, the bulk of the cost was in all the notions, especially the trimming. It’s very common for trimmings to cost just as much as the dress itself in some cases! Originally, I was just going to decorate the lapels with four large Czech glass buttons, but then I fell in love with all the dangling beaded trim that came into vogue for opera and dinner wear during the 1890s and decided that this dress needed some goth-glitter to give this otherwise sweet pink confection some wicked edge.


The pattern calls for the collar and lapels to be wired. I was cheap and just used some floral wire left over from my long-ago Mid-Victorian headdress to wire the collar, but I ran out of wire for the lapels. The lack of wire in the lapels turned out well in the end since the heavy beaded appliques weigh them down anyway, so wiring the edge would have been extra work for no reason. The winged collar can be worn up or folded down. I prefer wearing it up outside and down inside, just because it can get in the way if you are trying to converse with someone seated next to you, but golly does it look bewitching when it’s flipped up and curled!


I accessorized Mrs. Mauve rather simply, choosing a basic collar pin and a lavish hat. The hat base I settled on is a really nice felt base from a hat factory in China. It is very sturdy and not plasticky or thin like other costume hats. It’s made from wool, so I easily sewed my trims directly to it.

Hat Stats:

Black felt hat base – $18.97 from IOUHat on eBay
Maroon bird ornament – $1.79 from Garden Ridge
Red and black feather bouquet – $3.59 from Garden Ridge
Black feather plume – Free! (Stolen from Christopher’s tricorn)
White silk band and bow – Free! (made from scraps left over from the silk shirt)
Broken vintage brooch – $5 originally, but I consider it upcycling since it’s cracked

Back in January when I first began the Simplicity 4156 project, I knew I wanted a  hat with a bird on it. In the 1890s, anybody who was anybody had at least one dead fowl to decorate their chapeau, the more exotic (and terrifying) the better:

Madame Pauline Hat, circa 1915
“In the history of Western fashion, no period stand out more for the abundance and variety of feather trimmings than that beginning around 1860 and continuing to World War I.” – The Met

Hat, circa 1890-1900
Caught in a net…
Eventually so many birds were being hunted for their plumage that laws had to be passed to protect them from extinction.

Bonnet Hat, circa 1890
The latest from Paris: Zombie parakeets

Clearly, I wasn’t about to put a real stuffed bird on my hat, but in January, all of the Christmas decorations were on sale at the local Garden Ridge (a wonderous home decorating store the size of a football field). The trendy Christmas ornaments of 2013 turned out to be glittery and feathery, so there were plastic birds of every shape, size and color piled up for 60% off, just begging to be made into hats!


A small sample of my feathery prizes!

All of the birds had metal clips on the bottom that I removed. I selected the wine-colored bird for this particular hat because it matched. Usually, I avoid matching perfectly, but it sat nicely on the brim like it was fate! I secured it to the hat base with two straight pins (I don’t like to glue things to hats because I often recycle the hat bases as I make new costumes).


To blend them in, I could color them with a permanent marker, but when worn, the pearly pin heads don’t show.


I tucked a brooch behind Mr. Birdy to fill in the space. I was very upset when that brooch broke, but it turned out to be a good thing since it works perfectly as a hat ornament. Turquoise and amethyst were very popular gemstones in the 1890s.

In addition to my collar pin and hat, my purple double-strap pumps finally got to see some use!


You can just see one of them peeking out from under my skirt…

Eventually, I’d love to have a chatelaine to hang at my waist, but for now, I am very content!


Previous Project Posts:

The Beginning – Cutting and fitting the pattern
Am I too Curvy for Victorian Clothes?
– Busty historical silhouettes
Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online – A simple way to make sure your trims will work
Nitty-Gritty Gibson Girl – How to give limp hair historical volume
Mrs. Mauve Undergarments – What went under this dress and a corset review

7 Responses to “Mrs. Mauve Makes Her Debut: My Completed Simplicity 4156 Dinner Dress”

  1. Gabriela Says:

    WOW this is so stunning!! I am blown away by your creativity and skill!

  2. Ysabel Says:

    Great job on the costume. And what a price!

    OMFG on the zombie parakeet hat!!! It looks like the hat radiated some kind of poison that made parakeets drop dead on it.

  3. Cassidy Says:

    Great job! Love those sleeves.

  4. Mom Says:

    Congratulations on a fantastic project. Thank you Chris for being so patient with your wife.

  5. What an amazing and beautiful seamstress! Also wonderful photography.

  6. Goose Mother Says:

    YOU look FABULOUS!! Excellent job on your walking suit and hair!! So glad you shared pix of you in your outfit. Striking poses and very nice photography. Hats off to you. The Goose

  7. Beautiful job with that pattern. I love the color and black bead detail! So happy to have seen this.

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