The Dress That No One Can Wear – 1950s Wiggle Dress Made of Pure Frustration

June 2, 2014

Party Dress Purgatory

I love vintage clothing because it’s quirky. I especially love mid-century vintage because it was made in an era when women tailored their own clothes and often had larger bust-to-waist sizes, so I can actually find dresses that match my natural proportions. I carry a measuring tape in my purse everywhere so if I find a dress and can’t try it on (like at yard sales or some thrift shops), I can take measurements to see if something will fit. When I buy a dress online, I only buy dresses with posted measurements of the bust, waist, and hips (shoulder width is, as you will see, also very important. If you are going to sell vintage online, including shoulder width is also very helpful!). Usually, you can tell if a dress will fit by the measurements. Sometimes, though, numbers can fail you.

Folks, meet The Dress No One Can Wear:

Okay, so obviously someone made and wore this dress at some point, but this dress confuddles me. It’s a beautiful late 50s/early 60s dress made of a back and white woven fabric frosted with hundreds of hand-placed, prong-set glass rhinestones. It’s gorgeous and subtly glitters all over from neckline to hem. The dress’s measurements are 35/36” bust, 26” waist, and 38” inch hips. I planned on wearing it with my eBay corset and I was super excited because many vintage dresses have very narrow shoulders, but this dress has a wide portrait neckline SUPPOSEDLY made to fit 16-17 inch shoulders:


However, when I got it home, I couldn’t even get it past my neck. Nothing is more frustrating than being excited about a dress finally fitting your shoulders only to have it hang up at that very spot. The top-heavy triangle strikes again! So I set the dress aside for a while and pretty much forgot about it. I found it again yesterday and decided that since I couldn’t wear it, I should sell it. It’s always nice to have pictures of the dress on a dress form so people can see how it hangs and fits on a 3D form rather just limp on a hanger. I got out my trusty dress form, set the measurements to 33-25-36 and tried to put the dress on it. This happened:

Once again, the dress hung up around the shoulders of the form, which surprised me because the dress form’s shoulders are only 15 inches wide (and have no arms to fanangle with). I tried pulling the dress up from the hips, but once again, it went nowhere. So I pulled out the absolute smallest dress form I have—my homemade mannequin made from egg crate foam, batting, and tape that I use for the smallest Victorian dresses and whom I lovingly call “Eunice:”


The inside of Eunice, revealing her egg crate core. She’s then swathed in batting and cinched into a cheap corset, so I can adjust her size as needed.

Eunice is teensy, measuring 30-23-34. Her shoulders are only 13 inches across, so I knew that if anyone could wear The Dress No One Can Wear, Eunice could! And indeed, with much difficulty, I was able to get the DNOCW over Eunice’s shoulders. It fit!

At least, from the front, it appeared that way. The back, however, reveals that Eunice is woefully tiny for the DNOCW:


Her waist is too short and small, her bust inadequate, and her shoulders just fall right through the neckline. I thought about just adding padding between Eunice and the dress until it filled out, but the fact that I still struggled to get the dress over Eunice’s puny shoulders and bust only to have both areas be too small bothered me. Why wouldn’t this dress fit anything?!


The answer, it appears, is in the zipper placement. Running up the side of the DNOCW is a sturdy metal zipper. It starts very low on the hips and runs up to the bust area. The problem is, it hits too low on the bust to allow the dress to expand wide enough to slide over the body, terminating just below the apex of the bust rather than at or above it. A seamstress put a lot of diligent hard work into making this party dress, so I doubt she would go to all the trouble of bedazzling a dress that refuses to fit. Since the zipper does go so deep into the hip, I’m wondering if this dress was made for/by a pear shaped lady who was more concerned with the fit through the hips than the bust.


The apex of the bust is about 1 inch above the end of the zipper.

Whatever the case, I will never be able to wear this dress and looking at it just makes me want to ugly cry from frustration. The Dress No One Can Wear is currently listed for $25 on Etsy, so if you are a contortionist, willing to move the zipper, or think you know the secret to getting into this Chinese-finger-trap-of-a-dress, please check out the listing. I’d love for this dress to finally find someone smaller/more lithe than I who can turn the “Dress No One Can Wear” into “The Dress I Can Totally Wear!”

10 Responses to “The Dress That No One Can Wear – 1950s Wiggle Dress Made of Pure Frustration”

  1. Mom Says:

    I’ve had a few side-zippered dresses and tops. They are usually frustrating to zip and unzip. The positioning is very awkward.

  2. Karen Ralston Says:

    Those side zippers are the bane of vintage clothing collectors and costumers! Even perfectly proportioned tiny actresses have a hard time getting into them, and an even harder time getting out! I mostly just change the zipper to the back, or re-design the dress to button up the front.

  3. Sandra Says:

    I also have to know the shoulder to waist measurement over my bust so that I can be sure it will fit. Many dresses are too short in the bodice for me. I wish more sellers on Etsy would list this measurement so I don’t have to convo everyone all the time. And snap! I also carry a tape measure with me all the time!

  4. You have to open zipper and step into dress. do not try to put over your head.

    • Liz Says:

      Sadly, it doesn’t fit that way either because the zipper still does not open wide enough to allow it to pass over the hips. The top of the zipper acts as a catch point, limiting the opening to only about 32 inches around.

  5. That is the reason for the wide shoulders so you can pull the dress up instead of down

  6. Ysabel Says:

    Could you just buy a really long zipper and open up the side seam all the way to the armscye?

  7. melissa Says:

    I scooped up this dress. When it arrived, I had to try it on. The only issue was the waist being a touch too tight. However, I did not have a waist cincher or anything on. I will have to try again with foundation garments before adjusting. maybe I will not have to.

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