Strapless Vintage Dress: Simplicity 4931

This is a project I made for the book last year. Isn’t it a lovely dress? In the end you don’t see a lot of this dress in the book, which is a shame as it’s very pretty! (It was a contender for the cover but I think they made the right choice with the pink dress.)

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I think this dress is great! I feel like Charlotte from Sex and the City in it.

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(Anyone else take photos of their TV for sewing inspiration?)

The trim is rickrack, looking a lot less zigzaggy with half of it enclosed in the edge. This is how it’s done – centered along the seamline. Baste right down the middle, where the finished edge will be.

sewing rickrack along edges

You can see the line of white stitching down the middle of the black trim. Ideally, that’s exactly where the seam allowance is folded back so only half of the rickrack shows.

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I would never use this rickrack detail again on a strapless dress. Never again! It’s super uncomfortable under the arms. The dress is anchored at the waist, but when you move your arms or twist your body the rickrack rubs against the skin. It looks super cool, but it is not great to wear! Rickrack at the front neckline and all across the back is fine, it’s just under the arms at the front that is annoying. Black piping would give the same look but end up softer to wear.

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I was hoping for wind in the skirt, but ended up with hair in the face. Ah well!

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Back view. I like how the back scoops down, just a little.

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Photos are great because you get to see things you don’t notice in real life. You can see the belt is creeping up a little in the back, which often means the back is a little too long. Or it could be how I was standing. (I felt the back of my dress while sitting in my chair to check, and it does feel just like this photo, with the belt about 1/4″ to 1/2″ higher than the seam.) Also, if you look back up at the very first photo in this post, the belt is just a little higher in the front too. That’s a good sign the bodice is just a bit too long! (I am pretty sure I added about an inch to the bodice length, but cannot find the pattern piece to check.)

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The fabric is a polyester from Telio, but it looks much fancier than that! It was pretty easy to work with. In fact, it’s the same base as this black polka-dot Rae skirt!

The skirt is just gathered rectangles, easy. It’s unlined, and I finished the hem with seam binding in a matching green.

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I hand-picked the zipper but that might not have been the best decision as it’s under a lot of strain at the waistline.

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Strangely, it calls for a centered zipper on the left side, not a lapped one. There is boning hand-sewn to the zipper along one side of the zipper tape. I’ll hopefully make this one again and take some photos of the construction as it was quite interesting, but I was in a hurry when I sewed it!

Here’s a quick look at the inside:

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It’s lined with bleached muslin so it’s soft and cottony against the skin.

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I was going to skip the inside photos so I didn’t have to take off my dress at work.. except that I had to do something about those scratchy edges!
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I trimmed closely to the edge of the rickrack, being careful not to cut the dress fabric. So much better! (It’s still in the rest of the photos below, but by the end of the day, the trim had to go!)

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Here is the original pattern envelope:

Simplicity 4931 E

This is the one I found the newspaper clippings in! I usually look online to see if anyone else has sewn this one up and posted photos, but nope! Just me so far.

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I think this would be a lovely dress to wear to a wedding, or on a special date. It would look fantastic and more authentically vintage with a big petticoat underneath, but still looks nice on its own.

Here’s an in-the-mirror shot from last spring when I was sewing this sample. I’m wearing a petticoat and you can really see the difference! Your waist looks so tiny when your skirt is huge.

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Back view – you can also see all the book fabric in the background, on top of the bookcase!

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I didn’t feel like wearing this dress full vintage-style for work, so I skipped the petticoat. It’s pretty awesome though with that much poof. I feel like Marty McFly’s mom dressed up for to the Enchantment under the Sea dance, the part where he looks inside the car and it’s all petticoat. That’s what would happen if I got in a car wearing this dress and a petticoat. Not enough space in a Smart Car for all that!

It is very tight in the waist, so if I gain even a little bit of weight or if I eat a big meal, it doesn’t zip up. (Back in the day women probably wore substantial foundation garments to keep things sucked in underneath, taking the pressure off the zipper.) Not the greatest for all-day wear but fine for short-term wear and special occasions!

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Have a great weekend, everyone!

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53 Responses to Strapless Vintage Dress: Simplicity 4931

  1. Eva September 12, 2014 at 6:23 am #

    Great dress! I really like your fabric choice and the trim you used.

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks! It’s a really nice fabric. I made something else with the leftovers, just need to write the post for it!

  2. Ann M. September 12, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Your dress looks lovely. I do think the petticoat gives it a glamorous fifties flair. As for the Ric-Rac, could you trim it down under the arms or would that make it look strange? Your sewing and style is great.

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am #

      I did trim it down, all around the neckline. I thought about doing just under the arms, like you suggested, but thought it would look really odd to see the line of black trim just disappear at the sides of the body. (Fine if my arms are now, weird if I were to lift them up!)

  3. Renee September 12, 2014 at 7:49 am #

    so lovely! I’m always tempted to whip out a can can and wear a vintage dress like this!

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      It sure is fun to wear once in a while! I need more events in my life to wear vintage dresses and petticoats and have it make sense for the occasion. It doesn’t totally make sense for work even though I can get away with it. :)

  4. zilredloh September 12, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    This is soo pretty Tasia. I just love that fabric. It’s too bad about the rickrack, seems like it would be a good idea. :D

    I love the petticoat floof picture in the mirror, it is very 50’s… but yeah not so practical for every day work wear. Can you imagine even biking in a petticoat?! lol

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      I know right? It seemed like a good way to add trim, and I swear I’ve seen it on vintage dresses, but perhaps it’s just on necklines and never under arms.
      Biking in a petticoat would make for awesome photos, if you had someone to capture it, but terribly impractical! Probably dangerous for most bikes, all that tulle and lace can get caught in brakes and everyone would be like ‘i told you so!’ for biking in such impractical clothes.

  5. Aura Oriano September 12, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Beautiful! Even if you are sewing in a hurry, your makes are inspiring me to get my technique down!

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Thank you!

  6. liezel September 12, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Wow, i like it a lot!!!! Well done!

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Thank you!

  7. Carolyn Thomas September 12, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    A really fab dress, beautifully made!

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks!

  8. Christina September 12, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Such a fabulous dress. I like the fabric choice and the design. I can’t wait until I get to this level of expertise. Bravo.

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks! Time and practice and experience, that’s all it takes to sew a dress with this sort of structure. And patience. :)

  9. Bliss Cochran September 12, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    It’s just me, it seems everyone is mad for them, but I don’t like strapless dresses and would feel entirely too vulnerable in one to ever wear it in public. I would add spaghetti straps, or a single halter strap. A convertible style, with hidden buttons, snaps or Velcro that would allow you to add straps or not would make this a much more wearable dress.

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      A convertible strap is a great idea, it would be nice to have the option!
      This dress fits so snugly at the waist and is structured in a way that’s never going to fall down. It’s very rigid! If I held it from the waistline, the bodice would still stand straight up on its own. So I feel safe from wardrobe malfunctions!

  10. Hélène September 12, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Beautiful! The style is very similar to your own wonderful Cambie dress pattern, but without the shoulder pieces. This really suits you. I’m also found of these new flats with bolder heels.

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      Thank you! Yes, the Cambie does have the look of a strapless bodice from the front, but without needing boning to keep it in place.
      I love these shoes so much I have literally worn them out (until a toe poked through the front!) and replaced them with the exact same ones. I find it’s more comfortable to wear a ‘flat’ with a very slight heel like this. I think it’s about an inch and a half. This is my new favourite shoe style – low vamp, round toe with slight heel.

  11. Karen of Fifty Dresses September 12, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    The added boning on one side of the zipper is certainly interesting. You look lovely in this pretty dress – and I laughed about your reference to Marty McFly’s mom!

    • Tasia September 12, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      It’s weird eh? It’s probably to balance out the boding on the right side seam, since there is a left side zipper. Strange that you hand-sew it on top of the zipper tape. This dress was really interesting to construct and I would like to make it again and show off some of the construction steps.

      And yes! Lorraine’s prom dress, all that puff and tulle! “Get your damn hands off…” oh but wait! it’s not Marty! Perhaps that’s why my own prom dress had a huge tulle underskirt :)

  12. French Toast Tasha September 12, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Lovely! I really like this dress, even if it’s not the most practical thing for everyday wear. It looks much better than the drawing on the envelope! And, I totally agree about photos, I always feel like I get a much better idea of fit when I take photos than just looking in the mirror.

  13. Michelle Y. September 12, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    I love this dress! Thank you for the many pictures and your description of the process. I’m seeing a vintage dress in my future…

  14. Liliana September 12, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Beautiful! Especially with the petticoat underneath. Too bad the rickrack didn’t really work, but thanks for the tip – I know now that I’ll never use it this way :)

  15. Carol September 12, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    The dress is super cute! Too bad all lace under the arm is annoying – because it really does look good. But I would never give up comfort for looks!!

  16. Ellin September 12, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    It’s cute! Great fabric choice.

  17. Lyric September 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Good looking out sharing the tip about RR under the arms. And you’re right, it looks really snazzy and smart on your dress.

    Thanks for the eye candy.

  18. Joanne September 12, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Can I ask if it was poly ric-rac or cotton? I have some vintage ric-rac that is listed as cotton–seems like it might be softer. Maybe?

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

      I don’t know, as I’ve tossed the packaging by now, but I think it was polyester. It was shiny and polyester-y, not soft and cottony. Cotton may not be so scratchy to wear!

  19. Kristin Lion September 13, 2014 at 5:46 am #

    This is such a pretty dress! I love the colors and the fabric. And I really LOVED the ric rac. Usually I think ric rac is pretty cheesy, but this looked great. It must have been really uncomfortable!

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

      Haha I know what you mean, it all depends on the placement, and if you can see the full zigzag or just the edging. Yeah, I ended up taking off my dress in my office mid-day and cutting it out – it was *that* uncomfortable!

  20. Debra September 13, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    Such a pretty dress and loved it with the petticoat. Great tip about the rick- rack !

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      Yup, it’s scratchy, use rick rack with care!

  21. Natalie from Sewoutnumbered September 13, 2014 at 6:39 am #

    This dress is DEVINE!! Do you know if the pattern is still available to purchase or is it only vintage now? I want one!! haha :)

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

      It’s from the 1960s, definitely vintage! But you never know when a copy will pop up for sale online. Look for ‘strapless dress pattern 1960’ and see what you find. I have seen it for sale in other sizes online.

  22. Jaclyn September 13, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    Your dress is incredibly gorgeous. I absolutely love that fabric, and the belt adds just the right touch to tie it together. Too bad about the rick-rack…it was super cute but that would definitely drive me crazy too! Is it still warm enough for strapless dresses in your neck of the woods? Down here in Montana we got snow this week…now the temperatures are creeping back to normal fall-weather but I think we’ve past the point for summer clothes!

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

      Yes it is! (Still warm enough for dresses, that is.) It’s snowing in other parts of Canada, but here in Vancouver we are enjoying a gorgeous warm late summer. We haven’t had to pack away our sundresses yet… but it’s coming! I didn’t know Montana was that cold to have snow already!

      • Jaclyn September 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

        Well, in typical MT fashion it’s back to warmer temperatures this week, but it was awfully chilly last Wednesday and Thursday! We tend to see-saw a lot in the fall, but typically don’t get snow quite this early. (I think the “frost date” for our area is generally considered to be September 15th…as in, your garden’s probably ok til then, but all bets are off after that date!) The leaves hadn’t even changed yet…it was literally 80-some degrees on Monday and snowing by Wednesday night!

  23. June September 13, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    Beautiful dress! I think that was my mom’s pattern although I can’t imagine her ever having a dress like that. Well done Tasia!

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      Thank you! I think this may have been one I bought before inheriting your collection :)

  24. Rebecca September 13, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    This dress looks so good! It looks like it would be fun to twirl and dance in!

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      You bet! It’s a very full skirt, great for dancing. :)

  25. Armand September 13, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    I love this dress!

  26. Stacia September 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    This is lovely! I adore both the style and the fabric choice. Thanks for the tip about the ric rac under the arms!

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

      Any time! No point pretending it wasn’t uncomfortable.. and then having someone try it and not be able to wear the dress!

  27. wanda j September 14, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    Of all the remake dresses I’ve seen on the internet this one is the best. I think I have that pattern some where in my old stash. Can you tell me what year it was put out?. You did an excellent job making it too. The dress looks devine and you look great in it Women wore this kind of dresses in the summer due to no air conditioning back in those days.
    Keep up the awesome work and update. By the way the inside looks great too and that is always a plus.

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

      I think it’s from the 1960’s – I found a newspaper from 1964 inside the envelope! http://sewaholic.net/a-random-piece-of-history/ When I look for other copies of it online they say it’s from 1960.
      Yes, I want to make the insides of my projects as nice as the outsides! Especially since this was a project for the book and it would be photographed by pros. :)

  28. Katherine September 15, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    I love this dress, that fabric is soooo pretty! I love the rick rack detail, too bad it’s not comfortable.

    • Tasia September 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      It was so uncomfortable! Too bad as I agree, it looked great.

  29. Kelly September 21, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    It’s beautiful!! I love the colors and print!

  30. Fiona September 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Absolutely stunning Tasia. It’s so beautifully finished, thanks for all the inside pictures. The fabric looks like it’s got a gorgeous texture to it which reminds me of a lot of dresses from this period. I love the idea of using ric rac as a trim like that but I’ll remember to keep it in spots which won’t rub!

  31. juliana October 1, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    Hi, Tasia.
    I love the way you talk about your sewing, the process you went through…! I just love reading you!
    gorgeous dress, and I am sorry the rickrack didn’t feel comfortable, it really looks cool.

    all the best

    Ju