"They had style, they had grace." That's Madonna singing about Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and other screen sirens in her hit song "Vogue." Those mid-20th century glamour gals could sashay into a room like nobody's business. And their dresses? To die for.
It's hard to find the perfect vintage-style dress that lives up to the aura those ladies created, night and day, but here's the good news: You can make your own.
You'll need to give yourself a little quiz first, so you can decide on a dress style and a plan of attack. Got your pencil ready?
Are You a Beginning, Intermediate or Advanced Sewer?
That's the most important question to ask yourself. Evaluating your skill level will help you pick out the right pattern for you, and the right fabric for the pattern and occasion you have in mind.
If you're a novice, consider sewing from a vintage-inspired pattern or a vintage reproduction pattern. Contemporary vintage-inspired patterns will be easier to follow because the instructions are usually updated with current sewing terms and techniques — so you won't need to worry about translating all the dated jargon while you're still learning how to sew.
Comfortable with basic garment construction and general sewing terms? Now you can challenge yourself to sew from an authentic vintage pattern, without getting stymied by old-school terms that might trip up a beginner.
What Dress Style Do You Have in Mind?
You may already be daydreaming about the exact dress you want to make, or you might be searching around for a style that inspires you. If so, think about the silhouettes that feel right to you. Looking in your closet is a great way to start. Do you have any dresses or outfits in there that make you feel chic, comfortable and in your element? Knowing whether you like to go short or long, for instance — or tight or flowy , modest or revealing — will help you narrow down your pattern choices.
Where or How Do You Plan to Wear the Dress?
Knowing the answer to this is crucial: Your fabric choices will depend on it. Are you planning to wear the dress to a party or wedding or black-tie event? Or are you sewing a summer wardrobe staple? Certain dress styles work best with specific fabrics, but often there's leeway — and knowing how or where you plan to wear the dress will help you pick out the right fabric.
If you're crushing on the classic wiggle dress and plan to wear it to a cocktail party, try a more structured brocade fabric. For a practical, washable everyday dress, a cotton fabric is your best bet. Eyeing a 1940s-style day dress ? Quilting cotton works great for a style like that.
Also, make sure to consult the back of your pattern for the recommended fabric options. When in doubt, browse online and see which fabrics worked best for other sewers making a similar style of dress.
How Much Time Can You Spend?
Your deadline might just be the ultimate deciding factor for your pattern and fabric. Need the dress for an event that's coming up next week? Or do you have a few months to work with?
An intricate dress design that calls for specific types of fabric will take more time and advance planning than, say, a simply shaped, solid-colored dress that can work with lots of different fabrics.
Factor in all those elements — the style, the occasion, the fabric, the time frame — and you'll have a much better chance of creating the perfect vintage dress, one you can wear not just once but again and again.
Whatever you decide on, give yourself enough time to do the job right. There's no point in going to the trouble if you'll end up feeling all "Whatever!" about the result. You want to feel proud of that vintage dress you made yourself —and let it become a key part of your own fabulous signature style.