How to make a can can dress

Updated February 21, 2017

The can can dress is a favourite costume for Halloween, theme parties and even costume conventions, as the popular film "Moulin Rouge" created many more fans of the look. Historically, can can dresses were often simple skirt and bodice combinations, worn with petticoats, drawers and stockings. Today, many costumiers create can can dresses from elaborate ruffled circle skirts, corsets and chemises to create a more cinematic look. To make your own can can dress, complete the following instructions.

Determine what style of can can dress you would like to make. You can make a dress that is a full skirt and bodice, or a skirt and corset over a ruffled chemise. Also determine what undergarments you would like to wear with your can can dress, which are usually ruffled Victorian drawers and stockings or ruffled modern underwear. Find patterns for a late Victorian skirt, bodice, chemise, drawers and corset, as you prefer, using the links in the Resources section of this article.

Take your measurements, using the measuring tape. Victorian clothes are fitted very snugly to the body, so make sure to take accurate and detailed measurements of your bust, waist, hip, skirt length and bodice length. Using your measurements, determine what size pattern to use for each costume piece. Fit the largest measurement first, and then scale the patterns down from there.

Create your undergarment pieces first, so that you have a basis from which to build your can can dress. Buy or make your drawers, corset, chemise and stockings. Put the undergarments onto your dress form, if you are using one. If you are wearing a corset, put the undergarments on and take your bodice measurements again, as the corset may change your exact measurements.

Create your ruffled can can skirt or petticoat by making a circle skirt or by using an existing pattern. For a basic circle skirt, calculate the radius of your waist measurement plus the skirt length measurement, and multiply the result by 4. The bottom width of your skirt should be about equal to this number, while the top width should be equal to your waist measurement, plus seam allowances. Remember that Victorian skirts fasten at the natural waist. On the inside of the skirt, stitch lengths of large ruffles all around the skirt, from the hip to bottom, which will show when the skirt is lifted.

Sew the bodice of your can can dress, if you are making a dress with a bodice. Follow the pattern instructions for the bodice, stitching the Victorian bodice panels together, then stitching the top together at the shoulder seams. Sew the sleeve seams and stitch the sleeves to the armholes, then attach the lining pieces to the entire bodice. Make sure that the bodice fits over the rest of the costume.

Put the costume on in order. First put on the chemise and stockings, then the drawers and the corset. Next, fasten the skirt around the waist, and finally put the bodice on over the skirt. Add any accessories, such as Victorian boots or a hat, last.

Things You'll Need

  • Sewing equipment and supplies
  • Fabric, matching thread and other notions
  • Measuring tape
  • Dress form
  • Pattern for skirt, bodice and other pieces
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About the Author

A writer with a Bachelor of Science in English and secondary education, but also an interest in all things beautiful, Melissa J. Bell has handed out beauty and fashion advice since she could talk -- and for the last six years, write for online publications like Daily Glow and SheBudgets.