Prom dresses in the 1950s were characterised by halter tops and wide waistbands that cinched the waist. Layers of tulle and chiffon flounced out of full circle skirts, great for swirling around the dance floor to the tunes of Bill Haley and the Comets and other great pop bands. These dresses require a lot of fabric, but replicas can be constructed inexpensively by using clearance yardages, tablecloths or bedsheets. Tulle, which is inexpensive netting, can be used to fluff the dress out, fully creating that hourglass look without substantially adding to the cost.
Measure your bust and waist using a tape measure. Select the pattern of your choice. Vogue Patterns has some nice retro patterns, but any dress with a circle skirt will work. Find the proper size according to your measurements. Read the pattern carefully to determine yardages and notions.
Shop for fabrics, thread, zippers, hooks and eyes, and other notions according to the pattern package. Find clearance fabrics or purchase sheets or tablecloths. These fabrics are lovely and may cost less than purchasing fabric by the yard.
Cut out the correct paper pattern pieces according to your size. Patterns may include more than one style, so choose the pattern pieces of your style choice, which you'll find in the layout directions.
Lay out the fabric on a flat surface. Pin the pattern pieces to the fabric using straight pins and cut. Cut 2-3 layers of tulle on the skirt portion of the pattern in addition to the main fabric. The tulle can be omitted, but the dress will be less full. Use chalk to label any special markings.
Using a sewing machine, baste the tulle pieces to the fabric skirt at the waist to create the fullness. Sew the rest of the pieces together according to the pattern directions. Try the garment on and adjust accordingly before finishing final seams. Finish the garment using the notions listed on the pattern envelope.
Hem the dress so it falls about two or three inches below the knee. If you like, leave the tulle hanging an inch or so below the fabric hem. It adds a feminine touch. Embellish with ribbon and a bow or a silk rose below the bust or at the side of the waist. Vintagevixen.com notes that '50s prom dresses were characterised by yards of ribbon and velvet bows.
If your measurements don't fit the pattern exactly, select the size according to the largest measurement. The other measurement can be taken in during fitting. A popular look in the '50s was a sweetheart neckline with halter straps. Add matching pumps and a pearl necklace to complete the look.
Don't get bogged down in the details. The overall silhouette is the most important element. This isn't a project for someone who doesn't know how to sew. Basic sewing skills are required.