How to make a 50s dress

Updated November 21, 2016

Not only can sewing your own clothes be fun, but it allows you to get just the style you want, in a size that fits you perfectly. The clothes that you make yourself could end up being your favourite to wear. Retro fashion may be difficult to find in shops at affordable prices. Therefore, making your own 1950s dress is a great and ambitious undertaking, allowing you to explore your creativity and craft something you will treasure for a long time.

Select your pattern. It is possible to create a dress without a pattern, but this is much more difficult and may fit awkwardly. 1950s dress patterns are a little more complicated since they often feature a full pleated skirt and buttons up to the collar. There are many styles of '50s dresses (see Resources). You can also buy them at your local craft shop. Some websites may even offer downloadable 1950s dress patterns for free.

Select and buy your fabric from a material shop or on line. You will need between 2 and 5 m (2 and 5 yards) of fabric depending on your dress size. Small dress sizes will probably need 2 m (2 yards), a medium dress may take 3 to 5 m (3 to 5 yards), and a larger dress may use 5. It's best to err on the side of buying too much fabric, as you do not want to run short, and you can always use it for other projects. 1950s dresses often feature delicately patterned fabric, from small flowers to polka dots. You may want to buy a small amount of contrasting fabric, as many 1950s dress styles include a bow at the waist in another colour. This will depend on the specific pattern that you choose.

Spread your fabric out in an area where you have lots of space to work, like the living room floor, or a large table. Unwrap your pattern and spread out the pieces on top of the fabric.

Attach each part of the pattern to the fabric with your pins. Make sure you have pinned around the entire circumference of each part of the pattern. Push the pins down so that the heads do not stick up beyond the pattern since you will need to cut around it. You can choose to draw around each piece with your fabric marker instead.

Cut out each piece of the pattern.

Remove the pins and separate the pattern from the cut fabric pieces. You may want to save the pattern for another use.

Read the instructions that accompany your specific pattern. They will direct you to which fabric pieces should be sewn together and the order in which to sew different parts of the dress.


For most '50s dresses, stiff cotton with a print of your choice will be easiest to work with. It may be easier to pin pieces of fabric together before sewing them so that they stay in place. Don't worry about sewing over the pins with your sewing machine. If you make a mistake, you can use a tool called a seam ripper to remove those stitches and easily make corrections.

Things You'll Need

  • Sewing machine
  • Dress pattern
  • 2 to 5 m (2 to 5 yards) of fabric
  • Thread to match your fabric
  • Straight pins
  • Sharp fabric scissors
  • Fabric marker
  • Seam ripper
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About the Author

Emma Rensch earned her B.A. in writing for contemporary media from Scripps College in 2011. Currently, she lives and writes in San Diego.