With some basic sewing skills and a suitable pattern, you can re-create a 1950s dress style with ease. First decide on the type of dress you prefer. Do you want to emulate the modest day wear of housewives and secretaries? Think necklines that grace the collarbone, tailored bodices, cinched waists and full skirts. Or do you prefer the evening wear of the era? Think slim, knee-skimming sheaths, glamorous halter dresses with plunging necklines, and the ever-popular 1950s cocktail dress.
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Get the Look With a Vintage Sewing Pattern
Novice sewers should begin with a commercially produced sewing pattern. Online businesses like etsy.com, eBay and oldpatterns.com sell out-of-print vintage patterns from multiple decades. Try searching thrift stores and estate sales as well. Contemporary pattern suppliers, including Vogue and Simplicity, offer a retro line of patterns of popular styles. For a perfect fit, practice making darts for those form-fitting bodices before you begin your dress project. Learning how to make tucks and pleats for full skirts will also come in handy.
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Use a Vintage Dress as a Template
For those with intermediate sewing skills, the perfect 1950s dress can be re-created using a sample gleaned from your grandmother's closet, a thrift store or online vintage clothing retailer as a template. Carefully open the seams with a seam ripper, leaving the sleeve edges and hem intact. Iron each piece of fabric before tracing it on pattern drafting paper. Remember to include a 5/8-inch seam allowance. Adjust each piece to fit before cutting, then sew.
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Draft Your Customized 1950s Dress from Scratch
Advanced sewers and would-be pattern drafters can take advantage of the vintage "Haslam System of Dresscutting" to create an original 1950s dress pattern. Packaged as a set of books and DIY sewing tools, the Haslam system provides instructions on drafting a custom fit foundation garment from which dozens of patterns can be made. Reference books from the 1940s and 1950s are included, as well as a dressmaking template (called the Haslam Chart) for adding shape and distinct details.
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Wearing It Well
Shape-enhancing undergarments help achieve the crisp, feminine silhouette typical of 1950s fashion, and will make the most of your new vintage-inspired dress. Pair a bullet bra with a waist-cinching girdle from an online retailer like dollhousebettie.com, secretsinlace.com or lucyb.com to achieve a classic hourglass figure. Complete your look with a well-chosen accessory or two: cat eye glasses, a string of pearls, long satin gloves or kitten heels.