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Apr 9, 2011

The sheer overlay cocktail dress

Does anything scream Fifties glamour more than a sheer lace overlay cocktail dress?  (Yes, Liberace comes close.)

My cousin needs a dress like this and she needs it soon -- big party next Saturday night!  I hightailed it to the fabric store yesterday.  They don't call me "Two-Bucks-a-Yard Pete" for nothing.

Voilà!  Five yards of emerald poly taffeta.  Five yards of black nylon lace.

Originally I was thinking something like the Simplicity Designer's Pattern I showed you on Thursday, the black version.

I really don't want to pay $20 for that pattern, though, especially because it's the wrong size and not quite the right style (that detachable collar -- too daytime).  It wouldn't arrive in time anyway.

I'm going to cobble something together working with pieces of patterns I already have.  It's a slip with a lace dress over it -- no boning in the bodice.  There are a lot of photos of this kind of thing online, some more stiffly structured than others.  Often the overlay was attached to the bodice and the darts sewn through both layers together, but not always. 

In the version below, the lace overlay is removable -- it's called a redingote -- and not attached to the dress itself. 

Here's something designer Helen Rose whipped up for Grace Kelly at MGM (for the film High Society, her last).  Not quite the same thing but close.  There was so much of this look out there at the time.

The overlay movie to beat all overlay movies is Paramount's White Christmas.   There are more sheers in that movie than in Martha Stewart's entire Home Collection.

So there you have it, kids: ten yards of frou-frou and a week of hard labor.  This is my kind of fun, what can I say?

Thoughts, recommendations, caveats?

Happy Saturday, everybody!


  1. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  2. For 2$ a yard, the lace looks pretty good to me and improves the taffeta a lot.

    Though offe topic today, I was wondering:
    Is Cathy a "one time only" kind of girl?
    She has such an amazing wardrobe to pic from, though I get that she probably also likes to kindly give you the opportunity to train and improve your sewing skills. Does she wear the dresses you make for her more than once and if not, what happens to them? Do they scrape a living in the dark of a closet under a layer of dust or (gasp) does she give them away?

  3. The the sheer look. It is always elegant AND sexy in my opinion. Cathy will be gorgeous!

  4. I'm looking forward to seeing this -- should be very pretty.

    A bit of trivia --- redingote is a French version of the term "riding coat". Words can be exported from English to other languages, as well as imported in droves.


  5. Oh my, I adore the sheer overlay. My wedding dress was tea length with a full skirt and a sheer overlay with a black vine pattern. I loved it so much. I can't wait to see the finished product!

  6. Ooh that Grace Kelly dress is divine! Look forward to seeing what you come up with - I'm working on my own sheer overlay project at the moment (friend's wedding dress) but can't offer any tips as I'm a bit behind schedule - so will watch you with interest!

  7. I have about 20 yards of frou frou to deal with.....a wedding dress for april 30. I shall muddle through with you! Now, if only I could've talked the bride-to-be into a less unfortunate fabric choice.....glitter is just so wrong. ;-)

  8. When I checked out "White Christmas" on IMDB for the designer (Edith Head, natch), I also read in the trivia that the original casting for Bing Crosby's dancing/singing buddy was Fred Astaire (who wouldn't do it), then Donald "Make 'em Laugh" O'Conner, who then got sick and couldn't. So, Danny Kaye was third choice (ouch). Can you imagine how different that movie would have been if Donald O'Connor had played that role?

  9. I adore the idea of the lace overlay being removable. I mean a girl loves to have options right! Can't wait to see what you come up with!

  10. Sewing blog + references to White Christmas, the movie = happy Saturday morning blog reading. One of my all time favorite movies, and the costumes are the best! Plus Danny Kaye was great in that film and should have been in more comedies. Love it!
    can't wait to see your dress.

  11. Great video! Thank you :-).
    I don't know about that skirt slit up the front thing - too Louis XIV for me, and it'd call for upholstery fabric or something. I very much prefer the back slit in Judy Hayne's dress, much sexier imho. Totally demolishes the demure high neck that lace kind of calls for. Ah well, we're all looking forward to Cathy's next escapade I'm sure :-).

  12. Feeling reassured in my choice of fabric for my wedding dress - 'ancient italien gold' with caramel lace overlay. Looking fwd to your progress reports and pics!

  13. When I was little, I wanted to grow up and wear cocktail hats with dresses like that. My mom had the cutest little hats to wear going out to the Elks Club with dad. Do you make hats as well?

  14. you should totally check out the blog post from 'Dress a Day' about a couple weeks ago. she had this amazing pic of a shirtwaist daydress done in a sheer overlay. I have a pattern similar but it doesn't mention anywhere how the heck you get the overlay look. nada, not one little iota of a hint in the pattern about the strapless slip thing. its infuriating. i think i may just franken-pattern it; dye a slip to match and sew it in; or glue the underlay piece to my body out of sheer frustration.

  15. Interesting tidbit for you: Vera Ellen was so strikingly thin when they filmed that movie, her costumes were all designed to cover her collarbone/neckline/arms. Even the scene when they are wearing bathrobes has her in a mandarin high-neck robe. But damn were her legs amazing, huh?

  16. My mother used to have several dresses that she made back in the late fifties or early sixties. They all used the same lace overdress and had a different "inside" dress, and all had a belt matching the inside dress. I think it was her was of stretching her wardrobe. She always looked so elegant.

  17. Detachable lace overlay with detachable belt? If you ever want something similar again, it could be mix'n'match... :)


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