Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on October 21, 2011
A Blue Silk 1950s Dress – Butterick Retro 5556 Pattern Review
After sewing three summery 1950s dresses from Butterick 4790, I knew I would be very sad to be without a vintage 50s style dress for winter! So when I saw Butterick 5556 (an updated version of an original 1950s pattern), it instantly struck me as the perfect 1950s dress for cold weather with its 3/4 length sleeves and mid-calf length skirt. And only a few weeks after I found the pattern on sale, a dear friend of mine gave me her mother’s collection of fabrics, which included a six yard piece of 54″ wide blue silk dupioni! My initial thought was to make a formal gown with the fabric, but since 50s dresses can be worn everyday and formalwear cannot, I chose to turn this gorgeous silk fabric into Butterick 5556.
Butterick 5556 Pattern Review
Unlike most sewer’s reviews of Butterick 4790, Butterick 5556 is perfectly designed for the modern figure, and requires few if any adjustments to achieve a perfect fit. This retro pattern has kimono sleeves, with the sleeves being an extension of the main bodice itself. Obviously that creates a little bit of wrinkling or bunching in the shoulder and upper bodice area, but when you watch the “I Love Lucy” costumes from that decade, many of Lucille Ball’s dresses were cut the same way. And of course no one minds having one less step of sewing construction!
Fitting the Dress
I did cut the bodice one size smaller than my measurements since I could see from their model garment that the bodice had too much room in it to look authentic for the early 1950s. When sewing the sleeves, I cut them a couple inches shorter than the pattern calls for and added a double ruffle of silk dupioni at the sleeve hem.
And after initially trying on the dress for fitting the bodice, I found that it definitely needed more room to make it over my shoulders. (This could have been lessened had I cut out the bodice larger, but I still think it would have been a little tight.) So instead of sewing a seam down the center front of the bodice as the patterns direct, I just bound the raw edges, added facings, and sewed some stunning blue and silver buttons down the front. This way I have the front closure plus the required side zipper closure, making it a snap to get in to without feeling like you’re going to rip the seams out!
A Classy 1950s Party Dress Style
As for the pattern style itself, I love it! Both the winged collar version and the mandarin collar version are so very classy, but I chose the mandarin collar option because it reminded me of Catherine Wood’s lovely pink dress from the film A Man Called Peter. Butterick 5556 has eight skirt gores, two of which are straight in the front, with the remaining six gathered around the sides and back. There are two vertical darts in the front and two in the back, though for proper fitting I had to add two horizontal darts from the center front outward. I’m sure this wouldn’t necessarily be the case with everyone, but for some reason it wouldn’t lay flat without the additional darts.
Besides adding the buttons and sleeve frills, the only other minor changes I made to this pattern were:
1. Omitting the belt (tiny belts make people look larger than they are)
2. Adding a rhinestone and pearl broach to close the very top of the bodice front
When at last my dress was done, it was so exciting to put it on with the big 1950s crinoline underneath! I used the same crinoline petticoat I had sewn for the 1950s dress sew-along, but I distributed the gathers evenly around the elastic since this dress doesn’t have the wraparound aspect of Butterick 4790. (Of course if you were to wear this dress without the crinoline, it would not at all have the same effect, and would actually be a waste of all those yards of skirt material if the dress just hung limply around your knees instead of being held out with crinoline netting.)
I just love dress styles that have high collars sloping into v-necklines, and if you look at the dress from waist up, it could almost pass for a Victorian style! And while I don’t usually wear a lot of dark blue, I think it is just stunning for this elegant 1950s dress – so very classy and wintry.
A 1950s Hat, Princess Catherine Style
And finally, I knew this dress would not be complete without a hat! I am certainly no milliner, but with some scraps of buckram, satin and silk dupioni, I arrived at a fascinator style hat which at least resembles something from the Royal Wedding, if not from the 1950s. Inside the smallest satin rosette I stitched a silver and blue button that matches the buttons down the front of the dress.
So now I have a 1950s party dress which can easily be worn for the next few fall and winter months, and I’m sure I will have to use this pattern again to make a Christmas dress!