Tuesday, January 23, 2018

title pic Vintage Party Dress Inspiration

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on September 23, 2012

Hello, Ladies!

As I’m typing up the final edits to the “Liesl’s Party Dress Pattern” instructions, I decided to move these vintage pattern images from the pattern’s appendix to the blog!  The main focus of this study is to illustrate how you can use this pattern to cover nearly twenty years of fashion history by simply adding an accessory or ommitting a frill!

Here's the charming frock that inspired the new pattern for "Liesl's Party Dress".

When I first started studying the design elements of Liesl’s dress, my initial thought was that the costume designer was perhaps a bit too ahead of the fashions that would have been popular in the 1930s.  After all, when we think 1930s we think of long, slim dresses often cut on the bias, and certainly not very “hourglassy”.  My idea of a 1930s dress is something Ginger Rogers would wear, probably silk charmeuse, and without a lot of wiggle room.

A late 1930s design by Hollywood Patterns featuring Ginger Rogers.

Dior’s New Look in the Late 1930s?

But the costume designer was not wrong!  Towards the very end of the 1930s, fashions changed from the super straight, often dowdy frocks, to what we would think of as 1950s style!  Necklines became very wide with either portrait style collars or off-the-shoulder necklines, bodices were fitted and stopped at the natural waistline, and skirts had lots of gathers for fullness.  So why do we not usually see this portrayed in images?  I believe the main reason is that this fashion craze hardly had any time to last before WWII struck!  In her enlightening book Vintage Fashions for Women, 1920s-1940s, the renowned historical costume expert Kristina Harris describes the entire process of what fashion underwent from the pre-war days to the release of Dior’s New Look in 1947  (which really wasn’t “new” at all)!  (The aforementioned book has some of the most gorgeous dresses I have ever seen in my life, so if you’re looking for a good costuming publication I highly recommend it!)

My sketch of the Liesl Party Dress - lots of puffing & pearls!

But back to the topic!  Now that I have explained why this dress – worn in the “last golden days of the thirties” – looks like something we might consider is a decade too early, let’s get on with viewing some vintage patterns that illustrate this look!


Above is a vintage evening gown pattern from the late 1930s and early 1940s (Vogue 5690).  Notice how full the skirt is (just like the gathered skirt in the Liesl design), and how they’re wearing a wide off-the-shoulder neckline with the exact same tiny puffed sleeves!  Excepting Liesl’s Party Dress, this is the only design I’ve ever seen that has that very same sleeve puffing underneath a wide-collared bodice!

Nearly a decade later, this day dress & evening gown pattern (used in the late 1940s-mid 1950s), features a nearly identical silhouette to Liesl’s Party Dress.  Look at the knee-length version in particular – with the same fitted bodice that ends at the natural waist and band of puffing at the neckline, you can see some striking resemblance!  If you wanted to copy this design exactly, you could simply omit the sleeve and sleeve puffing and perhaps narrow the skirt a bit.  For the floor length version, keep the skirt width but lengthen to the floor.

With the advent of the circle skirt, 1950s dresses often had similar bodices to those above, but with full gored or circular skirts that fit smoothly at the waist.  There was hardly a more elegant look in the 1950s than an enormous, puffy skirt with a bodice that ended in an off-the-shoulder or portrait collar neckline.

But the Liesl dress style was still greatly in fashion!  As illustrated in this pattern below, a popular 1955 day dress (McCalls 3530) had a gathered skirt, fitted bodice, and neckband of puffing just exactly like Liesl’s!  You could create this dress by adding a belt and omitting the sleeve and sleeve puffing.

So to sum up the options you have for using this pattern, here’s the list:

  • Late 1930 through Early 1940s: Make the dress exactly according to the pattern instructions, and lengthen it to the floor if you’d like an evening gown from this design.
  • Late 1940s through Late 1950s Day Dress: Assemble dress per instructions, but omit the lower sleeve puffing and the sleeve itself.  You will simply attach the neckband puffing to the bodice, and bind the armhole and puffing edges with bias binding.  Accessorize this dress with a narrow belt, a cinch belt, or keep the original ribbon sash if you prefer.  For the ’50s, I recommend sewing the neckline puffing out of your fashion fabric, rather than sheer fabric.
  • Late 1940s through Late 1950s Evening Dress:  You have some options! Option # 1: Construct dress according to instructions for the 1950s day dress (directly above), but lengthen the skirt to the floor.  (Optionally, you can overlay the skirt with tulle for a very fun and bouffant look.)   Option # 2: Lengthen the skirt to the floor, but only omit the lower sleeve puffing.  Leave the sleeve itself in the design, in which case it will just look like a modest alternative to the hugely popular “off-the-shoulders” style so common in 1950s evening dresses.  Omit the ribbon sash, but do add a few flowers at the waistline for a little extra sparkle. : )

Okay!  Now that this is written up I must get back to the final pattern instruction edits, but I promise to have pictures online soon, and I can’t wait to show you the various prototypes I’ve made up that demonstrate the versatility of this pattern.  You can expect the pattern to be up within the next week or so. : )

UPDATE: The new pattern is now online & can be purchased at the Liesl’s Party Dress Pattern page!

Happy sewing,


All Sound of Music stills are copyright by Twentieth Century Fox and Rodgers & Hammerstein.  Edelweiss Patterns makes no profit from their use on this blog, and all our costumes are our own designs – we do not sell exact replicas of any movie costumes, nor do we use the “Sound of Music” label on our patterns.