For New Year's Eve, a 1920s Dress From a 1980s Top

For New Year's Eve, a 1920s Dress From a 1980s Top

We made an impression on the owner of Skyline Park, who graciously

The Atlanta Time Travelers play a round of (mini)golf.

invited a few of us Atlanta Time Travelers to be her guests at the venue's Gatsby-themed, black tie, New Year's Eve party. Sarah and I set about creating our outfits. 

I found this sparkly 1980s top at an estate sale. It looked like the beginning of something. I removed the shoulder pads and tags and it was ready to go.

80s top, as found

It's 100% silk, beautifully beaded, and came from Neiman-Marcus. Not cheap. But I didn't want to use expensive fabric to cobble, as I wasn't sure I'd end up with anything wearable.

I scoured the web and my own library for inspiration that looked doable. I wanted my arms mostly covered. And my legs mostly covered. (OK, I wanted to wear a Snuggie.)

I searched for period-correct examples and found these from 1924, when skirts were at their longest. The last shows my scribbled ideas. Those oven mitts on the arms are my rendition of the burnt-orange split sleeves. 

Inspirational images from 1-hour dress, Witness2Fashion, and GlamourDaze(images from 1-Hour Dress pattern booklet, Witness2Fashion, GlamourDaze)

I thought repeating the skirt fabric at the bodice would create a more cohesive look, so I'd use it to extend the short sleeves and make a matching collar. A wide sash would cover the waist join.

At Jo-Ann's I chose the pinker of the two viable options, buying lining, chiffon, and satin all in "Rosewater," at left:

Pink at left, peach at right, at Jo-Ann's.

I folded the length of lining selvage to selvage, chopped off the selvage, and made a French seam. I finished the top and bottom by folding and pressing twice and machine stitching (not shown).

Making the skirt lining.

Next, I consulted my manual on how to use the gathering foot (making the Regency tams was enough hand-gathering for a while). I pinned the gathered chiffon to the lining, sewed them together, then made a side seam. 

Making the skirt

I turned everything inside out and hand stitched the completed skirt to the top's interior waist. I didn't use the machine as I feared damaging and unraveling sequins and beads. It worked fine. Don't examine it too closely. 

Attaching the skirt to the top.

Unfortunately, I was going to have to take up the lining, a lot. It nearly reached my feet! Here it's been taken up to (what I thought was) the proper length, while the outer skirt is still unhemmed:

Skirt is much too long.

Feeling lazy, I just flipped up and stitched the lining hem. I'll have to redo that down the road. To finish the skirt's hem, I made two folds and used the machine's clam-shell stitch to create a scalloped edge. I didn't get a close-up shot, but it worked nicely. Shell stitch was often used on vintage lingerie as it makes an attractive edge on lightweight, silky fabrics.

Hemming skirt.

So now I had an unembellished dress of somewhat odd proportions. I hadn't realized the top was quite that long. Time to add embellishments.

Unembellished dress.

I wanted to make ruffles that wouldn't fray, so I gathered long tubes of chiffon. It worked, but I wasn't thrilled with it. I tried it at the hem (looked cheap), in multi rows (too childish and frou-frou), at the waist (too skimpy).

One thing the ruffled tube did nicely was form roses. So I made a few. I later added nearly-matching sequins to the centers.

Trying out the ruffled tube as trim.

Next up, sleeves. I made a newspaper pattern to approximate those burnt orange split sleeves. Oops, I used obituaries.

Newspaper sleeve pattern.

Appropriate, though, as the result was not great. At mom's suggestion, I first used chiffon with lining fabric. Too stiff.  

Sleeve of chiffon + lining.

So I tried again, using two layers of chiffon. Better! But still, I wasn't mad about the overall effect. Seemed to detract more than enhance. By this point I'd wrapped the satin around the join, although it wasn't yet stitched or finished. I was still experimenting:

Sleeve in two layers of chiffon. 

I'd think I'd found the perfect combination, only to get a more 1980s mother-of-the-bride than mid-1920s reveler vibe on second look. I sent poor Sarah photos asking "how about this?" every time I made a minor change. There must have been at least 20 iterations, including a chiffon vs. satin collar comparison:

Trying to find the perfect combination.

In the end, I went with narrow sleeve edging, pointed collar, and sequin-centered rose, all of chiffon. That seemed to best tie bodice to skirt and create a vaguely mid-1920s look. So that's what I did. 

I put the dress on and gathered the sash to fit. I cut off the excess length, finished the ends, and stitched the thing in place only along the lower edge, on the skirt. I then added hooks&eyes at the edges to keep it closed and upright, and to make the dress easier to take on and off as it slips over the head without any closure. The sash is not attached to the bodice at all.

I added another of the gathered-tube roses and a satin V at the join. Here's the finished dress. It's still a few inches longer than I'd like. I just didn't have it in me to shorten it in time for the event, but I eventually will:

Finished dress, front and back.

And a detail of the collar and flower:

collar detail 

And here I am, with Mr. BDV, and people-watching and laughing with Sarah and her husband at the event. It was a lovely evening:

Skyline Park Scenes

Update 4/20/19: I wore the dress to dance as an extra in the Lifetime movie "The Lover in the Attic." Here are screenshots:

Screenshots of Liza dancing in "The Lover in the Attic"


Liza Dolensky

Liza, you are amazing! I love seeing your inspiration and the transformation of the top to the dress! The result is beautiful. You are very talented!

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