I can’t say that there are many interests of mine from the mid-90s that have endured. T-shirts with b-boy styled Charlie Brown or Taz dancing on both the front and the back? The novelty flavors of Jones Soda? Nine Inch Nails’ Perfect Drug remixes? Okay… mostly “no” on that last one. Other things I don’t miss include my mom dropping me off and picking me up from places because I was still a lame, greasy middle school-er. But one continuing love of mine, almost certifiably “vintage” in its longevity is, what I have considered to be, “the perfect 90s dress.” As you can see, this is something that I am serious about.
It wasn’t even until after the mid-90s that I actually my own money to spend on cute dresses, not to mention their sartorial brethren: the cardigan sweater and the baby barrette. However, my financial boon coincided with fallow period between when a trend becomes passe but before it gets discarded in the donation bin of the thrift store. Thus, my desire for the perfect 90s dress, the kind sold by The Limited, or The Express, or even the label All That Jazz via Caldor’s in the wake of Lisa Loeb’s stylistically galvanizing Stay video, continued to exist but the object was still just out of my reach.
Lately, thanks to the internet, the shlubs as Urban Outfitters, and young bloggers’ agreed upon desire to costume themselves in garments that supposedly harken back to the good old days that they can’t actually remember, this style of dress continues to be so, so elusive. It’s snatched up and resold by money grubbing 17 year olds- high school provides endless hours of idleness for thrifting adventures, if I do recall correctly and the usability of the internet allows anyone with one finger to spin those rayon threads into (supposed) gold – or similarly speculative, money-grubbing curated (contrived) vintage (junk) shops. Lame.
But I’m not bitter.
Necessity being the mother of invention and all, next time you are out scrapping around for values galore, cast an eye to what my rooommate and I refer to as “polygamist wife dresses”. Big, flowery, floppy, and asexual- it is here that you will find the surprising older, dumpier sister of your desired style, just waiting to be made into the cute dress that you have always wanted and, dang it, rightfully deserve! Here’s how!
1. I suppose a basic or above knowledge of sewing. You’ve taken in some t-shirts or made an a-line skirt. You don’t need to have a serger, but you should know how to use the zig-zag stitch on your machine if you have a knit or a stretch velvet (like I used). You don’t need to know how to dunk, per se, you have some strong fundamentals.
1a. Select a garment.
I picked this heavy-weight, stretchy velvet dress with long sleeves and an empire waist. Cuddly, warm, and comfy. When selecting a dress for this project, go up a few sizes but keep proportion in mind. For example, I’m kinda swimming in this dress, but the empire waist seam and the shoulder seams hit where they are supposed to hit and the neckline isn’t too horibble. Not having to fiddle with the fit in these areas helps to make this project so quick.
2. Figure out where you need to take the dress in and up.
After trying on the dress and inspecting its fit, I decided that it needed to come in about 3 inches from each side at the empire waist (tapering out into the original side seams about 4 inches above and 7 inches below). I wanted the dress to be really short, so I marked where I wanted it to hit when finished and then added an 1″ to that measurement. I also decided that I wanted 3/4 sleeves, so, with one clean hack, I cut the original sleeves off about an inch or two below my elbow.
It looks a little boxy, but don’t freak!
3. Sew up your side seams.
Try the dress on and make sure that the fit throughout the torso is a-o-k. Even out any lumps or bumps. Trim down any large seam allowances.
4. Add the cuffs!
This is the part that makes your at-home-sewing-project look like something that is not an at-home-sewing-project: the fold over cuff. It’s a pretty sweet little trick that goes a long way.
Take the left overs from when you cut your sleeves down. These will become your folded over cuffs. Consider how deep you want your finished cuffs to be, then double that number and add a little for seam allowance. I want my cuffs to be about 3″ so I doubled it 7″. Now take your sleeve, presumably still sewn up one side so that it is a tube, turn it inside out, and cut it to that doubled length. Your sleeve may be slightly tapered towards the wrist, so take this time to even it out so that it appears mostly rectangular, as above.
(You’ll want to keep the width of the cuff relatively similar to the width of the end of your sleeve. If it is a little smaller, less than 3/4″, you can still stretch it while sewing, but if you are unfamiliar with sewing knits, you may wish to avoid this particular learning curve.)
Once you have completed that, start to turn the fabric right side out, but stop about half-way. Line up the raw edges of your fabric to form a short tube. Tada! A cuff!
5. Attach cuffs to sleeves.
Turn your dress right side out. Slip the cuff over the arm of the dress and match up the 3 raw edges, all around the cuff. Pin into place. Sew around this open edge. Flip your cuff down and inspect your handy work. Repeat on the other side.
6. Hem your dress.
Using your preferred method of finishing, turn the hem of the dress up an inch and stitch into place. I finished my edge with a serger, folded it up, and secured it with a wide zig-zag stitch.
7. Put your new dress on and prance around.
You earned it, kid!
So, reader, how was this tutorial for you? Dumb? Awful? Not at all helpful? Please let me know. Instructional writing is not my forte (nor is indoor photography), but I am trying to improve! Holla atcha grrrl.