1980 to 1880 Party Dress

I had the unbelievable good fortune to work for a successful start-up run by an amazing couple.  They regularly will throw parties and continue to invite all of their past employees.  You can imagine after several companies, these parties became quite large.  The last one I attended was a themed “wild west” party.  And while the thought of themed parties normally makes me cringe, this time my imagination took flight.  I couldn’t wait to show off how my degree in costume design finally IS coming in handy!

I knew most people there would be renting elaborate cowboy/saloon girl costumes.  (This isn’t your basic store-bought, stuffed into a plastic envelope, Spirit-esque type crowd.) The bar was high.  I wanted something that would be period appropriate AND double as a after-hour party girl dress.  I also didn’t want to sew the ENTIRE thing from scratch.  I mean, I could, if I wanted too… but that’s also a lot of work.  And more importantly, A LOT of money.

No, I would take a short-cut.  If working for tech start-ups for ten years taught me anything, it was to work smart, not hard.  To the second hand stores I go.

My knowledge of costume history and design led me to look for your standard 1980’s prom dress with peplum–the more ruffles the better, but preferably light on the sequins.  I was pleased to find this little treasure:

Front 3/4 Front 3/4

 

 

 

 

 

 

The color wasn’t what I had in mind, but I was able to find matching fringe and taffeta for the bustle skirt.  The first step was to separate the skirt from the top.  This was mainly to transform the dress from late Victorian with questionable values, to blatant saloon tart.  You can tell from the photos that it’s a bit snug on my hips, and I’m able to put up with being uncomfortable for art, but after a couple hours (and a couple drinks) I know I will want to wiggle out of my skirt off and dance.  Plus I found some ADORABLE ruffle butt shorties I wanted to show off. 🙂

After separating top from bottom I then constructed a faux bustle the top skirt would fall over.  Which will last until a time I see fit to make a real bustle support…

Skirt Only Bustle Back Bustle Side

 

 

 

 

Finished Skirt Back

In hindsight (pun not intended) it might have been easier to deal with boning than to try and pin batting and tule down and then hand stitch it enough so that I was confident I wouldn’t leak fluff throughout the night.  I also added a hidden zipper to more easily facilitate getting in and out of it.

After a couple different configurations, I finally settled on the following for the over skirt.  Two pieces, one round and one square, both open in the front. (So that’s THREE skirts total, just in case you’re counting.)

The only thing I had to do to the top was take off the beaded and sequined placket on the front, replace with my own more period appropriate embellishing, and reposition the giant bow that was on the butt to cover the plunging back that now exposed my corset.

I also broke down and bought a pair of victorian boots.  Normally I don’t like to shell out for costume-y shoes but since I would be taking the skirt off for the sole purpose of kicking up my boots, I had to go all in.

Finally, the finished product all put together.  Beautiful backdrop courtesy of the new property we were breaking in and reason for the party.  I don’t have a picture of the abridged costume after I took my skirt off… Let’s just say we were all having too much fun to care to take pictures at that point. 😉

Back 3/4Back Full Front 3/4