GRR

How to make your own Goodwood Revival dress

13th April 2022
Michelle Rowley

Considering sewing your own dress for Revival? Dressmaking teacher and vintage fashion enthusiast Michelle Rowley offers some advice for ensuring your handmade dress of dreams fits both you and the decade of your choice.

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Planning and preparing your outfit for Revival can be almost as much fun as the weekend itself. Make the outfit yourself and it becomes an even more enjoyable and rewarding experience. It’s a wonderful feeling to say, “Thank you, I made it,” when being complimented on your handiwork.

Ultimately you can choose to sew your dress however you wish; that’s the beauty of dressmaking and the relaxed nature of Revival. It’s about having fun and freedom in putting together an outfit that you’re going to feel fabulous in. Yet it can be enormously satisfying to create a piece that is as close as possible to a garment from the decade you are channelling. Here’s some pattern picks for a dress from each decade – 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – along with fabric and notion suggestions to help you truly evoke the era. You can of course use original patterns from your decade of choice. However, these can be expensive and difficult to source as well as tricky to decipher for someone new to dressmaking. 

If you do go for an original pattern, remember that a 1950s size 10 is much smaller than today’s, so be sure to check the measurements on the packet carefully before you get going.

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Make-do-and-mend in a 1940s tea dress

Wartime austerity and scarcity of resources saw sewing skills as commonplace among women in the 1940s. Whilst clothing was rationed during the war years, sewing thread, mending wool and elastic wasn’t. 

Clothes were made from whatever fabric people could get their hands on. Encouraged to make-do-and-mend, new items were often fashioned from curtains, furnishing fabrics, men’s clothing and even blackout fabric. Rayon, as the fabric favoured by the government’s Utility clothing scheme, was widely available. Other suitable fabric choices for recreating the era are natural fibres, such as cotton and wool.

With fabric in limited supply, dress designs were cut to minimize the amount of fabric required. The width of sleeves, hems, belts and collars were all prescribed, as were the number of pleats you could have. Embellishments such as buttons and trim were also expected to be kept to a minimum while embroidery, fur and leather trim were prohibited. Less is certainly more when sewing a 1940s dress.

You could recreate the popular tea dresses of the era with New Look 6594, choosing the skirt length in view C to cover the knee. Opt for a fabric with good drape, such as rayon or crepe, for a floaty forties dream. Stay true to the era with plain fabrics or small prints (another fabric saving tactic) in primary colours or brown, navy and grey. How about a contrasting collar? With your hat and gloves, you are ready to take to the track.

Read more about the wartime make-do-and-mend effort here.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll at Revival in a 1950s dress

Your first decision to make is which extreme to go for when it comes to the width of your dress’s skirt – pencil-thin or super wide? There is no in between. While a full skirt is easier to fit than a figure hugging one, it does require a lot more hemming. It is also a little trickier to hem a circle skirt than a straight hem, but when you are twirling around to Jailhouse Rock it will seem so worth the extra effort. 

There is no decision to be made on the dress length: it’s calf length. If you fancy going for the full skirt option, Simplicity 1459 could be a great pattern choice. It features a wide lapel collar, has three different sleeve lengths and options for a sheer overlay, cummerbund or ribbon belt.

When it comes to choosing your fabric, you now have an abundance of choices. The fabric industry was booming in the 1950s with a wide range of new machine-manufactured materials, such as nylon and synthetic silk, available on the market. Clothes could be brighter and shinier than ever before. Juxtaposing complimentary colours was popular, a feature you could incorporate if you decide to sew view B. 

Some suggested fabrics are cotton, linen, gingham and poplin. Choose a heavier, crisper fabric with a bit of stiffness such as cotton sateen or taffeta if you’d like to make the skirt fuller. If you want to be as true to the era as possible go for a lapped zip. Grab your pearls and petticoat and get ready to rock Revival.

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Shorten your hemline to swing in to the 60s

Scooter style or mid-1960s hippie? Now it’s the length of the dress where the choices are extremes, a micro-mini or long and floaty? Whichever you go for, be bold and daring with your fabric choice – anything goes. Dresses were made from every imaginable material: leather, PVC… plastic discs. 

Fashion in the 60s was almost without limits. Prints were big, you could go for geometric Op Art, psychedelic and monochromatic prints, or big bold flower prints. 

Simplicity 9104, another pattern from their vintage reproduction range, offers a wealth of dress possibilities to suit the sixties if you decide on a scooter style Revival look. Shorten it further for the baby doll look or keep the length for a number Jackie O would be proud of.

Sew it short in silver to reflect space travel’s influence on the sixties aesthetic or take inspiration from the fabulous sixties fashion in The Queen’s Gambit and go for sleek monochrome. Pop on coloured tights and over-the-knee boots. It’s time to twist…

Discover more styling tips for each decade in time for Revival here.

Decided on the decade and the dress? Don’t forget your ticket. The 2022 Goodwood Revival is a weekend of historic racing, mid-century period dress and immersive fun taking place from 16th-18th September, 2022. Get your tickets for the festivities here.

Photography by Lee Carpenter, Michelle Rowley and Amy Shore.

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