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Bridesmaid Dress, Deconstructed

This past October I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in my dear friend Megan’s wedding. It was a lovely, lovely day. The bride and groom were married in a sweet ceremony, the weather cooperated…

and I found wearing the floor-length, strapless chiffon gown to be much more comfortable than anticipated. Huzzah!



However, I don’t find much call for floor-length, strapless chiffon gowns in my daily life. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have much call for a strapless, knee-length dress either, at least not in comparison with a swishy skirt. I like my clothes to be both pretty AND useful. Fortunately, the shade of green is charming and the bodice fits perfectly. I can work with this.

The first thing I did was toss the whole thing in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. This was a calculated risk. While the care tag indicates dry clean only, the fiber content is a polyester/cotton blend which, in theory, should be perfectly washable. Moreover, I have no desire to be putting the time and effort into modifying or making something that needs to be dry cleaned regularly. I have no problem hand washing things, but dry cleaning just isn’t going to happen. Happily, the dress survived the wash, and all the mysterious stains acquired while wearing it all day indoors and outdoors, around food, in the grass, and on playground equipment washed away. Mind you, I had some terrified moments while the chiffon layer was drying until I realised the weird splotches were just the water evaporating unevenly.

My initial scheme was to cut off the dress at the hip, hem the top half to make a corset-top sort of thing and make a ruffley skirt from the rest of the dress. Strapless isn’t really my thing, but it seemed a waste not to take advantage of the excellent and comfortable fit that I had through the torso. Peplums are apparently big right now, so if there would ever be a time for such a top, this would be it. For the skirt I was envisioning something knee length and swishy, with lots of gathers. Something a bit like this:chiffon skirt1The plan was to use the lining of the dress for the under layer and the backing of the waist – the structure of the skirt, really – and the chiffon would get gathered and sewn to the underlayer. Of course, this plan did not survive contact with reality.

The first thing I did was separate the top part of the dress from the rest of the fabric that would be used to make the skirt. I painstakingly measured down six inches from the waist, keeping this length as even as possible all the way around. I had decided somewhat arbitrarily that this was the correct length for the top.


While cutting the dress apart, I got to see some interesting dress construction options. You can see the very bottom of the bodice boning in the picture below as well as the lower lining layer. There were TWO underlayers to this dress, which seemed odd at first, but made more sense once I saw how the bodice attached to the skirt part. The lower layer is attached much more roughly and really is a lining, while the upper layer is a finished skirt and the chiffon layer is a second, highly gathered, finished skirt.


The dress zipper was longer than the top section I cut off, which made things a bit awkward, but zippers are easily shortened when necessary. Once I had cut everything off as evenly as possible, I popped it on to check if my crazy scheme had worked. There’s no sense in hemming three layers of fabric if it doesn’t work.


I suppose that it did, for certain values of “working.” It still fit comfortably.

DSCN3505And it did not look completely ridiculous with a cardigan…

But no. Just no.

It’s so ruffle-y and odd looking and it looks like I cut off the top of a bridesmaid dress. While this is precisely what happened, the goal was to get something that did not look like the cut-off top of a bridesmaid dress. I think the real problem here is that the layers of ruffles and pouffiness work in the dress because they are held down by the weight of the additional fabric. Without all that length, the proportions are off and there is nothing pulling the layers down.

Also, I may be coming to grips with the fact that I do not like ruffles. Ruffles are perfectly fine on other people, but they are not for me. Looking at the pictures now, I can objectives say it’s not terrible, but I know I would never wear it as is. Perhaps I will play around with it again someday.

In short, the first attempt at reworking the bridesmaid dress for day wear was a failure. But this is not cause for discouragement! Just look at all this fabric:


I can get into all sorts of trouble with that.


About autumnyarn

I am a graduate student who sews and knits to satisfy the creative urge, makes clothing to keep the creativity useful, and writes about it to de-stress.

2 responses »

  1. There is something about a dress worn to be a bridesmaid that makes it virtually impossible to forget what it was for. I once made four bridesmaids’ dresses out of navy polycotton, with high necklines and long sleeves, fitted bodices and gathered, calf length skirts. Add a white apron and they would have looked like novitiate nuns! And yet, one of them complained loudly that they were just SO bridesmaidy! Pft. So, when you see your lovely new top, you see the bridesmaid dress it once was. I see a rather pretty top in a colour that absolutely rocks on you. Perhaps for a party, not for gardening, but yes to jeans and cardi treatment, absolutely. Perhaps with time you will forgive it its poofiness?
    BTW I spotted your link on Steph’s post about peplums 🙂

    • Oh, I am definitely still seeing the bridesmaid dress! The top is currently hibernating, but I will have to give it another chance this summer. It really is such pretty color.

      Good for you making bridesmaid dresses – that would be quite the undertaking! I think maybe wearing one of multiple identical dresses leaves an indelible impression in the imagination. Those navy dresses don’t sound bridesmaidy at all.

      And I seriously love Steph’s blog.


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