How to Make a Titanic Dress on a Budget

titanic swim dress home made

Titanic Swim Dress version 1

I adore Rose’s dresses from the movie “Titanic.” The Edwardian fashion era was all about showing off your wealth. Dresses were made of fine silk, lace, and hand beaded chiffon. To make a dress with these materials today would be a big expense. Luckily, it only takes a little creativity to make a simple Titanic dress for under $20.

Titanic movie fans, historical fashion reenactors, and costumers for the Titanic musical will all benefit from these instructions. This quick how to guide will walk you through each step so that you can be ready for your “Titanic” themed event in no time.

Things You Will Need:

  • Dress
  • Robe
  • Sash
  • Safety Pins
  • Accessories (optional)

Shopping: You may be surprised to find that you already have some or all of the items you need in your closet already. For the remainder of the pieces I recommend going to your nearest thrift store or vintage clothing store. If you don’t have a thrift store nearby you can probably go to a department store (Kohls, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, JcPenny’s, etc) and find all the items in one place. Finally a trip to a fabric and craft store may be needed for the sash and other decorations.

The Dress Pieces:

The Underdress: Look for a long formal dress with a straight shape to it. You can choose whatever color you like- although I would avoid very bright colors if you want your dress to look authentic to the era. The top of the dress should have an empire waist with a horizontal bust line that starts mid way between your chest and collarbone. Showing off cleavage was not acceptable at the time (even though you see a lot of cleavage in the Titanic movie.)

Sleeves can be any length. Traditionally sleeves were either long or short and snug to the skin. However since we’ll be covering up the sleeves with a robe- it really doesn’t matter what sleeves come with the dress. I do not recommended fabric that is metallic or glittery because these are too modern for the correct look. Chiffon, lace, rayon, or polyester blends are the best fabrics. If you find a fabric with a pattern or texture that is ok just be sure to choose a plain overcoat to avoid clashing patterns.

The Overdress or Robe

Next, walk over to the nightgown/lingerie section of the store and look for an unlined silk or satin night robe. Robes can hang down to your thigh or be full length. Find the smallest one that fits otherwise you may need to do some alterations. I like to choose colors that contrast with the dress. For example a dark coat with a light dress, a light coat with a dark dress, or pattern robe with a plain dress.

The Sash Band

For the sash you use a long silk or satin scarf. Another option is to buy wide ribbon or a strip of fabric long enough to wrap around your body and tie. Ideal width is 4-6 inches. Many Edwardian dresses had sashes that tie at the back and then hang down to the floor. If you want this look you will need a lot of ribbon or fabric. The sash color is the boldest of the three garments. Try bright pink against navy/silver, yellow against pink/blue or green against yellow/white. You could also go tonal in color meaning all garments are various shades of the same color. This makes a sophisticated look for mature women. Bright colors would be worn by young women.

Putting it All Together

Slip on the dress, place the robe over the dress, and tie the sash just under the breast and around your ribs. If your fabric is slippery, you may need to pin the sash to the dress from the inside (to hide the pins) as well as in the back to keep the shape of the sash more like a wide band. Now adjust the robe’s front panels to leave an opening wide enough to show off your neck and upper chest. They may cover to the center of the breast or further in if you have dress straps to hide.

Alterations and Additions

Be sure to remove the robe belt and cut off any belts loops and ties. Narrow the sleeves if they are too baggy. Traditional sleeves were snug to the skin. Most likely, the robe you find will have baggy “Kimono” style sleeves. These will still look good without alteration. The choice is up to you and your sewing skills.

Add a large flower or brooche to the front sash. Jewelry such as a fancy gold or jeweled necklaces and hair combs can dress up a plain dress nicely. Wear lace gloves at all times and a large brimmed hat for outdoor events (think Kentucky Derby style.) A parasol in lieu of a hat is also a nice touch. Shoes can be leather boots with a heel, ballet slippers, or low healed flats.

Titanic Dress Examples

Layered Swim Dress

Dress Similar to Flying Dress

Blue and Pink Swim Dress

Light Swim Dress

If you have any questions about making a dress feel free to comment below or contact me.

If you want buy a titanic costume dress, shoes, or accessories see my Women’s Edwardian / Titanic shopping page.

This entry was posted in Edwardian / Titanic Fashion on by .

About VintageDancer

Debbie & Oscar have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need help? Contact us anytime.

9 thoughts on “How to Make a Titanic Dress on a Budget

  1. Meg

    Wow, this is so cool. I fell in love with ‘Titanic’ as a 16-year-old and it has been my favorite movie ever since. Incidentally, I also covet Rose’s wardrobe and her dresses are my favorite screen costumes ever. Thank you for posting this. I’m going to try it and definitely keep the ideas coming. I know you don’t go as far back as the bustle/hoop era, but those would be beautiful updated as well. Thanks again and I loved your take on these dresses! :)

    1. Debbie Post author

      Thank you so much for the kind comment. I have thought about making a Victorian era dress (hoop and bustle) from thrift store clothes. It is pretty easy to do as well. I’ll see what I can do to make a guide for that sooner than later. Thanks!

  2. Christine

    I am so glad I stumbled on this site. I’m going to The Somewhere In Time weekend again this year Oct. 2011 at The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Last year I went with only one dress and this year I would like a couple others and I don’t want to look like everyone else nor do I want to pay hundreds of dollars for a dress. This is very helpful. Now to get ideas for hats.

  3. Linda Wyatt

    I have been working with our local Maritime Museum here in Maryport, Cumbria, England, on the Titanic exhibition which we are staging March to May 2012.
    There is an opening meal of the original first class menu and we are all expected to dress as the passengers would have done. This is the hardest thing for me, as I am a large woman and barely have a waist, let alone the small ones required by most costumes! Your site has given me some great ideas on how I can still dress up without looking awful. Thank you very much!

    1. Debbie Post author

      I am so glad this will be very helpful to you. Please send me pictures after the event. I would love to see how it all turns out!

  4. Zoya

    This is perfect. Thanks so much. I was looking for a easy to make “Titanic” regency dress for my daughter. She is doing a school project on the Titanic and wants her presentation to be a monologue of one of the passengers. This will help me make a not too expensive dress and won’t keep me slaving over the sewing machine to make a dress that will be worn for 15 minutes. I’m off the my closet and the thrift store.


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