In 2013, I wrote a guest post for American Duchess’ blog about a 1920s house dress I made, inspired by a 1922 dress in a catalog I have. It’s about time I share this dress here on VintageDancer too! This is my all time favorite 1920s dress I have ever made. I am not the best sewer. I tend to hurry through projects, too excited to get to the final result that I miss important details (like fit and trim). For this dress, I took my time (about 2-3 days) and the results were perfect.
My absolute favorite local costume and history event of the year is The Great Gatsby Festival in Lake Tahoe. This was my 5th year attending, and it just gets better each year. For an afternoon event, I usually make or buy a period appropriate party dress. This year, I was so inspired by 1920s house dresses and day dresses that I decided to break tradition (and 1920s social etiquette) and sew a house dress for the event.
Since the 1920s silhouette is very simple, there really is no need to buy a vintage or reproduction pattern. With a good eye and a little modifying, your local fabric center should have a modern pattern that can work for you.
Starting with an image from a photograph, catalog drawing, or any vintage 1920s dress you want to copy will help you pick a good pattern. I used the above picture of the blue and white check house dress from 1922 Nationals Catalog as my inspiration. I then found Kwik Sew K4002, a “Misses Tunic” dress to be just what I needed as my sewing pattern. It was a plain top dress (no darts or other shaping), had simple sleeves, a round neck, and a gathered skirt. It also had, on the back, a keyhole cutout that I knew I could use on the front of my dress. At first glance it may not seem like a good pattern to use, but ignoring the styling of the model and just looking at the drawing of the dress on the back of the envelope, I realized it was an almost perfect 1920s match.
TIP: For your pattern, look for dresses with a drop waist (although a natural waist can be dropped by adding a few inches to the bodice), a loose bodice, tiered skirt, handkerchief hem/uneven hem skirt, tunic dress (usually sack like and slip over), or a mod 1960s shift dress (which were based on the 1920s style).
The only modifications I had to do my pattern were to lengthen the sleeves, lengthen the skirt, add square pockets, and make the half circle cutouts on the sleeves. All very easy to do for my modest skills.
If you have a catalog image, read the description to help you choose materials and trim. My 1922 inspiration dress description reads: “A very novel trimming touch in this pretty dress is seen in the smart little “flowers” of white pique outlined with hand embroider stitches in bright colors and applied to the front of the waist and the pockets with charming effect. It is made of good quality checked Gingham, and trimmed with vestee, piping and sash of white pique. Ribbon ties at the neck and sleeves are very effective. Dress slips on over the head and snaps adjust the neck closing.”
Having the dress description helped a lot. I had the blue gingham check fabric in my stash of fabric already. Instead of white pique, I opted for a white eyelet cotton that I also already had in my stash. Ribbon trim was 1/4 inch black velvet that I found at my craft store and the 1/2 inch lace for the vestee trim. I used the same eyelet material that had a pretty flower embroidery pattern on it for the keyhole and applique on the pockets. I had a rough time with the applique and embroidery, which is why I did not continue them onto the bodice like the original dress had. Note to self: Learn more embroidery.
The whole project took me about 6 hours, mostly to do all the handwork and trim. I love how it turned out. And, like most 1920s dresses, it was so easy and comfortable to wear. Perfect for chasing a toddler in. The only thing I would change next time is to lengthen the sash (or turn it into a belt with buttons) and stitch tack it onto the dress over the skirt line. It kept shifting all day and in photos it just looks wonky. I have no doubt real 1920s women’s dresses did the same thing.
1920s Baby / Toddler Girl’s Dress
But that’s not all. When I saw I had one rectangle piece of gingham fabric leftover I naturally thought, hmmm, that’s just enough for a dress for my little 16 month old daughter (who is now 5!) . I found a 1929 pattern for a doll’s dress that seemed simple enough. Doll and baby clothes are remarkably similar in the 1920s. The pattern came in the Easy Ways to Pretty Frocks booklet, which is also an excellent DIY pattern for a simple 1920s day or party dresses.
I used more eyelet to make the top blouse and the gingham check for the skirt. Trimmed the collar and cuffs in lace, added round pockets and several pink bows and a long pink belt. Isn’t it adorable?
Together, baby, dad, and I went to The Great Gatsby Festival in coordinated style.
Oscar looked quite the dapper gentleman in his linen shadow stripe (meaning wide stripes) suit, pink collarless shirt with detachable club collar (round collar), gold tie, straw boater hat, and vintage two tone spectators. Learn how to create this outfit (and more men’s 1920s costume ideas).
Here are some more pictures of our day:
First stop was a museum tour of a 1920s house with the original kitchen still intact! A perfect place for a photo op in a house dress.
I took my hat off inside but otherwise it stayed on my head all day. This was a great blue velvet sun hat, almost identical to one worn by Margaret in Boardwalk Empire. See more 1920s hats for sale online.
Stopping for a spot of tea and a picnic is a must at Gatsby’s party.
Baby Autumn says this was the best event yet, thanks Mommy for my dress!