I’ve always loved the dress Audrey Hepburn wore as Eliza Doolittle in the Embassy Ball scene of My Fair Lady. It’s just beautiful– due in no small part to the wearer, but it’s objectively beautiful on its own. So elegant, so sparkly, so perfect in every way; I read that it’s actually made out of an original Edwardian piece, modified to suit the fashion sense of modern audiences. I’ve been dying to recreate it for ages– I even saved the embroidered and beaded tulle from an eBay wedding gown I bought for Halloween almost ten years ago, hoping to use it to make the overdress someday. (spoiler: I did not end up using it)
Then, while planning for what dress I would wear to an upcoming Edwardian-themed ball, I saw this rhinestone shoulder chain on eBay and was immediately struck by how similar it was to the jeweled neckline on the original dress– surely, it was Fate! It has the drapes in front, the shoulder swags, and the tiny crystal dangles all around the edges. Not perfect, of course (got to get rid of that tacky central jewel), but close enough to get me started!
One of the things I always have trouble with in historical costuming is figuring out what to do with my hair. It’s reasonably long, which (depending on the era) can be a good thing, but it’s not that thick, so doesn’t provide the sheer volume that’s often necessary for historical hairstyling. But then again, many of the women back then didn’t have a ton of hair either, so what did they do? They made hairpieces, often out of their own hair. (If you’ve ever read a book and wondered what a “hair receiver” is, wonder no more!)
Well, I don’t have a hair receiver, but I do have access to plenty of fake hair, so when I was putting together my Belle Epoque/Gibson Girl outfits I decided to make my own hairpiece to provide extra bulk and volume to my pompadour. It really couldn’t be easier.
So that antique Edwardian dress I mentioned earlier? Before I could wear it (shown above before I did anything to it), it needed to be altered. It just needs a few inches of extra room to make it perfect, and since I can’t make up the difference with a corset (there’s only so far you can cinch down your waist… or your ribcage), I’ll have to do it the hard way.
I know, I know… there will be people out there gasping in horror at how I could dare to alter an antique— but come on, people have been repurposing older garments forever, including making over old dresses to suit new modes of fashion, so I hardly think that merely tweaking a dress to enlarge it and make it wearable for the modern figure is that much of a problem.
Besides, it’s not like I’m repeating the mistakes I made in college when I actually went so far as to add an elastic waistband to an antique embroidered skirt (still cringe about that one). Anyway, here’s how I did it:
I recently acquired an antique Edwardian lingerie dress (translation: a lacy white cotton dress suitable for afternoon wear) that I plan on wearing to an afternoon tea. However, how can one go to an Edwardian tea without an appropriate hat (particularly when one has no skill at Edwardian hairdressing, making the hat even more necessary)? So when I saw this wide-brimmed straw hat in a local store for only $1.99, I snapped it up.
You can see that it actually has a slightly fluted brim– I liked that detail– and a relatively small crown that would have to be disguised to get the right shape. I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to look like in the end, so I turned to the internet for inspiration.
It’s done! Done and– dare I say–gorgeous. I really love the way it turned out– it’s pretty close to exactly what I pictured from the beginning, and I had such a wonderful time wearing it to an 1890s-themed ball. The skirt has such a great swirl to it from all of the fullness in the back, and the dimensionality of the embroidery really makes it stand out in a crowd!
To recap the process:
Part I: Design
Part II: Dyeing Hug Snug
Part III: Modifying Bridesmaids Dresses
Part IV: Tea/Coffee Dyed Lace
Part V: Petticoats
Part VI: Neckline Embellishment
Part VII: Embroidery
Part VIII: 3D Wisteria Blossoms
To really get the elegant silhouette of an 1890s ballgown I needed a good petticoat to go under the skirt. Just like the skirt, it would be relatively narrow at the top with a really wide hem for maximum swishiness. I made it out of 5 yards of white polyester taffeta.
Originally I’d planned on making the gown from scratch using some Truly Victorian patterns, but when I realized that the event was only a month away I nixed that idea as too difficult. Instead, as I’ve so often done before, I turned to eBay to locate an appropriate pre-existing dress that I could modify. Or rather, dresses (plural) because unless I found an absolutely perfect gown I was going to need some serious extra fabric to make the design work.
Luckily, I hit the jackpot with two identical dusty lilac gowns that had most of the required elements: boned bodice with center-pointed waist, faux two-piece design so I could completely separate the bodice from the skirt, and lots and lots of skirt fabric to work with. The spaghetti straps were a problem, but I figured that I could add shoulder straps and raise the back of the dress to an appropriate height, and rely on neckline decoration to disguise the joins.