Design Potential and Challenges
Here is a Victorian ballgown that I made from a contemporary strapless prom dress. Because the skirt was plenty big (5 yards around the hem), I knew I could transform it into a Civil War gown, with a hoop skirt petticoat underneath.
The prom dress had a shawl, a rectangle of matching fabric. So, I knew I had enough fabric to make sleeves and off-the-shoulder neckline.
The main challenge was that the dress had an asymmetrical waistline: it went down to a point on the left side seam, and for a Victorian gown, it needed to be symmetrical.
Form and Function
I separated the skirt from the bodice and put the skirt on a separate waistband. I used two layers of grosgrain ribbon, in the absence of petersham, which is what Victorians often used, for the waistband. As a result, the skirt closes, center-back, with hook and bar at the waist, and snaps in the wide placket.
Then I cut the bodice waistline into the symmetrical shape. I chose to close the bodice with a separating zipper in the center back. I fashioned the sleeves and neckline from the material in the shawl, using Simplicity pattern #2881.
Adding Visual Interest
There was no trim on the original prom dress, aside from the diagonal pleats on the bodice. So, I added the white lace, gold metallic fabric, ruched, matching purple ribbon, and center-front flower. Finally, I “cross-stitched” the skirt and bodice together, using the herringbone hand stitch. This is something the Victorians did, too, so that a new bodice or skirt could be quickly changed and attached, if desired. This is meant to be worn over a hoop petticoat. For a ball, Victorians would wear opera gloves, jewelry, and a hair ornament (made of feathers, ribbons, beads, flowers, etc).
A Fun and Satisfying Project!
You might think that transforming this dress was a lot of work, but the hours I put into it were FAR fewer than if I had started from scratch. It was great to have a beautiful dress, to start with, and fun to go over-the-top with embellishing it. I also really enjoyed the challenge of solving all of the “problems” the dress presented, then adding all the trim for a fabulous look.
So, the next time you are out thrift store shopping and you come across a basic prom dress, consider turning it into a Victorian ballgown! I teach lessons, if you need ideas and support.
Watch Your Costumes Come to Life!
Do you have a vision for your own unique costumes or wedding fashions? I can help you create them, from patterns or from descriptions.