Altering a Ready-to-Wear Dress

In some ways, I am still a slave to ready-to-wear.

My goal is to make as much of my wardrobe as possible, but every now and then, I can’t resist a ready-to-wear piece such as this dress from Modcloth. From the moment I saw it, I knew it was made for me. Princess seams, flared skirt, an Eames-ish mid-century-modern house novelty print in great colors that would look great with my orange cardigan, one of my 1950s glass bead necklaces, and my 1960s lime green flats. I just couldn’t resist it.

For a while, I toyed with the notion of making up a similar print on Spoonflower and sewing up my own version, but I decided that it would end up costing the same or more in terms of time, labor, money, and frustration. I knew the dress wouldn’t fit perfectly, but it had princess seams, which are pretty easy to alter. I ordered an XL and waited…and waited…and cursed FedEx a LOT because they put the package on the truck for delivery last Saturday, then left it on the truck all Labor Day weekend. Ugh.

When the dress finally arrived, I was pretty disappointed. As expected, it didn’t fit very well, but I was OK with that. It was the shoddy construction and materials that bothered me. It’s made of a very basic cotton — almost like quilter’s cotton — and it has a standard-issue zipper (the cheap kind you can get at any big box fabric store) and no lining. The lack of lining makes it easier to alter, but that zipper bugs me. Had I made this dress, I would have used better fabric, a good lining, and a nice invisible zipper.

housedress1

housedress2

Here you can see the two main fitting issues. The dress gaps at the upper bust near the arm (peek-a-boo! I see a boob!) and it’s too loose at the waist under the bust (frump-a-dump!). It’s even baggier on me than it is on Joan because she somehow manages to fill out dresses more than I do. Also, I hate the elasticized back. I could go on a long rant about how elasticized waists are a lazy trend that was made up just to hide poor quality/fit, but I’ll save that for another day. I want to rip out the elastic and put some proper darts back there, but that’s a whole other mess that I don’t want to get into. If I happen to lose a little more weight by next summer, I’ll tackle the elasticized waist and add some slimming darts.

I took the bias trim partway off the armscye, adjusted the seams, then sewed the bias back on. Next, I opened up the waist a bit, adjusted the lower end of the princess seams under the bust, then sewed the waist back on. It was easy to do and it didn’t take much time.

Here’s the result.

housedress3

housedress4

Now the dress has a slimmer profile and no gapping at the arm! It’s still bunchy at the back though. I’ll be wearing a cardigan with it a lot, so it’s not a big deal.

This dress was a two-fold lesson. First, I really shouldn’t bother with ready-to-wear clothing, even if it’s the allegedly “better than cheap Old Navy and Kohls crap” stuff, when I can make the same thing myself. If I make it myself, I can achieve a better fit, use better materials, and add little things that only I care about (such as invisible zippers). Honestly, I mostly use good ready-to-wear as a source of inspiration; I look for good prints, flattering cuts, and neat little details that I can mimic. I only bought this dress because of the print (which I couldn’t mimic without going to a lot of trouble and saying a lot of swear words). Second, I can alter ready-to-wear if needed. I already knew this, however, because I’ve altered a vintage blouse before. It’s just another small accomplishment to add to the list.

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