Hot! The “Betty Doesn’t Smile” Dress

The Facts
Fabric: Massive amount of teal and white striped seersucker, gift from parents, free
Pattern: Simplicity 3486 from Knittn’ Kitten, $3.50
Year: Late 50s/early 60s? pattern; thrifted/possibly vintage fabric
Notions: Buckle $0.75, buttons $0.50 (both from my stash, but still had tags)
Time to complete: 12 hours maybe?
Sewing soundtrack: The Chantels
First worn: Just for photos–but I’ll wear it for Easter
Wear again: Oh, yes.
Total cost: $4.75

I’ve been gone for a while. Life got really busy, and for a long time, I haven’t had time to even think about sewing, much less actually sew something. Fortunately, Mena announced the Mad Men theme way in advance, so at least I knew what to (not) be thinking about.

I’ll also admit that I haven’t seen all of Mad Men. I actually resisted watching it for a long time because of its popularity; this challenge was what finally got me to start watching. And about halfway through season three, I started to lose interest (forgive me) and get really busy right around the same time, so… I did go through a couple more episodes while doing the hand sewing for this dress, and eventually, I’ll probably finish them all out, but–while I do love seeing what they’re wearing–I don’t feel any urgent need to.

Anyway. My first thought was to go with something from Joan’s wardrobe. Even though my figure is nothing like hers, I tend to gravitate more toward fitted styles (and they take less fabric).  But I also absolutely love shirtwaist dresses, which Betty wears an awful lot in the earlier seasons. I’m no longer sure what came first, the fabric or the inspiration, but I had yards and yards of teal seersucker (so much, in fact, that I probably still have yards left over), and the first image that comes up when you google ‘Betty Draper,’ at least from my computer, is this:


Yes, they looked a bit more similar in my head. And obviously her kitchen is far superior to mine.

I also can’t quite remember if Betty wore this/that dress in the actual show, or if this was just a promotional photo, but the main thing is that, early on, she wore a lot of beautifully fitted shirtwaist dresses. Okay.

And. I am so incredibly happy with the fit on this dress. Last time I used this pattern, the fit was terrible. Honestly, I don’t know what I did. This time around, I made what have become my customary pattern adjustments. I was worried for a while that the bodice was going to be too small, but in the end, I think this dress fits me better than anything else I’ve made. (I’ve said that about the past several things I’ve made, in fact, so I hope that means I’m getting better.) I also swapped out the collar for one from a different patten, because the original one was a bit too… circular for my liking.

The construction was pretty straightforward. I was a bit surprised that the waist opening in the skirt was a weird loop thing below the button placket (it’s hidden by a pleat), as I was expecting a side zipper, but I puzzled over the instructions for a while and it turned out just fine. The pleats were also something new for me. I’ve never made a skirt with more than two, possibly four, pleats, while this one takes in a roughly 100-inch hem to a quarter of that size at the waist. Once I figured out that the pleats were really supposed to overlap (I know, I know) it wasn’t hard, just time-consuming.

And I did consume a lot of time on this. I’m incredibly bad at keeping track of how long I spend on different things, but I’d guess that at least half of the time I spent was on hand-work: hand-sewing, of course, and also redrawing the pattern, pressing, and pinning in all those pleats. I could have taken even longer: I eventually decided I didn’t want to hand-stitch an eight-plus-foot hem, and did it by machine–but I might still take it up an inch or two, and in that case, I’ll do it by hand.

The other thing I might change is the belt buckle. It’s not incredibly obvious in the pictures, but in real life, it’s not as solid a white as the buttons. It’s kind of clear. I don’t think they match (and I’m also not sure about the silver metal hardware), but maybe I’m just being obsessive. Any ideas?

I’m really glad I found time to do this challenge. Not just because I now have an Easter dress finished in advance of Easter (I finished last year’s in August–the August after) but also because I had so much fun taking the pictures. After mentally going through my apartment and despairing over the realization that I have an abundance of things from every decade except the sixties, I decided to just put Betty in the kitchen and attempt to recreate the promo/still as closely as possible. My hair is at least twice as long as hers, so that was a challenge I did not completely meet, despite copious amounts of hairspray; oh, well. I also couldn’t ever get her expression quite right. I guess that means I’m not profoundly sad, then.





Z. has, much to her surprise, been sewing since 2007. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and uh 1955-fantasy-land. In addition to sewing, she likes words, music, and old things. Her life is a story.


Comments are closed.

  1. Love the dress. Maybe for the belt, do a fabric covered buckle and change the grommets to white.

    • I had completely forgotten about the existence of white grommets–thank you for reminding me! I think I may go that route, though now I have to decide whether to cover the buckle with solid white fabric (I’m kind of stuck on that) or match it with more seersucker.

  2. You have captured it! I wouldn’t smile either if I was (presently/formerly) married to Don Draper. (Well, maybe giddiness sets in if “formerly”.) O, cute dress! and excellent kitchen back drop. Your pleating is lovely.

    • Thank you! I had fun with the pleating (eventually) and with the photos. And this was the cleanest my kitchen has been in months…

  3. Great choice! The dress looks nice on you and looks perfect for Easter. I second Rogue’s suggestion for a fabric covered buckle if you’re unhappy with the white one.

  4. The dress is really nice. You’ll look beautiful on Easter Sunday! I think I may like to make a dress like this someday. I wish I could help with the belt. I’d have to see it for myself. What I always tell my clients is, “if it’s going to bother you then take the time to make it right otherwise you won’t wear it or feel as confident in it.” Hope that helps.

    • Thank you for your words of wisdom. Even knowing that something like replacing the belt buckle will take maybe fifteen minutes, it’s so hard for me to take that time. And one of the reasons I don’t wear the first dress I made with this pattern is that I don’t like the belt… so I think I’ll be taking care of this quick fix.

  5. The dress is so crisp looking, thanks to the fabric choice and impressive sewing skills. A cool look for icy Betty.

  6. Your fabric is goooorgeous. I love that you posed like Betty, I hope she grows a little bit this season. Great job all around!

    • I agree about Betty–now that I’ve “channeled” her, I’m starting to want to watch the rest of the seasons and this coming one in the hope that I’ll be able to like her more than I do. Glad that you like the fabric–I really lucked out on that one!

  7. Lovely dress, it really fits you well