Hot! Titanic Gown Planning

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it here, but I will be attending The Last Dinner on the Titanic event in April. I haven’t started my dress yet, which is sort of scary since it’s only about a month away. I do know that I want beading to be a big element of the dress and have even done some minor tests on tulle:

Sunday, at the Alameda Point Antique show, I stumbled upon this dress. It was literally the last thing I saw as I was walking out (the vendor is right next to fence and sells clothing that she has refashioned from older garments. She told me that she had just bought it and she was probably going to cut it to make a skirt and top.

Let me tell you something about this dress: It’s almost in perfect condition. There are no rips, discolorations, spots and holes. Nothing. The only defect is that the waistband underneath is brittled and some parts are coming apart. This can be easily fixed by reinforcing it on the other side of the band.

There were two reasons I had to buy this: One, I couldn’t let it be made into something new. This dress needs to be preserved. And two, it fits me — even without a corset. The waist is tight, but with a corset, it should be fine. It wasn’t cheap. I paid $150 for it. That’s sooo much more than I ever pay for something at Alameda (other than furniture), but considering its condition and history, I couldn’t resist. How often can you find a hundred year-old dress like this in almost perfect condition?!

And now, here’s my dilemma. Actually, not a dilemma — simply a project that needs a creative solution. This dress, though beautiful, is not suitable as an evening gown. It’s far too casual and works as a day dress. For my Titanic gown, I want to incorporate this into my finished garment, but I also don’t want to touch the thing at all. I basically want an over/undress that will work with the existing piece.

First, here are some photos of the dress:

As far as ideas go, I have seen two dresses online that seem like a good direction.

The first inspiration is this Lanvin green dress that’s part of the collection at The Kyoto Costume Institute:

I love how vivid the colors are! By making a very bright underdres/slip to wear under my Alameda dress, I could pop up the color. And my sash could be beaded as the highlight of the dress. This still leaves me wondering what I could do to fancify the neckline.

The second inspiration also comes from the Kyoto Costume Institute:

Oh my goodness, this is a gorgeous gown. And, though time-intensive, probably an even better solution. If I was to make a top jacket and belt, I could keep the dress as is (but I do need to wear a slip underneath.

I think my solution will lie somewhere in between: bright color underslip and beaded jacket/overdress.

Anyone have other suggestions?

Update: Here’s a rough mock-up of what I’m thinking. I’m just using some random fabric in my stash, so ignore the color and type (although, I actually do like this fuchsia, I’m thinking more of a turquoise or orange). Imagine that the sleeve caps (thanks, Colleen for the suggestion!), belt and bodice collar are all beaded and the rosette/rosettes are a little more put together than that pinned mess. There would be a train. The only question I have now is whether the sash should have a back train of some sort.


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


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  1. I think those are fantastic ideas. This is going to be so beautiful.

  2. Although you said you don’t want to touch the alameda dress itself… I would add beading to it. Just the same colour glass beads along the scalloped edges and the neckline, in conjunction with transparent or iridescent flat sequins. These sequins can really dress up a garment without making it too tacky as they don’t add colour, just light! The of course your *underdress* (or slip) with colour and also a short sheer and embroidered jacket like the dress has in your Kyoto dress photograph would make a very nice outfit. Just sayin’. :-))

  3. I would definitely go for some kind of layered look, probably the second option with the jacket and a sort of long slipdress underneath..

  4. I love the 2nd picture better as an inspiration for your dress. I vote for neutral (or soft color) slip that coordinates with a brighter over-layer that has beading or a beaded belt etc. Roxane’s suggestion is also great, if you think the cloth is strong enough to hold beading.

  5. Just stunning!
    Perhaps you can add an underskirt with a bit of a sweep or train in an contrasting color and wear an underblouse or chemise that matches that underskirt? Also, maybe adding a belt with beaded design at the front, if you’re afraid the weight of the beadwork would damage the dress itself.

  6. That last dress is so beautiful. I am sure you will make a lovely version for yourself. Your ideas sounds marvelous. I look forward to seeing the result!

  7. I like the brighter color options. You could do a beaded belt/sash and bead the neckline and/or sleeves of your under dress to match.

  8. Wow – what a great dress to start with. You have your work cut out for you dressing it up, but I can’t wait to see how it turns out. The beading you were working on is beautiful.

  9. It looks gorgeous so far. It reminds me of my Great-Grandmother’s wedding dress(1908), which I am wanting to recreate. Thank you for the inspiration and motivation.

  10. I think an ice blue/silvery color, maybe even something iridescent fabric for the under garment. If your underdress had long sleeves, beaded cuffs could make it more evening wear and/or a beaded choker would be a beautiful touch.

  11. I like the idea of having something bright and shiny under it. I know you don’t want touch it but I can’t help but think that the skirt — broken up as it is to look like there’s an underskirt already (the underskirt is attached, if you see what I mean)– is asking you to do something to it. What about: TEMPORARILY AND DELICATELY removing the second part of the skirt beneath the lace thingy (losing my language today) and then when you wear something really bright, it will act as the skirt. How I love that bright green. Also, how about this. Bead a sleeve sash and tie it around those sleeves to get rid of the ruffles. They are pretty but they subtract from its dressing up capability.

    Whatever you do: I WANT TO SEE! I WANT TO SEE!

  12. What a lucky find! The Alameda dress is gorgeous – and not actually that pricey at $150. I’m very, very envious.

    Much as I love the KCI Poiret dress, the Lanvin one (which isn’t an evening dress either) is much, much closer to your dress in silhouette, and I think will be much more effectively adapted for your design. A bright underslip with a train, and a fabulous sash.

  13. Oh, how lovely!

    I’m the queen of bright colours, but I see this with a subtly-sparkling silver slip underneath and sash at the waist (diamante buckle/brooch or fabric flower?), a co-ordinating wrap or jacket as needed, and seriously glam jewellery and shoes.

    I have no idea if that’s period-appropriate, if that is in fact your aim?

  14. What about a cream camisole under the blouse so that your neck and shoulders peek through and then adding a layer of perhaps an emerald green chiffon at the waist, tacking another layer under the top lacy skirt that falls just above the decorative lacy bottom of the second lace skirt. So it goes green, then lace, then green then lace. Add a green wide ruche belt, with bow in back. The bottom of the sleeves could be gathered and temporary encased in a satin cream binding and perhaps baby pearls or beds added. I’m not sure about the neck line. You’d have to see how it looks after you but a wide belt on. It might just be a very nice low-dip V and not appear to be crossing over.

  15. What a fantastic find! The fuchsia under fabric works really well, but I also love the idea of the beaded jacket over the top. The under fabric would show off more of the original dress which would be lovely to show off an actual 100 year old piece where there are likely to be many reproductions.

  16. If you make the beading into neckline work it could be on the new fabric underneath and you could see it. Plus you could create a “matching” beaded belt that has fabric attached to it, creating a more interesting and fuller layered skirt. Great find!

  17. Please don’t bead directly onto the dress. Even though the dress is in such fantastic condition does not mean the textile is as strong as when it was new. It’s a natural fibre, it has had 100 years to degrade – even if it doesn’t look it. But you may well already be aware of this, so I’ll stop lecturing.

    I love what you’ve tried so far with a saturated colour underneath and as accent. Like in the first photo, however, I think I’d do a sash in another contrast colour – not clashing, but adding a liitle extra interest/depth to whatever palette you decide on. I think that beading/embellishment on the contrast fabric – with something really dramatic on the sash, would add a lot of impact. And maybe embellish the bodice contrast fabric with something sparkly that would show through the dress fabric, such as sequins (not rhinestones, or anything that might catch the dress fabric). That would bring added pizzaz into the area of the dress itself, without having to do anything directly to it.

    Man oh man, I wish I had a reason to make a 1912 evening dress. We’re way too timid of dressing-up occassions here in Canada. *pout*

  18. Ironically I’m up to my elbows in a 1910s evening gown project too! A friend is hosting a Titanic theme dinner next month, and period dress is requested. ;) I used to be really geeky about historic costume, but I feel like I’m having to relearn all this stuff again! ;) lol. (Although the corset-making part hasn’t been too bad so far! But it’s been a good 4+ years since I’ve made one of those.)

    Anyway, I love the antique gown you found! It’s beautiful and certainly a piece that should be kept for it’s history. I really like the idea of a brightly colored under gown–I think it would really make the dress pop. You could apply embellishment to the sash and perhaps bring more in by wearing a bandeau. (I’m hoping to find some feathers to make a fantastically glamorous bandeau for myself… ;) Time permitting!) Perhaps you could use a low-pile velvet/velveteen for the sash? I think it would add some interesting texture.

  19. Incredible dress, and fantastic inspiration pieces. I think you are on the right track. You might consider some velvet ribbons to add in to the embroidery/trim around the bodice and sleeve caps. It will help to add a certain “richness” to the look that will help move it from a day dress into a proper evening look. Maybe make the rosettes out of a velvet ribbon or a velveteen fabric? Can’t wait to see how this all comes about.

  20. Yay, so glad you are coming to the dinner! It will be fun to re-meet you in person. And, that dress is gorgeous — I love the direction you’re going in.

  21. What a discovery so much potential… we must see how it completed….

  22. You found a rare treasure! Looking at the picture it looks like you found a fine French batiste gown. It is beautiful to say the least. I like the way you’re going with the underdress and the color s to die for. On the neckline I would leave it simple and use jewelry to highlight it. Women in that particular time period loved their jewelry, be it fake or real, and would literally pile it on. A beaded sash would look fantastic as well but I wouldn’t bead directly on the fabric. If it is what I’m thinking it is the beading would leave ugly pulls in the fabric. I can’t wait to see the finished piece. :) Hope I was able to help.

  23. wow mena. holy wow.

    if you’re going to sash it (and i immediately wanted you to add a drapey part to the back of the sash when i saw it!), and you want beading around your neck, what if you used strands of beads–they could follow the pleats and be held in place by the sash, which would have the actual beading.

    whatever you do it’ll be stunning. i love that you’re preserving the dress, it totally needs to live on a dressform as art.

  24. I’m so jealous! I don’t have such a beauty and I don’t have an invitation for a Titanic-themed party, and even if I wanted: I’ve just moved so I don’t have a sewing machine (yet!) or even a house.. Anyway, in my humble opinion, I would give the under gown a straight neckline with a thick lace at the top edge, like in the second picture and Casey’s blouse in A Common Thread Project. You could choose a lace in a matching colour to the under gown or ivory with colour or shiny bits. Wouldn’t it leave its dignity to the original neckline, but add texture and a very fin de siecle touch?