Hot! The “Gatsby Goes to the Zoo” Dress

The Facts

  • Fabric: my old shower curtain (viscose & polyester) + beaded silk pieces from a real 1920s flapper dress
  • Pattern: Butterick 1257
  • Year: 1923-1925
  • Notions: thread (stash)
  • First worn: for the Big Zoo Party, September 8,2012
  • Wear again?: Yes!
  • Total price: The beaded pieces were about $15 if I remember correctly. I think this pattern was $20-$30.

For your listening pleasure, here’s George Gershwin’s 1926 piano roll recording of Rhapsody In Blue, a song he wrote in 1924. Enhanced by the Denver Symphony in this digital recording.


Okay, here’s the breakdown…

It all adds up . . .

Yes, yes, I’m wearing an old shower curtain. But when you need something fancy for a creative black tie event like Potter Park Zoo’s Big Zoo Party, you’ve gotta splurge. The Big Zoo Party is a fundraiser for the zoo, where I have been a docent (volunteer educator and animal handler) for six years. Before the event started on Saturday, I was busy helping with the set-up, writing auction descriptions and letters, counting cash boxes, etc., but when the guests began to arrive I donned my dress, added some peacock feathers in my hair (after all, it’s creative black tie and everyone is encouraged to add an animal element to their attire if possible–mine matched the invitations, so bonus points for me), and I was ready for the festivities.

Pic from a friend’s camera phone at the event. I got re-gussied up on Monday for more pics in an alley downtown.

I threw together this dress as fast as possible, partially because after my disappointment with last week’s project, I wasn’t really in the mood to sew, but also because I knew it would get dark a couple hours into the party and most people would have had a few and wouldn’t notice any problems with construction. And, in fact, I got a lot of compliments on this dress, some verbal (from the women) and some nonverbal (from the men).

The belt (or as the pattern terms it, “girdle”) was held on with a pin that an older gentleman in my church made from native stone he found. I have several of his pieces.

Anyway, I was pretty sure that this might be the only time (besides a Halloween party or something of that nature) that I would wear this little number. But then, once I added the beaded silk pieces, which were salvaged from a real flapper dress, and added the headpiece, and especially when my make-up pulled it all together I found that . . .

I. LOVE. THIS. DRESS. And I have a friend who happens to be doing a fundraiser next month in a historic 1920s theatre downtown. She saw the dress on my dress form and told me I had to wear it. Done!

And maybe the next time we go to the Fox Theatre in Detroit for a performance, it will show up there too! I think I will be looking for excuses to wear it.

Fast and fun, practically the flapper’s motto, right?  ;)


Erin Bartels

Erin is a copywriter by day, a novelist by night, and a wife, mother, dressmaker, quilter, zoo docent, painter, poet, and photographer in between. She only gets paid for the copywriting.


Comments are closed.

  1. Oh my goodness! Stunning! I think this is my favorite piece ever for you. The drop waist is not for everyone, but you look absolutely fantastic in the style. You should definitely wear this dress as much as possible, and make more like it!

  2. Erin, this is totally adorable! So 20’s! To think you used a shower curtain for the dress! That’s unbelievable. I adore your pictures, especially the ones by the grated window. I can see you are pleased with it. You look beautiful!

  3. Delightful! And two of my favourite colours! And love your shoes too! If this was mine (and I would totally buy that shower curtain, so not impossible) I’d always be looking for excuses to wear it.

  4. Very nice! I’m still not believing it was a shower curtain. It was destined to be a beautiful dress.

  5. This is beautiful.. Great job.. Happy sewing.

  6. I don’t have time to read this now-I will read it though. I just have to tell you how beautiful you look. i love the dress and the pictures!!

    You really do look beautiful!!!

  7. How beautiful – and I love the whole shower-curtain-to-fabulous-dress thing!! Now you’ll have to invent more events to wear it : )

  8. Gorgeous Erin, just gorgeous!

  9. If I didn’t know better, I would readily believe that first alley picture was straight out of the 1920s. Everything looks wonderful together. I’m also amazed that you made something so beautiful out of a shower curtain.

  10. Love love love this! I can’t believe it used to be a shower curtain!

  11. Move over Theda Bara!

  12. Oh Wow you look absolutely smashing Erin, the colours, the shape everything!!! and it’s a shower curtain! This is my favourite post of yours so far.
    …and I shall eat my words when I say that this silhouette only suits Olive Oil (Popeye) shaped ladies, you have definitely proven me wrong. Well done fancy lady.

  13. Very beautiful. And it looks really flattering on you. How did you get such a pretty shower curtain in the first place? And -as unimportant as if may seem – I keep wondering: Is this you new shower curtain up there in the first pic? ;)

  14. Gah! You’re a genius. I should send you an old eyelet curtain that I can’t find the gumption to upcycle. The swishy sound the fabric makes– a sound also made by shower curtains– scares me. Lovely dress with great details.

  15. Wow, you look amazing, love your picture and your dress looks great. Is that a Petoskey Stone in your pin?

    • No, it’s a blue-green stone of some sort, but definitely not a Petoskey Stone. Those have distinct hexogonal sunburst patterns as they are fossiled coral. Not sure what I’ve got in there. :)

  16. Erin you do look so beautiful – love the make up! And the dress is perfect. Those are your colours! And you rock that style too – shows off your great legs and arms. Ten out of ten! Woo hoo!

    • I have NEVER had someone tell me I had great arms. Must be a trick of the light. ;) Or maybe my recent weight training is actually paying off! Thanks for the compliments!