How to Dress Vintage for a Photoshoot

a big group of birthday guests show How to Dress Vintage

So you’ve been asked to participate in a photoshoot with a vintage theme…excellent! Getting dressed up for photos is a ton of fun, and being a huge fan of all things retro and vintage myself, I know how satisfying it can be to put together an outfit inspired by a past era to embody a certain look or idea. But, depending on your experience with sourcing vintage-look clothes or costumes, you might need a little help on how to dress vintage for your special event.

Not to worry, here are a few of my favorite tips for finding that perfect old-school outfit!

Determine what era you’re going for and do a little research

Fashions change at the drop of a hat, and the styles changed a lot during the 20th century! If your photographer or event organizer has a specific theme in mind, such as “Great Gatsby” (1920s) or “Mad Men” (1960s), then you can pinpoint the key silhouettes and styles in those decades, using vintage photos, magazine images, and films as a starting point for inspiration. If the period is more general, then start with a little Pinterest research on the date range, and see what sticks out to you. Picking a favorite movie from the era is a great way to jumpstart your research!

Consult your organizer or art director a little about the “genre” of clothing you should be looking for as well. Class/social status, location, age group, time of year and other factors have major implications on what people wear, and these factors were much more stratified in earlier parts of the 20th century when it came to clothing.

For instance, “Downton Abbey ” might be your theme but are you a ladies maid or a countess? Are we watching a game of cricket, going to a country dance, or attending a dinner upstairs with a foreign dignitary? Is it the London Season, Christmas eve, or wartime? These elements are important, because if the answer is “You’re a ladies maid in a London tavern on your half day off”, you don’t want to show up dripping in jewels, with opera length gloves!

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting

Don’t get too hung up on accuracy if you don’t have to

For most situations, it’s unnecessary to be a slave to a particular year, but nailing exactly what the clothing concept is will really help you find what you need! The photo above is of me dressed as some sort of bootlegger-Bonnie and Clyde hybrid for my hometown’s annual sofa race…not perfect, but it was a 20 minute shopping trip at Goodwill and I had something “vintage looking”. A little 20s, a little 40s, a little 60s, but pretty cute, and no stress!

Get a good idea of silhouette

Silhouette is probably the most important part of looking truly vintage. If you’re not familiar with silhouette as it applies to fashion, it’s shorthand for the general shape and fit of a garment or ensemble.

So when you’re studying your reference photos, here are some good questions to ask:

What type of garment is this and what are its parts/elements? Is it a single piece dress? Is it a three piece suit? 

Where is the emphasis on the garment? A voluminous skirt? Broad shoulders? 

How fitted is the garment? Does it skim the body, or is there a defined bust, waist, and hips?

Is the fit achieved with special undergarments? Could I wear my modern undergarments to achieve a similar look?

Where is the waist seam located? At the natural waist? Above or below?

Where does the hemline hit? Should my pants touch the top of my shoes? Should my skirt be shorter than my ankle?

This is not a test! These are just good questions and observations to make so that when you are shopping, your silhouette radar will be extra sharp, and you’ll naturally be drawn to the garment shapes that will give you the right vintage look.

Just for giggles, let’s compare the silhouettes of these two dresses, which are both pretty good examples of the typical silhouette of their eras.

1920's Chanel, Yola Letellier - Grand Prix de Longchamp - Photo by the Seeberger Brothers: Givenchy worn by Suzy Parker - Orlon 1954 Vogue - 1950s Fashion Vintage Knitting by Columbia Vogue - 1955  1951 -...:

On the left, we have a day dress from the 1920s.

  • Separates. Working women following WWI got a real taste for mixing and matching, because it gave them more choices for the office (just like today). Here, our gal is wearing a light jacket over her dress, which could possibly even be two pieces as well.
  • Long, slim, and svelte. This “boyish” shape was popular throughout the 20s. You can see there’s very little volume or emphasis in any part of the ensemble, and her outfit is essentially a column shape.
  • The hemline is below the knees. Contrary to popular belief, skirts didn’t get really short in the 20s, but they were quite short relative to skirt lengths prior to this decade. However, by our standards, this is pretty conservative.
  • Loose fit. This dress is probably worn with a slip, and possibly a underwire-less bra and girdle, but shapewear is minimal here because the fit of the garment is quite loose and skims over the shape fo the body.
  • Dropped waistline. This is a key, key, key (!) feature of the 20s look. Women in the 20s were uncorseted and active, and the entire silhouette represented this social shift, but one of the most noticeable features of any 20s fashion is the dropped waist, which sat right about the hips, rather than on the natural waist.
  • Accessories. The low, Louis style heel and round cloche hat really make this look. Her jewelry is classic and understated, though the flower on her jacket is fun.

On the right, we have a day dress from the 1950s.

  • One piece shirtwaist dress. This is the classic 50s housewife silhouette. This lady doesn’t need separates!
  • Hourglass shape. Where is the emphasis? On the waist, bust, and hips! The shape of the dress emphasizes the wearer’s curves, from the collar and sleeves adding shape to the shoulders, to the tiny belted waist, to the big bell skirt.
  • Knee-length hemline. Again, we see a relatively modest skirt length, but the shape is completely different from our last example.
  • Fitted bodice. Though her skirt is giant, the bodice is quite fitted to the body. This look is usually achieved with quite a few pieces of shapewear. Elastic became very popular in undergarments in the 20s, and continued to reach new heights in the 50s. You can’t really see it here, but the bust shape was also quite conical for a time.
  • Natural waistline. Her belt sits right on the smallest part of her torso.
  • Accessories. We have some very, very matchy-matchy accessories, including a red belt, bangle, and polka dot shoes. Damn!

So what do we learn here? There are HUGE differences between these two silhouettes, despite the fact that they contain similar elements, such as belts, heels, and knee length skirts.

These ideas are also applicable to men’s clothing as well. For instance:

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Like, do I even need to point out the differences here??

Another good thing to remember: women DID wear pants in a lot of situations, especially post-war. Marlene Dietrich:

Pick period-appropriate materials and prints

Like art, home decor, and architecture, textiles changed a lot in the 20th century, from fibers to weaves, to prints. It can be tough to find perfectly period-correct fabrics but choosing color schemes, textures, and prints that complement your era will really make your get-up convincing.

Here’s a little general advice:

  • Natural fibers are your friend. Look for cotton, wool, and silk.
  • Avoid overly synthetic, or shiny looking fabrics. Rayon was a popular synthetic that looks like silk for many eras.
  • Look for simple, classic prints and patterns, such as plaid, polka dots, pinstripes, and houndstooth.
  • Textured fabrics are fun too! Tweeds, self-stripes, and faux fur can add panache and depth.
  • Keep your color palette controlled. Remember that dye technology has changed a lot over the last 200 years and while bright colors were super popular and indicative of some eras, you can’t go wrong with beige, blush pink, navy, greys, and even black.

Don’t forget to accessorize

People wore A LOT of accessories every day prior to the 1960s, and adding these details to your ensemble is fun and key. Most men and women would not have left the house without a hat, and in many cases, a coat. Things changed from era to era (I feel like I’ve said that a lot….), but you can get away with a pretty basic outfit if you pick great accessories. The good news is that accessories are often easier to find than dresses or suits, and often in better condition!


A great hat can make almost any outfit instantly vintage looking.
For the gents, try a fedora for a gangster or Manhattan businessman look, a boater for an early 20th century tourist, or a bowler for a royal off to the races.
For the ladies, always frame the face and cover the forehead for a flapper look, try a pillbox for a Jackie-O ensemble, and remember the bigger the better when you dress as an Edwardian beauty. Ladies can also play with snoods, scarves, and flowers.

Extant vintage coats and jackets can be pieces of art all on their own! If your setting is outdoors, you might be able to cover up with a really fabulous coat and your work is done. Cuff and collar details are a good find, and of course, a decent fit is mandatory.

Stockings are a great detail! For ultimate accuracy, go for a seamed stocking and remember that pantyhose did not exist until the 1960s! For a cool detail, draw on/powder on your stockings if you’re going for a WWII look. Women didn’t want to leave the house with “bare” legs, but nylons were unavailable due to rationing. You might need a friend’s help!

Leather look is a good choice, but pay special attention to the shape of the shoe. Louis heels are de rigeur for a 20s lady, and a good pair of mary janes or oxfords can take you to almost any era.

Covering your hands can really push you into the next league. Short white cotton gloves are good for most eras for ladies, though gentlemen were known to wear smart leather gloves as well.

Costume jewelry existed in every era, and you can find a lot of fun pieces at Goodwill and other thrift shops. Pins and brooches give a very specific vintage flair. Cufflinks are a good find for guys.

Scarves and Ties
Large Editorial ImageGuys should pay attention to tie widths, as a wide one tends to say “shady nightclub owner” and a skinny one says “brown-noser junior exec”, and there’s a lot in between. Patterns are best kept understated, see section on materials. Try a pocket square, too!
Silk scarves are never a bad idea! Tie it around your neck for a continental style, tie it in your hair, or put it on your bag. Scarves are so versatile and easy to find that they can really save an outfit!


Facial Hair
Not quite an accessory, but a good detail to think of! It might be fun to shave or try mustache wax for a day.

How to Dress Vintage for a Photoshoot

People dressed vintage for a birthday party, Sumalee Eaton is in red flapper dress
Photo by Benevolence Photo
Photo by Nikki Namdar

I hope you have fun searching for the perfect pieces! My favorite source is Goodwill, but the truth is that your outfit could be lurking around any corner, and you’ll be able to sniff it out much easier now that you know what shapes, materials, and accessories to look for. Even if you end up with a mix of eras, getting pieces with the right feel will make you look great!

I’m always here if you need help, so leave a comment or send me an email if you need advice!

honest-millennial-signature Sumalee Eaton

What era will YOU be emulating? What is the most challenging part of finding your vintage outfit?

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Sumalee and Cinderella in California!

Cinderella in California

Cinderella in CaliforniaAh! I returned from my whirlwind trip to see Cinderella in California last week, and I still can’t get over how amazing it was. I mean, honestly, I am not exaggerating when I say it was a life changing experience. Everyone I know has graciously been asking me how the trip went, so I thought I’d do a little summary!

If you would like to read about why I was going to California in the first place and see my transformation dress in action, read this first!

I had a couple of fears going to California:

1) My hosts are actually axe murderers/serial killers/sexual deviants plotting to lock me in a dungeon.
Even my mom said this seemed unlikely, but think about it…we never talked on the phone, all business was communicated via email, and the big tip off that these people could be crazy…I got zero pushback or questions about getting paid. What kind of weird was I about to walk into?

2) This show could actually be terrible…
But for real, we’ve all seen some high school productions that are just…really high school. Was I going to have to sit through 3 complete disasters of a show and come up with fake compliments all weekend? Shit.

3) My costumes would fail.
This was really my #1 fear, but lest anyone think my priorities are backwards, I’ll put this third. I was honestly terrified that my very presence would cause malfunctions and everyone would start to resent me and my poor quality work. I know, I know, I had video evidence that the costume works great, but it really only takes once…

So how did it turn out?

Cinderella in California

My fears were completely and utterly unfounded. Not only was there no cause to worry about a single one of them, but I could actually rejoice in the exact opposite of each coming true.

1) My hosts were awesome.
Cinderella in California

Cinderella in CaliforniaBut seriously? These people housed me in their fabulously theatrical home, fed me pizza and burritos, and refilled my wine constantly. FRIENDS FOR LIFE. On a serious note, David and Lisa were extremely generous and kind to me, almost like I was their long lost child. They instantly integrated me into their community, introducing me to everyone they knew and making sure I felt welcome and involved. Among the more unexpected and memorable moments: being asked to wear Cinderella’s gold dress and sit on the back of the carriage during the Christmas parade (all the little kids shouted, “Look, they brought Belle!”…….I’ll totally take it.), playing beer pong on the kitchen table after the last show, and being introduced before every show as a special guest.Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California Cinderella in California, the Gardiner Springs Auditorium at Chaffery High

2) The show was awesome.
Cinderella in California, Sumalee at the box office  This was the most un-high school show I have ever seen. First, the facility is just fabulous, lending a wonderful gravity to production and the ability to do things that many schools can’t, such as flying the Fairy Godmother across the stage and seating over 1000 people per show (and that doesn’t include the balcony). And second, the kids were just amazing. It was absolutely worth every mile I had to travel to meet these sweet, humble kids, whose devotion to their program simply shines through their eyes. Dave’s dedication to his students was touching to witness over the four days I was there, and the resulting production was simply breathtaking, even after seeing the show three times in a row. The fact that both alumni and teachers ran rampant in the cast and crew basically tells you everything you need to know. Everyone really is family here.

Also, I just have to say, the other costumes were fabulous. Aaron Anderson, another teacher of drama, really has an eye for details and did a fantastic job of assembling just the right look for the show, including a transforming Godmother dress and 11 custom coats for the men’s ensemble (which MADE the ball scene, in my opinion). All of the production values were great, but as a costumer, I simply loved what he did with the costumes. He also choreographed the whole show, using many steps and formations from the original Broadway staging, which, if you’ve ever seen that dancing, is very impressive!Cinderella in Californiaimg_20161210_214848463.jpgCinderella in California  Cinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in California, Upland Christmas ParadeCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in CaliforniaCinderella in California

3) My dress was (I’ll say it) awesome.

Sumalee's Cinderella Transformation dress backstage, Cinderella in CaliforniaPerfect? No, of course not. I will always find something to improve on this costume. But it functioned beautifully every show, and hearing the audience reaction while sitting in the audience almost brought me to tears every time.

I did actually get to sew a little bit while I was there, and actually completely changed out the original hoop from the gold gown to a new one from the costume room. That was the one time I did regret that I couldn’t be local for all of tech, because I wished I could have saved them the headache and changed that far sooner. Oh well, ya live and learn!

Sumalee Eaton backstage at Cinderella in California

I walked away from the trip feeling so refreshed and revived, and so much more confident in my abilities. I’m beyond excited to work with the Chaffey crew again on Beauty and the Beast this spring (because hell yes, I got invited back)! Aside from that, I don’t know precisely what the future holds as far as costuming goes, but I know that my California Cinderella family will always be a huge part of why I became ready to take a leap into the career I’ve always dreamed of.

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New Cinderella Transformation Dress Video

Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton, Photo by Benevolence Photo

I’ve held off for a few months on announcing something very awesome, but now that it’s all come to pass I can speak up! You might remember that a few months ago I created a Cinderella Transformation Dress for Seminole High School, which is where I went to school. It was an awesome learning and emotional experience watching the reaction to this dress, and I have been reeling ever since, with an intense desire to make another transformation costume.

Well, now I have! Scroll for video if you are, like me, impatient 🙂

My Second Cinderella Transformation Dress

Cinderella Transformation Dress Pictures
My first costume, made for SHS.

I learned it’s really REALLY hard to spend a year researching a costume, spending hours watching stage footage in slow motion to learn what makes it tick, reverse engineering it to create your own version, and then move on to the next project. It was part pattern making (I drafted the entire peasant costume and ball bodice myself), part frankensteining existing costumes together, part hand wringing, and all mad scientist-worthy experimentation. I had a fever for this costume, and once the play was over, I was honestly so sad. I had so many more ideas for improvement…there were so many things I didn’t get the opportunity to try! Even two months later, I was still lying awake at least once a week, thinking about velcro and rip cords, replaying the ideal transformation over and over in my mind .

Well, in an almost “ask and you shall receive” moment, I got a two line email from a school in California that sent me bouncing off the walls.

“I’m sure you’ve been asked numerous times– Can I commission you to build a dress for our Cinderella?”

My reaction: 1) I DO NOT get asked that all the time, so thank you for asking! and 2) um, yes, building you a dress is basically all I want to do ever.

So, over the next three months, I did! It was an awesome opportunity to try out new solutions that had been swirling around in my brain and test some theories. And of course, discover new things I wanted to improve! (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I do want to note that I did not design or construct the blue ballgown portion of this costume, as the client ordered two identical gowns so that one could be sacrificed to make the trick dress, and the other could be worn in the ball scene. I did, however, draft and construct the peasant ensemble, which is the key to the transformation, and the Act II transformation dress, so more info on that later!) All in all, it turned out great, and I’m very proud, BUT the coolest part came happened next!

Before I even sent the dress, I got another email from California.

“Hey question for you– we here are interested in seeing if you would like to fly here for our show(s)?”


“Our cast is all about it and excited to meet the seamstress. You would see the weekend shows.”


“Have you been to Southern CA?”


“Interested? “

A trip to California to stay and hang out with locals and see the dress I built on stage for the first time? Yes! Yes! Yes, I’m interested!

So, my big news is that after spending over a year researching this Cinderella Transformation Dress, building it, being asked to build a second one and sending it off, that I will be flying out to California to see my creation in action!


Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton, Photo by Benevolence PhotoThis is a BIG deal for me, confidence wise. I have wanted to make costumes for a living since I was a little girl, and each day of 2016 has brought me closer and closer to defining what that means in my adult life. I’ve learned an immeasurable amount about better sewing techniques, working with clients, setting budgets, taxes (heh), and marketing, and I’m so, so thankful to everyone who is helping me realize my dream.

(Special shout out to Tiffany Ortiz, who started me on this Cinderella journey. Thank you for your appreciation of my skills and for giving me the opportunity to use them after they were lying dormant for so long!)

Here is the new video of the latest dress, which is the one I will get to see in Cali. The wonderful Jessica of Benevolence Photo shot the video and the lovely pictures, and as always, she did a beautiful job.

I’ve watched it a million times now, and can only see things I want to tweak and improve, but it really makes my heart leap when I show it to someone new. Everyone I know has been so supportive in these ventures, and I appreciate you all!
Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton The peasant skit of the Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton Green Peasant Overskirt Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton Cinderella Transformation Dress by Sumalee Eaton

My next steps will be to write some costume analysis for others who want to make transformation dresses, and of course, I can’t wait to share my photos from California! (Keep an eye on Instagram 😉 )honest-millennial-signature Sumalee Eaton
So, what do you think, y’all? I would love to read your comments, so if you’re thinking of one, you’d make my day if you really left it!


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Cinderella Transformation Dress Video

Cinderella Transformation Dress PicturesWow, I can’t believe Cinderella is over! Seminole High School had a fantastic run, and the Cinderella transformation dress turned out great (if I may say so myself!). Being backstage with this cast and crew was a total blast, and I’m so glad I got to work tech for the dress! I look forward to posting many more behind the scenes videos and pictures, but in the meantime, here is one of my favorite videos of Jaclyn testing out the transformation dress before they called for places that night.

After I suited her up before each performance, we ran the transformation once or twice, you know, just to be sure 😉 I’m hoping to see some onstage tranformation videos soon…but unfortunately, someone else will have to post or send them to me, as I was backstage for every show! Hopefully you enjoy the preview and stay tuned for the future videos!

(If you have video, seriously, send it to me!)

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Cinderella Peasant Progress

Cinderella Transformation Dress Peasant Bodice Pieces

Cinderella is in less than a month, so it’s time to kick the transformation dress into high gear!Cinderella Peasant Bodice Tape

{For those of you who don’t know, I’m building a Cinderella transformation dress for my alma mater, which you can read about here.}

Cinderella Peasant BodiceAlright, so last we talked, I was working on the ballgown skirt, which is of course tons of fun because it’s the floofy, pretty princess skirt of every seven-year-old’s dreams. Playing with yards and yards of tulle has been fun, but to the surprise of absolutely no one who knows me, I’m waaaaay more excited about the more mundane (seeming) part of Ella’s transformation ensemble: the Cinderella peasant dress!

Why, you ask? Because in this project, the big, ornate gown is actually pretty straightforward, whereas the peasant costume is the key to the magic of the transformation!

Anyway, I have promised not to reveal any transformation details until after the show, BUT I can tell you that this costume has involved a ton of trial and error and special closures. As of this moment, I have the bodice (which includes the brown “stays” and a sort of half length “chemise”) constructed and it has been fitted on Jaclyn.

The Cinderella Peasant Costume Design

Nerd Fun Fact: the word “bodice” comes from the term “a pair of bodies”, which were symmetrical, structural, form-fitting garments worn on the upper body (I hesitate to use the word “corset”, so misleading) that were joined at the center front and center back with lacing. You see this term a lot in any research/writing on Elizabethan era clothing, and it eventually gave rise to the word “bodice”, which is, of course, still used today to denote the upper half of dresses and gowns. Great resource on this concept here.Cinderella Peasant Ensemble

Anywho, this version of Cinderella is set in a pseudo-Renaissance period (with Romantic era overtones, especially in the ball scene), and you can definitely see the influence in Ella’s peasant clothes. William Ivey Long points out his inspiration for Ella’s peasant look in this video (around 2:24, but the whole video is great!):

(I do want to point out for my fellow sticklers that yes, he does say “18th century porcelain”, and I’m not saying that those stays are not 18th century, more just that they’re pseudo, and they fit with the 16th century aesthetic he has going on for the peasants in ensemble. And you know what? It’s a fairytale, so I don’t even know why I’m saying this!)

My Cinderella Peasant Costume

Cinderella Peasant Bodice
Sorry for the blur, Jaclyn and I have a hard time staying still during fittings!

The pattern for the stays was draped by me (although, yes, I know stays shouldn’t have bust darts. Bite me.), and the chemise pattern was cut from a dissembled half-bodice costume piece that was donated to the school by Disney (probably from one of the Epcot pavilions). I cut the stays from the perfect brown linen I found at the school (that’s right, free!), and interlined those pieces with some chocolate brown lightweight duck. I finished the armholes and neckline with some brown upholstery braid, which adds a great amount of weight to the piece, which will eventually aid the transformation. I used a beautiful creamy, drapey linen for the chemise, which I’m not really looking forward to “mucking up” during the distressing portion, but it is what it is.

Still to be done: possibly cutting tabs into the bottom of the bodice (although I kind of like the look of it now? And binding tabs sounds like so much work?) and constructing the brown underskirt and green overskirt, which truly is the cornerstone of the entire transformation.Cinderella Peasant Ensemble

I’ve done a brief test of the transformation properties so far on this piece, and it worked out great! I even made my very first video for this blog (dorky still of pre-transformation apprehension can be seen to the right!) , which I can’t wait to share in its entirety after the run of the show (April 15th-17th). Hell, I can’t wait to share all the dirty secrets of the transformation following the show. I hope you will all stay tuned for all the reveals!

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Goodbye Glinda: Salvaging Materials for the Cinderella Dress

Turning Glinda in the Cinderella Dress


Original Glinda the Good Witch Costume Cinderella DressI mentioned before that my high school has an incredible costume stock compared to when I was there. One of the most elaborate costumes is a wedding dress that the theatre company previously used for the Wizard of Oz, and that the director suggested I mine for materials for the Cinderella dress.

Don’t mind if I do!

First thing to know about this dress: it is hea-vy. The bodice is simply crusted in thick beading and applique. I can’t imagine wearing this thing to an event, so the original bride must have been an absolute trooper!

Confession: I have this weird thing about liking to take as few trips to and from the car as possible, no matter how inefficient that might actually turn out being. I absolutely applied this principle to getting the dress inside my house, which resulted in something a little like this:Junk Lady

But we all know that’s always been my future, so no sweat, right? (And yes, it’s a selfie. Yes, I thought it was worth it.)

Anywho, I started exploring the Glinda dress in the most thorough way I knew how…Inside the Cinderella Dress skirt

and quickly realized that there was an excellent skirt beneath all of the applique, which has all been floral sprayed pink for the previous show.

Glinda before Cinderella Dress

The skirt itself is comprised of about five layers of net and tulle, sewn into the bodice, which extended past the waist to the hips (I feel like there’s a technical term for this, but hell if I know what it is. Like a fitted drop waist?). I knew I could keep the skirt layers nice, neat, and collected by slicing and dicing the part I wanted away from the rest of the bodice, so that’s precisely what I did. In the end, this is what I ended up with:

Glinda Skirt becomes part of the Cinderella Dress

Now, if you’re thinking, “But hey, that isn’t shaped like the Cinderella dress skirt at all…”, you’d be 100% correct. (Not all “big skirts” are the same shape or created equally, contrary to the beliefs of some.) However, the initial layers I salvaged for the Cinderella skirt were all sheer, which meant that I would eventually have to stick an opaque layer in the mix. (I mean, I didn’t have to, but…) Fortunately, the Glinda skirt came with its own lining, which (in a rare turn of events) was actually full enough for all of Ella’s dancing. So, add the Glinda skirt to the layers I already salvaged, and you get something like this:

Cinderella Dress Skirt

Tulle and Net for the Cinderella dressNot perfect, but much closer! The layer of tulle bunched on top was just an experiment, so don’t judge. I actually hit the jackpot on tulle and net because the school happened to have a ton, and I took it all home. It’s sooooooo lovely to feel uninhibited because you know there’s plenty of material.

Oh, and my material cost on this project so far? Zero. And THAT is why you should salvage materials when you can, folks!

Side note: when slicing the bodice through the waistline, I had to remove the plastic boning throughout the bodice seams. This was done simply enough by snipping holes in the tops of the boning channels (think underwire poking through your bra), but the excavated boning makes a great visual for why you should never use plastic featherweight boning in any serious fitting garment (especially a corset)!Boning from the Glinda Dress (removed for Cinderella Dress)

I’m really excited that I have the privilege of transforming someone’s wedding dress for the second time, and of course eternally thankful that the skirt was just right for the Cinderella dress. What do you think of the salvage progress?

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Cinderella Transformation Dress Skirt: Part 1

Cinderella transformation dress skirt lift

It’s #TransformationTuesday, so here is the first glimpse of the Cinderella transformation dress skirt! You can read about the start of this project here.

So far, I’ve done my research (months and months of it!), gathered some preliminary materials, and met our Ella, Jaclyn. Now comes the fun part: construction!

I’ve chosen to begin with the ball gown skirt, which is truly the biggest, fluffiest, most glorious white skirt to ever grace Broadway. Cinderella Transformation Dress Skirt

Why am I starting with the skirt? Well, because I am mainly sourcing materials to construct the entire costume from salvaged pieces of other costumes, my materials are partially unknown. This part of the costume (in our production) is donned off stage, meaning that can be constructed independently of the rest of the transforming pieces, such as the peasant bodice and skirt, which means that it can be constructed in advance of the other pieces as a single, free standing unit using pretty commonly available salvage materials (tulle, net, and other sheer skirt bits).

In other words, I’m going create this heavenly confection first because out of this super complicated project, it’s the simplest part to begin. Which might have some people like…

Cinderella Transformation Dress skirt Oh No

But not this gal!

So anyway, I began by deconstructing the several wedding gowns I pulled from wardrobe, and then layering them in different ways. The Broadway gown has a really beautiful silhouette, one that is achieved through layers and layers of different materials of different weights and textures. I’m not saying this to be dramatic; the actual shape and fullness comes from the layers of fabric.

“But Sumalee, how do you know it’s not a hoop?”

Good question. The answer lies in the dancing. Cinderella transformation dress skirt develope Cinderella transformation dress skirt lift

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it would be difficult to achieve the lifts, turns, and various forms of extensions Ella’s character does in the ball scene with a hoop, as a traditional spring steel hoop could, at any moment, fly up and show her legs (more more!) to everyone when pushed in the wrong way (up against Topher’s princely body, for instance). Additionally, any extension of the leg (which is what she’s in the middle of in the first photo) could be interrupted by a foot being caught in the hoop or another ungraceful flip-flip of the hoop.

Cinderella transformation dress skirt corded petticoatI’ll be going with a corded petticoat instead, which is similar to a hoop in concept, but instead of spring steel hoops in channels, I’ll be stitching rows and rows of stiff cord onto a skirt base. This method of adding fullness under skirts was common during the Romantic era, prior to the introduction of the cage hoop. The main point of this layer is to keep the skirts from interfering with Ella’s walking by holding the other layers away from her legs. Since I don’t have the cord yet, I decided to start with another integral part of the silhouette: the bustle. Although, Jaclyn and I have affectionately named it “the booty bump”.
Cinderella Transformation Dress skirt

I made it from the hem of a 1960s wedding gown I previously altered for a burlesque act. The original gown had about six yards of cream colored silk satin in the skirt, which I shortened from a train to tea length. In other words, there was a ton of material left over. I based the shape on a Victorian bustle pad, using the available shapes to help form the final product. I used pieces of the wedding satin with nylon horsehair braid in the hem to give the ruffles a little stiffness, not really discriminating against pieces with tread marks, thinking it would be buried between layers and never be seen. Truth be told, it’s pretty cute, so it’s kind of a shame!

A few more hours of layering skirt pieces and I came up with this strange middling layer. (Everything looks so much less full on camera, such a shame!)Cinderella Transformation Dress skirt

Looking around at my other salvage materials, I really really needed some more net or tulle (or another crinoline or two to destroy) in order to Cinderella transformation dress skirt fittinggive the skirt the sort of oomph I wanted, and I knew I could probably get these from the wardrobe room at school. Armed with these existing skirt layers (and a really jacked bodice toile, which we’ll discuss later…), I headed to the school for a fitting!

The skirt length worked out great, which is perfect, since Jaclyn is pretty tall and I had to had to add “extensions” to the waistbands of the salvage skirt layers. I chose to add the extensions to the top of the skirt because I felt that in the end, this would be less easily discernible than adding a panel to the hem.

Also, I’m lazy as hell and would never create a new hem where a perfectly good one already exists!Cinderella Transformation Dress skirt

Not bad for a first skirt fitting, but of course, there’s not enough fluff! Stay tuned as I continue to beef up this skirt with the scattered corpses of other wedding gowns.

Normally, with historic clothing or costumes, one starts with the supporting undergarments. How do you like to attack a costume? If you were building this dress, where would you choose to begin?

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Cinderella Transformation Dress: It Begins!

Cinderella Transformation Dress Fitting

Cinderella Transformation DressSome people wish they could go back to high school, and I generally think that’s ludicrous. High school is simply not a time I generally want to relive, but the number one thing I most miss and wish I could still do would be directing the costumes for my high school theatre company. That’s why I’m so thrilled that my alma mater asked me to construct their Cinderella transformation dress for their spring production!

The Cinderella Transformation Dress

Julie Andrews as Cinderella (Cinderella Transformation Dress)Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was recently adapted for the stage as a two act musical, and the show is FABULOUS. You might be familiar with the Leslie Ann Warren or Brandy/Whitney Houston version of this musical, which, if you were anything like me, you watched on VHS repeatedly as a kid. What most people are unfamiliar with is that this show was originally conceived and written for television, and aired on CBS in 1957 starring Julie Andrews.

Since television technology in 1957 was still somewhat new and since secondLeslie Ann Warren as Cinderella wave feminism hadn’t hit just yet, the original story was pretty thin, largely following the well known fairy tale. Douglas Carter Beane (who penned To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar) was inspired to give the book a facelift, creating a MUCH more modern story while still retaining the incredible charm of the show. (Seriously, the new book is very funny.)

A big part of the new production is the idea that all of the magic happens right before your eyes, without the aid of television editing, and that includes William Ivey Long’s award winning transformation costumes. There are three transforming dresses in the show, and each one is simply dazzling.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this ish out right now:Cinderella Transformation Dress GIF

See why I’m excited? Click here to see the dress in action!

Cinderella Transformation Dress on Laura OsnesTHIS is the dress I’ve been asked to make, and I am stoked! As a costumer, I couldn’t have asked for a cooler project, because it’s not only gorgeous, it also is interesting from a technical aspect because of the on-stage transformation. And, let’s face it, I freaking love the music from this show, so listening to it non-stop and getting to see the touring show as part of my research makes an incredible bonus!

Our show is in April, but since this is an incredibly daunting costume to construct, I wanted to get started as soon as possible. I began research almost immediately after I was asked, and have been watching videos in slo-mo, taking screen shots, and recording notes non-stop since then.

So why am I just now starting to write about this? Well, the show is finally cast and I held Cinderella Transformation Dress First Fittingmy first fitting with our production’s Ella! She is a lovely young lady named Jaclyn, and I’m so thrilled for her because I sense that she will be a fabulous Cinderella. She’s very statuesque (and yes, I do mean to say that she is very tall!), and in my mind’s eye, I picture her in the dress and she looks every bit the part. I’m so looking forward to working with her and the costume directors and techs on this show! (One of whom I used to babysit, and who just won Best in Show in Costume Construction at the District Thespian Competition…now I feel old.)Cinderella Transformation Dress First Fitting

Anyway, stay tuned for more Cinderella transformation dress news as things develop. I figured a good old fashioned dress diary was the best way to handle this situation, so you can expect plenty of progress posts from here until March (because I will totally have this done on time.).

So what do you think of this dress? Would you jump at the chance to make it or are you a little less insane than I am?

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