Wearability: sleeveless black dresses

Time for another review of how some of my projects have worn over the years. This time I’m looking at three different black dresses, all sleeveless.

The oldest is Vogue 1410, a Lynn Mizono design. I made it in 2014 and it’s still going strong. It’s a very clever pattern. The insides are finished beautifully with French seams and the hem is adjustable to four different lengths by way of buttonholes and buttons on the inside of the side seams. I added side seam pockets to my version but otherwise made it up as the pattern instructed, scorching my fingers pressing the tiny hems around the neck and armscyes.

Here’s the second shortest length. This is flattering but I find it is a bit too short for comfort most days. The shortest one is much too short to be wearable and the second longest doesn’t look good on me.

When I made this I didn’t expect I’d ever wear it at the longest length, but to my surprise I find this is the best of all. It reveals the lantern shape of the skirt and feels modern and architectural. But best of all it is easy to throw on, requiring no great thought about choice of footwear or matching with other pieces.

The dress has an elastic cord which pulls it in under the bust. When my son was small he found it soothing to play with, so wearing the dress now reminds me of him as a baby.

The black fabric is a little faded after six years; otherwise it’s in good condition. I’ll definitely remake this one when it finally falls to pieces. But I’m going to finish the edges with bias tape next time to save my fingers.

Next up is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. I’ve made this pattern many times, tweaking it in every iteration. This version is made from a dirt cheap mystery black scuba bought in the Birmingham Rag Market. It’s probably polyester with lycra.

It doesn’t show well in the photos but the pattern has lots of diagonal seamlines. This is a great pattern for colour blocking but I have preferred my solid versions. The scuba fabric is perfect for the style: thick enough to provide coverage but still with plenty of stretch. When I wear this I feel smart but still very comfortable. This version has become a staple for work days, especially in winter when I put a long sleeved black t-shirt and thick black tights under it.

I made the pattern again more recently in a grey ponte, slightly thinner than the scuba, and it’s not as good. The grey fabric is showing wear already. But the scuba is indestructible; a good thing because I think I’ll be wanting to wear the black dress for years to come.

The last dress of the three is the least successful. This is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. The pattern didn’t appeal to me on first release but then I read a few blogs where people raved about their versions. What sold me on it was the promise of an interesting shape that was still easy to wear. The bodice only attaches to the skirt at centre front and the rest floats free so it’s a summer-only dress.

I was very pleased with it when I finished it, but the weather turned just then and I didn’t get a chance to wear it until the following summer. And since then, for some reason, it has mostly stayed in the wardrobe. I think it’s a little too fussy for me. The bodice doesn’t stay in place particularly well, and the fabric is too warm to go with a sleeveless style. I normally like a garment with shoulder pads, but they don’t seem appropriate for the sort of hot sunny weather when I’d wear this.

I’m not sure what to do about this one. I probably should have made it out of linen and skipped the shoulder pads but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to part with it just yet so it will stay in the wardrobe a while longer while I try to come up with a way to wear it.

Stylearc Toni take two

Stylearc Toni 3/4 view

I don’t repeat patterns very often, but my first Stylearc Toni dress has been such a favourite that I made another. It isn’t a maternity style but it’s roomy enough to work over a bump without too much distortion. I’m trying to make regular patterns with plenty of room on them rather than maternity ones in the hope that they’ll still look OK after the baby arrives.

My original version was made up straight out of the packet but this time I made a few changes. The first dress is a bad length for me: it ends at the widest part of my leg which means I can’t take long strides because the dress is very narrow at the hem and it catches on my calves. That was my fault for not bothering to add any extra length to the pattern. I normally need to add 2-4 inches to dresses. This one’s supposed to end at the bottom of the calf so it probably needed four inches adding if not more. I was a bit short of fabric for the second version, so instead of lengthening it to the intended proportion I shortened it by four inches so it ends just below my knee. I’m really pleased with the way that’s come out. It’s comfortable to walk in and it’s more flattering than my previous version.

Stylearc Toni front view

The fabric is a lightweight viscose woven from Macculloch and Wallis. Right now it’s still available here. It drapes very nicely, which is good for the style, but I used very lightweight interfacing on the collar to go with the fabric and that was a mistake as it’s come out a bit too floppy. This is the same fabric I used the pink colourway of for my first Vogue 1482 dress. It is very comfortable to wear and although it’s lightweight it’s relatively easy to sew.

I lost the pocket piece from the original pattern and had to make a new one. Unfortunately I didn’t make it quite deep enough to be perfect. But any pockets are better than none. The position of the pocket is better on this version because I took out some of the length from the top half of the pattern, raising the pockets up a couple of inches.

Stylearc toni side view

Here’s the back view. Last time I said that the centre back seam could be eliminated, but I’m glad I kept it. I had trouble fitting the collar to the neckline on this version – I probably stretched the neckline out while handling – and having the seam allowed me to fix the mismatch by taking the dress in a little at the top of the centre back.

Stylearc toni back view

Clio made the great suggestion of adding a zip to the centre front seam for breast-feeding access. I increased the seam allowance on the centre front seam to half an inch (or 1.2cm; it was 1cm originally) and interfaced the seamlines to make inserting the zip easier. I also removed the seam allowance from what was originally the centre front seam of the neck facing pieces so I could use the all-machine method of applying facings to the top of the zip and neckline from Kathleen Fasanella’s centered zip tutorial.

Here’s a closeup of the zip, which also shows the collar worn down rather than up.

Stylearc Toni close up

An unexpected bonus: because the only black invisible zip I had on hand was a 24″ one I can put the dress on by stepping into it rather than pulling it over my head.

Since we took these pictures the weather in the UK has turned autumnal and I’ve been wearing this dress with leggings and my grey boiled wool kimono jacket. I’m hoping it will keep going all winter with enough layers. I can even see me making a third version of this one day; I’d like to try it in something really crisp like a cotton poplin to see what happens to those drapes.

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