Outfit for a 1920s party

Turns out you can get dolled up for a 1920s Great Gatsby party without spending heaps. As promised, here is my outfit and cost breakdown:

home made 1920s dress

The dress was made at home. Back then, dress cuts were simple; fashion was easily DIYed, and accessible to the middle and working classes. My hem work was hokey, but the garment stayed together for the night and I brought home a compliment or two.

  • $35 on dress fabric
  • 12 hours labour, spread over 5 days

black open toe high heels

The shoes were old faithfuls. Mary Jane heels would have been a closer style match, and sometimes you'll find them at op shops, but rarely for size 5 feet. Try your luck if you're a size 7 and above.

The stockings were plain black pull-up lace-tops, bought for a party years ago and packed in a sock box since.

  • $0, shoes already owned
  • $0, never throw out good stockings

knotted black beaded necklace

The jewellery was a multi-strand black seed bead rope with a knot, found at Good Sammy's. A string of pearls would have given a nice contrast, but the dress fabric was so busy with texture, I didn't mind going minimal on accessories.

  • $12 on secondhand necklace
  • 15 minutes in an op shop

finger waves and pin curls hairdo

The hair was a symphony of finger waves and pin curls, deftly crafted by Abbey and Libby at Rebecca Oates. All it cost was the complimentary voucher from my last haircut. It was a lucky coincidence for me, but a great lesson in timing.

If your salon gives you treats after a visit, schedule your normal appointment within a week of the party, then cash in those treats on the day. Otherwise, ask what styling they can do on a wash & blowdry service.

I also learned that finger waves and pin curls are among the first things a stylist learns in hair school. When it comes to salons who charge based on a stylist's seniority, you may get awesome enough hair value from a junior or middleweight.

  • $0, be smart (or lucky) with your vouchers
  • 30 minutes in the salon

shootin' the breeze with the ladies

The makeup was... passable. I'm not skilled here, but you get away with so much in the dark! I used a BB cream, brow pencil, lip liner and lip balm, already owned. Purchased new were a Maybelline Master Smoky (not masterful) and a Great Lash mascara (pretty great).

  • $20 on new things
  • 10 minutes in the bathroom

an old couple :)

Which brings us to a grand total of $67 for a whole 1920s outfit. w00t!

The gentleman had it better: $33. He already owned the hat (corporate freebie), jumper and shoes. Purchased were:

  • Shirt - $5
  • Pants - $5
  • Tie - $3
  • Socks - $20

I won't lie - this takes effort. I consider this too much effort for just a party, but as DIY experience and skills training, it was worth having a learning opportunity that integrates with normal life.

Key takeaways for me, and for fellow budgos, wombles, opportunists and crafters:

  • Get to know the theme, as there's probably something easy you can get away with.
  • Think this way: reuse > make > buy secondhand > buy new.
  • Learn to sew - it opens up a world of options.
  • Hit op shops where you can, but remember vintage fashion is in - serious shoppers, fashionistas and vintage boutiques are likely to have found the really good stuff already.
  • Get clever with time planning, free gifts, and vouchers.

Of course, if it's down to numbers, you can do even better by borrowing something. :)

1920s dress, "Katsby"

black pleated polyester shift dress with attached dropwaist sash

My latest experiment has been a 1920s style dress. The first social event at my new job is a Gatsby themed cocktail party. I didn't want to spend a lot of money, so decided it was time to learn to make clothes. Mum was my phone-a-friend all the way, talking me through every step. I learned so much from just this one basic project.

Turns out the 20s is a great era for one's first dress. Styles were simple enough for fashion to be produced at home. Both the wealthy and working class could party together and neither would know the difference. I immersed in Pinterest and found there's actually a lot of familiar stuff from that time. A portion of Downton Abbey is set in 1922. And some songs I grew up with - "Baby Face", "I Wanna Be Loved By You", "Singin' in the Rain" - were so hot back then.

black pleated polyester

Mum and I found a great material - a black pleated non-woven polyester, both tricky and forgiving for a beginner. I'll get to why in a sec.

making a dress pattern

Making a pattern came first. It took a whole afternoon, but Mum gave pro tips on doing it easy:

  1. Take body measurements.
  2. Make cardboard cutout of body measurements.
  3. Use cutout as a 'stencil' for pattern design.
  4. Draw the pattern.
  5. Cut.

patterns drawn from stencil

Here's the pattern for the front and back panels, drawn from the stencil (black line) and cut a half-inch out. This is the seam allowance, which is very important, don't get so engrossed in crafting that you forget it, which I very nearly did. Notice how it's only half a panel - we cut the fabric folded to save on effort (another pro tip from Mum).

pattern pinned to fabric, ready for cutting

Usually, you'd use tailor's chalk to mark cut lines on the material, but chalk wouldn't take to the polyester, so it was all pins and guesswork for me.

And this was one reason why this fabric was hard to work with. Keeping it loose while cutting, so the pleats wouldn't stretch out, was another. However...

fabric panels pinned together

Here are the panels pinned together. The cut was rough, asymmetrical and uneven, but you really have to look to be able to tell - most of the mistakes are hidden by the way the fabric behaves. So this is the payoff for the trickyness.

The rest of the story is straightforward, but let me highlight the interesting points:

top part of dress, showing gathers and tucked waist

Gathering the shoulders: To allow for fullness around the bust (even though I don't have a full bust), we gathered the shoulders. This tutorial shows how to do it on a basic sewing machine, but next time on a soft material like this, I would try hand-sewing the long stitches.

Tucked waist: Flapper dresses aren't supposed to have waistlines. Almost all the information I found reported shapeless garments in a post-war time of ditching tradition and corsets. But I would drown in a shapeless dress, so my version has a slight, loose-fitted waist.

satin dropwaist sash

Dropwaist sash: A key feature of 1920s dresses is the dropwaist, shifting waistline features to the hips and elongating the body. This dropwaist is accentuated by a satin sash attached by tiny hand-stitching. The tied part is loose for adjustable fit. I'm especially happy with this part, as it looks clever and deliberate, when really, it was an easier alternative to making a plain sash and getting it to sit straight. :)

Hems: Finally, the neckline and sleeves, were hemmed with tiny hand-stitching in strategic spots. I learned that making tiny stitches on a concave part of a pleat makes it all but invisible from normal distances. I would be most upset if someone could actually see them, because it means they're standing too close like a gawky creeper.

cat napping on a cushion

Here is Dora being helpful.

The experience of making this dress was transformative. I feel confident with this craft now. I have a cardboard cutout of my measurements to use in future projects. And I've had terrible eczema for the last two weeks - this has helped keep my mind off the misfortune, and scratching fingers off my skin.

All up, I spent $35 on fabric + 12 hours over 5 days on labour. The pattern was improvised from simple shapes, scrap newspaper and an old cardboard box. Still to go are shoes and accessories, and I'll share full styling details and cost breakdown for the entire outfit soon.

Project Hair: Day 86

hair - day 86

It's been a whole season, so let's recap - I'm growing my hair to donate to charity.

Donated hair gets cleaned and turned into wigs for women undergoing cancer treatment. There are salons and groups in Perth who can help with this kind of thing; I'm doing mine through Rebecca Oates because their senior stylist Abbey is incredible.

In 3 months, I've grown 4cm to get to the starting point, which roughly aligns with the half-inch per month estimated rate. 30cm to go!

I'm starting on kelp tablets today. As I don't have massive health problems or noticeable deficiencies, I'll probably only have one every few days, or one for a few days followed by a break. I'd much prefer eating actual kelp in food, but this is a lot of effort and probably comes with a lot of dressing and salty sauce.

Hair progress: 0cm
Rate since last check-in (day 0): ½" per month (expected)

We are ready to begin!

Designing Mum's garden

small garden patch with lettuce, peas and violets

Four weeks later, Mum's veggie patch is coming along! The soil is still sandy, but gradually improving, thanks to the rain, clay, and ever increasing amounts of organic things.

Lettuce is our main crop. The seedlings from Bunnings look like deliberate plants now, despite one being nibbled almost to death. Clover, grass weeds, and odd succulent looking things have sprung up. We'll transplant the succulents, and keep the clover for ground cover, but the grass can't stay.

lettuce plants

Buried between plants, in this bed and others, are small pockets of grass. We're hoping they'll decompose or get eaten, and over time improve the soil. I'm not sure how effective this is, as composting is better with air, but we'll see. It was either this or chucking them away, and there's no sense wasting good organic matter.

dwarf pea plants

As a secondary crop, we planted dwarf peas. They're now four weeks old and growing strong. Ideally, they'll grow up the trellis and make this area elegant.

The square-ish patch behind the lettuce is home to very young mustard greens. Fingers crossed they make it and become delicious.

Just to the left is a worm bungalow - a mostly-buried plastic flowerpot with exit holes cut in the side and bottom. Worms may enjoy kitchen scraps in the bungalow, and explore the rest of the garden at their leisure. As a lid, we're using a mesh frypan cover, but will switch to plastic if this starts to rust.

There's now a footpath where it's safe to walk, ie. no plants, no worms. It's basic for now, but we can transform this. The path is marked using old stems from a banana tree - pruned, then hacked into strips. So primitive, so satisfying, so Minecraft. :)

Behind the footpath is my ginger plant. Not looking happy, but I expect it'll pick up as the weather warms. It's been bloody cold here in Perth lately, even though we're past the winter solstice.


Finally, we added violets to make the place look nice. I tell myself adding any life is good for the soil, which I'm sure it is, but the immediate benefit is psychological. It's inspiring to see pretty things. Seeing them grow and bloom makes me feel like we're making progress - otherwise I'm just guessing and hoping. In this way, flowers can be functional.

At some point, we'll plant strawberries in the hanging basket. I'm really proud of this space. Just 3 fortnightly sessions, and it feels like this wee patch could become something delightful.

Sewing an apron

Sewing an apron is completely different to being any good at it. I might take it to show Mum tomorrow. She could use a laugh.

It's nice to finally have the apron finished! Even if it's a mess. Let us count the ways...

apron from front with faults highlighted

Fit is awkward, despite the body being made to measure. This is partly due to fabric choice (calico), partly to placement of the straps. The waist straps are too low to sit on the waist, yet too high to sit around the hips, so the torso part puffs out. Better to have picked slightly higher or lower than middling like this.

The neck straps are too far apart, and warp the shape when tied around the neck. They either need to be closer OR made longer so they can be tied cross-back to the waist. Cross-back still sort of works because I am short, albeit a tangle.

a frayed knot

I thought it would work to sew the straps and turn them inside-out, but I'm... afraid not. ;D They were much too narrow. Raw edges should be all right for now. Maybe I can seal them with a PVA + water solution. Maybe later.

triangle shape to secure a neck strap

Straps were secured with triangles and squares. There was much pivoting of fabric in the armpit of my machine.

I am pleased to be reacquainted with my Brother after all these years. We may not have made beautiful garment together, but we are on speaking terms again.

A normal sized (baby) carrot

baby carrot on windowsill

I pulled from the ground our first normal sized carrot. (It's small because it's a baby carrot.) And it was bitey! I regret not planting a whole garden bed full of these now - they would be great as carrot chips. Oh well, maybe next year.

Apart from visiting my mum's garden, I have been horticulturally lazy. The cold weather makes it unenticing to spend time outside, the rainy weather makes it unnecessary. My garden is doing splendid without me - almost too splendid. As daylight approaches summer durations, I shall find all the weeds to contend with.

Rrgh, fine, more organic things to nourish the soil.