Thursday, September 6, 2012

Robe de Style Recap

If you've been following my exploits on Twitter, you know that I created a robe de style dress for a party my husband and I threw to celebrate our anniversary. We rented The Russell Room, a small cigar lounge inside Bourbon & Branch (a fantastic cocktail bar in San Francisco that was once a speakeasy). We asked our guests to dress in the style of the 1920's to keep with the overall feeling of the location - and that meant I had to find the perfect outfit.

The Russell Room inside Bourbon & Branch

Though I love the fashion of the 1920's, most of the dresses were not flattering on women with busts and hips. The trend back then was to bind an ample bosom down to boyish proportions while wearing a girdle-like corset contraption to tame wide hips. Lucky for me, the robe de style dress was a perfect choice given my shape. It was first created by Jeanne Lanvin, and coveted by women who didn't want to wear the uber-short dresses that were then fashionable. Whether or not it's truly the case, I like to think of the robe de style as evidence of a prolonged affection for all things Edwardian. It's a more streamlined and comfortable version of the frou frou gown of the teens, yet retains all the trappings of the prior decade's girliness: ruffles, faux flowers, bows.

I just had to find a pattern that would work... and sadly, there were not many options online. Then I found this lovely creature on eBay. Not quite the right size, damaged and too pricey, but luckily the seller took a million pictures and the body looked easy to mimic.

The finished product

I had a wonderful time working on this project. I got to play around with from-scratch pattern drafting, an unholy amount of gathering, and a rustling Thai silk that smelled like heaven and still makes me swoon when I see it.

Faux flowers, pleats galore and a silk organza hem

For the flower flourish up front, I visited The Ribbonerie. The owner, Pauline, helped me find the perfect spray of vintage German blossoms. I was hoping to get something similar to the original, but had to keep reminding myself that the color and limpness of the 1920's version was due to patina and was unlikely to be replicated. The flowers I picked were as close to perfect as I was going to come with only a week to go.

Dress back and pleating close-up

Even though the misplaced darts on the original dress suggest it was photographed backwards, I couldn't resist keeping the flowers up front, and I loved the idea of the back pleating mimicking the shape of a derrière.

The bodice was a cinch to make - two pieces with four long sashes that tie at the natural waist and cinch above each hip. The skirt was cut double wide, copiously pleated, then sewn into the front and back torso panels before stitching them together. I also finished the hem in a papery silk organza, just like the original. Unlike the original, though, I bias bound the neckline and created wider straps so I'd be able to wear a regular bra underneath.

Jewelry from Etsy, Haute Bride and vintage stores around San Francisco,
1930's evening shoes from Torso Vintages

And if I was going to pull this whole thing off, I had to accessorize like a flapper too: with a bucket of bling. I pulled every sparkly thing I had in my possession, including the necklace I wore for my wedding. What I didn't already have, I snagged off Etsy. Shoes proved to be more difficult to find, but I lucked out and found a pair in need of repainting. They turned out to be wickedly uncomfortable and I kicked them off an hour into the party (see below). I faux-bobbed my hair and gave myself a half-moon manicure. All set!

In action

I love this entry on the flapper from Wikipedia:
Flappers were a "new breed" of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.
True to Flapper style, I was so preoccupied with doing my own version of the Charleston and drinking Revolvers that I never settled down for some refined photographs, but so be it. There's always Halloween!


  1. Yowza! What an incredible creation. I'm a sucker for pleating.

  2. This is gorgeous, maybe even better than the original! Just the inspiration I needed to get sewing today.

    1. Erin, thank you so much! It was a really fun (yet time consuming) project - all the best ones always are. ;) Hope your sewing went well!

  3. Selection of clothing and fashion is an important thing, as we have to go with the flow of nature. The most important thing is convenience. You will put on a dress what is effective for you and less harmful. So, wearing a suit in hot summer noon, how logical is this!! Of course it's depends on anyone willing but it must be avoid when you don't be formal. Here is to inform you about a fashionable dress, short white dresses

  4. It’s a good sharing! There are many different styles tempting robes on sale in the store online