15 Oct 2013: Making it Work (a dress modification tutorial)

Today began like most of my days: grumpy and reluctant to get out of bed. Of course, being a normal day, and being female, I still want to look fabulous even if I’ve only left myself 15 minutes before I have to run out the door.  As my own figure is currently curvier than usual, this season I’m going to be featuring my favorite “curve-enhancing” dresses.
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.50 #4

Today I’m wearing no makeup, just red lipgloss. I threw on a black T-shirt and black leggings from Topshop which have a faux-leather stripe up the side.  This would be a very risky choice for a 40-something Mum on a morning school run, but by wearing them under boots and a dress, you can only see an inch or two of them at my knees.  It’s just a hint of my inner bad mamma jamma.

I’ve accessorized with a bad-hair-day beret and a pop of red in 3 places: the belt, the bag, and the necklace (Topshop).  The boots are by Fly London, much loved, and are at least 5 years old.

This dress is one of my favorites.  It’s a snakeskin-printed jersey by Malene Birger.  Yes, it was expensive (about $200), but I invested in it so that I can not only wear it, but study the construction in order to make variations for myself.  However, the dress was not designed to be worn with a belt, which is a problem for me.

Mostly because without the belt, it looks like this:

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 10.29 #2
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 10.29 #3

Not so much classy as gassy.

Look, if you’re a skinny girl, you look great in almost anything. If you’re broad up top with thin hips and no waist, this could be an excellent look for you. If you have a prominent belly, this will make you look pregnant. If you are pregnant, look no further!

However, if you’re hourglass or pear-shaped, this dress as purchased is one of the worst things you can put on your body. Unless you think “sack of potatoes” is a good look for you.

Now the easiest solution to my dilemma is, of course, to simply throw a belt over it:

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 10.56 #2 Photo on 15-10-2013 at 10.56

This may look ok to most people, but as a stylist and appreciator of fine design, this solution hides the amazing draping of the dress and ruins its lines.  Plus it creates a weird floppy bit at the waistband and some poofiness on the belly.

Fortunately for myself and Ms Birger, I immediately saw the potential in this dress, and it was an obscenely easy fix:

I cut a hole in it.

I felt your bum cheeks clench just then. Yes, I paid $200 for a dress which didn’t suit me and promptly cut a hole in it. That’s why I’m here people, to show you why that is not COMPLETELY INSANE.

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.54 #2
The draping on this dress is achieved by making a deep fold at the front, and stitching it in place at the bust.  The fold is so deep that it goes down almost to the waist (well, it would be to the waist on most people, but not on me).
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.51 #3

Using my hand, while wearing the dress and standing, I found my waist and located a spot under the draping where a belt could go (you don’t want a gaping hole to be visible). Still standing up straight, I made a mark with a piece of chalk here (you need to use something which is visible but will wash out).  I then took the dress off and carefully cut along my mark, but straight on the grain of the fabric (if you look at a T-shirt, you’ll see very tiny lines in the direction the fabric was knit – I mean that I tried to cut along one of those lines, rather than cutting across them. This helps keep the hole neat).  Keep in mind that you can always make a hole bigger, but you can’t make it smaller, so cut conservatively.  This fabric does not fray or develop runs like pantyhose, so if you’re feeling lazy, you can actually leave the edges unfinished.

I then put the dress back on and put a belt through the hole on one side, and through the deep inside fold so it came out in front. Unfortunately I am so long-waisted that this either pulled the neckline down or the belt got pulled up to my lower ribs.

So I had to cut another hole.
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.52 #3
In this photo you can see the fold on the left (where my thumb is) and the new hole I cut just to the right, a inch or two below the fold.  I repeated the same procedure as before, by marking the spot while wearing the dress standing up (this time ensuring it matched up with the hole I’d already cut in the other side).  I then took the dress off and carefully made the cut along the grain.

Ideally, I will pin the two cut holes to each other and whip-stitch the unfinished edges together, like a buttonhole. This will not only finish off the edges, but it will pull the two holes together, ensuring that they are always concealed under the drape, even if I should ever wish to wear the dress without a belt (although I can’t imagine why).

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.51 #2



Suddenly the dress makes me look like Gina Lollobrigida.

Bigger boobs and hips become an asset when contrasted with a smaller waist.

Trust me, I do NOT look like a corseted Greek goddess with my clothes off.  I actually think I look more like that sack of potatoes. It’s a glorious illusion.
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.52 #4




Furthermore, the belt now emphasizes my waist WITHOUT interfering with the fabulous draping, which hangs free.  It’s a really cool effect.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.53





Allowing the draping to hang free also ensures that the draped folds on the lower belly are extremely flattering, hiding any little tummy lumps or baby-pouch issues.

When the belt was placed OVER the drape, these folds were pressed down at the waist and popped out over the belly, giving the opposite effect, and actually making the belly look bigger.

Now they just look sexy.










Here’s what it looks like from the back and from the side:

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.53 #3


Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.54




As a bonus, here is a photo of me wearing this same dress out on a date night with my husband earlier this year, styled slightly differently.

This time it’s accessorized with a massive green and gold statement necklace (Topshop summer clearance, significantly modified by me) and a gold and elastic belt from Oasis.  Apparently I didn’t have time to scale down to a grown-up clutch that night, as I’m still carrying my gigantic yellow Mom bag.  Two-tone shoes add a touch of whimsy.

I promise I do not wear a beret EVERY day… despite the evidence from the photos.

This dress is fully machine-washable and is incredibly comfortable.  Why are you still wearing jeans?  I promise you, if you have any curves, if you have a more womanly figure, jersey-knit dresses are more flattering, MORE comfortable, and just as easy to wear.

Photo on 15-10-2013 at 09.54 #3



Finally, let me put the spotlight on the great necklace I’m wearing today which I picked up at Topshop (Oxford Circus) a few weeks ago.  It came as a set of two: this one and another much longer with a clear perspex-backed medallion.  It was only £28 for the set and I’ve worn both pieces a lot since getting them.  I couldn’t find this exact piece on the website (bummer), but I highly recommend checking them out for some high-impact, low-cost costume jewellery.  Go on, be a bit bolder!  Try something new!

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