Building an Audrey Wardrobe: Dresses

audrey buttonI love dresses, especially in the spring and summer. I don’t always make as much effort as I should to get up and get dressed every morning (or even most mornings)–a lot of the time, it’s the jeans from the evening before along with whatever clean tee was on top (of the drawer or the pile, whichever had more tees in it).  Not exactly killing it in the effort department a lot of the time.  I work from home, people.

But when I have a class to teach, or when I’ve got those precious extra few minutes to get ready during the day (or, let’s be honest, when all the jeans and tees are dirty and I have no choice), my first pick is to reach for a dress.  Easy to choose (only one thing to select!), easy to accessorize (a cardigan and shoes and you’re done!), and easy to wear (you look put together but it was actually easier than even jeans because you didn’t have to put two legs in!), dresses are also so great in the spring and summer when the weather is warm and you’ve already shaved your legs.  Keeping it real, y’all.

Audrey got dresses.  And maybe she had an unfair advantage, living in an age where women just didn’t wear “dungarees,” as my grandmother Miriam calls them (she took–and still takes, when she remembers–a very dim view of ladies in blue jeans; I suspect she didn’t see such ladies as particularly ladylike at all).  When societal expectations put you in a position of needing to wear something we might today consider “nicer” every day just to clean the house (pearls to vacuum, anyone?), you’re more likely to put some thought into your wardrobe.  And I think there’s probably a side conversation to be had at some point about the effect a SMALLER wardrobe has on your attitude toward getting dressed and how carefully you tend to your clothing, but today is not the day to have that conversation.  Today, we look at some awesome dress patterns and get ready to doll up our closets.

Look #1: classic sundress/meeting friends out and school functions



Audrey pink

What can possibly compare to the simple ease of the classic sundress?  It showcases a lovely fabric, looks casual and put-together at the same time, and the variations are pretty endless.  Audrey tended to prefer the full-skirted version over the more wiggle-dress shape, but I could go either way, depending on what my plans are for the day.  The full skirt lends itself a little bit better to relaxed gatherings, and since I have a larger bustline and virtually no hips, I like the way a full skirt balances my figure.  On dressier occasions, though, I have been known to opt for the wiggle factor with a straight skirt and a nipped-in waist to catch my husband’s attention.  Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you’re not dating, ladies.

Some ideas for achieving this look with patterns on the market right. this. second:

audrey sundress ideas

The Burda Sweetheart dress is available for instant download for a cheapity-cheap five bucks, and is a super cute sweetheart-neckline version with a bustier-style bodice.  This one has a straight skirt designed to be worn with a belt at the waist, to really emphasize those curves.  I love the idea of it in a really sophisticated red linen, because the classiness of that fabric tends to prevent too much sauciness from the shape.  The other style pictured here, Vogue 1340, is less of a classic sundress and more of a modern sleeveless number, but I think Audrey would approve.  The image here makes it look pretty office/church, but I think putting it in a really fabulous classic seersucker totally makes it a magical summer number–and imagine what the stripes would do with that neckline detail, am I right?  Right?

audrey sundress ideas 2

If you want more of a casual, updated sundress, the Sewaholic Lonsdale dress has a fantastic shape that would work–plus, it has this great neckline detail that’s totally lovely.  I’m picturing it in this lovely Alexander Henry cotton lawn, which is lightweight and floaty and so, so feminine.  For my body shape, I prefer the Jamie Christina Sunny Day Dress, which has a banded waistline to draw the eye in and some super pretty piping details.  And just for kicks, wouldn’t it be amazing in this absurdly cool Japanese cotton double-gauze in modern navy-and-citron?  Could you pee, it’s so gorgeous?  Definitely a splurge treat, but nothing could feel better in hot summer weather than double-gauze against your skin.

Look #2:  microprint jumper/picking the kids up from school and teacher meetingsAudrey jumper


Audrey mixed fabrics

I love a jumper.  And while it’t not necessarily a summery option in some climates, we have a loooooong season here–all the way from April to October, at least, and we are rarely wearing long sleeves before Halloween.  So the idea of extending a summer jumper into the tail ends of the season with a little tiny tee underneath is pretty appealing, and probably not too early-2000s yet.  Audrey could totally wear a jumper–it was her ingenue edge that made it possible, the little girl-ness of her that was so appealing, but she never looked like she was in a costume, just that she was modestly dressed, in ladylike fashion, but always fashionable and chic.  Very tight line to tread, and she did it effortlessly.  Might look a little less effortless on me, but I think these patterns will help do the trick:

Audrey jumper ideas

I know I promised not to use any pattern ideas that were vintage/out-of-print/hard-to-find, but this vintage McCall’s 8062 really illustrates what it is about Audrey’s jumpers that made them so great.  I don’t love the straight lines on the skirt as a sundress here, but it’s the bateau neckline that really makes this dress work–and that really set those Audrey outfits apart.  I love me a bateau neckline, y’all.  Imagine the neckline on the vintage pattern combined with the overall shape of Vogue 8723 and I think you’ll start smelling what I’m stepping in.  I love those micro-prints, too, like this one from Micro Mod (which is organic and lovely and designed by Alexia-Abegg-of-Green-Bee-Patterns husband) or this Liberty Stile Rennie–it’s a Liberty print in a quilt-weight cotton, so it’s a little crisper and will really hold those gathers and show off that neckline shape.  Yum.

Look #3:  collared and belted sleeveless dress/evenings out with the husband and family reunions

Audrey collared


Audrey w baby

Good grief, that top image, with the little turned-over collar and the tie belt??  Could you DIE??  And it seems to be in some kind of cotton lawn or softly washed linen or something lovely and European and delicious to wear (and to look at).  Summer perfection.  There are definitely times in the summer when I want to look nice: my husband invites me to join him at an event with his work colleagues, and I want to do him proud; we’ve got a family reunion or trip to the in-laws scheduled and I feel I ought to put forth more than my usual effort; or a concert in the park where there might be seating other than the grass, so I have the chance to look pretty.  Any of these styles would work in those situations:

audrey full gathered skirtI really like the Sewaholic Cambie dress, although I don’t think the shoulder treatment would play nicely with my body shape.  The skirt and darts, on the other hand, look super flattering, and I’d love to see it in something slightly crisper, like this cotton floral sateen–it would have more body to it, and a slight sheen that says evening event at the botanical gardens to me.  I also really like the details on this Simplicity 1652.  It says “Amazing Fit!” but I haven’t sewn it up, so I can’t attest to how amazing it is.  And that chain belt thing is gag, and would have to go–but the little side button mini-belts in the other version are completely adorable, and I love the cut-out back detail.  I envision this, in my fantasy world where money is no object, in an amazing Nani Iro double-gauze, because there is never a bad time for double-gauze.  LOVE.

Look #4:  mod sweater dress/travel and sightseeing, obvs

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer

Audrey winter wedding

Hello, cowl neckline!  Says “mod” and “chic” and “sophisticated,” all the things I would like my wardrobe to say without me having to work very hard.  I suspect that both the dresses in these images are knit–the top one looks like a two-way knit at least, maybe a wool jersey?  And the bottom one (I think it’s her wedding picture with her second husband) appears to be some kind of stable knit or double-knit.  Either way, they’re both darling!  The solid colors here really give them some reserve, but I’m thinking how fun this look would be to showcase a really great linen:

audrey cowl dress ideas

These are actually two different dresses.  The one on the left is Vogue 8886 and has princess seams to the collar and three-quarter sleeves.  The one on the right is Vogue 8667 and has princess seams to the armhole along with a really kicky pleated treatment on the skirt.  I’d love either of them in this fabulous Flower Circuit in aqua, from Anna Maria’s new linens that were JUST released and which are certain to cost me most of my (scant) retirement savings.  If you want a softer, more luxurious dress, I’m all aboard with this Liberty of London Tana lawn in a gorgeous pop color, like these bright summer floral tones.

Look #5:  classic shirtdress/running errands and casual days in an office

Audrey shirtdress


Audrey green suit

The shirtdress has had about a thousand incarnations and is constantly making a “comeback,” but like black, I don’t think the shirtdress was ever over.  Audrey wore the shirtdress well, and recognized that the button front could really break up the lines of your silhouette in a way that make for an interesting garment without having to be over-the-top.  Audrey did understated in a way that makes everything else seem gaudy–like we might maybe could all try a little LESS to be glamorous.  It’s deceptive, because I think her clothing was always of the highest quality, and so you can pull off solid colors and simple shapes when you’re using the best fabrics and good craftsmanship.  But that’s one of the joys of making your own clothing: you get to put in the time on a garment you know you’ll have for years, and splurge on fabric that you wouldn’t be willing to pay for if it were sewn up into a dress and marked up four or five times, and it fits you fabulously and looks like a million dollars but cost you under $50.  For the shirtdress, I’m digging these two:

audrey shirtdress ideas

For the collar-less version that Audrey is wearing above, I like the Megan Nielsen Darling Ranges dress, which is super easy to sew up and good for the advanced beginner/intermediate stitcher.  Can’t you just picture it in this organic Tsuru print in vermillion from Rashida Coleman-Hale?  Some really great buttons up the front, a simple hem, just the right clutch handbag?  It’s classy without being too serious, for times when you have 6000 errands to run or when you’re expected to be in a business casual environment but then have to transition to your home life, too.  If you prefer a shirtdress with a collar, I like Vogue 8785.  Very classic, relaxed collar with a clean button placket up the front.  This one has the option of more length, which I really like–the Darling Ranges is a bit too short right out of the package for my age taste.  Ahem.  I think any shirtdress in a really lovely menswear fabric is nice, or in something with a subtle edge, like a printed cotton shirting in navy (which is this year’s REAL Pantone color, Emerald be darned).  I like the purchased belt with these, too, but hardly ever wear that look–I think I might play around with the self-fabric ties, like on Audrey’s collared dress above.

I’ve thrown in a suited look here, too, for the same types of functions.  Maybe you have an office job and you want to Audrey that up a bit, too.  Audrey knew from suits.  I think she’d appreciate the quiet details here:

audrey classic suit ideas

This one is Vogue 8543, and while I like the jacket, it’s the seaming on the skirt that kills me, leading into those awesome pleats at the hemline.  So cool.  Easy enough to do in a classic summer fabric like linen, but I’m thinking more of a textured linen in a stone hue, because why do plain when you can do cool effects?  Or maybe get really wild and make it in a Melody Miller print in a linen/cotton blend.  Yeah, baby.

Look #6:  simple shift/dinner and a movie


George Cukor

Last look.  Audrey wore a lot of dresses.  And like I said, I think EVERYONE wore more dresses then.  They’re effortless and tasteful.  The shift is a breeze: it’s forgiving, it’s streamlined, it’s versatile, it’s flattering without being overly alluring.  It’s feminine but modest.  I love the shift.  And there are some great patterns out right now:

simple shift audrey ideas

You’ve got the brand-new Colette Laurel, which is clean and lovely and comes with more pattern variation ideas than you can shake a stick at.  I expect you could take the sleeves off this bad boy pretty simply, and make a nice sleeveless shift with pockets and cool details.  I would SO make this up in some of Ellen Baker’s Stamped in linen, the red scallops, because they’re dreamy.  And because I obviously have an issue when it comes to linen, and probably continue to live in the South so that I can wear as much linen as much of the time as humanly possible.  I also like the Lisette Diplomat dress, which has a nice yoke treatment that sets it apart.  This one already has a sleeveless version–no thinking!  Just use the pattern as designed!  I’d make it in the maxi version, I think, in something understated like this Robert Kaufman cotton/linen chambray, again in navy, because SERIOUSLY it’s the true color of the year.  You heard it here first.

Thank you, Audrey, for always having such perfect style, and for reminding us that dresses are for everyone in lots of circumstances.  Now to expand my wardrobe and my closet to make room for more of them!

 All pattern and fabric images via their respective manufacturers; see links for details.  All images of Audrey via weheartit unless otherwise noted.

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  • Lizzie
    April 11, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Thanks for such a delightful and pattern packed post! I admire those who both wear dresses and sew them for themselves. You give me hope with these simpler patterns, and a look at marvelous Audrey’s lifelong style with wearing them.

    • Deborah
      April 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      It is so fun to evaluate all the patterns that are out there while looking back at images of Audrey! Has really given me a different vision for how each shape and design could play out. If I get even 1/4 of these sewn in the next 12 months, though, I’ll be beyond proud of myself–so many possibilites! Glad you enjoyed!

  • Rachel at Stitched in Color
    April 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Some great links, Deborah. Thanks!

  • Karen Chatters
    April 14, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    My friend, you are knocking it out of the park with these posts! I can’t wait for your dresses e-course. I have the Laurel and the Lisette AND some double gauze and I’m completely ready to sew me some dresses!

  • Taryn
    April 30, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I am also really loving this series; like Karen, I have many of these patterns . . . mostly unmade. Had high hopes for the lisette dress, yet after a muslin I put it aside; it fit well right out of the box, but I didn’t feel it. But now, thanks to you, I SEE it! Between my fabric choice and cap sleeves, I looked as if I was trying very hard to, uh – look too young? Nix the sleeves, use a quality sophisticated solid (a deep teal linen? I would put linen in my coffee if I could, I love it so much) = so much better. And although I know you’ve got some dress patterns up your sleeve, I thought I’d share this dress, one of the first dresses I ever made, and the boatneck/bateau neckline bodice has become a TNT –
    Thanks for all your awesomeness – I’m sew looking forward to your summer dress class!