Grace Kelly meets the Gladiator

Grace Kelly, red dressMy challenge for New Year was to re-create a vintage outfit.

Doing the daily routine, school runs etc, in slightly distressed vintage is all well and good, and indeed can add to the outfit, but sometimes there are occasions when the evidence of ageing just won’t do. The added advantage of making an outfit from scratch is making it to your size, particularly since the majority of my vintage finds are a tad on the small size. I comfort myself that it’s just evolution – we are obviously just getting bigger!

I really enjoyed making this outfit – so much so that I thought it would be a great idea to make it a monthly “to-do”!

So here starts a new adventure – with a few weddings coming up this year – it will be a great incentive to delve into the ever-growing collection of vintage patterns and get stitching. It will be called Recreating Vintage.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, when Hollywood was perhaps at it’s most glamorous, it was very common to find patterns that were inspired by specific movie stars (those featured below are from So Vintage Patterns). Everyone wanted to have the dress from the latest film and, of course, in those days there were very few off the peg outfits and most women sewed.

In the 1950’s, there seems to have been a decline in these kinds of patterns, I would imagine due to the fact that womenswear was beginning to be mass produced.

vintage dress patternVintage dress pattern, Betty Grablevintage dress pattern, Carole LombardHollywood dress pattern

Thankfully there are still patterns, if not specifically inspired by films, that show the styles used in the 1950’s films. The outfit that I made was inspired by Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”. I wanted to re-create the beautiful V neckline in the very famous dress Grace wears at the beginning of the film.

Grace Kelly, Rear Window, back viewGrace Kelly, Rear Window

Designed by the fabulous Edith Head, Hitchcock wanted “the audience to know immediately that Lisa was a woman who came from wealth. A dress “fresh from the Paris plane’ was how Lisa described her dress, with a fitted black bodice and a deep off-the-shoulder V neckline atop a full skirt to mid-calf, gathered and layered in chiffon tulle”.* The V neckline was an important feature as Edith wanted to make sure the the neckline was kept very simple so that Grace’s face was framed by it for the all important close-up.

So I started with two patterns, one which is a fabulous Very Easy Vogue skirt pattern (V8749), and a stunning 1950s original pattern from my favourite vintage patterns site So Vintage Patterns.

very easy vogue, skirtPattern, grace kelly, rear window, top

I managed to find this rich rust fabric – with a texture almost like thick silk. The skirt was incredibly straightforward. However, there was a lot of fabric, as I wanted to make the skirt longer than the one that Grace wears, floor length, in fact.

The top was more troublesome. Interestingly, at my sewing class, the teacher mentioned that the sizing in patterns hasn’t changed since the 1950’s and, if you look at the actual measurements of various patterns, you’ll realise that what is today’s size 12 in the shops, is considerably larger than a 1950’s size 12 dress pattern. Needless to say I had do a little creative sewing and I had a slight issue with the difference between darts and tucks – but I got there in the end.

This was the result – complete with the most beautiful accessory of all!

Grace Kelly, red dressRed dress, Grace Kelly, back viewGrace Kelly, red dress

Talking of accessories, I bought the belt at a vintage fair but it was (again!) too small – so I took off the ribbon and replaced it with a deep red grosgrain ribbon from VV Rouleaux and a gold lace overlay (also purchased from a vintage fair), which matched perfectly with the gold butterfly design of the buckle. I must say I’m quite impressed with the result and will certainly be looking for more vintage belt buckles in the future.

1930s belt, Gold Butterfly, Grace Kelly, Red Dress1930s belt, gold butterfly, Grace Kelly, Red Dress1930s belt, gold butterfly, Grace kelly, Red Dress

Another fantastic accessory are these 1930’s clips – they can be used in so many ways. I bought a set of four on ebay for a mere £5 and I have used them here ,on the front and the back of the dress, and also as earrings. You could also use them on shoes (although you’d have to be a little careful not to lose them)!

1930s clips, brooches, Grace Kelly, Red dress1930s clips, brooches, Grace Kelly, Red dress

When I first put the whole outfit on, I was actually quite taken aback at the strength of the colour. The length of the skirt put a completely different spin on the outfit. In fact it spoke of a different era altogether. It reminded me of a Veronica Lake 1930’s number – perhaps even earlier – perhaps a few good centuries earlier! Was it the colour or the cut?

It then came to me, later in the weekend, after watching Gladiator with my son, for his “Roman’s” project. There is Lucilla in a rich red heavily embellished dress. Absolutely stunning and with gold accessories, quite reminiscient of my own creation. I managed to find this beautiful illustration from the promotional shots.

Lucilla, gladiator, red dressLucilla, Gladiator, red dress

So I have created a cross-breed!

Was I disappointed that the outfit didn’t quite match my initial objective? Not really. The whole effect is more slinky than it would be if I shortened the skirt and I am a long-skirt-kind-of-girl. But that’s always an option and, what the hell, I might even need to make another one – just for 1950’s sake!

Grace would have made an incredible Lucilla – and ironic that the epic proportions of the film are very similar to those of the 50’s. Not sure James Stewart has the tough-guy appeal as Maximus though!

So there we have it. Grace Kelly meets the Gladiator!

* Taken from Edith Head by Jay Jorgensen – available at Amazon


  1. Becca Jukes

    So is there no end to your talents?? A fabulous creation in a stunning colour, the shot of you looking into the mirror is very LA Confidential, Miss Basinger would be proud.

  2. This outfit is gorgeous (and I should know as I was there every step of the way with the skirt!- talk about needing a large cutting out table!) I think your right about the fabric being perfect. There’s something very elegant and unusual about that colour. Very classic without being obvious and the way it moves like satin but is thicker and heavier. You’ll be able to wear it forever as it’s so timeless.
    I have to say that Buffy the cat makes the ultimate accessory!

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