I give almost all my dresses names. Sometimes they’re named after people, sometimes places: there was the romantically inspired ‘Ewan dress’, my two ‘Philippa’ dresses, the ‘Florence’ wardrobe, the ‘Italian wonder dress’ … and this here be the rather more prosaically named (and poorly photographed) ‘Cambridge Reunion Dress’. This weekend my old college held a ten-year reunion dinner (ten years since we matriculated, not graduated – not that old yet!). J and I (it’s where we met, 9 years before we started dating … but that’s another story) were back in the old haunt, primped and preened for the black tie event. Whilst J went to the extravagant lengths of ‘trying on his black tie the day before to check it still fits’, for me the planning for ‘the outfit’ began, ahem, about a zillion years ago – I’d probably begun to plan this before I’d even left the college. Not that that made me noticeably more organised than my usual lastminute.com self.
I had this fantasy of recreating a beloved now-deceased Topshop dress, a dark Christmas green backless number with a bow at the base of the back V, this time in a primrose yellow silk taffeta. But could I find a primrose yellow silk taffeta? Nuhuh. Years ago my mum had come across some ‘somewhere near Edgware Road’, and made my sister the sweetest little dinner dress with it, but yellow wasn’t going to be my lucky colour this time round. The resulting fabric/shade dilemma required a full family outing. The three of us squeezed into the dupion and brocade corner of Broadwick Silks (if you’ve never been here it’s worth it for the window displays alone) and very quickly I realised that my second choice of cool lilac was going to be outvoted, 2 to 1. For my mother had spotted the very same brocade that she and my sister had recently used to craft a dress for my sister’s Oxford college gaudy (also a reunion dinner), only this time in aqua green instead of Amy’s identically-patterned pink. Tbh I wasn’t completely convinced, but the prospect of furthering our twin-dom (my sister and I are three years apart, but constantly mistaken for twins) was irresistible to all three of us. Aqua green it was.
I mashed up a few different patterns to recreate the Topshop dress. And I made a muslin – which I never usually do – so GO ME! I have scoliosis (lateral curvature of the spine – it’s really fun. Not.) so I’m rather more asymmetrical than your average human, and this made drafting the two back pieces quite a challenge.
Bought my perfectly colour-matched lining and zip in the wondrous place that is the Balham Sewing and Craft Superstore – what joy is therein! I’d considered using silk for the lining because it would be soooo luvverly and luxe, and because I hate the way synthetic lining doesn’t let your skin breathe. But – budget. And actually, with the synthetic lining, the dress came together like a super smooth smoothie. The brocade frayed like it was trying to unravel for its life, but everything bar the skirt side and back seams is now firmly sealed inside the lining, and god help it if it tries to escape now.
The most fun part was the cheeky bow on the back. In my opinion it gives it a Mad Men-esque vintage feel, whilst doing a marvellous job of concealing my imperfectly matched waistband. I made the bow out of two strips – one very long and one short – both sewn into tubes. The long was folded several times to make the bow, with its tails hanging down, whilst the short was stitched into itself to make the ring. Then I hand-stitched the bow into place on the left-hand side of the waistband, and stitched some handy little poppers onto the right-hand side of the waistband and bow. Ergo the bow works as a flap across the zip! Except I stupidly placed and sewed the poppers when the dress was lain flat, and of course it was a whole different ballgame with the dress actually on my not-so-flat body.
Accessories were a pair of gold glitter courts and a matching box clutch, with extravagantly long gold earrings from Oasis, which lend the outfit a hint of Tang dynasty… And let me tell you, I love this outfit! I mean, I love all my cocktail dresses, but one that manages to hug the curves and flash some flesh whilst remaining demure and exotic – well.
On the night the dress was a winner. Lots of ‘where’d you get your dress’ compliments, and no one seemed to notice that I kept having to re-popper the bow in place (hmmm, something to think about for next time – bigger poppers? Any ideas welcome!). In fact, the night itself was so ridiculously fun that J and I completely forgot our plan to take lots of glam photos, and so tragically there is no record of this fabulous outfit’s first outing. Nor am I likely to get another location as lovely as a fifteenth-century college in May – goshdarnit! So we’ll have to make do with these terrible hallway selfies for now.