How to get what you see: Gilda

What an inspiration this movie was! There is a ton of ground to cover here since my original post had so many images. If you want the total look, you clearly need to start with the hair. I’m sorry to say I can’t help you there. I have hopelessly curly hair. If you want a Shirley Temple or Ronald McDonald look, I’m your woman. But for Gilda’s look you need brushed out volume and enormous hot rollers. Sorry- that’s the best I can do. For the clothes, first up is the robe. I actually want to start wearing prettier nightwear myself- not hard to improve my standard sleepwear of flannel pants and a cotton T. The important details about the robe are the wide off-the-shoulder neckline with ruffles, semi-sheer fabric, and contrasting sash. Check out KwikSew pattern 2767:

Kwik Sew 2767

The sleeves, of course, will need to be lengthened, and you could add a ruffled cuff and some lace or ribbon details, but the idea is there. Or if you are less inclined to sew such an item for yourself, try searching “pretty lingerie” and see what comes up for sale- I saw a few viable options. Next up, that cocktail dress.

Simplicity 3503

Now this is not exact, but in spirit it’s spot on. We’ve got the deep V neck and dolman sleeves. The waistline is in the right place, even if the original didn’t actually have a waist band. To make it more like the original, try shrinking the skirt pieces so they are slimmer to just above the knee. This will be complicated by the under-bust gathers. You can reduce them by comparing the width between the gathering dots on the waistband to the width between the gathering dots on the skirt. Eliminate the difference between the two on the top of the skirt piece, and it should fall straight. You may need to do some grading if there are side seams so there is a smooth transition down the thighs. Cut those initial pieces so they go to just above the knee, then cut separate pieces that are more flared to go beneath that to your ankle (or the floor). You’ll need to do some gathering or pleating to transition between the two. Adding contrasting trim at the neck, sleeves, and knees is the simplest part. For fabrics, you’ll probably have to shop around- try JoAnn’s, Hancock, and whatever else you have locally (I am blessed to be close to a couple of G Street Fabrics locations). Keep an open mind and look at not just sequined fabric, but also lamé and glittered organza- whatever you get should have a decent amount of stretch, because that’s what this pattern was designed for. If you live near New York or LA, I am completely jealous, and you should make your way into the fashion district- most shops there will sell to the public, and you’ll have a lot more options than the rest of us.

Vogue 2962

Gilda’s gambling halter gown is theoretically simple- the bodice, at least, can be closely enough matched by any of the Marilyn Monroe Halloween costume patterns, or this Vintage Vogue pattern (if you ignore the fact that the model looks like that trashy woman from Dirty Dancing). For the skirt, you’ll need to do a lot of improvising. I would suggest cutting whatever skirt the pattern comes with, reducing some of the fullness at the gathers if you can. Add extra length to get to your ankles and buy 2 or 3 extra yards of fabric to play around with the draping from front to back through your legs. Do some pinning and basting, and make sure you walk around in your creation before you put in your final seams. If you are less confident with that idea, try pairing your bodice with a harem pants pattern, or even easier, just add some slits to the front and/or sides of strategic lengths. In the harem pants vein, for the belt you could start with a coin belt typically worn by belly dancers, just be warned that you will be the noisiest, dancingest girl at the party. Alternatively, search “chain belt” and see what comes up- and consider layering whatever you find. I came up with this gorgeous piece at Nordstrom- it’s only $23.90. In my dreamworld, I would buy 3- two for my waist and one for my wrist. You could also try sites like Bluefly, Net-a-porter, Ideeli, and Sam Moon. If you’re feeling particularly DIY, head to Home Depot, pick up a few feet of some different kinds of chains and link them together using O- or D-rings.


For Gilda’s guitar-playing dress, I have to say I have never seen anything like the construction of this bodice. If I were going to try to recreate this, and believe me I’m tempted, I would start with a top or dress that has a standard round or crew neck and long dolman or kimono sleeves, at least elbow-length. I would make the top as instructed and add enormous detachable shoulder pads. Then, working on my dress form, I would pin up the excess sleeve fabric into the pleats you see on her dress, remove the shoulder pads, make the pleating permanent, and stick the shoulder pads back in. I would also slash the neckline and add lining or facing to keep it seamless, and add in a couple of hooks and eyes to reduce gaping at the cleavage. The skirt is really simple- either just cut your top pieces to knee-length, keeping as much fullness as you can, or construct a separate skirt, since the seamline is going to be hidden by a belt anyway. If I knew where to get that exact belt and bracelet set, I would own them already. I’m scouring the standard fashion sites, and also trying “studded belt”, “studded bracelet”, and “studded cuff” as search terms, foiled by the fact that everything studded is punk and favoring black over brown. The double buckle is pretty key to the look. This is a not-terrible approximation from Bluefly, but I’m going to keep looking. If you find something better, please comment and tell me!!

Melamed Belt from Bluefly; if the link doesn't work, the belt is probably gone

I’m not going to go into each of the 4 looks in my little montage- if you want more info on any of the looks, let me know in the comments and I can add more. I’m going to focus on the appliqué work on #3, because, well, that’s what I like best. The easiest thing, of course, is to find an actual appliqué for sale, fuse or sew it to some sheer fabric and line that with nude fabric. The problem with that is that it is probably impossible to find that exact appliqué . My approach would be to get the dress made first, including a full bust. Find some clip art of a simple line drawing of a rose or a vine, or some combination of the two. If you are artistic, you can freehand it. I used “rose vine clip art” as a search term and came up with this.

Rose Vine Clip Art for Applique

I would then trace my clip art onto some scrap sheer fabric, working on my completed dress on my dress form. I would work carefully on the placement and weaving around the bodice, probably with some freehand required, making sure that the fabric doesn’t bunch at all, but rather lies smooth against the actual dress. You’ll also want to be sure that in whatever design you come up with, all the lines are connected and anchored to the rest of the design, otherwise those orphans will be lost later in the process. On the dress I would tuck down one of the bust cups, and make a partial replacement cup out of nude fabric, so the actual base is ready for the appliqué . This is where things start to get tricky, because I’ve never actually done this. Perhaps I’ll try following my own instructions and make a tutorial to post in the next few days… Anyway, for the appliqué  itself, you’ve got your template on the scrap fabric. Pick up some single-strand sequin trim from your local craft or fabric store. Lay super lightweight fusible interfacing over your template glue side down, and begin glueing the sequin trim to the back side (non-glue) of the interfacing using a permanent fabric glue in the pattern of your line drawing. Give the glue lots of time to dry and when it’s done, cut out all around the sequins so you have an open-work appliqué. If you are worried about the pattern distorting due to lack of base support, you’ve got fusible interfacing right there, so you can fuse your appliqué to a stabilizing fabric before you attach it to the bodice. I would probably refrain from doing that, because it’s going to add bulk to the final look and I’m not too comfortable ironing over sequins, even with a fabric barrier between the iron and the appliqué. Once you have your appliqué all cut out, you should have your design in sequins, with nothing else visible. Get to work hand-sewing it onto your bodice, and if your bodice fabric and the sequins can take it, fuse the appliqué on for added longevity. I’m intensely curious to see if this will work, so I’ll try it and let you all know.

Ok. Whew! Last up we have the bombshell Mame look. Let’s start with the important details and see how close we can get using a modern approach. The cone bodice really just isn’t going to fly for most women- approximate the look in a more flattering way by finding a sweetheart neckline, perhaps in a bustier-style bodice. The skirt is mostly straight, with a slit that starts front and center mid-thigh, and the skirt sweeping away slightly from that, so it opens up as you move. It’s almost like a super-vampy sarong dress. The fabric you choose is going to have a huge impact on the fluidity of the dress- I recommend splurging on a true silk charmeuse to get that liquid sex look.

Modern interpretations of Gilda's Mame look

I would normally say that strapless is a really important element- your audience needs to be convinced that your top just might fall at any moment, but Vogue 1016 has some other good things going for it. The fit of the bodice is spectacular, and I love the flare of the skirt. If you look at the pattern, the skirt has some seaming that could make a center above-the-knee slit very feasible, and the skirt should fall just like the original. I like Vogue 2929 for different reasons. The fit of the bodice is actually probably more true to the original, the faux wrapping begs for that enormous bow, and the back sweep of the skirt is really beautiful. The pattern is also designed to allow you some maneuvering room with panels for complimentary fabric, and even though the slit is a side slit, it’s better than none at all. It’s important to note that in the original look, Gilda has above-the-elbow matching gloves, which she strips off while singing, and only one piece of jewelry- a really simple diamond choker. Let your body take center stage in this dress and don’t overpower it with accessories. I found one vintage pattern that would work really well, if it’s available and in your size- and look, the model is even posing like Gilda. You would only have to adjust the length.

Vintage Butterick 6056

One final word- if you don’t like to sew, I’m surprised you’ve kept reading! However, I have some suggestions even for you. If you want any of the looks you’ve read about here, and aren’t equipped to make them on your own, look around at your local universities and community colleges. See if any of them have any fashion major options. Get in touch with someone at the college- you can usually find some responsible adult online. Ask that adult to refer you to a student who would be willing to do some side work. Set up a meeting with the student, come with a clear idea of what you want and what you can afford to spend, and do some negotiating. Try to be as generous as you can- support the local economy and keep a student from starving. You’ll need to work out times when the two of you can go fabric shopping, and fitting times as well. Just think though- if it works, you’ll probably be forming a lifelong relationship with someone who understands your style and can provide you with custom looks relatively inexpensively. The more expensive version of all this is, of course, to find a local dressmaker- search craigslist and other local listings to see if you can dig someone up. Place an ad yourself saying that you are looking for a dressmaker- you should get at least a few responses.

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