Get What You See: The Lady From Shanghai

First up- the polka dot dress Rita wore for her carriage ride through the park. The important details are: short sleeves that are dolman-draped and caped in the back, sweetheart neckline, belt loop design detail at the true waist, and semi-full skirt. My initial thoughts on the sleeves are this: find a dress pattern that includes front and back princess seams, and you can cut custom sleeves that embed into those seams. I don’t think we’re going to be able to find a pattern that gives you these exact sleeves. Sweetheart necklines are becoming increasingly easy to find within the major pattern collections, but may be harder to identify when you also consider the need for the princess seaming- so I’m going to go with the fact that it would be OK to also choose a rounder neckline, which you can just cinch down into a sweetheart shape by gathering the top 2″ or so in the center.
  • For starters, I really like New Look 6020– the neckline has interest, and the princess seams are close enough to work- you would just have to draft out your own pattern for the sleeves. The waistline is good here, as is the fullness and length of the skirt.
  • New Look 6675 could also work, it has the right neckline, including gathering where the strap meets the neck, and the waist and skirt are right- but you would be inserting the cape portion of the sleeve into a dart in the back, rather than a true seam- that could get pretty tricky. Alternatively, you could just try to add some length to the shoulder straps to convert them to wings/ sleeves.
  • If you want super-simple that carries the spirit of the dress without the exact detailing, take a look at New Look 6750– you have some interesting sleeve variations, a decent neckline, and some skirt options as well. You can install beltloops either directly under the bust or at the true waistline for a unique look.

New Look options for the dot dress- links to each embedded in text

For the nautical section, pea coats are relatively easy to find, and now that spring is approaching they’ll be on sale! Victoria’s Secret has a surprisingly appealing range of options online, but you should also check out stores like Burlington Coat Factory and outlets (or actual stores) like Banana Republic or even Gap to see what they have available.

The most interesting piece of this look, for me, is the brooch- and I recommend making your own. All the supplies are readily available at Michael’s or your preferred craft store; I also really like to waste time browsing eJoyce, which has a great selection of all sorts ot trims and notions.  You’ll need 6-7 lengths of chain (but wouldn’t tiny pearls be cute too!) at 6-7″ long each, a captain’s wheel embellishment, and a few other nautical embellishments- anchors, seagulls, lighthouses, shells, and even some decorative buttons. If you can’t find them at a physical store, I’ve had a lot of luck finding random brass stampings at etsy stores (including the octopus pictured below, which I’m turning into a hair ornament for less than $5).  Link one end of the chains to the captain’s wheel and dangle down a few embellishments from there as well. Link the other end of the chains to one of the other larger embellishments, like the anchor, and dangle a few more embellishments from there as well. Glue a pin backing to both the captain’s wheel and the anchor- and voila! A great summer brooch- how cute would this be on a navy shirt dress or a striped maxi dress? You could pin it just below the bustline so the little danglies draw attention to your best features… You can use the same mixed media approach for the necklace worn in the courthouse scene. Not feeling crafty? I did a search for “nautical brooch” and found this winner; it’s $65, but such is the price of laziness and/or non-craftiness:

Fabulous nautical brooch

Let’s also briefly talk about those high-waist shorts, which I just don’t love. How about, instead, you translate that look into the dreaded skort (I swear I’ve been seeing them EVERYWHERE recently). If you don’t want to go that far, check out McCalls 5633– it’s got summery patterns for both shorts and pants, and adding the button detailing on one or both legs is easy, especially given the little button cuff at the hemline.

Cute summer shorts: M5633

Incidentally, I did an internet search for “flask-shaped purse” and came up with nada- there are a number of cases available specifically for flasks- but no flasks converted to actual purses or clutches. I see an open market! I also did a search for “enormous flask” and that, not surprisingly, was more successful.

For Rita’s aquarium outfit, not much of the dress itself is visible- all we know is high standing collar, long, cuffed sleeves, and relatively slim fit. The jacket is round in shape, with no cuffs or collars. For the dress- any basic shirtdress pattern would work- McCall’s 6116 will do nicely, especially if you lengthened the sleeves a bit. The coat is a bit more difficult- I were you, I’d identify your best dressed oldest living relative and start buttering them up so you can raid their closet. Or visit your local thrift or consignment clothing shop. If neither of those bear fruit, Vogue 8721 is a not-too-terrible approximation- you could do it up in the brocade as shown, or get experimental with a faux fur.

Rita's aquarium date night outfit

Let’s call this next look the Murder Party Dress– it just sounds fun, doesn’t it? This is the black, high-necked, dolman-sleeved, buttoned-up back top paired with a long, pleated, bedazzled skirt. Vogue 1150 is a fantastic modern interpretation- you could shorten it to be just a blouse, lengthen the sleeves if you wanted, and replace the back zipper with a button placket if you wanted, though I love that big exposed zipper. Plus, the model kind of looks like a murderer, right? Or at least a murderous Gwynneth Paltrow imposter. Pair it with a long skirt- pleated skirts are far easier to buy than they are to make- and you’re good to go. If you want that bedazzling at the bottom, the closest I could get was to find some 1/2″ silver pyramid nailheads; these aren’t nearly as big as what’s on the original look, but if you’re going mod, it’s a solid translation.

Vogue 1150- great for a Murder Party

Up next is Rita’s courtroom witness suit and hat. The hat is gorgeous- you could make your own by doing a search for “vintage hat patterns”, and checking out the projects posted at for inspiration.  There’s a lot of room for interpretation on the suit- you could go modern and just buy yourself a light-colored, well-fitting linen suit and add whatever details and accessories make you happy. You could also go fully vintage, staying true to the details: wide notched collar, high crew-neck undershirt, princess seams and structured shoulders on the jacket, and exceptionally tight, below-the-knee fit on the skirt. Simplicity 3688 gives you some good options for the jacket and blouse, in addition to being a generally fabulous-looking pattern (perhaps next I’ll indulge in my minor Katherine Hepburn obsession). Pair it with Vogue 8672 for the perfect wiggle skirt.

The perfect witness outfit

For the final Crazy House outfit, you can use the same patterns as the Witness suit, just use black suiting fabric (I love working with lightweight wool suiting- easy to sew, great to look at) and some satin ribbon, or even velvet, leather, or vinyl for trim. The necklace is super-simple, in fact I did my own version of it this past Friday. I have a ridiculously long strand of pearls that I was able to wrap around 6 times to make a loose choker. I picked it up a few years ago on an online auction for $15- you could do the same with bidz, ebay, whatever.

I feel like this was the longest post ever! I hope I didn’t miss anything!

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