A wedding in the coastal bush land of NSW posed an interesting challenge for outfit planning. We had to contend with the site for the ceremony which was off the beaten track, late afternoon ceremony, and lots of dancing.
My immediate go to style for weddings is the 1950s and early 60s. The full skirts are a lot of fun to wear, easy to dance in or sit for long periods during speeches and I always feel that they add a certain amount of whimsy to an event. So many cocktail dresses these days have pencil skirts which, while figure flattering (if you have the right figure), are constricting and serious.
Having been glued to Mad Men for 5 seasons, Betty Draper’s outfits have provided a lot of inspiration. Vogue and Butterick have helpfully re-vamped their vintage pattern collections, providing me with templates to work with and create some great pieces with a vintage line and modern feel.
I have frequently lusted over 50s dresses i have found at vintage fairs and well curated vintage shops, however they generally aren’t in my size, and the ones in good condition cost a fortune. They also look a little like you are dressing up as Betty Draper rather than wearing your own clothes.
So I started with this pattern, choosing it from a pile I had ordered from Vogue online (they had a sale – it was dangerous). I wanted a balance of a full skirt, short sleeves (to hide the fact that I really needed to get back to the gym and get toned up), and a fitted bodice and waist. This pattern had an interesting double bodice which presented opportunities for cording in a contrasting colour.
Then, having settled on a pattern, I went in hunt of the fabric. If you have read my thoughts on what to wear to a wedding you will know my thoughts on florals, sparkles and black – so these were out. I also wanted to evoke the outside, bush setting of the event. I wanted to use cotton so that the dress would be light and summery, but cotton is also a hard fabric to translate into evening wear. I didn’t want to look like i’d worn a sun dress to a formal dinner. This meant that the print and colour was going to have to do all the work. I picked out 3 quite different prints, but chose an abstract wattle print on a soft blue background as the colors and leaves evoked the blues and greens of a coastal bush setting and would be the best choice for translating from day to night. I picked a yellow lining in cotton to pick up the wattle flowers in the print.
I also had to consider what we would be doing on the day – ie traipsing through the bush to the site for the ceremony, standing outside in the shade in March, and then sitting for dinner in a marquee followed by dancing. This very outdoor event meant that sky-high heels were out, warm layers were needed, and comfort was important.
I wanted a warm layer that wasn’t going to look frumpy or be to restricting. I settled on a little cape that had a long collar that wrapped around like a scarf. Having a cape rather than a jacket meant that my arms would be warm without being constricted. The added bonus of the pattern I picked was that it is reversible! I picked up some heavy brown cotton to compliment the brown in the dress fabric, and bought enough of the dress fabric to do one side of the cape as well.
The dress pattern was a bit fiddly partly because I was adding the lining to a pattern that didn’t originally have it, and partly because of the double bodice – like fitting a sleeveless dress over a bodice and sleeves and getting it all to sit nicely. I didn’t get it quite right – we were in the middle of moving out of our house in preparation for our move to London and I was trying to get the dress finished around packing and finishing up at work – so the end result wasn’t perfect but it worked. I had bought cording in the same yellow as the flowers in the pattern and used it to define the neckline between the bodices, and to trim the edge of the sleeves. There was also enough to line the edge of the cape.
I wanted to team the dress with a yellow belt in the same marigold colour as the cording and the flowers but I ran out of time to find fabric and make one, so in the end I settled on chocolate brown, which went nicely with the cape, and brown peep-toe heels. I had little lace flats for the walk through the bush, and for dancing in later. Another hard and fast rule of mine is NEVER be one of those girls in bare feet because her shoes are hurting. Be prepared – bring some flats. They actually look really sweet with 50’s style skirts.
Jewellery was hard – earrings didn’t work with my short haircut at the time, and the neckline was already pretty busy with all the cording and layers so I wanted to keep it simple. I wore some silvery grey pearls – a single strand and matching pearl studs.
I usually believe in wearing a hat to a wedding – particularly an outdoor or church wedding – but I simply didn’t have time to source or make one – so I went bareheaded. The world didn’t come to an end.
The day of the wedding was perfect – sunny clear sky and a warm breeze meant I didn’t really need the cape until night fell. Tony looked dashing in a Navy blazer, brown trousers and pale blue pocket square that complemented my dress but didn’t ‘match’. The bride looked stunning and the groom was very handsome – as they should.
I was told by the caterers that they had voted me the best dressed guest – apparently a vote they have for every event they cater for – I was very touched. It was an excellent wedding and I felt comfortable and classy the whole night.