Variety is certainly not the word I’d use to describe ball gown and prom dress selections. “Would you like a strapless A-line in pink with a sash or a strapless A-line in blue? It comes with a sash.” Other than color and maybe some cheap rhinestones or sequins, formal wear rarely strays from the traditional and can be as predictable as Katherine Heigl’s latest rom-com. Yet the allure of the ball gown strikes something elemental in women: beauty and celebrating feminine curves.
Choosing a Style
Whether buying a pattern or designing the dress yourself, choose a style that suits your body. To determine which style is best, go play Cinderella for an afternoon and try on several gowns at a store. The more expensive the better, and not because expensive stores always have pretty things, but because higher prices (generally) mean better fits and higher-quality fabrics. The three most common styles you will see for evening wear include the ball gown, the sheath, and the A-line dress. Determine which one celebrates your body best and then design or choose a pattern accordingly.
For thrifty spenders, paying for fabric may be the most painful part of sewing your gown. Evening wear calls for luxury, and luxury demands moolah. Patterns offer suggestions for which fabric to use: listen to those suggestions. If designing your own gown, satins and taffetas ($10-$20 a yard at JoAnn Fabrics) work best for structured dresses like ball gowns and A-lines. Chiffon, silk, or georgette ($10-$15 a yard) are better for sheaths. Using polyester blends lower cost. Half-off coupons to chain craft stores could also make fabric purchases less painful. A test garment made of muslin ($3-5 a yard) or some other inexpensive fabric is useful for avoiding mistakes on costly silks and satins — money better spent on the perfect pair of heels or an awesome clutch. You could also consider using fabric from a hand-me-down dress.
Depending on where one shops, a factory-made evening gown costs between $100 (likely made with polyester) to $500; a custom-made evening gown starts at $300, depending on the material and detailing used. Assuming one uses about 5 yards of fabric, throwing in some yardage for a mess-up or two, the cost is comparable to the cheapest, simplest gowns. Ultimately, you have to decide if the time spent sewing (for simpler dresses, about 20 hours) is also worth it.
A Special Note to Beginners
For beginner sewers, have a couple of sewing victories to your name before taking on this challenge: maybe a tote bag or skirt. These projects will tip you off to how skilled you are with a sewing machine and what is still a struggle. A mentor or classes at a craft store can help bridge the gap. Do not be dismayed: with minor experience, the new crafter can make a simple ball gown. Start with a pattern and consider going after the stiffer fabrics like satin or a polyester blend, which are easier to work with. The sewing machine can grip these fabrics more easily than chiffon and silk. For the newbies, consider a mock-up. Cutting twice and measuring once is not a good philosophy with dupioni silk at $30 a yard. Additionally, give yourself the greatest asset in sewing: time, at least a month or two. This frees first timers from the pressure of a deadline, allowing you to enjoy the magic of this craft rather than the mistakes.
Whether you’re prepping for prom, creating a unique bridesmaid dress or simply wanting a fresh look for your nights out on the town, making your own dress can be a fun and rewarding process. One major upside? You’re not likely to run into anyone with a similar look! Made with unique fabrics, innovative techniques, or echoing long-gone eras, a collection of beyond-the-ordinary ball gowns awaits… Think Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, think classy and creative, think… outside the box. To finish your look, consider upcycling an old pair of shoes.
Want inspiration for getting started? Check out Bethany Marcello’s round-up of handmade gowns at CraftFoxes.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
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