My daughter needed a full length formal dress. She’s enrolled in a Junior Cotillion, a Southern tradition of taking your awkward middle schoolers and making them feel even more awkward by having them dress up in fancy clothes to learn party manners and basic ballroom dance. The final dance of the season is the Holly Ball, and for that reason we had to find a full length formal to fit my 13 year old daughter.
As if the sizing issue wasn’t enough (she’s tall for her age but very slender and is allllll leg), there’s also the issue that most juniors’ formal dresses are entirely inappropriate for a 13 year old to wear. Dress code for the event required no strapless, or backless, or bare midriff dresses. And of course full length, to the ankle.
And then there’s the 13-year-old’s fashion sense. Which, actually, is surprisingly elegant and understated. She wanted no bright colors and no sparkle, not even a jeweled waistband. She also wanted a neck line that came up fairly high because dancing with boys.
After scouring the stores, my daughter found all of one dress that she liked. But it was in the misses’ department and the smallest one they had was still 3 sizes too big for her. Oh, and it was nearly triple our budget. Luckily, the design was simple enough to copy.
One day my daughter will appreciate my mad sewing skillz.
The dress to copy had a simple knit bodice with a boat neck front and a deep V back, and a long full box pleat skirt in taffeta.
The only other time I’ve sewn taffeta, it was a cheap polyester taffeta and it puckered at the seams. I didn’t want that to happen on the fancy Holly Ball dress so I decided I’d order from Mood rather than try my luck with JoAnn. My daughter chose a gorgeous peach silk taffeta for the skirt, and a black knit for the bodice. The closure on the dress to copy was an elegant wrap across the back, but I simplified and just used an invisible zipper on the side.
Sewing the dress was fairly uneventful. I used a t-shirt that fit her as a pattern to make the top, adjusting the neck line to give it the boat neck and deep V. I was careful with how deep the V went so no need for her to wear a special bra. Yay! That saved me $30.
The bodice is black ponte knit and lined with a lightweight polyester knit. Lining the bodice made a pretty finish around the neck and arms, but it required a little bit of voodoo to get the top of the invisible zipper tape tucked between those layers for a neat finish.
The silk taffeta sewed like a dream. It’s the prettiest fabric I’ve ever sewn on and I was afraid of screwing it up. Pictures don’t show how luminous it is. And there’s just the right amount of body to hold the shape of the pleats without being too stiff. And as a plus, the fabric was thick enough to not require a slip or petticoat. Saved me another $30, ha!
I know the skirt looks super wrinkled in these photos. The silk taffeta just loved to wrinkle. I'd iron it all flat and by the time we got the dress on her it was wrinkled all over again. We just went with it. And really, in person, the wrinkles were not as noticeable as in the photos.
Pardon my husband's closed eyes. I wanted you to see the back of the dress and this was the only photo that truly showed it.
But isn't it sweet the picture of the two of them dancing together?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any good photos of the dress – or of the child, for that matter. 13 years old does not like to have her photo taken, so most of my photos were taken with a zoom lens during the dance. We were able to bribe her to let us take a few at the end of the dance, but that was it for the posed photos. I even got her to grin in a couple. I consider that a victory.