I recently discovered the online retailer Unique Vintage. They carry loads of pinup brands like Bettie Page, Sourpuss, and so forth, and also have their own in-house brand whose prices are, I think, a little on the high side. However, they have frequent sales and recently had a selection on sale for a mere $25.

I own a ’50s-style, full-skirted green and white striped dress that I got at H&M years ago and totally love. But it doesn’t fit quite right any more. It’s a little too tight in the bust and too short in the torso. So I’ve been looking for a replacement for some time, and UV’s green “Seeing Stripes” dress was a perfect replacement, especially at $25.

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At 37”-29”-41”, I am exactly between the brand’s Medium (36” bust and 28” waist) and Large (38” bust and 30” waist) on the size chart for this garment. I ordered a large to be on the safe side—and it’s a good thing I did because the bust just closed without squishing me. Unfortunately, though, the waist and underbust were really unflattering and basically erased my shape. At such a low price, though, it was totally worth the experiment of taking apart part of the bodice and tailoring it to my body. Here is how I did it:

First up, the original dress and the difference when I pulled it taut:

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Some closeups of the construction:

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The bodice has two layers of fabric. The inner layer has boning along two seams on the front and two seams on the back. Thankfully, the outer (visible) layer is just plain fabric, making it easy to alter. I wouldn’t really want to tackle altering boning.
The back seam.
The back seam.
The front seams. You can really see how square the bodice is when laid flat. It doesn’t taper in at the waist at all.
The front seams. You can really see how square the bodice is when laid flat. It doesn’t taper in at the waist at all.

Overall, I determined that I needed to take in the seams under the bust in a dart shape to make the bodice curve under my boobs and fit tightly around the rest of my torso and waist.

The first thing I did was shorten the straps. Even though I have a long torso, apparently I have squat shoulders because straps are always too long on me and I’m forever shortening them.

All I did was fold over the strap on the inside of the dress and sew it to itself along the top of the dress. I need to tack that extra loop down, though, because it likes to sneak out.
All I did was fold over the strap on the inside of the dress and sew it to itself along the top of the dress. I need to tack that extra loop down, though, because it likes to sneak out.
Next I pulled the bust up under my boob to assess where I would need to start sewing the top of the dart.
Next I pulled the bust up under my boobs to assess where I would need to start sewing the top of the dart.
I pinned the spot where my finger was. As you can see, the pins are quite a bit lower than where the breasts actually stop.
I pinned the spot where my finger was. As you can see, the pins are quite a bit lower than where the breasts actually stop when the fabric hangs straight down.
On the inside of the dress, I marked the pin spot with chalk.
On the inside of the dress, I marked the pin spot with chalk.
Next, I unsewed the bodice from the skirt. Since this skirt is very gathered, you can take out as many inches from the bodice as you want and still be able to easily reattach the skirt with it looking the same in the end (more on this later).
Next, I unsewed the bodice from the skirt. Since this skirt is very gathered, you can take out as many inches from the bodice as you want and still be able to easily reattach the skirt with it looking the same in the end (more on this later).
I sandwiched the bodice fabric along the seam and pinned it from the chalk mark down to the skirt. I then sewed along the pin line, starting at the chalk mark.
I sandwiched the bodice fabric along the seam and pinned it from the chalk mark down to the skirt. I then sewed along the pin line, starting at the chalk mark.

When you first start sewing, I’d recommend starting about a centimeter above your dart and sew along the existing seam, then carefully move to the pin line at a smooth angle. This way, you’re guaranteed that the new seam will match up with the old one.

Additionally, I didn’t actually measure how much fabric to take in, I just pinched it and estimated. As such, I didn’t take out quite enough fabric the first time. But it’s very easy to make the bodice even tighter by simply sewing it again, further in, and perpendicular to the first line I sewed. No need to remove the first sewn line.

Okay, next:

Here’s the new bodice still unattached from the skirt in the two spots. I also placed pins in the spot where I want to sew all the layers of the bodice together, to keep them smooth and in place when the dress is being worn.
Here’s the new bodice still unattached from the skirt in the two spots. I also placed pins in the spot where I want to sew all the layers of the bodice together, to keep them smooth and in place when the dress is being worn.
It’s fitting better already!
It’s fitting better already!

The next step is to reattach the bodice to the skirt. I decided to first remove more of the skirt from the bodice. I used a seam-ripper to remove everything in between the two bodice seams. Then I had to re-gather the fabric evenly and sew it back on.

Gathering fabric is really easy. You start by taking a flat piece of fabric and bringing a needle and single thread back and forth through it at wide distance. This is called a basting stitch.
Gathering fabric is really easy. You start by taking a flat piece of fabric and bringing a needle and single thread back and forth through it at wide distance. This is called a basting stitch.
Once you’ve sewn all the way across the entire piece of fabric, you pull the thread from each end and it will create the gathers. You can slide the fabric back and forth across the thread to get it evenly spaced or to make it the same length as the flat piece of fabric to which it’ll be attached.
Once you’ve sewn all the way across the entire piece of fabric, you pull the thread from each end and it will create the gathers. You can slide the fabric back and forth across the thread to get it evenly spaced or to make it the same length as the flat piece of fabric to which it’ll be attached.
Once I got my gathers evenly spaced, I pinned it to the bodice using a lot of pins. I wanted to be sure the gathers would stay in place and not un-even themselves while being sewn to the bodice.
Once I got my gathers evenly spaced, I pinned it to the bodice using a lot of pins. I wanted to be sure the gathers would stay in place and not un-even themselves while being sewn to the bodice.
A view of the pins from the gathered side.
A view of the pins from the gathered side.

This is a step that would best be done with a serger—the machine that sews three rows at once. Look at the inner seam of the bottom of a tee shirt. That’s what a serger does. The serger’s stitches look nice, keep fabric from rolling, and allow for stretch.

Since I don’t have a serger, I’ll sometimes sew a straight stitch, then sew a zig-zag stitch along it, and then another straight stitch along the other side of the zig-zag. It doesn’t allow for stretch, but otherwise it gives almost the same effect. Since I wanted the gathered seam to match the rest of the pre-existing gathers as much as possible, and I wanted extra strength to hold the gathers together, this is what I did here.

The three stitches from the flat bodice side.
The three stitches from the flat bodice side.
The three stitches from the gathered side. It looks a little messy since my sewing machine is ancient and has a hard time with many layers of fabric, but with such a poofy skirt it’s invisible from the front.
The three stitches from the gathered side. It looks a little messy since my sewing machine is ancient and has a hard time with many layers of fabric, but with such a poofy skirt it’s invisible from the front.

After finishing with the skirt, I tacked the bust in place in the two spots I had pinned before. I also removed the bow because I thought it looked stupid and was ruining the nice effect of the gathered bust. I might attach it to the back of the skirt, though. Here’s the final product:

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It may not look like that much of a difference from the way the dress started, but it feels completely different and looks much more flattering, in my opinion. Clothes that are tailored to my body really feel great!

By the way, that H&M dress that I replaced will be at the Busty Swap Darlene is hosting August 2, in case anyone wants it!