A Fancy Dress, Described

Gentle Reader, Halloweekend begins one week from today. Have you gotten your outfit together, and field-tested it? It’s not too late – you have an entire week – but you should be ludicrously ashamed of yourself. What if something’s hard to find, or needs breaking in, or must be altered? For Shame. My outfit has been finished for weeks, now, but I’m still searching out those finishing touches – I’ve had my shoes for less than a week, and am still frantically looking for a proper wig. However, given that Halloween is a week from today, I’ve decided to share my frock with you – layer by layer. Also, I intend to explain how my elaborate Edwardian bustle-gown and matching hat cost me under thirty dollars*.

My word, yes, there are layers, darlings. With the aid of my humble dress-form, Madame Claude, I intend to walk you through them. Please forgive her alarming toplessness for a portion of this post†.

Bottom Layer (2)

The bottom layer is simply two skirts that I’ve had for ages. The top skirt has three tiers, that I applied fringe to. The fringe comes from a separate frock‡ I picked up from the Halloween section of a thrift store – that dress was $4.00. A few simple whip-stitches later, and we have the foundation of our garment.

This Layer’s Cost: $4.00

Bustle Pillow

Here we find a bustle pillow, in red velvet and an alarmingly shocking fuchsia. Why fuchsia? Well, for one reason or another I just happened to have a fuchsia petticoat lying around my boudoir – also, I wanted my undergarments to be a little saucy.  A bustle pillow is perfect for costuming, because let’s face it: laboriously constructing an authentic bustle cage is expensive, time-consuming, and you won’t get nearly enough use out of it. To make the bustle pillow, I simply took some scraps of velvet, shaped them in such a way that they would nestle cunningly into the small of my back, and stuffed it with cotton batting from a throw-pillow my dog had eaten. A bit of ribbon to tie it on with, and attaching the petticoat, and boom – I was a bustle richer.

This Layer’s Cost: Free

Bottom Layer

This skirt is made from a remnant of polka-dotted cotton I’d intended to make a shirt from this summer. There’s 2+ yards of fabric, and it came from the thrift store. Make a sort of shaft at the top to thread some elastic that you inherited from your old gran through, make the elastic a loop, and put it on your dress form. BOOM. At this point, I had to double up about a foot of fabric near the hemline – about a foot from the hem. Once doubled, I rouched it, and tailor’s tacked it into place to form a pouf and a train.

This Layer’s Cost: Like $2.00 or Something

Middle Layer

Don’t be deceived, Gentle Reader. This layer was deceptively tricky to make. Probably because it was pieced together from scraps leftover from a summer blazer I undertook for a client. Same deal with the elastic waistband; to give the big square handkerchief fluttering off one’s bum, tuck the corners under and sew a seam up the middle until you run into other, more structural seams. This will create an enchanting mid-level faux-pannier pouf.

This Level’s Cost: Free

Bustle Closeup

Say, now that fabric’s really posh. It’s also the most expensive part of this outfit. After I’d made the matching jacket, I took the remaining yard and a half of taffeta damask that I’d gotten on sale, put it on yet another bit of elastic, and pinned and gathered my way into the MOST ENORMOUS BUM THIS SIDE OF 1912.

This Layer’s Cost: Around $9.oo, for half of the fabric

For those keeping track at home, this is five layers so far, and we’re still up in the skirts. As a reward for making it this far, a shocking topless photo of Madame Claude. Be warned: There is full frontal dress-form nudity.

Shockingly Topless!

Trust me, the skirts are more becomingly arrayed when they’re on. The train looks better, too, as it trails along the floor behind one.

Cincher Closeup

Okay, so you can’t see most of the hand-beading that went into this hand-beaded waist cincher. That’s because it’s jet glass, and black-on-black-on-black in low light is trouble for any camera. Rest assured, though, that each little leaf, every curlicue, and every stylized flower is outlined with glittering glass beads. The pearls are for the stamens and pistils! It took three days to bead. The cincher was made from a burnt velvet scarf that I had, some elasticized wool from an ancient doublet I retired years ago, and eyelets that I obviously had on hand. Honestly, if you’re a crafty type and hoard save things from previous projects, you hardly have to buy anything.

This Layer’s Cost: Free

Sans Jacket

I wish you could see the whitework on this blouse, or the stunning collar. So it goes. The collar’s a sort of pleated mandarin affair, suitable for a turn-of-the-century lady. It also has off-center buttons at a raked angle, to show off the embroidery. Also, I should mention that this blouse was a gift from a friend, who found it in a dumpster and thought of me.

This Layer’s Cost: Free

Sans Boa

Say, recognize that fabric? It’s the same taffeta damask from the top bustle layer! When there are no arms in the sleeves, you can’t tell, but they’re leg-of-mutton sleeves. It’s also closely tailored to my figure.

This Layer’s Cost: The other $9.00 from that fabric purchase

Sans Hat

That’s no run-of-the-mill bridal-shower-or-shoddy-halloween boa, Gentle Reader. I mean, yes, it’s made of the same type of feather (usually high-grade turkey, duck, or turkey, all of which are bleached and dyed) but it’s the huge glamour-shot/drag-queen diameter. It, too, came from Good Will. In a bag. With another, very special boa, which will be brought up in the last layer, and can be seen in the background. Shhh.

This Layer’s Cost: $2.50

With HatThe photo does not do the hat justice. This is the best hat I’ve ever made. It perches like a feathery ferris wheel on the back of the head, at a rakish angle.  The exterior is six feet of wound ostrich-feather boa – the real deal! – and black velvet. The inside of the brim is pleated taffeta damask to match the rest of the outfit. It’s exquisite. It makes the whole outfit. And this is the best photo I could get of it? Well, yes, without modeling it for you – which I refuse to do until Halloweekend itself has come and gone, so as to save the surprise. Trust me, though, it’s spectacular.


TOTAL COST I GUESS?: 29.00 USD. It just goes to show that it pays to have the right sort of thing laying around your house. Potentially in your ragbag, or the dumpster.


*Under thirty dollars, yes, at this present juncture in time. And I tried my best to recall the price of previous purchases – fabric I bought last summer, and so on. But to be entirely fair, I had beads, finding, elastic, thread, fabric, petticoats, and so on just lying around my house and I feel that if you were to attempt to recreate this stunning vision you’d probably have to pay a good deal more.

†Totally NSFW, you guys. She’s not only topless, she’s headless! And limbless!

‡A flapper dress that should have fit, but didn’t. It was very cheap, very pretty, and very tight. It’s better this way.


About Ty DeLyte

Madame DeLyte has suffered a grave disappointment - YET AGAIN - and still believes that freedom, beauty, and truth are what's valuable, rather than vulgar cash. He'd add love to that list - but, well, what can he say about love?
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