Ah, the Betty Draper dress; a coveted vintage unicorn hunted by many yet owned by a few. After many years of hunting this unicorn, I managed to finally own a copy of the infamous Betty Draper dress yet my love for her didn’t end there. Many of us have a ‘to do’ list that’s more of a ‘one day I’ll get around to doing this’ list and on the latter list, one of my actions was to make my very own Betty Draper dress. I’ve had this idea since before I even owned my own version but it’s taken me many years to finally get around to giving it a go. Today, I will be sharing that adventure with you all.
The Betty Draper dress is actually a simple dress when you really break her down; she has a rounded neckline, a pointed lower back, a lapped zipper, a gathered skirt and an angled cummerbund around the waist with a large lotus bow on the back. The dress itself wouldn’t be too difficult, the tricky part would appear when it came to the cummerbund and that gorgeous back bow. Back in 2018, I made a Betty Draper-inspired dress for the Miss Pinup International pageant as part of my talent portion and although it was a good first attempt, I had learned a lot and was ready to finally make it; the new and improved version.
For my new Betty Draper dress, I pulled out a few possible patterns which included Butterick 5748, Butterick 6318, XX, or this vintage digital pattern. After much internet hunting, there are quite a few vintage dress patterns with back bows or tie-up sashed sewn into the sides but I wanted mine as close as possible. Although I originally planned to Franken-pattern my way into this dress, I actually only used Butterick 6748 and altered the back. This is a pattern that I’ve made countless times before and it’s the pattern I’m the most familiar with. I do plan on doing a review for it on its own and not altered but the backlog of pattern reviews is starting to worry me as I’m sewing faster than I release blogs. Alas, Butterick 6748 with a few alterations would be the body of my dress.
On one of my last trips to Kuala Lumpur, I was in the fabric market and I came across the perfect fabric for this project. The original Betty Draper has a fabric with floral clusters on it which wasn’t the easiest to find online. Oh don’t worry there are thousands of fabrics with florals on them, but spread-out floral clusters weren’t so easy to find so when I saw this at the market, I instantly purchased 4 meters. The fabric was a silk and cotton blend and the florals were red which I loved as it’s a Betty Draper dress no one has ever seen before and I was excited to make it. That trip was probably back in 2016 so that’s how long I’ve wanted to create this dress. This year, in early January, I figured there’s no time like the present so I hopped back onto the computer to find some raw silk or taffeta to make my cummerbund out of. I found a brilliant little website that sold very affordable silk (it’s over $60 per meter at my local stores here) so I bought about 2 meters in a stunning red (as well as a few other things for upcoming projects). I had everything I needed and it was time to start.
Butterick 6748 had a rounded neckline at the front and back of the bodice so the main alteration I needed to do was to create a pointed V neckline for the back. I traced the back pattern piece onto some toille and with a marker, I adjusted the neck curve and sketched out the shape I wanted. This became my new backpiece. This particular sewing pattern is amazing for beginners; it has very few pieces as the small adjustments you can make to the neckline are fun and straightforward. As always I used size 12 as I know it fits me perfectly with no adjustments needed. For my skirt, I was just going to do my usual four-panel rectangle skirt with a 28-inch length. It was time to cut everything out.
I had to take many deep breaths before I cut into my fabric, all those years of planning this dress out and it was finally the moment to cut. I aligned my front bodice piece so I had a flower cluster right in the centre like the original dress did and after that was cut, I was happy with whatever fell on the back pieces. I also cut out some lining for a basic nylon fabric for my bodice. After cutting out my skirt panels, I decided to leave cutting out the cummerbund till I thought I needed it and it was time to start sewing.
I made the bodice the same way I normally would but I didn’t sew the front and back bodice at the sides as this was where I was adding my cummerbund. I had my lining attached and I treated the fabric and lining as just one piece which is where I made my first mistake; I should have kept the lining out of the way and looking back now, it seems so obvious. Alas, let’s look at the cummerbund. The cummerbund on the Betty Draper dress is unique in that it doesn’t wrap around the waist parallel to itself, this dress has the cummerbund gathered at the centre of the dress and spread out to the sides before coming back into the centre at the back. It gives the illusion of a very small waist and is gathered at the middle and sides. It’s worth noting here that on the original dress, the cummerbund is not sewn on top of the main fabric, it’s attached as its own piece even around the skirt. For my version, I will be sewing the cummerbund on top of my main fabric as honestly, I’m just not brave enough to do it any other way.
I started by measuring the sides of the cummerbund and it came to 8 inches so I added a few extra inches for seam allowance and of course, the gathers. Next, I measures how far from the outer sides did the cummerbund need to reach the inner central point and that became my width with half an inch extra for seam allowance for the two back pieces I needed. For the front, I turned this into the centre fold as the front was all one piece. I needed to gather my centre front part of the cummerbund to a length of 4 inches so I cut out a few extra to give myself plenty to gather. This was the scariest part as I was only able to measure the pieces from the original dress as there was no way I was going to pull it apart to get the real measurements. At the end of the day, it looked pretty close to the real thing so that made me happy. I made sure to cut out a front and lining for both the two back parts of the cummerbund and the front piece. The original doesn’t need lining as it was sewn as part of the bodice but for mine, I did.
I put two right sides together for each part of the cummerbund and sewed around the edges and turned them inside out. As the sides would be sewn into the sides of the bodice, I just basted them together for extra support. I sewed a running stitch down the sides which I used to gather and very slowly started pinning my cummerbund to the sides of my bodice pieces. It was here that I realised this would work better if I attached my skirt panels to my bodice as then I could attach the cummerbund to the skirt down the side seams. I gathered two panels separately and attached them to my two back pieces and then joined the last two pieces together before gathering and attaching them to the front of my bodice piece. I returned my focus to the cummerbund and kept pinning. On the front cummerbund piece I gathered the centre front straight down the middle and basted the stitch in place. After everything was pinned I sewed my sides together and a stitch down my centre front to keep my gather in place. I think I was slightly out of line as there’s an odd pucker in the main floral fabric around this area but for now it was fine.
After my bodice was put together at the sides and I now had the basic structure of the dress, I decided to sew the back zipper in and then focus on the lotus bow. Although the original had a lapped zipper, I realised that I had forgotten this fact and didn’t have enough fabric to do a lapped zipper so I sewed to the best of my ability a normal zip and didn’t care that you could see it when worn. Now, the bow. I returned to the original and began making notes and measurements. The original lotus bow had me stumped as the bow edges had no seam meaning they were somehow cut on a fold but also curved perfectly. Without pulling the actual bow apart, I knew I would have to just guess and do what I could. The loops of the bow were not going to happen so instead I was just going to have a flat bow. The lovely ripples and waves the bow gives on the original come from the fabric being cut curved and sewn straight so it naturally falls into that position.
I made a few tentative measures and then cut out four pieces and sewed them right sides together along the side edges, turned them right side out and gave them a very good press on my iron. I basted the open sides together and then attached them to each other. On the original, the bow is sewn into the back seam and there’s a small hole at the top of the bow for the centre of the bow to wrap around. I sewed this up as best I could and although it’s certainly not exact, it turned out pretty good. I avoided sewing around the zip and I did go and unpick part of the back skirt seam in order to insert the bow. The bow needs a really good press to get those waves but I can see them forming already. I sewed part of the bow ‘loop’ on the left side to the side of my dress bodice and attached a press stud on the same point on the right side so when worn, the bow was open and flat against my back.
The final thing I needed to do was to hem the skirt; I used a rolled hem (I really need to get my overlocker fixed). It’s probably worth noting that the original dress has a bubble skirt and straight up, there’s no way I’m doing a bubble skirt on mine. I detest bubble hems with a passion and it all stems from having to make one in my sewing class in high school. It was the first piece of clothing I ever had to make and I already didn’t really like the style then having to work on it week after week, I vowed never to make one again. There are heaps of tutorials out there for how to make such a skirt but for my version, I will just make a normal rectangle skirt with no bubbles. The only bubbles I will have are the ones in my bathtub.
I put my finished dress on my dress form and realised my mistake with sewing the lining of the bodice and the main fabric together but it will just have to do in this case. I did have a bit of an issue with the zip going up as the cummerbund stretches around the hips and made it hard for the zip to go up. I got it on eventually and I was really happy with the final results. I like that I can get p inside the cummerbund and adjust the skirt and I think I will end up unpicking the gathered seam on the front of the cummerbund as it’s just slightly off centre which is bothering me but apart from that, I can live with the lining not being perfect. I’m so happy that this project is finally complete and that this fabric has finally been used after all these years.
Let’s discuss the fit. She was snug! With the red silk cumberbund attached to a dress that normally fits me, she was very snug and tight around the waist. It didn’t take me long to realise that the cumberbund would bunch up around my waist and look more like a wrap-around belt than the stylised and angled cumberbund it was supposed to be. Besides this, and this being the most obvious issue with the dress, she was otherwise cute all over.
With these issues in mind, I am determined to try another version again soon. I think it’s time to plan out a bodice that includes the cummerbund in a way that will hold its shape whilst worn. I will also need to add more room to the back bodice so I can add a lapped zipper.
Overall, I love this dress and kind of wish I had attempted it sooner. I know we all have things that seem daunting but when you finally start them, they come together really easily. Side by side with the original dress, there are a few differences but I know as I keep challenging myself, I will slowly find these kind of project easier and easier. I’m really proud of myself and getting this project off the ground finally I had basically everything I needed for a very long time and I just lacked the courage of my convictions. If there’s a project you’ve been putting off for literally years, now is the time to go and do it. I’d love to remake this dress at a later date to have another go at it and I will definitely fix up the lining and the bow a bit more. On the other hand, if you can figure out how this bow is made, I’d really appreciate any tips you may have. For now, my Betty Draper dress will sit proudly on my dress form until I’m done with my next project.
Side note; since the completion of this project, I had a friend mention that Gertie had just posted her own version of the Betty Draper dress that she wore for a recent event. I would love for her to release information on how she made her version as I know she would be able to pull apart the original vintage version and get proper measurements and shapes for her own version. It’s very exciting that someone else had the same project in mind and I recommend you check Gertie’s version out as it’s simply stunning!
Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made.