1950s | 1960s

Mad Men / Peggy Olson Inspired 1960s Wiggle Dress

June 2, 2012

Hi all!

This is my first post after pretty much stalking this site on a daily basis for a year! This is also a post about the first ever major project that i have sewn. I usually sew small things around the house such as curtains and that sewing staple- bunting! Being 4ft 11″ i have also had to become ofay with taking up hem lines.

This dress, however is my painstaking labour (sometimes laborious!) of vintage love! This was made every few stolen hours i could on and off for about 3 months. I wanted it to be as close to perfect as i could get on my skill level so took my time on every stitch (especially if i intend to wear it out).

The inspiration came from an episode of Mad Men from season 4 in which Peggy Olson wears this navy and red dress:


My inspiration (http://www.carlaastudillo.com/vintagemylife/page/2/)
There’s just something about navy and red that oozes style- I had to recreate it!
I’ve always worn vintage (a small sample of my vintage wardrobe can be found here www.jamesandlianne.com/i-lovelovemissdaisy/ and always valued how the little details that you find in vintage clothing, especially from the 1950s and 60s, make an outfit.
The pattern i decided to go for was Simplicity 4038– a 1960s wiggle dress with a bib style front and kick pleat. While i love the dress Peggy is wearing above with its fuller skirt, i much prefer the silhouette you would find on Joan instead- so decided to modify it.
Simplicity 4038- The carefree life of a pattern model!

This pattern, i dare say, was not easy my fellow sewists! My main problem (as i’ve come to realise with most vintage patterns), was the sparse descriptions on how to sew the more complex sections. Case in point, the bib was a nightmare! The diagrams were not help whatsoever! Lucky i made a toile first before i made it for keeps but man-o-man that bit took ages! Everything else was fine but that!

Disclamer! No make-up and hair not coiffed! I am not normally this scruffy- i just took these during a lazy day at home!

Heres the finished dress:
Front View
When i made the toile the pattern was too small for me so i had to grade it up 2inches. But in the folly of my first dressmaking venture it appears i graded it up an extra 4inches instead! i dont know how i did that as i know i only added an inch on each seam. Ho well, it’s all a learning curve! So when i first tried on the dress i had to do some major alterations. So i took in the bust darts, the side seams and the darts at the back.
To my dismay, it seems i have the dreaded rounded sholders! So there was a huge gape at the back of the dress at the top of the neckline. I have a feeling it many have something to do with the front bib tho. To fix this i took in the 8inch (?!?!?) gape using darts. I am sure this would have worked fine had it not been that i bought a rather bulky zip and regrettibly its causing a bit of a bullge!
My poor attempt at fixing a gape!

 And here’s the back:

The back, inc a shot of the darts i had to put in the neckline

 I had to mimic Peggy’s flash of red in her dress so i decided to insert some red fabric in the kickpleat.

A flash of Red!



Some might say the inside looks better than the outside! All in all, i think it was a pretty good first attempt at making a dress and i have worn it out

and got nice comments about it so on that basis it was a success.


If anyone can give any tips on how to solve back gape- i’d appreciated it!


Now time to start a new pattern!


  1. The navy and red is indeed very crisp!

    As to how you added four inches instead of two when you “only added one inch to each seam” – did you add one inch to the side seam of the front pattern piece, and one inch to the side seam of the back pattern piece? That would give you four inches, since you cut two backs (one extra inch per back piece) and the front to fold (one extra inch per side of the front)? Or perhaps you added one total inch to each side, but also added one to the center back and/or center front?

    With these big grading issues, it’s hard to say exactly what went wrong with the gappy back, but don’t forget that if you add to the center back you do all kinds of things to the neckline and to the way the shoulders fit. Also, you mentioned that you’re just a little slip of a thing, and I definitely think the bodice is long in the waist, so all the extra fabric is curving back on itself vertically. Next time you might want to shorten the bodice.

    This is a good reminder that if you make a toile and it needs changes, what you should do next is make another toile, not go straight to the fashion fabric with untested changes… Not that I’ve ever done that myself … ;^)

    But all that said, it’s a really cute dress, and considering that your previous sewing experience was with curtains, you’ve made some great leaps in your sewing ability! You have a good eye for style – I really like the red contrast bands and the red topstitching you added to this dress.

  2. I love the contrasting red and navy. The dress really suits you,it’s an impressive result for your first attempt at dressmaking.

  3. I’m ‘sew’ impressed that this is your first attempt at dressmaking. It’s fabulous.

    I’d back up the ‘toile it twice’, if you have made big adjustments to you first one. Over the years I have left a trail of UFOs & garments I don’t wear due to that exact mistake.
    I also took a really long time to realise that having an iron set up to press seams & darts as you go is a huge help to getting a great looking finished garment.

    Happy sewing

  4. Cute dress and a great job for the first attempt. As far as the gape in the back, I would undo the darts and really take a look at how much excess fabric there is. It is a raglan sleeve which is looser in the back than a set in sleeve. The excess, I would take in at the zipper. It would give a much better look. Also, I would stitch down the kick pleat. You didn’t pick an easy one for the first try, but did a great job.

  5. Well done, it looks very cute! To choose a vintage pattern for the first try to make a dress is impressive. As you probably know by now, about changing the size when working with ordinary pattern pieces for body or skirt. Divide the amount of inches you want to go up with four and ad that to front and back. One pattern piece is only a quarter of the whole circumference.

  6. Great colour combo! I would undo those back neck darts and instead take out the excess fabric from the centre back. It was quite ambitious to try grading a pattern with limited sewing experience. It’s not as simple as just adding or subtracting, there are only certain places you can do it otherwise it just moves the problem and also can spoil the design lines that the designer created in the first place. Also everybody has individual measurements (that’s why fitting models who have textbook measurements are sought after). Remember to do alterations on your toile and go back to the pattern to change it, then try the toile again no matter how many times, before you cut into your expensive fabric. I made a dress from a vintage pattern and the bodice was too big and I realised it wasn’t the width, but I needed to take some off the bodice length to make it fit better ( I have go back and fix that one!)

  7. You were very brave to try something so challenging for your first dress-making attempt. Good for you!
    Everyone has made great suggestions. Iron every seam as you go for a professional looking garment; this truly makes a huge difference in the outcome. Make your toile to be sure of fit, etc.
    I agree that you need to take the zipper out and take the fullness out of the back at the center seam. While you have the zipper out you can shorten the back waist length as well, giving you a better fit.
    Something that may help you with fitting in the future is having a dress form in your size. Threads.com has instructions for making one out of duct tape so you won’t have to buy one.
    Good luck and keep being adventurous!

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