Do you have a party dress that doesn’t quite fit as you would like? Here are a few simple alterations you can make to an existing party dress to make you feel just right at the next holiday gathering.
1. Adjust the hem
Adjusting the hem is, of course, the simplest alteration you can make on a cocktail dress. Sometimes a few inches can make all the difference. Did you know that clothes — both off the rack and sewing patterns — are designed for a person that’s 5’5″ or 5’6″? If you aren’t this height, then a hem alteration could make a big difference!
Don’t forget to hem the lining as well. The lining is usually a bit shorter than the fashion fabric so that it doesn’t show.
Letting the hem out is also an option for a too-short dress. If you need all the length that the hem allowance can provide, you can stitch on a hem facing instead of a regular hem at a very small seam allowance (¼”) to get the maximum length.
Be sure to press your dress on the inside and try a damp press cloth to remove the original hem crease.
2. Take in or out at the side seams
After hemming, this is probably the most common alteration. You may need to adjust either the top or bottom of your dress, or you might need to alter the entire side seam.
When it comes to adjusting side seams, especially on sheath dresses and fitted styles, I say you can skip altering the lining if you are taking in less than 1″ at each side. It won’t change the fit of the dress, and lining fabrics are typically so thin that they’ll still work even if the outer fabric of the garment has been made smaller.
For sleeveless dresses, you may need to take in the very top of the side seam, at the underarm.
Letting out a dress can be tricky, as most ready-to-wear garments don’t have much seam allowance. But if there is some available, you can undo the stitching and adjust the seams. You might want to open up a small portion of a seam and test if you can press out the original crease of the seam allowance before you continue with this adjustment.
3. Shorten the straps
A sleeveless dress like the one shown above can often feel too loose in the chest, and you might think the answer is taking it in at the side. Before you do that try pinning it up the shoulder seams.
Often the bodice is too long and the bust point of the dress isn’t landing at the bust line. Taking up the shoulders moves the widest part of the bodice (around the chest) up slightly, and your body fills in the space. When you do this, the armhole also gets smaller, which may be more comfortable and eliminate gaping.
While it’s a bit fussy to open up the shoulder seam, it’s easy enough to take out some length there. I generally unpick the facing or lining about 2″ below the shoulder seam on both front and back neckline and at the armholes. Then I stitch the dress fabric shoulder seam by machine and hand stitch the facing or lining back in place.
A similar process applies (and is even easier) for a dress with actual straps. Pin the straps at the shoulder to raise the dress bodice, mark the amount taken up, and then detach the straps at the back. Remove the excess, leaving some seam allowance on the strap. Then sew the shortened straps back in place.
Alternatively you can pinch out the excess at the bottom of the strap, stitch across on the inside of the strap, and then tuck the excess strap inside the dress bodice.
4. Fill in a neckline that’s too low
This one takes a little out-of-the-box thinking, but you can get creative with a neckline that’s uncomfortably low.
I find that sheer fabrics are perfect for filling in a neckline while adding a little mystery to your style.. In the example above, I placed a piece of silk organza across the straight edge of the neckline just to show the idea. A chiffon would work as well, and it could even be softly gathered or pleated to add an interesting detail.
More uses for sheer fabrics
Perhaps you found the perfect dress… except it doesn’t have sleeves. You can add any type of sleeve in a sheer fabric in a coordinating shade. In this case, you don’ t have to worry about how it looks on the inside — just hand sew the sleeve into the armhole! A flutter sleeve would be really easy to do; and elbow-length or longer sleeve would bring the drama to a party dress.
If your dress is too short but you love the bodice, make a gathered skirt in a sheer fabric to wear over it. It could be tulle, organza, chiffon or lace. The sheer over a mini is really popular now!
5. Adjust at the center back
Sometimes the fit on a dress feels right in the front, but the back or back neckline is too large. It’s easy to remove some of this excess on fit-and-flare dresses (like the one shown above) or any dress with an inset waistband.
The one downside to this alteration is that you must completely remove the zipper. Any change in the center back seam will effect the length of the zipper opening. Even if you’re only taking it in at the top, you still need to remove the zipper entirely due to that length change.
Remove the zipper, pin-fit the dress and mark the new center back seam. Add your seam allowances, being careful not to make it too tight. After marking the new stitch line and new seam allowances, cut off the excess and reinsert the zipper as you would any zipper, lining it up at the top and pinning it all the way down. I find a bit of hand basting here helps to get that zipper in smoothly and make sure the seams align at the waist.
What adjustments will you make to your favorite dress?