20th Century, Historical Sew Fortnightly, Sewing, What I wear

HSF Challenge #23: the Ettie Mae Hooverette Dress

When it came time for the HSF Challenge #23: Gratitude (make something utilises the tutorials, patterns and research that so many of the historical costuming community make available for free) I was in a bit of a quandary.  I’ve got a list of tutorials and patterns that I want to use that is a mile long, and kilometres of fabric and lace that have been gifted to me by generous people, but every one of these tutorials and patterns was would be a very involved project.  Stupidly I’d scheduled the ‘Generosity’ challenge right at the end of the university semester, and I was up to my neck in marking.

What to do!?!

I had a browse through the HSF photo albums and finished projects for inspiration, and was reminded again of the Hooverette dress that Jen did for the Robes & Robings challenge.  It’s simple, it’s sweet, I’m madly in love with it, and I want one!  Also, Jen did a bunch of awesome research on Hooverette and wrap dresses from the 20s-40s, making reproducing one easy.

After looking at all the different types of Hooverettes, I was particularly drawn to the early-mid ’30s styles with shawl collars and little puff sleeves, such as this one, and this one.  I don’t think I’ve worn little tiny puff sleeves on anything since I was about 5, but every once in a while my inner Anne gets her way!

I had some 1930s inspired quilting fabric in stash, and I actually own a late ’20s wrap dress pattern:

Excella E3244 late 1920s wrap dress

Excella E3244 late 1920s wrap dress

The pattern simply calls it a ‘wrap around frock’ and it’s a bit early for the look I’m going for, but I used it as a pattern base, and drafted my own slim 1930s skirt and a shawl collar, and borrowed puff sleeves from another 1930s pattern.

Things started out easily enough, and then I decided to get complicated and have a contrasting collar, and the white for my collar and cuffs and sash was too white, so I tea-dyed:

Tea Dyeing thedreamstress.com

The middle fabric is dyed, the outer two are not – I just wanted to cut the brightness of the white the tiniest bit.

As it turns out, that was the beginning of my problems – I forgot to dye the sash pieces, and then couldn’t get them to match, and then cut the sleeve cuffs wrong, and had to re-cut them out of un-dyed fabric.  In the end, my sash, cuffs and collar were all different dye jobs!

Then there were sewing headaches with getting the wrap of the shawl collar to sit right,but in the end, I persevered, and I’m extremely pleased with the overall result:

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com
(OK, so I wish the collar was wider and more crazy-30s, but I’ll get that right next time)

The pattern has cunning little tucks at the waist to give it shape:

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

I edged the collar, and cuffs in tiny red ric-rac to give them definition.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

It’s very subtle, but provides just the right contrast and pop to the dress.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

Or at least I think so!

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

I repeated the ric-rac on the pocket and added white piping to keep it from blending into the dress:

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

I couldn’t do it on the waist ties though, as they would have been too stiff.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

The proof of the pudding, is, of course, in the wearing, and let me tell you, this wears well!

I’ve already worn it to do a last bit of university work, to hang out the laundry, wash dishes, make dinner, and tidy around the house, as well as to teach a sewing class.

It was a fantastically warm day in Wellingon: almost too warm, and brilliantly sunny.  In between doing housework and errands I stopped by Madame O’s house for a photoshoot.  Like many people in earthquake-wary Wellington, she’s having her chimney removed, so when I arrived she was literally shoveling out dirt from a hole in the floor where the fireplace had been, but she climbed out to have a cup of tea and take photos of me.

We sat in her pocket handkerchief back garden and I posed with the roses and lemons and old-fashioned grapes:

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sun.  Frogelina was loving the weather.  I was posing and Madame O was snapping away and then I noticed Miss Frogelina hanging out and watching the show.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

I’m in love with the dress as a whole, but I’m particularly in love with the pocket.  It’s big enough for my car keys and a coin/card purse and a lip gloss.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com
Or a lemon.  Lemons are good too!

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com

The Challenge:  #23: Generosity & Gratitude

Fabric:  2m reproduction 1930s print quilting cotton ($4 per metre on sale), 1/3 metre white lawn for the collar, cuffs & sash ($5 per metre)

Pattern:  My own, mushed together from various vintage patterns and with a bit of drafting (hmmm…this sounds really familiar).

Year:  ca. 1934

Notions:  Cotton thread, vintage ric-rac, vintage bias hem tape, all inherited.

How historically accurate is it?  While the print is accurate, quilting/craft cotton is not an accurate weight or hand for the 1930s (which is why all those reproduction prints are so annoying – perfect pattern, not at all period fabric!), so the dress doesn’t wear or hang as a period original would.  My construction is all period perfect though.  So 70%.

Hours to complete:  5 or 6.  I spent way too much time fussing with the collar.

First worn:  All day Wednesday to be a teacher and seamstress and housewife and friend.    

Total cost:  $9.50

And special thanks goes to: Jen, for the inspiration and research, and Madame O, for taking time out of her busy day to do a photoshoot for me.

1930s inspired 'Hooverette' wrap dress thedreamstress.com


  1. Oh, I love this dress on you! I’ve always wondered after looking at patterns for these what they would actually look like, and I have to say, this has me itching to buy a hooverette pattern now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s so charming! I will never wear one, because it would make me look too much like my late mother and that would freak me out badly. But on you I love the print, and the contrasting trim and collar are just right.

  3. I like it. I think it’s a great mix of practicality and style, and I really like the hanfu collar you put on it.

  4. holly says

    Great result! I have a few lengths of vintage floral prints, similar to your fabric. I’ve been stumped to find the right style without looking too girly. The plain contrasting trims stop the dress from looking sickly sweet. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Oh, I love the white collar and cuffs and sash!
    May I ask, what the original hang of the fabric would have been?
    Also, this looks exactly like the sort of garment that you could have hanging in your sewing area for the cases when someone rings at the door. 😉

    • Thank you!

      Most original 1930s cottons are much drapier and flimsier. The high quality ones are like a very soft, drooping lawn, but most of them are a little coarse, with an open weave that creates more drape. Flour sack cotton is a bit closer to quilting, but even it is thiner and softer and drapier.

  6. Love, love, love this. Think I want three, all in different colours…

  7. Fashionista says

    What a lovely frock, your little details like ric-rac and piping really make the difference. I need some “house dresses” that I can do housework in but still be able to answer the door and at a stretch do an emergency run to the shops so you have given me excellent inspiration. Thank you.

  8. Totally wonderful dress! I have that fabric too, and yes, it is a right pain that they all come as quilting cottons.

  9. Lynne says

    I think this is just beautiful! I particularly like your little details, like the piping around the pocket, and the tiny red ric-rac.

    Not to mention the ‘overall result’! 🙂 Very clever.

  10. I love your pictures in the sun. It snowed a good 18″ here in sorta-northern Canada this past week and was around -32C today in the wind, so when I see all that sun and greenery, it makes me feel a little happier 🙂 And of course, the dress is too adorable!

  11. OMG – your dress is absolutely adorable!!! We totally need to start a new trend and bring Hooverettes back into fashion. LOL! And I am tickled pink that my research helped you out. Thank-you SO MUCH! This totally made my day! 🙂

  12. Susan Mahood says

    I’ve been searching everywhere on the web to find, pattern or the item itself to purchase…1930/40/50 even into the 60’s..wrap around apron/house coat/ dress..
    Could you be of any help?
    Would greatly appreciate any help,.
    Susan Mahood

    • Vintage wrap dress patterns come up regularly on Ebay, Etsy and other vintage pattern marketplaces. Other than that I can’t be much help.

  13. Anastasia says

    I love it! I wish there was a feature here where I could show you a picture of a Hooverette dress I found in a magazine. I am having it made for me and am so excited! You are lucky you know how to sew, and you do it so well!

    Hugs, Anastasia

    • You could link to any online image host – an instagram or photobucket album, or a FB album if you make it public. I’d love to see it!

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