20th Century

Watteau in Paradise

A couple of years ago I got a facebook message from the lovely Sadie.  She’d found a 1960s Hawaiian dress at an op shop.  Would I like it?  Oh sure, the 1960s did lots of Hawaiian stuff – it might be fun.

Nope, turns out, it’s actually Hawaiian!  As in, the fabric is by a Hawaiian fabric company (who knew?  There were, and are, still fabric companies in Hawaii!), and the dress is made from a Patterns Pasifica (a short lived 1960s-70s Hawaiian pattern company) design.

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

Sadly, the dress is  not from a Patterns Pacifica pattern that I own (my Mum bought me half a dozen when I was a teenager, and I’m gutted that I didn’t take better care of them), but it’s from that I’ve wanted to own for ages, because it’s very 18th century inspired, with those 1960s Watteau pleats.

Patterns Pacifica thedreamstress.com

So obviously I was VERY excited about the dress!

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

And it fits me!  (more or less.  It would help if I was 4 inches shorter and half a size smaller – as it was, I had to let out the hem as much as it would possibly go, and add a bias hem facing).

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

Unfortunately there aren’t very many opportunities to wear a mad Hawaiian evening gown in Wellington, but I was SO in love with the dress that when I was heading home to Hawaii in 2012 I convinced my parents that the theme of their 30th wedding anniversary should be ‘1960s Tiki Lounge’, complete with mocktails and pineapple hedgehog hors d’oeuvres, so I could wear the dress to that.

I’d show you pictures of the event but my little sister will kill me if any of the photos of her in a bright blue and orange micro-mini muumuu go public.

When we planned our Vanuatu holiday I was determined that I’d finally get proper photos.

Vanuatu was the perfect place to wear it and take pictures: I was definitely the most glamorous guest at the resort, and the staff loved it that I dressed for dinner.

It’s a bit sad that so few people do dress up.  Most people were going to dinner in tank tops and ripped shorts, despite the spectacular setting with formal candlelit dining right on the beach.  And since it was so hot, you wanted to change outfits three times a day anyway, so why not put on something a little fabulous?

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

The gorgeous  handbag, btw, is by my sister,  it’s handpainted leather and the lining has monkeys and if you ask nicely enough, you can probably buy your own from her!

Mr D did quite a good job with photos, don’t you think?

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com

I only have one regret about the photos.  After we’d taken a lot and I’d declared that we were done, we walked back to our fare, and I noticed the light and snapped this photo of Mr D as a test:

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com


Obviously it was VERY exciting, and we needed to take more of me down that path!

Nope.  Mr D threw a grumpy and said I’d said we were done, so we were DONE and refused to get any more.  Bah humbug.  What a poohead.

Watteau in Paradise 1960s dress thedreamstress.com


  1. Jeanette Murray says

    The dress is nothing short of spectacular and your photos capture all of the beauty!

    • Thank you! I think it’s an amazing frock: who would think of a muumuu as being so glamorous? (though technically, it’s a holoku, not a muumuu, and one day I’ll do a terminology post on the difference!).

  2. Wow that dress is so beautiful on you. I love flowing tropical dresses. Especially the ones that can be worn for dressy occasions. What a beautiful dress to treasure!

    • Thank you so much! I love flowing tropical dresses too – there is something so graceful about the looseness, and they way they float around your body, rather than constricting it.

  3. Kathy P in Pittsburgh says

    If this were a rate the dress post, I would give it a 10.
    Super lines and a really lovely print. It’s vibrant, but not jarring.
    Love it, and you and it make a great pair.

    • The funny thing is, I almost considered doing this dress as a Rate the Dress – not on me, but on a mannequin. But I was sure too many people would recognise my photo setup, and it would twist the vote, and I didn’t want anyone to feel bad when I posted photos of me in it if they had rated badly! (I wouldn’t have minded: the great thing about fashion is that we all have different taste).

      I would also rate the dress a 10, but I think it does need to be in the tropics to look right.

      And thank you!

      • I think you’re right about it needing the tropics. It reminded me of Steph’s posts on colours – the matching your environment one. This is a wonderful example of doing it right!

  4. What a gorgeous dress! I follow you from afar, having in common Hawaii roots and a love for sewing and fashion. I love that dress, which reminds me of a mu’umu’u I got from my Great Aunt Olive. To this day, I am in pain about giving it away. When I was growing up in Nu’uanu, my mom and sisters and I sewed up mu’umu’u for our orchestra uniforms and hula performances from Pacifica Patterns.

    • Thank you! Aloha! It’s great to know there is another kama’aina reader!

      I bet you wouldn’t want to give away a dress like this, especially with one with family ties! How special! I don’t suppose you have a photo?

      When I was growing up on Moloka’i Pacifica Patterns were out, except if you were weird like me, but we sewed our hula outfits from a pattern company with Victoria in the name. I still have a couple of them back in Hawaii – oddly enough, both in this shade of orange-gold. One in satin, one in yellow-on-gold cotton. Clearly this colour is my destiny!

      • I think I came across the Victoria Hawaiian patterns online once, years ago. They were among the first pattern envelope pictures I saved on my computer, because I was fascinated by the notion of Hawaiian dresses and loved the simple feminine lines. It slipped by the wayside over the years… Please, do write that terminology post. 🙂

  5. I agree–people should dress up more! Especially when the venue lends itself so perfectly. I’ve gotten used to being the oddball in a dress while the rest of the clientele is in jeans–but I’m having a fun time, so who cares? It looks like you and your lovely dress had a fun time, too!

    • We certainly did! It’s great that being informal and casual is so much easier, but it’s sad that there are so few times to dress up. But like you say, we do it anyway!

      Still, I’d rather be surrounded by a sea of women in dresses far prettier than mine than always the best dressed woman in the room. It’s no fun if there is nothing to aspire to and admire!

  6. MJ Ruisi says

    YAY!!!!! that color scheme is fantastic on You!Ever heard of Tiki Oasis…?

  7. Really stunning. And I love the styling- you made barefoot look so elegant! 😉

    • Thank you!

      When I said I was ready to take pictures Mr D said “Barefoot!?!” and I said “Of course!”. 😉

      I did wear shoes to dinner – gorgeous gold sandals.

  8. When I saw this dress in the thrift store, my first response was “AHHHHH, look at that pattern, I can see it from outer space!” But I shop for clothing with my hands, and the minute I touched the fabric – I remember it as a heavy, appealing cotton – I knew this was a Garment of Interest. It was too small for me – it was a rescue at the time – and the cut was so unusual that, between that and the fabric quality, I called Leimomi. So glad when a vintage garment rescue finds its destiny!

    • Me too! Thank you so much for thinking of me!

      The fabric is a really lovely cotton sateen. And while it does look garish in NZ, in Hawaii or Vanuatu it is just right!

  9. Sooo pretty. I need to get that sewing pattern. Unfortunately, I have no Hawaiian parents I could convince to have a big party just so I can wear a dress like that. Will have to come up with some other idea…

  10. Love that way of expressing your frustration at Mr. D. :)! I can relate. And poohead is always a good description.


  11. Heather says

    I’m pretty sure I have this pattern! It’s my only Pacifica pattern and I loved seeing it made up on a real person. If we ever go on the Hawaiian vacation we keep talking about I’ll make it up. Not many opportunities to wear something like this living on the Canadian prairie, unless I put long sleeves on it and make it out of wool…

      • Heather says

        We are finally going to Hawaii! Only problem is we booked it spontaneously and leave in two weeks so I’m not sure I’ll have time to make it this time around. Boo. I will definitely let you know if I decide to part with it or if I spot another one!

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