When I was a child I was given Tom Tierney’s ‘Ballet Stars of the Romantic Era‘ paper doll book. Though I enjoyed the occasional girls ballet book, I wasn’t ballet obsessed. This was mostly because ballet was simply such an abstract concept for me – in Hawaii little girls learn hula, not ballet. I read about ballet, but the scenes they were described were as remote and exotic as Heidi’s Alps.
Although I couldn’t grasp the idea of a modern person being a ballerina, I loved the paper dolls. The beautiful costumes (of course) and the stories of the ballerina’s lives (affairs with mad kings and all) appealed to me.
Later on, when I finally saw ballets at the San Francisco Ballet and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, I was hugely disappointed by the costumes. They were beautiful and striking, but in my mind I’d always imagined the soft, floating swish of romantic-era skirts of silk tulle. The stiff nylon platters of the modern ballerina just didn’t live up to my expectations. If I was going to design a ballet outfit, it would look like something Taglioni, Grisi, or Essler would wear.
Somewhere in a scrapbook I have a picture of Selma Blair in the dress she wore to the 2003 Met Costume Gala. She said of the dress something to the effect that she never got to be a ballerina as a little girl, so the dress was her ballerina moment.
For some reason that quote has always stuck with me (although I’d forgotten all the details of the dress except that it was vaguely ballerina-y), and I’ve thought, ‘yes, every girl should have a ballerina moment’.
The closest I’ve ever come to a ballerina moment was the outfit I wore to the Fairies & Dinosaurs party, but it wasn’t quite the vision I had.
This year I’m becoming aware, as the wrinkles don’t quite go away and I get too many grey hairs to honestly claim that they are all sports, that my time to have a ballerina moment is going to run out. I should do it now!
This year I have the perfect excuse – the Windy Lindy ball theme is ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ (a la Back to the Future), and a Romantic era ballet costume is close enough to a ’50s prom dress, right?
I also have the perfect fabric: 5 yards of vintage silk organza in pink with three-dimensional organza ribbon roses that my Grandmother brought back from a trip to Japan in the late ’50s.
The clock is definitely ticking on me in that much pink organza too!
So, inspiration for a romantic-era ballerina, meeting 1950s full-skirted romanticism:
I love the simple fitted bodices, pointed waists, and the soft, swooshing fullness of the skirts.
I went looking for 50’s dress with the same elements, and assembled a pinterest inspiration board.
Then I went browsing in my pattern stash, and unearthed my Grandmother’s copy of Butterick 6485 from the early 1950s.
It’s got a fitted bodice, pointed waist, a full circle skirt with gathers (circles for that extra swish, and to maximise my fabric) and is perfect!
When I opened it up, I discovered that my Grandmother had definitely made it, and even created two new pieces to add a peplum.
For a moment I was back with her, mixing and matching pattern pieces and drafting new ones to create the ideal gown.
As I looked at the longer view, and the peplum pieces, I suddenly realised that not only did I know what her gown would have looked like, I own it!
This is me, aged 20, in one of the three items of my grandmother’s finished sewing that I own:
It’s the pattern, with some alterations!
And, as further proof that the dress was meant to be, my toile fit perfectly straight off the pattern! (or, at least it does with the correct bra under it).
Now, to be brave and cut into that organza…