Admire, The Environment

Costume Re-Use: How many times can I wear that dress?

Ramsay to Renoir

I’ve been so uplifted by the response to my post on the climate crisis. In addition to many comments and expressions of support, there has been immediate action. Sewstine has started a group: Costumers for Climate Action, with the goal to use our visibility and voice to help raise environmental awareness and to create change, both as costumers, and in the wider world.

We’re working on bigger plans, but to start off, every member has been encouraged to blog or post about the topic this week.

While costuming isn’t a huge contributor to climate change in the bigger picture, it could still be more eco friendly as a hobby. We’ve been talking about ways to make it more so, and one of the big things that has come up is re-use. As costumers we feel so much pressure to have a new outfit for every event, and to keep making new things.

But, both for the environment, and for all the work that goes into a thing, it’s sad to only wear it once. So here is a celebration of some of my costumes that have been worn, and worn, and worn again.

My goal is for every costume I make to get worn at least 12 times.

Let’s look at three of my earlier frocks and see how I’ve been doing:

The 1878 Jeanne Samary Dress

The Jeanne Samary Dress at the opening of Monet & the Impressionists at Te Papa

First worn to the opening of Monet and the Impressionists, back in March-ish 2007. (#1)

And to my ‘Capturing the Mode’ talk in conjunction with Monet & the Impressionists (#2)

Worn again to Gaskell’s Ball in Oakland, in June-ish 2007 (#3)

At Gaskell’s in Oakland, California

And by Theresa for a photoshoot in the Botanical Gardens (#4)

1880s Jeanne Samary dress

And by models at two more talks on the classical influence on fashion in 2010 (#5 & #6).

And again by a model at Ramsay to Renoir in Nelson (#7)

Ramsay to Renoir

The dress no longer fits me, so is due for a major refurbishment so I get wear it another 5 times and get it to 12 wears! (though my mind is insisting it’s been worn at least once more, but I can’t recall the occasion…)

The ca. 1800 Madame Recamier Regency Dress:

Made back in 2009, in one day.

First worn for a photoshoot the day I finished (#1)

Worn again to a Pride & Prejudice & Zombies ball (where I met SO MANY amazing people who have gone on to be lifelong friends – including Theresa) (#2).

Then the dress appeared at the event it was made for, on a model at Pompeii to Paris I (#3)

And Pompeii to Paris II (#4)

And at a talk for the NZ quilters at a big annual conference in 2010 (#5)

In was very helpful as a stand-in dress in 2011, when I was giving a Dr Sketchy event and developed a virus right before it, and couldn’t breathe in my planned corset (#6):

The timeless beauties get a rundown of the schedule

In 2015 Theresa and I did a Pride & Prejudice themed photoshoot, and I wore it #7:

ca. 1800 Recamier gown

After that I decided I needed to fix all the things I’d gotten wrong with it, and gave it a bit of a refurbishment:

ca. 1800 Recamier gown

Last winter it got worn at Ramsay to Renoir, b7 a model who is a perfect stand-in for the 1995 Jane Bennet! (#9)

Ramsay to Renoir

Last spring Priscilla borrowed it to wear for our Sew & Eat Historical Retreat (#10):

And just a few weeks ago Zara borrowed it as part of her Neelix costume for the Time Travellers Ball. (#11)

I’m almost certain it’s been worn a couple of other times, but I’m also sure it will be worn a dozen more times, so it’s doing well on my costume re-wear goals!

1660s Ninon

Made in 2010-2011, because I love yellow and mid 17th century fashion.

First worn for Grandeur & Frivolity, a talk on Baroque & Rococo music & fashion. (#1)

And then in 2011 for a photoshoot for Radio New Zealand on a similar topic (photo here is an outtake) (#2):

It next appeared at a charity talk at Premier House on the history of afternoon tea (#3)

Chiara in Ninon & Brit in the Pet waiting their cue to enter

And then I finally got to wear it for a photoshoot with Theresa at the old Dominion Museum. #4

1660s Ninon gown

And then again in 2012 for another charity talk, this one at Wellington Museum (#5)

Ninon's Dress

After which I gave the dress a little refurbishment, and added trim to it, and wore it to a Bastille Day ball in 2015 (#6)

And then it went with me to my first CoCo for the Friday Night Gala (#7)

Costume College Friday

And finally, it was worn by a model to Ramsay to Renoir last winter (#8)

Ramsay to Renoir

Four more wears (and hopefully lots more after that) to go!

I’ve loved all ways these dresses have looked, how they change depending on how they are styled, and how different women look in them. It’s a satisfying result after all the work that goes into them. <3


  1. Ooooh, a very timely post! I was going through a similar line of thinking when I had a quirky evening event come up in my calendar….yesterday! I decided I’ll wear the dress you made for my wedding again. I’ll be shopping my closet to match it to different accessories – red ones instead of white ones. I may make a crazy little hatlet to finish off the new interpretation…hopefully that will get me 10 more wears from the dress!

    • Elise says

      How romantic to wear your wedding dress again! I hope that you have a wonderful time!

      Back to the post–SQUEE!!!! BABY DREAMSTRESS!!!

  2. Veronica says

    This is why I haven’t yet managed to “justify” making a historical dress – I just don’t know where I’ll be able to wear it! People say you can make your own events but I’m kind of scared about that … One day. One day.

  3. caterina says

    oh, then i am good with that! i am wearing my (few) dresses again and again! maybe changing the accessoires, mybe re-decorating them (for a fancy ball par example….)….

  4. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Alas, many of the links on the making of the Jeanne Samery dress have gone bad.

    The ruched chiffon or whatever t6hat is are exquisite.

  5. Emily has a good point. “Historical” dresses (particularly from the beginning of the 20th century and onwards) don’t look all that strange even to modern eyes, and can be worn for non-historical events.

  6. Christina Kinsey says

    Actually repeated wearing and alterations to dresses are historically accurate. Our ancestors had more respect for clothes than we do. If social media had existed then l can imagine the shocked reaction at someone wearing a dress only once
    Thank goodness things are beginning to change

  7. Eileen says

    I will be going to a Costumers’s Picnic on Sunday–sadly, I don’t think my Regency gown will fit, but I’ll be wearing a true vintage 1930s dress.

    At one of these events, you could wear anything that was feeling neglected…

  8. Hooray, hooray! A textbook case of how raising awareness can ignite reforms. Bless you all!

    Your post, Leimomi, and all our responses challenged me to design a whole wardrobe around the current 1895 project. One skirt, a bodice, and a shirtwaist made years ago are creating a daytime “wash dress”, an afternoon ensemble, a yachting outfit, a picnic and ramble outfit, and a teagown. That should take me for years. By adding or removing plastrons, a complex fichu confection, sets of cuffs and ruffles, belts, and gloves, and re-tooling a few old hats, I can mutate the basics all different ways. Research this weekend has turned up 1890’s advice on thrifty retoolings to share, too.

    Part of the fun is focusing on complex accessories, which rarely get made when you have a whole dress to get through.

    To make the items, I have at command stash or vintage lace and fabric bits, vintage and antique passementerie and ribbon, discarded feathers from geese and ducks molting at a nearby park (washed and disinfected), vintage millinery bits, and yet another worn-out sheet.

    Now there are new skills to enhance and learn fresh: complex shaped loops and bows, fabric flowers, cord couching, “pasteboard” cardboard work, to decorate “corsages” (bodices), skirts, petticoat, hats, and bags.

    I’ve renovated outfits before, chiefly for the Regency period, but this is an era for which there are oodles and oodles of antique publications online, with patterns and instructions.

    You all might be interested, if you haven’t read her blog before, in Sabine’s “Kleidung um 1800” , in German and English. She is a past master at reuse and accessories. Her chosen eras: Regency and 1790s.

    Sewforth we go!

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