Monday, May 9, 2016

The "Sabrina" Little Black Dress for Audrey: How to Make It

Audrey Hepburn was seen in "Sabrina" in one of the most iconic gowns designed for her by Hubert de Givenchy, a little black dress with a signature 'bateau' neckline and shoulder ties.

Sewing your own copy of the "Sabrina" dress isn't really that difficult for a sewist with experience in sewing dresses.  Classic and undated, it is a style as fresh today as it was when the movie was filmed.

 Based on a basic bodice, the shoulders are ties with a deep "V" back. The bodice itself can be constructed from any basic dress top that fits by following my tips for styling it.

The two patterns shown here along with New Look 6391 and 6262 (exactly like New Look 6223) have a similar silhouette to the original dress. One, the Vogue 8723 (out of print, but available online) even has the right bateau neckline and shoulder strap. New Look 6223 is a simple darted bodice, which can be found in many current and vintage sewing patterns.

The original dress for Audrey had princess seam lines, which give the closest torso fit. The four dress patterns above have princess seams that are much the same.

The original skirt has a full hem, with deep folded tucks around the waistline like Simplicity 4070 and McCall's 6953 (not pictured here).  For today's version, a semi-circle will give much the same effect, or a gathered skirt will resemble the illustration by Edith Head. You can also go with a more sophisticated silhouette by adding a straight skirt instead. (note: since this post, Butterick 5322 is out of print, but available online through the pattern company).

The bodice pattern will need to have some new seam lines drafted to create this look. The following slides illustrate where those new seam lines should be drafted on a basic bodice pattern.

This first slide shows where to draft the neckline and upper armholes. The top of shoulder should like up with where your bra sits.

The back view shows how to draft a new seam line from the center zipper, up to the shoulder. This line should land at the inside edge of the bra strap. If your pattern has a wide shoulder, you may also need to taper that line in, starting from the armhole curve, going up to the shoulder seam. The two new seams may be as close as a half inch to fit the shoulder tie. Did you notice the row of buttons down the center back?  Those can be sewn over the zipper stitches, much like a bridal gown.

The shoulder ties can be of a matching fabric or ribbons. From the photos it appears that the original ties are very narrow (1/4" to 1/2" wide), and may be spaghetti ties of fabric. To get the right length, use string to pin 'mock' ties at your shoulder. The back will extend up to the shoulder seam, so it's mostly the bodice front where the ties are seen. Another option is shown at the bottom of this post where a vintage 1950's sewing pattern shows contrast color bias tape sewn across the bodice front, with each end used to tie at the shoulder.

To create this new pattern modification, add seam allowance to each new seam line, usually this is 5/8" for American sewing patterns. To create the new facings, use the new bodice pattern you made and trace that off for the facing shapes.

I hope this gets you started on a fun and successful sewing project. Come back an share your project with us. Also, if you are wondering about the illustration that I used, it was drawn by Edith Head to show the dress that Givenchy actually designed for Audrey. The full length costume illustration from Sabrina can be found in my blog as well.

For vintage pattern lovers, here is Simplicity 3002 from the 1950's that seems to have been inspired as well by the movie "Sabrina".

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Jessica Piesse said...

Another wonderful post. I cannot believe how timely your posts always are- I was just looking at silk in a beautiful shade called "daffodil" on the weekend, and thinking that I would like a Sabrina Fairchild dress made in the fabric.
Perhaps I will try to make it.

Jen O said...

Thank you Jessica for the kind comments. This dress would not be a difficult project, and the neckline looks beautiful (trust Givenchy to create something like this). If you do make the dress, share your results! One more thing, at the time I posted this I meant to note that her birthday was May 4th, a few days earlier.