How To Commission A 1940s Wedding Dress

1940s wedding dress

You know, I’d almost be tempted to get married, just to wear a wedding dress like Juliet’s. It’s definitely a dress, rather than a gown. And that’s what I love about this wedding outfit – it’s so grown up.

If you’ve read a bestselling novel or even gone to the cinema over the past few years, it’s likely you’ve enjoyed the talent of a Juliet Mushens client. Juliet is a literary agent known for her laser eye, immaculate taste and editorial skills. She also has excellent taste in dresses, as evidenced by this once-in-a-lifetime commission from Maggie Cooke.

Juliet kindly agreed to tell us in her own words the story of a dress that truly took my breath away…

Q: FIRST, COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WHERE YOUR LOVE OF VINTAGE CLOTHES CAME FROM?

A: I went to a lindy hop class on a whim years ago, and quickly fell in love with the 1940s social dance. But what I loved the most were the outfits – men in high-waisted oxford bags, button braces, and three-piece suits, and women in dresses which moved so elegantly and created a really feminine silhouette.

I have always been obsessed with fashion and I have inherited some wonderful pieces from my late nana. I built on that slowly over the years, to the point now that I could probably do with a separate wardrobe just for vintage coats!

how to commission a wedding dress

The groom’s suit came from Chester Cordite

Q: HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE DESIGN FOR YOUR WEDDING DRESS?

A: I knew that I wanted a 1940s style dress from the start: I didn’t want something full-length or heavy, and I love the classic shape of the early 1940s with the defined shoulders, gathered bodice and fitted waist. It was also important to me that I was comfortable, so the initial pattern was based off a 1940s dress I already owned, and had worn a lot – so I knew it would fit well.

The rest of the dress came together pretty organically. We went to Hammersmith Vintage Fair and found some antique lace which had three beaded flowers on – we decided one would embroider each shoulder, and one under the bust. That colour palette – a muted gold and pearl – dictated the colour for the dress and Maggie hand-dyed silk to a warm champagne colour. The dress was lined with silk as well.

1940s evening gown detail

We also found some antique pearl buttons which she used to close the back, with an invisible zip under the peplum. My mum spotted a mid-century pearl and gold brooch, which Maggie mounted onto a cream headband and built out with fronds and flowers behind and around it, which finished the look.

antique buttons on wedding dress

Q: WHO MADE YOUR WEDDING DRESS FOR YOU?

A: The dress was made by the amazing Maggie Cooke. Maggie made Fearne Cotton’s wedding dress and she works on costumes for the English National Opera and Poldark. I have known Maggie for years through dancing, and her dress collection is incredible – I knew she would make something very special.

 Q: WHAT WAS THE FITTING PROCESS LIKE?

A: Because it was based off a dress I already own, it was very straightforward. Maggie made a toile first and fitted that, and then when she made the actual wedding dress it didn’t need any alterations. Because I was planning on dancing a lot, she added dance gussets under the arms so I wouldn’t worry about ripping a seam during a spin.

Q: THE DETACHABLE TRAIN FASCINATES ME – COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT?

A: The train was Maggie’s idea! I loved the dress when I tried on the toile but she thought that the back was a little plain. She made probably 5 or 6 different back concepts on the toile, ranging from short bustles, to bows, and finally to the very dramatic train. I obviously fell in love with the waterfall train as soon as I saw it! It was important to me that I could dance in the dress so the train was hooked underneath the peplum at the back, and once I was at the wedding reception I unhooked it so I could do my first dance. The train was very light and I loved having such an interesting shape to the dress.

detachable train for a wedding dress

Q: AND THOSE SLEEVE HEADS! COULD YOU SHARE SOME CONSTRUCTION DETAILS? I LOVE THE DRAMATIC SILHOUETTE.

A: I am obsessed with the shoulders. I love shoulder pads and quite a few of my vintage dresses have small shoulder pads to create the shape. Maggie used organza to give them their definition, and they became a stunning feature with the beaded flowers. I even had 6 inches chopped off my hair so I could show them off in all their glory.

1940s sleeve head

Q: DO YOU THINK YOU’LL EVER WEAR THE WEDDING DRESS AGAIN?

A: Yes absolutely. It is such a beautiful dress and I loved the way it moved when I danced. I’m also tempted to get the pattern made in different fabrics (I am dreaming of an emerald green) for dance events, as I just loved it so much.

Thank you so much, Juliet! I loved hearing about the process and discovering Maggie Cooke.

Readers, I’ve been researching some similair sewing patterns in case you’re inspired. You can see some corkers here, here and here. It’s fascinating to see how gathering fabric into panels was a key detail at this time. Do you think that was in order to enjoy some luxury without the full on frills and excessive use of fabric of the pre-war years? I’m sure there are experts out there who shall let us know.

Interesting literary/wedding/1940s side note: the romance author, Barbara Cartland, bought more than 70 wedding dresses to donate to the War Office during the Second World War. She felt sorry for all the women who were forced to marry in uniform.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this and another big thank you to Juliet for kind supply of photos and for sharing her wedding outfit!

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11 Responses to How To Commission A 1940s Wedding Dress

  1. aliceandcopatterns says:

    Stunning! You would certainly want one in every colour. With or without a removable train! There should be more occasions for wearing trains.

  2. Oh wow! This dress is incredible. Thank you for the Q & A.

  3. Sam says:

    Just beautiful 🙂 Sam the Aussie

  4. Paola says:

    Lovely. My mother-in-law’s wedding dress from 1941 looked very similar to this.

  5. Sandra says:

    What a gorgeous dress and the shoes are fabulous too.

  6. Gorgeous dress! I have my friend’s Grandma’s wedding dress from the mid 1930’s and it has many similar features. It got shortened later and dyed blue! No one fits in it now so I have it, just to gaze at occasionally. I also made a wedding dress for a girl about 20 years ago with a similar waterfall train-this reminded me of how pretty it was.

  7. Hello I’ve just listened to the Stitcher Brew podcast and as a result found your blog. You were a pleasure to listen to and I’m going to sit down and have a read of your posts. I recognised Juliet straight away as I follow her on Twitter and it was really lovely to have a read about her beautiful wedding dress. She has a fantastic sense of style (and writing herself) and I’m thrilled that you know each other. Away to catch up on the rest of your blog now…

  8. Also – I’ve just realised I read your Guardian articles recently too and remember what you said about the Anna dress and how it was suitable for a beginner. As a result of this and seeing it on Instagram I’m looking to make it for Edinburgh Frocktails. I remember your mentioning on the podcast that you went to meet ups as far afield as Edinburgh so maybe even see you there!

  9. Such a beautiful wedding dress. You look stunning
    https://styleofbonnie.com/

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