The Geoffrey Beene Power Dress

A few weeks ago I had never heard of Geoffrey Beene, an American designer. Since purchasing a 1988 Vogue pattern, and making it up I have found that Beene produced several patterns for Vogue. Here are a few I like, but there are several to choose from. Because many are from the currently “unfashionable” 80s it is possible to pick them up for £2 or £3.


Geoffrey Beene was an American designer (d2004) who specialised in “tricky, complicated clothes that moved effortlessly on the body” according to SFGate. 

“He made dresses without side seams; he created the curving zipper, a technological breakthrough in design; he showed ball gowns inspired by football jerseys; a denim, strapless evening dress. He became known for the bolero and the jumpsuit…A quintessential American designer, he often said that comfort and versatility were his top priorities. “He always believed that it was important for the body to be free, for the woman to be able to run for a bus,” said Gladys Perint Palmer.

He started his own company in 1963, one of the first American designers to do so. Along with Bill Blass, Beene is considered one of the founding fathers of American sportswear design…A decade earlier, when the House of Dior was looking for a designer, Palmer recalls suggesting that Beene apply for the job. “He said, ‘No, no, I’m not suitable for Dior; their philosophy is to confine the body with a corset on top and hide the rest of it under a big skirt.’ “

Vogue wrote:

 He is the most original, idiosyncratic, autonomous creator in his field. Beene’s architectural complexity, elaborate serpentine seams, and iconoclasm thrilled the crowd, as did his blunt dismissal of everything that fell beyond the scope of his own interests. “I hate trends,” he said. He led fashion while also remaining aloof from it…His lifelong quest became to create ever lighter, and ever more fluid looks. Beene went in for jersey and did away with side seams, which he found unflattering; he dismissed his earlier (1960s) work as “uptight little dresses.” Of this radical, mid-career shift, he said, “I wanted to let the fabric move and flow, with a minimum of darts and seams.”

I am now a total convert. Previously passing up many of the eighties styles, Beene included, I realise now that they have something about them that I love. This was the era where women were begining  to get important jobs – the power suit era – and designers were really thinking about what would be good to wear for work. If you look at the suits without a “urgh, the eighties” mindset, they are actually pretty wearable. Even if the jackets are voluminous (to emphasise the close fit of the skirt or dress) the skirts, trousers and dresses remain very acceptable. As I look carefully at these patterns I realise they are both contemporary and desirable.

Design and style

I enjoyed making and wearing this dress. Although the 1980s silhouette is unmistakable, the hips and shoulders balance perfectly. It is both comfortable and feminine, but also very smart. I made few alterations, mainly lengthening the torso. I also omitted the shoulder pads, mainly because I didn’t have any at home. I cut the skirt to finish more or less on the knee, and included a lining as I was working with white fabric. White has a tendency to transparency that is not exactly “Vogue Career”.

Vogue 2031 Geoffrey Beene
Vogue 2031 Geoffrey Beene

Materials and Construction

I used a fairly heavy white cotton with a little Lycra in it. Making up was straight forward. I followed the instructions precisely, save only for the addition of a white silk lining. I used cotton organdie for interlining at the  neckline, and put the zip in by hand. The most beautiful features are the pleating behind which are deep pockets, and the cap sleeves. I think the neckline could be just a touch higher.

Kate Davies in Vogue 2031
Vogue 2031

I love this dress, but despite my careful fitting it is a little bit too big. You can see the back neckline gapes, and the armhole opening is just a touch too deep. So when I make this up in wool I will taper the back seam, taking out as much as 2″ at the neckline and about 1″ at the waist. And I will raise the side seams by about half an inch. Otherwise I am very happy with the fit and style of this dress. I am speaking at Oxford Planning Law Conference this Saturday and I plan to wear this dress, despite its flaws.

Kate Davies in Vogue 2031
Gape at armhole and back neck




9 Responses

  1. Kbenco

    Its very smart. I had to check it out in close up to see if there were side seams after your interesting introduction about the designer, as I was wondering how one could put in the pockets without them ;).

  2. maryfunt

    This is very flattering on you and I think it will be perfect after you make the changes. I learned that Vogue was licensed to sell designer designs but Vogue took the design, created it on their block (sloper), and graded for an “American” fit. Typically this fit has much more ease and a different body shape than the European fit. That’s why the style as sewn can look so different. I love the vintage styles you show and am looking forward to seeing your versions. They are classics.

  3. Canal Couture

    Actually, I think some elements of late 80’s and early 90’s are making their way back into fashion. I have been on the lookout for some vintage Donna Karan and DKNY patterns and stumbled across the Vogue Career line as well. I love how they gave work appropriate options, that had some strong design elements, without being overtly fussy.

  4. Stephanie

    This is a lovely cut on you. Good luck this weekend!

    You also make some interesting points about the 80s designs. As Canal Couture mentioned, I think some 80s design details are coming back into fashion. Just last night I sketched a skirt that I saw that was very similar to a draped 80s skirt, but more subtly gathered and with a faux wrap and curved vent. I’m definitely going to make a knock-off!

  5. annieloveslinen

    How lovely, that was my favourite dress from your pattern selection and the style suits you very well, I’m surprised that shoulder pads are suggested, I suppose that helps with balancing the silhouette?

    It’s a great look on you and it’s versatile too, it could look very different depending fabric choice and I’ll wait with interest to see your next version.

    Hope your talk goes well.

  6. Brenda Marks

    I think this looks great on you. Once you point out the fitting issues, I see them, but I believe they would pass my test: if I put this on in a store, would I buy it?

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