Pattern cutting 0.3 The tent dress

Our project this week was to make a pattern for a tent dress. Although our teacher showed us some fairly nice pictures of tent dresses I wasn’t keen.

She picked out this Victoria Beckham number which was controversial. In the class some of the younger women raved about the style. I just hated it, and I always try to keep an open mind about fashion.

Nevertheless I made the pattern. Our version had a boat neck, a cap sleeve, facings and additional width at the hem was also suggested. This was a suggestion too far for me. I just made up the basic foundation tent dress pattern thinking that these very plain styles feel a bit like a Japanese pattern book which I am sometimes tempted to try.

I was pleased about how simple the pattern making was – even though I know anything that looks like a tent doesn’t look very nice on me. I am not really sure a tent dress flatters anyone but maybe they do. I have seen larger ladies wearing them and I suppose the advantage is you get a nice close fit across the upper chest but no constrictions around the tummy or hips. And I suppose on very slim tall models, worn very short, they sort of emphasise the thinness and length of the legs. But on me? No!

I simply hate this dress. True the lilac linen is rather nice (I had bought this for my Sweet Pea collection), and the boat neckline/cap sleeve look is fetching. But I literally felt overwhelmed in this dress. I felt like I had two sails either side of my body. I put my hands in the pockets, just like Victoria,  but there was nothing I could do. As my friend Sew it or Throw it? says on these occasions: “Throw it!”.

But first ladies and gentlemen, let’s see it with a belt.

Of course it is better, but it is still  vile. Stage wear for water carriers or extras in a biblical movie maybe. Or as Nick says something for mowing the lawn in. Maybe it could be improved with guy ropes and a ground sheet. As you can appreciate I insisted on these pictures being taken inside the house – I couldn’t risk being seen in the street in a tent.

I considered separating top from skirt and introducing a gathered waist, or slimming down the sides and putting some darts in front and back waists, but the tent dress had no fastenings. In the end I cut off the side flaps, removed the pockets and cut it off just above the hip. It makes an OK top.

Me Made may day 9
cap sleeve top

Would you ever wear a tent? What sort of figure would look best in this style?

43 Responses

  1. Liz

    I actually love this! I think it looks great on you but if you hate it that’s what matters. I might have to see if i can find a pattern to copy this for me……

  2. jay

    I don’t think it looks awful on you but agree that it isn’t your best look. Belted is worse. The VB dress is bad. It emphasises, almost caricatures her habitual forward head stance, the space between the neckline and bustline is a huge shelf of boring fabric, and the back looks weird when she isn’t taming it by putting her hand in the pocket. The colour is no help with the vastness, and the fabric texture does nothing. (You’ve guessed I don’t rate it?)
    I love the idea of tent dresses, but they don’t love me back. They’re probably the least flattering shape for inverse pears, and in the danger zone for c cup and above. They rarely flatter plus size figures either, though some can carry the look, using the face framing tricks of huge beads, lovely scarves, and so on.

  3. Annie B

    I have to agree with Liz on both points…. I recall in my miserable oversized 30s having various totally frumpy tents. A savvy male friend said this was unnecessary penance attire and to find more fitted things. He was right. But I also now have a cool linen loose thing that is tres chic. It makes me think what the wearer is feeling can transform a look

  4. Jenny

    I love it too, in fact I have just made 2 of these in linen, hoping for a warm summer. I used the Sophie dress pattern by Tessuti Fabrics. My husband isn’t too keen either but I find it comfortable and easy to wear. I bought some Converse trainers to wear with it and I might even mow the lawn wearing it.

  5. Hila

    I think its not the best style on you. Dont like the VB one either. I veer towards styles that fit the waist and dont like tent dresses at all. However I saw this Anthropologie dress last week and pinned it to my Pinterest because I quite liked it and thought maybe my shoulder would carry it off. Perhaps I flatter myself in thinking this might work on me?. I’d love your thoughts. Here is the link$pdp-detail-shot$


    • fabrickated

      Interesting comment and question. These dresses are both simple and dramatic. My hunch is you would look great in this! But sometimes I have to try it to know.

  6. Anne

    I thought I’d hate it but I don’t! (The VB one is another story). I think this would be nice in a different colour, more intense, and possibly fabric. Okay, I agree I don’t love it! Your class is certainly moving along well. I have 2 cancelled sessions in mine (our display at museum and a fashion show, not ours) then the last session. Much more slowly moving than yours.

  7. Kim Hood

    Not hideous, but not the best I have seen you wear. I know I had something not a million miles from the VB in my youth but I wouldn’t wear that style now. I look more bulky in unfitted clothing, and who wants that?

  8. Ro

    I agree that the fabric choice and color are really good on you, which probably makes it look better than it otherwise would. I’m still on track to try McCalls 7383 (maxi tent) in an ITY knit. I’m counting on the knit being heavy and drapey enough that it makes the dress less overwhelming. However, I’ve also verified that if I hate it, I will be able to just sew different side seams and have a more close-fitting version if I have to! Do you like the voluminous cropped top over high–waisted pencil skirt look? I’m wondering if the remainder of your dress could be a matching skirt along those lines.

    • fabrickated

      Thanks Ro! I will have a think about pencil skirt with flared top, but my hunch is that this a good look for a top heavy person, whereas my broadest area is the hips.

      I did consider making a little skirt from the left overs, but it is too short for me.I will probably use it for bias binding like Demented Fairy suggests.

  9. Pia

    Have to agree this tent actually doesn’t look too bad on you, at least in the pics.

    But what is the definition of a tent dress? Must it flare out immediately below the chest? Can it stay semi-fitted up to the underbust then flare out? Because I made a halterneck dress that did this – fitted up to underbust then circular flounces below that in a limp drapy fabric. It has been my most worn dress ever!

    I don’t like any of the celebrity examples shown above, tho VB would be passable if she had chosen a fabric less like mover’s padding. That silhouette reminds me a bit of 1960s Balenciaga or St Laurent/Dior. But then outfits were more dressy / put together back then. It’s definitely a silhouette that needs to be worn with attitude & hard to carry off in our more casual modern day lifestyle! 🙂

  10. Stephanie

    Agree with the others that it’s not bad on you but it needs to be shorter and definitely not belted. In any case it’s not your look. Believe it or not I almost bought one myself a couple of years ago in a nice thick cotton and dramatic pattern. It was short for me though and I felt exposed – as though my underwear would end up as street wear. Pia makes an interesting point. The one I tried was sleeveless with a high neck and fitted only at the high bust.

    • Stephanie

      By chance I just saw a young girl on the street in Florence wearing a tent dress and looking great. It was fitted up top with slim long sleeves and a narrow armscye, to the knee and in a slinky, drapey material- probably viscose jersey- worn with Converse. Very cute and with lots of twirl. I think the trick is having a slim, narrow fit up top otherwise it’s too much volume.

  11. Jane

    I didn’t like the VB dress at all at the time and it is certainly not a style I would wear. At only 5′ I dread to think what I would look like! I really don’t think your dress is that bad but not really your style. However, I think the neckline and cap sleeves look great on you so turning it into a top was a good move.

  12. neucarol

    Back in the day, in the first Tent Dress appearance, we would say, “…shopping at Hoigaards again”– the local camping supply store.
    Not a flattering look but raising its ugly head especially in tunic length patterns.
    So, what did you learn from this exercise?

    • fabrickated

      Use jersey or something very fluid. Fit closely above the waist. Get the length right. I think a tunic might work, on certain figures. What do you think?

  13. Joyce Latham

    I find it interesting that you like your draped circle dress, and don’t care for this one. ( thoughts?)
    I think the linen tent dress looks nice, and would be very comfortable in extremely hot weather, but it is a far cry from your usual fitted bust and waist. Perhaps in a light knit, with a more clingy drape would have work better for you?
    I would have worried about using all that material, for a style I thought I might not like.
    I too would worry about a wind catching under, and flying me to the moon!

    • fabrickated

      Very good question Joyce. I thought the same thing myself. My circle dress comes to the ground and I wore it best belted. This changes the proportions and makes it look like a nice full skirt with a fairly restrained bodice. And the yoke is closely fitted to the bust line and in a much lighter colour than the skirt which makes the bodice recede and appear to be more fitted. For the tent dress I agree a jersey would be really nice. My DVF dress is actually a nice tent shape.

  14. Sew2pro

    It’s great for displaying a large amount of an interesting print like in the first example, but is a bit desert-like on your pale version. I made a couple of great linen versions, where the wide shape was exaggerated then gathered at the hem and joined to a narrow version of the same: the Bubble Dress. But whereas it looked great on my daughter who it was for, worn by an adult it screams “don’t fancy me, I’m just a girl” and I’m just not ready for celibacy yet.

  15. Tereza

    I’ve been toying about making a tent dress as part of my Silhouette project, which involves trying all sorts of things listed in Vogue’s Sewing Book that I’ve never purchased/made before like Shirtwaist dress and tent/trapeze dress. I am playing with the idea of a really soft draping rayon challis in a bold print. I was thinking spaghetti straps, hi-low hem and no pockets that could be used as a beach cover up or summer casual frock. I am hoping that the soft fabric will drape, so it doesn’t add volume like that Beckham dress (what was she thinking?). Thank you for sharing your drafting info. The cap sleeve is adorable in that linen. I like the top styling, but I also think the dress is not as vile as you think it is in the original photos!

    • fabrickated

      Your silhouette project is interesting. And now I have read all the comments and had a good think about it I suspect I made a mistake with the fabric. A jersey would probably have been loads better. The cap sleeve is really great, isn’t it. I had forgotten how very simple it is to add one.

  16. Joanne

    With all that fabric a tent dress must be a really expensive make – wouldn’t waste the fabric on it unless it was really your kind of thing. You are definitely a belt person so I guess it was always going to be a no-no for you. It’s quite hard being honest on IG isn’t it. I think I have offended someone already this week with my honest feedback! Have a good weekend x

    • fabrickated

      I used 2m of £5 p/m cloth, so not too bad. I had to join the bodice at the back to squeeze it out. And thank you for the feedback. I really like to hear people’s views and keeping my mind open is important because it is so easy to get set in your ways – with food, and reading choices and clothing shapes. I have been surprised that a both a peg and a pencil skirt look quite nice on me, although I stuck with A lines for years and year.

  17. erin

    hmm. like most of the others, i don’t think it looks bad. but i also don’t think it looks… special. i feel like perhaps it actually needs more volume! and less. i think if you were to keep playing with this idea, you might want to play with having more volume in the skirt portion, as well as shortening the overall length. you have great arms and legs. so shortening the length would highlight your legs. i would also change the sleeves from the sort of cap sleeve that you have going on here to a sleeveless version, perhaps cut in a bit like the 1st example at the very top.

    i think part of what i like about this style is the high contrast between volume and limbs. so the more you can amp up that contrast, the better.

  18. Sri

    I love the idea of a tent dress, but it doesn’t really flatter most figures.
    It might be a lovely floaty dress though, if it was in chiffon or georgette.

  19. Sri

    I’m thinking one layer of lining, which is less tent-like, more fitted. Two or three layers of floaty chiffon, with different asymmetric hems and different hem lengths.Sleeveless.

  20. Sue

    I lived tent dresses back in the day and just adore that first one but Victoria’s is disgusting! Yours is nice and totally wearable but it does hide your lovely shape which is a shame. It may have had more wow factor with a large print, I don’t know. I’m sure you will enjoy it more as a blouse, and that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it? A

  21. Mary Funt

    I’m not a fan of the tent shape and I’m not sure who it flatters. The skinny models don’t even look good. Belting it doesn’t work. I actually like yours better but agree that it isn’t your best style. Toss it and consider the experience an academic exercise.

  22. Paola

    Your dress doesn’t look terrible but you are blessed with a waist. Why hide it in a tent?
    I’m not sure the tent dress really flatters anyone, really. It’s the sort of dress you would wear if it was 38C, with 90% humidity. Or you would wear it as a statement piece – a statement of what, I don’t know.

  23. Mags

    I’m with you. I think all those dresses look awful, and thus it doesn’t suit any figure. I do admire the way you stick with making something for the learning, even though your heart isn’t in it!

  24. Demented Fairy

    The Beckham one is monstrous, and your one, well, I agree with the majority here, at best it’s rather ‘meh’ and not very you. Glad you rescued some of the pretty linen from it though- cut the rest up for binding perhaps? [I’m doing alot of that myself lately]
    I also mostly avoid tent dresses, despite having no waist, as they can be overwhelming on my stout 5’3″ frame. Having said that, I have made several ‘art teacher chic’ dresses over the last couple of years, and wear them to death. Go figure!

  25. Annieloveslinen

    Clearly a look that you’re not comfortable wearing and one that people who know you might question, a bit like I imagine I’d feel in rockabilly. I wonder when I watch makeover shows how likely is it that someone will change their style to look how someone else thinks they should look, it isn’t very feasible.

    I agree with Annie B. That confidence with bold/unconventional clothing goes a long way to making an outfit successful. I made the Tessutti Lily dress and it looked awful, I looked immense, sometimes volume works for me but it’s really about where it is and getting the proportion right I think.

  26. Sue

    I thought your dress had great potential, but good save making it into a top!

    I’m 5’2”, top heavy, but not over-weight and live now where it gets quite hot in the summer. I never thought I’d wear one, but tent dresses have been wonderfully comfortable in this climate. However, I find the length is critical; any longer than the top of the knee cap and we’re in definite frump territory!
    For my shape the bodice needs to be fitted to at least bust level, but once the overall length is right, the transformation is quite surprising. Still a tent, but not unflattering if you’re into ‘art teacher chic’ or it is hot and humid….

  27. Evie Jones

    I’ll be honest….all through this post I was thinking “don’t throw it…it’ll make a cute top”. Phew. I think this is such a difficult style to wear for most folk. The VB dress is awful…and I’m a fan of most of her stuff. Glad you rescued this.

  28. Stina

    Hello! I have recently worn a dress like this as a pregnancy dress. I wouldn’t wear it now when I have a waist again, but it was both practical and a bit stylish then. As the other commenters say, a soft drapey fabric would improve a tent dress. If one were to make it full length it would be a bit like a burqa. I saw a Somali woman a while ago concealed head to toe in beautiful matching fabrics, like a colour-blocked tent. Her dress, I thought, emphasized the beauty of the fabrics as they are, not the body or the tailoring.
    Thank you for sharing your work and learning process!

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