Little Black Dress

The little black dress has been around for 100 plus years. Prior to the Roaring Twenties, black was worn mostly for funerary occasions. Then, artist John Singer Sargent came along and painted a canvas that rocked not only the art world but also the fashion world, Madame X. It transformed black from mournful to sexy.

Coco Chanel took the concept and ran with it, creating a fashion trend that has survived to this day. It has gone through many iterations from the full skirts of the ’50s, to the sleekness of the ’60s as exemplified by the iconic Audrey Hepburn dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to the crazy shoulder pads and embellishments of the ’80s, to the basic pared down grunge inspired number of the ’90s and beyond.

It is a universal piece of fashion that belongs in every woman’s closet. I even have a few.

What I’ve noticed, being in the wedding industry, is the influence that the little black dress is having on those gowns.

Wedding gowns also reflect the changes in fashion, but black wedding gowns or gowns with black decorations on them are becoming increasingly en vogue. I’ve made several gowns that incorporate black elements, and I’ve also added black accents like buttons and lace to existing dresses.  It’s not for everyone, but, then again, I’m all for uniqueness in every situation.

The above was a two-piece wedding gown. I loved the way the black racer back of the bodice highlighted the rose ink on her left shoulder blade.  She brought me black lace that went with the bodice to attach to her veil and the hem of her gown.  The end result was just superb.

This mermaid gown had dark silver lace appliques on it, but the bride wanted to take it further into goth territory.  We added a black and rhinestone trim at her neckline (as well as to her partner’s outfit) and black pearl buttons all down the back of the dress.  She wore black jewelry and carried blood red roses and calla lilies. Stunning is the best way to describe this bride!

To meet this bride’s desire to go all the way goth, I built this dream dress from scratch in two pieces.  I made both with a corset back so that she could continue to wear it on anniversary dates no matter how her weight changed.  She added the red garnet jewelry and diadem, and, instead of a veil, we attached a long length of tulle as a cape to the back of her dress.  Talk about drama!

Here is my latest creation.  The young lady came to me almost in tears, telling awful tales of fat shaming at all of the boutiques she visited.  (Honestly, I’m in shock that this still happens in this day and age.)  Even if they had been willing to accommodate her, they wouldn’t have had this gem in stock in her size.  Since we were starting from scratch, she told me of her secret desire to have black lace incorporated into her gown.  She knew her mother was going to hate it, but I told her what I tell all my brides, “It’s YOUR gown and YOUR wedding, NOT your mother’s.”

We designed something simple and elegant, hiding her “faults,” enhancing all her good bits, and adding just that bit of daring that made this gown truly one of a kind–in her words, “a real show stopper.”

The little black dress . . . no longer just for funerals and fancy cocktail parties. It was only a matter of time before it burst onto the wedding scene in its unapologetic way, bringing with it drama, sex appeal, and just a bit of mystery.  I am thrilled that so many brides trust me with their secret longing to add black, in big or small ways, to their wedding stories.

Until next time, dear readers, may your bobbins be full and your seams be straight!



Those of you who have been one of my clients or know me well know that I name ALL of my dresses “Stella.” It is, of course, a reference to a play, and subsequent movie, by Tennessee Williams. There is an iconic scene where the protagonist hollers drunkenly up at his estranged wife, “Stella!!!!!!” with intense frustration. Some dresses are like that… I have to put them in time out… they cause me to drink… I swear at them. They treat me like their drunken estranged spouse. Sigh. Most of them are good, and the moniker is just a joke. Then there are some who not only live up to her namesake but who challenge me to the utmost.

Let’s talk about a May bride and her “Stella.” She ordered it from a trunk show in Los Angeles nine months ago. A custom gown coming from a distance is always a challenging thing. The dress arrived in the bride’s hands TWO WEEKS before her wedding. Her wedding planner recommended that she contact me to help with final tweaks to the dress.

It always cracks me up that both designer and client think the dress will fit perfectly. Let’s face it … two women with the same measurements will NEVER be the same shape. It’s just a curse we females have to bear.

At any rate, what should have been a small tweak turned into a huge project. The dress fit her perfectly from the waist down, but from the waist up, it was a disaster. There was just not enough fabric in the bodice to cover the bride’s buxom figure and the side seams weren’t in the correct place. She and I agreed that the best course of action was for me to replace the bodice if I could find the fabric.

I went to three stores and found something extremely close. After I got the bodice apart, I realized that it was rose tulle that was creating the tint to the gown and not rose satin as I originally thought (it was three layers of fabric). I went back to my go-to shop for bridal fabric where they had 30 different shades of skin-tone tulle. I had a very hard time discerning a match as all of their lights were florescent, so I took home four different shades of blush hoping one would match. In the fading light of day, it seemed that I did find a match and proceeded to rebuild the bodice.

When the bride came for her next fitting, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when the bodice fit her beautifully and all I had left to do were darts and decorate the neckline.

Or so I thought.

I got the dress sewn back together and went to take a photo of it with full midday daylight streaming through the windows of my studio and realized that the bodice and the skirt did not match. I proceeded to utter a stream of colorful metaphors that would have made even the crustiest sailor proud.

I sent the bride two photos… one of just the bodice and all my beautiful embellishments and one of the whole dress with instructions to call me as soon as she was able.

Full Dress

I waited 30 minutes before realizing that I had a narrow window of time that I could make it to the fabric shop and back before my final clients of the day. Bear in mind that it was a Friday afternoon, the shop is on the border of downtown Houston, and the bride’s wedding is now a week away. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door, hoping I was making the right decision.

While on the road, the bride called me, and I explained everything and gave her three options: we could leave it as is, I could take the whole dress apart and take out ALL the tulle, or I could take apart just the skirt portion and replace the tulle with what I had used in the bodice. She decided on the latter telling me that she hated the rose tint anyway. (The bodice in its reconstructed form was not nearly as rose pink as the original.)

Friday night, I disassembled the dress. I took apart all the skirt panel “sandwiches” and replaced the tulle. Saturday, in between normal bridal appointments, I assembled the dress again. It was mid-afternoon when I heaved a premature sigh of relief. I hung the dress on the hanger and stood back to survey my work. I sank into my chair and began to sob. The dress hadn’t changed color. More swearing, more drinking. I played a few crossword games and took many deep breaths before going back to look at my charge. So, what was left? Maybe the ivory satin I’d replaced in the bodice had weird undertones to the fabric used in the skirt. It was the only thing left.

I released the side seam of the dress and proceeded to release one of the “sandwich” panels so I could take a peek. I held the ivory satin up to the satin of the skirt panel and gasped. It was white. Here’s where the saying “truth is stranger than fiction” comes into play. I took the whole panel off the dress and took the whole “sandwich” apart. I turned the satin over. The BACK was ivory and the FRONT was white. Un-freaking-believable. I have NEVER, in my 40 years of sewing, seen that particular weave of satin before. I’m not certain if it was the cheap stuff, something really expensive, or something the designer had made specifically for them. I was truly gobsmacked.

I knew what I had to do. I took my ivory swatch from the bodice to the fabric store and matched it. Took the dress apart for the third time and replaced the satin in the skirt this time. It worked. It was perfect now.

I hadn’t told the bride about the satin yet. I decided to wait until the fitting, which was scheduled for the following day. At this point, I was 22 hours into the dress, with 6 of those unchargeable because I had missed the very weird anomaly of the two-toned satin. Sunday afternoon seemed an age away at that point.

Unfortunately, the Sunday appointment got postponed until Monday due to a blackout from a rainstorm. (I’m seriously NOT making this up.) When she arrived Monday, I managed to tear her zipper while trying to get her into the dress. (I’m not making this up either.) I was far beyond crying at this point. She had another appointment to get to and said she would catch up with me afterwards. This gave me a few more hours to swear at Stella.

I zipped down to the fabric store for the nth time and bought TWO zippers (trying to head Murphy off at the pass) and rushed home. I spent three more hours on the dress, doing final finishing touches AFTER I replaced the zipper. I didn’t want anything else to go wrong.

The bride arrived around 8:30 PM Monday night. We both crossed our fingers and carefully zipped her into the dress. When she looked in the mirror, she got that wistful misty-eyed look on her face and started to swish her skirt. It’s the universal sign from women of all ages (even Drag Queens!) that they love their dress. I was so relieved that I almost started crying in front of her. I held it together long enough to complete our transaction and present her with a card and a bottle of wine. (After all, she broke my record of time spent altering a dress – 25 hours!)

As I closed the front door, my head gently hit the wall and the tears fell and splashed on the floor at my feet. I’m certain they were part relief, part gratitude, part guilt, and part sadness. The latter because I’d really grown fond of the bride. After all, she wasn’t the Zilla; her dress was.


Until next time Dear Readers, may all your bobbins be full and all your seams be straight.


Mommie Dearest

With Mother’s Day occurring recently, I was curious, so I did a bit of googling. The first Mother’s Day occurred in 1914 and was originally suggested by the same lady who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a day of peace. I think motherhood and peace are comfortable bedfellows. After all, who would want their child to go to war?

If you’re like me, I always send my mom a HUGE bouquet of flowers for Mother’s Day as well as call her because I am a distance daughter. If we lived within a few hours of each other instead of a few states, then I would be spending the whole week with her.

In my line of work, of course, I deal with moms all the time. The question I get a lot is, “Who’s worse in terms of being a Zilla, the bride or the mother of the bride (MOB for short)?”

I would have to say the MOBs, hands down, are worse, especially if it’s their first or only child getting married or if they themselves didn’t get the wedding of their dreams. At this point, it literally becomes “war” between mother and daughter.

The Zillas are always a hot mess.

Joan* was so wound up that she criticized her daughter for choosing a strapless dress, as well not choosing to have me make sleeves or a bolero to cover her arms. Apparently, she thought her daughter’s arms were ugly with their skin condition and scarring and didn’t want that to mar the pictures. She actually made her daughter cry, and I had to ask her to leave so we could get on with the fitting.

Judy was so close to her youngest child that she displayed her jealousy in childish ways in front of me whenever the daughter talked about doing wedding things without her. I could tell that she was having a really hard time letting go.

Mary was a real piece of work–a MOB who decided to text me behind her daughter’s back with instructions for the dress. I finally had to tell Mary that I wasn’t going to make any changes to the initial alterations request unless it came from her daughter.

Kathleen asked me to make her a dress for her daughter’s goth Halloween wedding. During the time frame (we started the dress process 6 months in advance of the wedding), her husband filed for divorce. Originally, I wasn’t to make the dress sexy. After he pulled that stunt, however, Kathleen decided that she DID want the dress sexy after all, but she had a hard time conveying that to me. Finally, I sat her down and asked what was really wrong. Through several tissue boxes and a glass of wine, she finally confided in me.

Speaking of dresses, I made Alice a stunning dress for her daughter’s wedding, but, two weeks before said wedding, the daughter told Alice that my creation made her look too old and frumpy. Crushed, she went to Macy’s and grabbed three dresses from the rack and brought

them to me for a consult. Fortunately, there was one in the mix that was perfect. It didn’t need any alterations, so I didn’t charge her for my time because I really felt sorry for her.

However, I’ve also had super cool MOBs–like Barbara who brought champagne to share with everyone when her daughter picked up her dress from me.

Or like Terri, whose over-the-top ‘80s dress I redesigned for her daughter. We giggled through all fittings like we were old friends. I’m sure her daughter thought we were crazy.

Or like Patricia, who brought her sister AND all of the bridesmaids (7 of them!) to the fitting along with the bride and turned the whole afternoon into an amazing dress party (pre-Covid, of course).

Or like Nancy, the future mom-in-law, who came to all the wedding appointments (including all fittings) in place of the MOB because she was deceased. I was so glad to see that the bride and her “bonus mom” got along so well.

Or like Lily, who came to all her daughter’s fittings via Facetime because she was several states away.

There were a myriad of other moms whose warm relationships with their daughters showed in their fun interactions with each other during our fitting appointments. Their laughter was infectious, and I was happy to be included in their fun.

There are far more cool moms out there than Zillas, thank goodness. I guess the point is MOBs are human, and we all deal with major life changes in different ways. I try to be patient and positive with everyone. Sometimes I play therapist, and sometimes a little wine and chocolate and a few tissues help make life a little easier. In the end, I think every single MOB would agree that it’s worth it when that beautiful bride walks down the aisle and her mother, whether she’s a “cool mom” or a “Zilla,” forms tears of joy and happiness during her daughter’s glorious day.

Until next time Dear Readers, may all your bobbins be full and all your seams be straight.


*All names have been changed to protect the innocent or the extremely crabby.