Amelia In A 1940s Floral Vintage Dress

A Tall Girls Vintage Dilemma

Being  5”11 can have its perks, you can see over people in queues, you’re always tall enough to ride rollercoasters, and your small friends can use you to reach up and get things off high shelves in the supermarket.  However, when it comes to vintage clothing it can often lead to some little problems.

People, in general, were much smaller back in the good old days, we see this through the what we now call “petite” sizes, most surviving vintage dresses being a UK size 8-10 with smaller proportioning throughout,  including less fabric in the bust line, smaller armholes, shorter sleeves and hem lengths.  From personal experience trying on vintage dresses, it can fit stunningly until you look down and see that the sweet 1950s day dress you’re wearing barely scrapes thigh length and you look slightly ridiculous.

But fear not! Here are some tips and tricks in making your vintage garments fit better and styling them to help make them seem a little bit longer.

Restyling Vintage Clothing

Restyling can be a lot of fun but it definitely leads to a more modern look. For this 1970s original blue and white maxi dress, which should be floor length, I have added knee-high brown tan boots.  The chunky retro boots detract from the short length and I would pair it with a tan leather bag as well to add to the outfit.  I love to browse the range of vintage bags and other accessories at Revival.

Amelia in her vintage 1970s maxi dress

Alternative Ways To Lengthen A Vintage Dress

With light summer vintage dresses, I like to wear a lace-edged slip that hangs below the hem of the dress slightly giving the outfit an overall longer length.  This could also be achieved by sewing lace or ribbon onto to the hem of the dress in either a contrasting or complementary colour. If you're going somewhere fancier or you want to wow those around you why not add a tulle petticoat adding volume and drama to a full-skirted 1950s dress.  Once again if allowed to fall lower it can also help you add length plus many like the look of a net or crinoline petticoat peeping out from underneath their fifties dress. By using vintage or vintage reproduction undergarments you can give your outfit a far more authentic feel.

1960s Mini Dresses

1960’s mini dresses are far 'too' mini for me, thankfully many have wide hems which can be let down to add extra inches.  In the winter months, I turn to thick tights or leggings with a small nylon slip or shorts giving me more coverage and modestly. In summer this is repeated with white or nude tights, and longer length French knickers or summer weight slips, just in case the wind blows a bit too much. These little additions mean that you can keep the integrity of the 1960s mini dress but without risking your modesty.  This is an example of an original sixties dress I found in the 1960s fashion collection at Revival.

Amelia wearing A 1960s Mini Dress

1970s Vintage Dresses

If you love 1970s styles like I do you’ll know that maxi dresses are a seventies staple and really capture the essence of the era, but being tall well sometimes the skirt length can be a bit off. Options here are to style the dress alternatively to make the hem length seem intentional like I have previously described, or you can take drastic action and get the scissors out. For me taking the scissors is a last resort over restyling. This cute jersey top 1970s dress was one of those dresses, lovely in every way but the hemline was looking a bit sad and the ruffle had a few tears in it that weren’t fixable, so the only option was to give it the chop. 

A 1970s Vintage Dress Before The Chop

Shortening a skirt can be very easy, but if you’re not confident in sewing you can always take it to a local seamstress or alterations shop for a quick fix. To alter your dress you'll need: sharp scissors or fabric shears, a tape measure, pins, chalk, sewing needles, matching thread, and a sewing machine is optional as the sewing you can also do by hand.

Equipment at te ready to tackle this 1970s dress project

Firstly try on your dress! wear it for a day at its original length, see if you like it or loathe it or if you can fix it through my restyling tips, it would certainly save you a few hours of sewing. If your still not happy then look at yourself in a mirror in the dress and see where you think the hemline should hit. Once decided, mark on your skirt with chalk or a pin to where you think you would like the length to be. Taking it off and laying it flat on either the table or the floor.   Using a tape measure or ruler you then measure up to the pin or chalk mark from the hemline, measuring down an inch or two for the hem allowance. From this you then have to mark along the skirt your cutting line, using again the tape measure to go along making sure it is even and straight. 2.jpgMeasuring the length of our vintage dress

Next is the scary bit, cutting the fabric, and as all sewers say “MEASURE TWICE CUT ONCE” so just to be safe always double-check your measuring and if you are unsure always cut longer than you need, it’s easier to hem shorter than to try to add fabric back on. Once you have cut the skirt next job is to hem it, and there are several ways of doing that.

Firstly, hemming tape which can be bought from haberdashery store and shops such as Wilkinson’s and other supermarkets. It is a fusible tape that can be used on most fabrics but suits sturdy materials that aren’t sheer; however, it can’t hold up heavier materials such as wools. Its iron-on and very easy to use, ironing it on one side of the fabric being careful to make sure it lays nice and flat, then peeling off the other and folding it up and ironing again to make the hem. For more advanced sewers you can either do a double fold hem and sew by machine using a straight stitch to sew around simply, or to create more of a design feature add a second row of stitching half a centimetre away from the first.  You can also sew by hand, again creating a double fold hem and then use either an invisible hemming stitch or on thicker woollen fabric that you could only roll the hem up once I suggest you use a herringbone stitch. 

The hem of our vintage dress pinned into place

This is the finished hemmed skirt, neatened up considerably, I hand-stitched for accuracy and because of the thin cheese cloth-like fabric. Like this dress?  It now has a more 1960s feel with it's shorter skirt length.

We often use our scraps of vintage fabric off-cuts to make matching kneck scarves or headbands.

Our 1970s vintage dress looking as good as new 1960s style

I hope this is a helpful article for you taller than average ladies, or just useful for knowing how to re-hem a vintage skirt or dress to suit you better. To be inspired as ever or to look for your next project go to 

Amelia Brougham

University student Intern @ Revival Vintage