Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan came and told me if I didn’t figure out how to make this dress from Back to the Future, he was gonna numb my brain. I’m glad I accepted the challenge because it has worked my brain in areas that couldn’t afford to go numb.
My favorite dress makes are cinematic screen grabs with re-wearability versatile enough for a variety of occasions. Such is the Lorraine Dress, been wanting to make it for a while. I finally completed it for Spring Dapper Day 2020.
Update as of early 2023: This blog has brought me quite a lot of requests to make this dress for others! I thank you for your interest. Mine appears to be one of the more authentic looking Lorraine Dress makes out there. While I have a new fancy version of Lorraine’s plaid dress upcoming that will be for sale in a range of sizes, the Lorraine Prom Dress is not for sale, and no longer customizable as materials for this authentic look have since gone out of stock. I have therefore updated this blog to inspire fellow makers in making their own. I hope you find an even better peachy pink fabric than I did. I really lucked out with this autumn weight pink cotton suiting. It is sadly no longer available where I found it in Joann Fabrics’ suiting department. Neither is precisely this lace available, but similar dotted laces still exist at Joann.
Read on to find how this BTTF nerd crafted Lorraine’s prom dress, with tips for making your own.
As I do for all cinematic makes, I did a lot of screen research to see how the fabric moved as she moved in it and how it was handled. I believe the dress worn on screen was 1950’s vintage.
Don’t let the discoloration of this image fool you. The dress is a fine line between peach and pink, but in correctly white lighting probably tends towards pink. Look for heavier weights in fabric. The bust cuff material in the left photo here almost looks like a fine denim texture. You’ll find this color fairly easy in satins and taffetas, but those fabrics are much too lightweight to get the swing of the skirt right for a 1950’s style. Satins also have a shine to them, which isn’t accurate for the Lorraine Dress. If you’re going for color accuracy, you’ll probably have to compromise with satin. Try to find a “brushed satin”, less shiny. Shiny makes it look too costume-piece and less Actual Lorraine.
I was able to utilize a good amount of infrastructure from the bodice of this old Goodwill dress (this is actually an iridescent peach pink taffeta). I altered it to become the inside of the new dress. If you are making your own, you’ll want to create boning for your bodice. Most strapless dress patterns instruct you pretty well how to install boning (boning is stiffened material cut and placed near seam lines for bust support — add bra cups and you’ll have everything set up top).
The original pinkish fabric in the film looks like it has a tiny checked pattern embroidered into it, but the continuation of that onto a separated lace overlay skirt confirmed that the whole thing was an overlay on the bodice, so I went with a dotted cream colored lace design that similarly matched the aesthetic. Research from other makers who have tried creating this dress made me realize how very important the correct weight of material is; many others (including Amazon and Etsy knock-offs) utilized too thin a fabric or too opaque a lace, which gives the dress more of a costume aesthetic rather than a vintage feel. Remember, fashion used to be tailored better than it is today, and none of it was fast fashion. Allow yourself time to venture to multiple shops to find just the right fabric! I don’t recommend shopping online for fabric unless listings have videos where you can see drapes of fabric in motion, and close ups where you can see the textures precisely. And images shot in proper white balance. 🙂 So, don’t shop online if you can help it.
Take note of the dress pattern piece in the image above for the pattern I used, although I altered it to make it strapless: BUTTERICK 5882. Play with re-shaping new pieces from tissue paper to make your alterations before cutting any fabric. A you-sized mannequin is recommended to make this efficient.
This dotted lace is so sweet.
Cut a lace overlay for each bodice piece and stitch it into each seam. Create basically a second skirt of the dotted lace as well. The lace skirt will be re-shaped to be shorter than the pink skirt (for mine I geometrically mathed out a rainbow-shaped front hem). You’ll have to lay this out symmetrically and work your brain a bit to visualize the cut for the shorter bottom of the lace skirt. Practice in miniature with scrap fabric.
Stole my zipper from the upcycled infrastructure too. Follow your dress pattern’s requirements for zipper length and other notions such as boning, buttons, etc.
Zippers are tricky, especially with a layer of lace added. Have patience. Play with pins more than you stick things under your machine. Ensure all those pieces come together nice and flat.
The bust cuff is a pattern piece I fashioned myself. It’s basically a long rectangle that measures from center bust to center back, at the zip. One on each side.
Dapper Day 2020 was a Dapper Day At Home event due to COVID-19, which ended up being a great backdrop for these photos in my neighborhood. Had so much fun wearing this dress!
I’m not very busty, but you could stitch a push up bra into your bodice instead of regular bra cups if you prefer that look.
And a little Chuck Berry for the road.
Stay tuned for my fancy version of the plaid Lorraine Dress which will be for sale, coming soon to my Etsy shop.
Follow me on Instagram @imagemariastudio for updates, all things fashion and photo.
If you’re interested in a totally revamped alteration of a dress you’d love to give new life to, I am currently taking thematic gown alterations. Consult with me to see what we can do!