The RMS Titanic had my heart long before James Cameron’s Titanic hit theatres late in 1997. I can remember studying buoyancy in the second grade science class. We were all given lumps of plasticine and instructed to create something that would float. I made the Titanic (or some rough, 7-year-old approximation of it). It sunk like a rock. James’ Titanic just amplified my love… exponentially. From love to hard-core obsession. All through junior and senior high I was “that girl that likes Titanic” to most people.

My dinner dress

In addition to running a gigantic Titanic fansite (which has heaps of photos and lots of costume information), I also re-created many of the costumes. My first few efforts, circa the 8th grade, were pretty mediocre, owing to my sub-standard sewing skills, lack of experience, and desire to finish the costume quickly rather than well.

The original gown

Out of all of Rose’s stunning, be-sequined dresses, the one fans call “The Dinner Dress” quickly became my favourite. I mentally wrestled with it for years, trying to determine how it could possibly fit together in the third dimension. The endless supply of inaccurate tips and reproductions from other fans didn’t do much to help. I did, however, finally figure it out!

My dinner dress

The dress has two parts: a lined underdress made of coral-coloured taffeta, and a heavily embellished and carefully draped overdress, made of a fine, sheer black netting.

The underdress is pretty simple. It’s a princess seam gown with a slightly flared skirt leading out to a square train at the back. The sleeves are cap. The zipper (though not an era-appropriate fastening, it takes nothing from the look of the dress and adds heaps of simplicity) is in the left side-back seam. There is no centre-back seam as the back panel is just one piece.

Diagram of the two pieces that make up the overlay. The two pieces are joined at the red, and hemmed around everywhere else. The blue area at the top is where the overlay is sewn into the neckline of the dress. The angled dashed line shows the folds that create the slats, while the straight vertical lines show where the seams of the underdress fall.

The overlay is where things get tricky and diagram-requiring. It consists of two pieces, one of which has four ‘slats’ on it, which are simply slathered in sequins, rhinestones, and embroidery.The seam attaching the two pieces runs down the right front-side seam, fitted to the body using a bejewelled pin. The second piece is attached to the top of the dress, running around until it reaches the zipper. At that point it isn’t sewn in anymore (so the dress can be put on, of course), but continues along the top of the dress with hooks & eyes. It then drapes down, fastening at the side-waist under the arm with another pin, and draping down into a train.

Now, a few photos to clarify:

Here you can see how a pin gathers the overlay, attatching the folds to the underdress to avoid distorting the fit and shape of the gown. You can also see the seam joining the two overlay pieces running along the right side-front seam above and below the pin.

At the back of the dress, you can see where the overlay attatches, and detatches from the underdress. The dressform is too big for the dress, so the zipper gapes, which makes it easy to see that the overlay is only sewn into the underdress up until the zipper on that side. From there, hooks and eyes are used to ensure the two ends of the overlay overlap before draping downwards.

Here I've undone the draping at the back and held out part of the overlay so you can get a better idea of how it fits together. Once the hooks & eyes are fastened, the two ends of the overlay are gathered and pinned to the dress at the side back waist, as you can see in some of the pictures above.

Well, I hope that helps! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. And, if you’ve ever made your own Dinner Dress (or any costume from Titanic, for that matter), I’d love to see it!