Vintage styles can be so beautiful, but many authentic vintage dress patterns are nearly lost to time. In previous decades, people did sew many of their own clothes, so those paper patterns were well used, and sewing pattern paper is so fragile that it doesn’t age well.
It’s still very possible to find authentic vintage sewing patterns in antique stores–and even at thrift stores and yard sales, where they’re sold extra cheap because people don’t realize the value of what they’re selling!–but once you’ve got your hands on a genuine vintage sewing pattern, you still might be stymied. Sizing often doesn’t reflect today’s bodies, and women’s styles relied on foundational garments that aren’t common now.
I mean, maybe you wear a girdle and a bullet bra every day? Even in the pre-pandemic before-times, I mostly wore sweatpants and sports bras, so, you know, I’m not super savvy on what today’s fashionistas wear underneath their couture.
The general level of sewing knowledge was much higher even a few decades ago, and so even able sewists today can find older pattern instructions challenging.They assume that you know how to do a LOT of things that aren’t covered in most DIY YouTube tutorials!
Fortunately, even though the authentic techniques to make vintage dress patterns can be unwieldy, getting a vintage look is still very reasonable. Even without the foundation garments, even without the advanced techniques, even without antique tissue paper patterns with an unreasonable waist to bust ratio, you can sew yourself a dress that LOOKS vintage.
And you can do it with a free pattern!
Check out my favorite vintage-style dress patterns, below. All of them are free, and all will give your dress that vintage look without the fuss of managing an authentic vintage dress pattern:
1. 1920s Cloche
Add this knitted accessory to the rest of your Roaring Twenties outfit!
2. 1940s-1950s Bras and Garter Belt
These pdf patterns come from tracing authentic vintage undergarments. You’ll need some dressmaking skills to resize them, and definitely sew a muslin!
3. 1960s Knitted Dress
The silhouette of this dress lets you know that it’s an authentic 1960s pattern!
What do you wear over all of those nice, 1950s-style dresses? A nice apron, of course!
5. Bed Jacket and Silk Panties
The original instructions for this project require that you be able to read a diagram and draft your own paper pattern accordingly. Good luck!
6. Bullet Bra
Because you can’t have that vintage look without a vintage silhouette!
7. Button-Front Culottes
Warning: this is a challenging pattern, and you’ll likely have to do some pattern drafting, as well. If you don’t feel up to it, use this pattern as inspiration to alter a simpler culottes pattern to have this more vintage look.
8. Dirndl Skirt
This look is less “vintage” than “traditional,” but it’s nevertheless a classic.
9. Dress Inspired by The Notebook
Because you know you need that in your life!
10. Dress with Gathered Skirt and Sleeveless Bodice
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Day 7 of #thevintagesewingchallenge Wishes and Wants: what I really wish for is more easy, pleasant projects like this dress. I've been wishing for a gingham dress for months (swipe to see my inspiration!)and I'm so happy with how it turned out! I used my own pattern and went for as much simplicity in the design as possible. I believe one could easily finish this dress in a day 😊 I wish to myself and other lovely ladies who participated in this weeks challenge to get more easy, pleasant and rewarding projects on their summer "to do" lists🌹 One more time thank you to all the wonderful, talented dressmakers that I had the pleasure to discover this week and the organisers @shopmakethislook @iliveinmylab and @wearinghistory ❤❤❤ .
A hallmark of many vintage styles is the clean lines (made possible by those sturdy foundation garments I was telling you about!). That means, though, that it’s very possible to recreate the look by fashioning your own garment with clean, simple lines.
11. Dress with Tea-Length Skirt and Princess Bodice
This classic style suits lots of body types, and offers a variety of sizes to prove it!
12. “Fit and Flare” Dress
Look like you’re wearing vintage Christian Dior in this dress, except that unlike Dior, THIS dress pattern comes in a variety of sizes!
13. Floral Day Dress
In the 1950s, women wore day dresses out and about on their regular errands and activities. That’s why they always looked so elegant!
14. Halter Dress
A halter dress is very Marilyn Monroe!
15. Kimono Sweater
Knit this sweater using the original instructions to add a warm layer to all of those vintage-style sleeveless dresses!
16. Little black Dress
Wear this to breakfast at Tiffany’s!
17. Long Cape
This isn’t itself a dress, but it’s the perfect vintage look to wear with any of the dresses on this list.
18. Long-Sleeved Dress with a Peter Pan Collar
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I drafted this dress by myself inspired by the beautiful @sondeflor dresses I have seen here at Instagram. The fabric is ramie from @ompelino. The dress as a fitted bodice with 3/4 sleeves and a Peter Pan collar. The skirt is a half-circle skirt with gathers at the waist. If you are interested, I put the pattern on my blog, although in my size only and without any instructions. An experienced sewist can certainly make it! #sewing #sewingpatterns #sewcialist #freesewingpattern #patterndrafting #sewistsofinstagram #ompelu #ompeluelämää #kuosittelu #mekko #dress #ompelumania #sew #nähen #couture
Because everything looks better with a peter pan collar!
19. Child’s Dress with a Peter Pan Collar
Seriously, peter pan collars are ADORABLE!
20. Child’s Dress with Tied Sleeves
To get the “fit and flare” look on dresses like these, even for a child’s dress, don’t forget the petticoat!
21. Pencil Dress
Another thing about garment patterns with clean lines? They’re so easy to modify in a lot of interesting ways!
22. Pencil Skirt
The 1960s called, and they want you to sew this pencil skirt!
Skirts with flare really need a petticoat underneath to show them off to their best advantage.
24. Poodle Skirt
One of the easiest vintage garments to recreate is also one of the most fun!
25. Prom Dress
This formal dress would never look out of place.
26. Recreated Vintage Dress
This is a genuine vintage dress pattern that was traced and scanned. Remember, that means you’ve got to have some moderate sewing techniques at hand and be prepared to use your logical thinking skills when it comes to assembling the pattern pieces!
27. Reversible Wrap Dress
A reversible garment means that you can have a business side and a party side!
28. Short Jacket
If you put a ton of effort into creating a vintage-style dress with a fitted, high waist, then you won’t want to cover it up with a puffy polyester coat. Try making this short jacket to go along with it instead.
29. Short-Sleeved Blouse
The neckline of this blouse gives it an especially vintage look, although I’m dying to put a peter pan collar on it!
30. Sleeveless Blouse
This simple blouse is the perfect fitted garment to pair with a flared skirt.
31. Sleeveless, Boat-Neck Top
Here’s another incredibly simple garment to make that nevertheless looks much more complicated and sophisticated. You’d never believe that this entire top is simply two rectangles sewn together!
Here’s another undergarment that will make these vintage-style dresses look and feel better.
33. Sun Dress
Look like Ava Gardner this summer with a sundress!
34. Terrycloth Cover-Up
Behold, it’s an actual vintage pattern! Amazingly, this pattern is easy to sew AND uses fabric still commonly available today.
35. Wrap Shirt
This is a very close recreation of a real vintage pattern–and it’s easy!
36. Zoot Suit Pants
Zoot suits are SO fun!
P.S. Do you have the opposite problem: a vintage dress that you’d love to upcycle into something new? Check out this list of ways to upcycle vintage wedding dresses and get inspired!