From prom dress to cape – an overview

From prom dress to cape - front view

A prom dress rarely gets worn more than once. It’s a shame really, that beautiful dress and all the memories associated with it, stuck in the back of the closet. I thought there should be a way to change up a special dress and make it more wearable without making it more ordinary. My plan was to take one dress, with a magnificent skirt, and transform it from prom dress to cape.

All of the frou-frou with none of the fuss

Rachel is wearing the original pink gown with a floral bathing cap. She is standing at a lectern reading into a microphone.

Spectacular gowns aren’t built for comfort. Neither are the under-pinnings we rely on to make our changeable bodies fit the chosen dresses. That’s even more true when the chosen dress is strapless.

What if we could have all that glitz and glamour with significantly less effort? Wouldn’t it be nice to breathe and feel beautiful at the same time?

By turning the gown into a cape, I created a layer that could be thrown over almost any outfit to dress it up. It could fit many more shapes and sizes of people effortlessly, and those people could breathe, bend over, slouch, or dance, without risking a “wardrobe malfunction.”

This isn’t a detailed step-by-step tutorial because each dress is going to be differently made and present its own challenges. Instead, I’m giving you a photographic overview of how I tackled this project so you can use it as inspiration for your own dress conversion.

Taking it apart

The original pink dress is displayed on a mannequin. It is made of bright pink taffeta with a very full skirt, accented with gathers and beaded medallions

After taking final photos of the dress in its original state, it was inspected for damages and the skirt was carefully separated from the bodice. The bodice was taken apart and pieces ironed.

There was no center front seam on this skirt so I decided to turn the skirt around backwards to make the cape. I removed the zipper and then continued opening the back seam all the way down to the hem.

Shaping the shoulders

A skirt is smaller at the waist than at the hips but a cape (or any kind of top) needs to be much smaller at the neck than at the shoulders.

Some darts are made and others are being marked to shape the shoulders of the cape

I used darts to take in the excess fabric, mostly at the shoulders. They were pinned and stitched in pairs so the two sides matched. Here the shoulders are done but the front still needs to be fitted.

Marking the neckline

Pins mark where the back neckline should go.  The beaded medallions are loose at the top

With darts done, the cape now sits comfortably on the mannequin’s shoulders.

Pins mark where the yoke will go to make a nicely rounded neckline.

Drafting the yoke

Pink cape yoke cut and sewn from bodice pieces

After making a paper yoke, I cut this one out of the bodice pieces and sewed it together.

This is the underside so you can see the understitching around the neck edge. The line of stitching around the outside edge will make it easier to turn under a smooth curve despite the slippery yet stiff taffeta.

Putting it together

Pink cape with yoke sewn on

The yoke is sewn on but its ends aren’t finished because I haven’t yet decided how the cape going to close.

Each one of those beaded medallions covers four pleats of taffeta. That’s eight layers plus the lining! What will work well with all those layers? Buttons and loops? Snaps? Hooks?

Making the placket

Both the main fabric and the lining had a slit cut in the seam allowance to accommodate the bottom of the zipper.

several rows of stitching reinforce the seam allowance where it was slit to accommodate the dress zipper

Here a strip of interfacing (cut from an old tie) gets several rows of machine stitching across the slit to stabilize it before finishing the placket.

All this stitching will be invisible when the edges are folded under.

Restoring some pouff

The original dress had several layers of netting in its crinoline. The cape looked a little flat on its own so I reinstated some of its pouff.

Sewing crinoline layer onto cape lining

One layer of crinoline (netting and base fabric) was cut apart from the rest and sewn onto the lining. The key here was to attach the scratchy netting between the outer fabric and the lining so it was invisible both inside and out.

Finishing up

Armholes were simple to make – I just opened the seams between two medallions and then sewed the lining to the outer fabric.

Finished cape.  Front view

The placket stabilized the front edges nicely. Silver snaps are hidden behind each of the four medallions on the placket. (The top medallion came from the bodice of the original dress.)

Mission accomplished – the cape is finished and ready to wear. It’s certainly more comfortable and more versatile than the dress was.

Is it still glamourous? I think so!