It was love at first sight. The glorious white dress worn by Winona Ryder (who, as we all know, played Jo March in the best film version of Little Women ever made) was clearly a moment of pure inspiration to my eyes. I strongly declared to myself, that one day, I would recreate it so that I might run through airy fields and wander in an ever deepening forest. And as of late, I am happily able to say that I’ve done all three of those things!
First, here are photos of the original dress, designed by Colleen Atwood:
Little Women, 1994. Costumes designed by Colleen Atwood.
If someone were to ask me how I made it, I would justifiably tell them, “I don’t really know.” I hand draped it piece by piece until it looked right, then sewed it together and voila! I didn’t use a pattern for any of the pieces (half because I couldn’t find any to use, the other half because I despise patterns). The sheer white fabric, I found on a four-foot roll at a thrift shop for $8. The under petticoat cotton was from Joann’s on sale for around $12. The blue ribbon was $4, and lastly the four buttons I used for the front closure and the cuffs, I already had. So in total, the entire dress cost was only $24 and about 10 hours of work. Some of the smaller areas, like the cuffs and front ruffles, I sewed by hand, but the rest was done by machine (except for the hem, because the sheer fabric is VERY thin and I didn’t want an ugly puckered line going around the bottom). I also purposely double hemmed it, making it too short so I wouldn’t get it dirty when I inevitably explored the countryside. If I ever want it longer, all I have to do is snip one thread and I easily gain two more inches at the bottom.
Once it was finally complete, I trekked to my favorite Civil War battlefield and lived out an entire day as Jo March. It was wonderful, until I realized the swarm of tics and crickets attached to my skirts! Nevertheless, such bothers can be quickly remedied. It was a magical day of seemingly endless joy and adventure. Sometimes it feels as though ordinary life is just the time we spend in between our last fairytale day and our next.
Carrying around my leather-bound copy of Charles Dickon’s Pickwick Papers made me feel like Jo all the more!
The dress was designed to mimic what we call a “chemise a la reine” or a “gaulle,” made popular by Marie Antoinette. So, give or take a few minor changes, this dress works for both the 18th and 19th centuries. Just change the ribbon, throw on an oversized straw hat with flowers and feathers, and you’re ready to step into another century! I’d say this style is a true classic in the category that is historical attire, with as much versatility as any other piece of clothing I can think of!
Of course, it’s not a perfect match and I don’t look much like Winona, but side by side, I’d like to say it’s a semi-good imitation of the dress! There will always be room for improvement, and my next project should be slightly better in both quality and resemblance (at least I hope).
The post would never be complete without a mandatory dress spinning shot.
Out of all the literary characters to exist in the world, I think that I connect with Jo March more than any other, even more than Anne Shirley or Lizzy Bennet, I’d say. Jo and I are both writers, we like to wear the same things, we have three other siblings, we’re both the second eldest, and we think very much alike. So, I’m glad that this dress was my first film recreation project, the first among many to come!
Which film costume would you want to recreate most?
What film has your favorite costumes in it of all time?
Can you guess what costume project I’m working on next?!
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