Book Report: Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dress (+ Giveaway!)

Hello, friends! Hope you’re all having a great week!

Today I have a book review to share with you! Chronicle Books sent me a copy of Famous Frocks: The Little Black Dress. The book features 10 patterns to help you recreate iconic LBDs from the 1930s to the 2000s, and 10 variations on these patterns that are shown in colors or prints to help you imagine these dresses in another setting. I’m not really into historical or vintage sewing, but I thought some of you might like to see the book, so I agreed to check it out. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dresses, for the most part, aren’t too costume-y!

Coco Chanel-inspired

Coco variation

The author is Dolin Bliss O’Shea, a technical designer and patternmaker. To  be honest, I’m often leery of the patterns in books like this- they just don’t always seem to work- but knowing the author’s background and qualifications makes me much more comfortable.

Joan Crawford-inspired… I really like the waist inset. Pretty!

The designs are inspired by Coco Chanel, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Mary Quant, Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, Princess Diana, and Kate Moss… a few of the usual suspects, but a few that are a bit off the beaten path. It would have been nice to have some diversity in the lineup, though.

Ava Gardner-inspired

Ava variation

The sizing in the book runs from 33″-25″-36″ (XS) to 45″-37″-48″ (XL). The patterns are printed on lightweight paper, about the weight of newsprint, and they’re double-sided so they need to be traced. But they’re crazy messes to trace like Japanese sewing books or Burda magazines… I sometimes buy those, and never work up the energy to trace them!

Audrey Hepburn-inspired

Audrey variation

I’m a little bit mean, and I snickered a tad at the wigs the models wear to look more like their inspirations. I found them a tiny bit distracting, but I’m childish and silly. 🙂

Grace Kelly-inspired. I really, really like the lines of this, especially with the sheer fabric at the shoulders.

I bet that folks who like sewing dresses would enjoy this book. There’s a lot of bang for your buck, since the MSRP is 30USD and you get so many patterns. And they’re actually all really wearable. Also, the bodices and skirts for the Joan, Audrey, Ava, and Grace dresses are interchangeable for even more versatility. Sadly, I probably won’t do too much sewing from the book as I’m in a self-imposed dress ban at the moment. My closet is packed full of dresses, but I only have a few tops and they’re all pretty grungy, so I’m making it an effort to make tops instead of dresses for the foreseeable future! Turns out you CAN have too many dresses! 😮

Mary Quant-inspired

Now, the good part! I have an extra copy to give away! If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, please enter your name and email into the survey below (it’s just gotten too crazy trying to figure out email addresses from comments… this way there’s no room for error!). I’ll close the giveaway on Wednesday, October 22nd at 9PM EST and choose a winner with a random number generator. Yay!

Liza Minnelli-inspired

Liza variation

Alright, guys, what is your ideal little black dress? Have you made one? Are there any historical dresses or outfits that you’d love to recreate?

85 responses

  1. fun! and if you are on a dress ban, and need tops, and like the grace kelly inspired bodice, why not steal it? you could make the bodice as a blouse and booyah! you have the best of both worlds!


  2. I came across this book the other day and thought it was interesting. Thanks for showing us some of the insides, I was wondering what else was inside besides the cover dress!


  3. Ooh I too really like the Grace Kelly one! Seems like there is a good variation in this book!
    On another note I look forward to seeing your tops! I could always use a few more of them as well so am always scavenging for ideas!


  4. What a dreamy book!! All of those fabulous dresses…..I know what you mean about not enough tops, I have almost non and I am currently making skirts. I have to start making some, dresses are so much more satisfying though. It’s an entire outfit!


    • You’ve reminded me I need to make a few tops to go with skirts I already have! I have a couple of skirts without partners! But I totally agree- dresses are so easy since you just have to grab one and go! Sadly I don’t like to wear them in cool weather (I hate wearing tights and I’m always cold) so I have to think of other things to wear, ugh!


  5. I have a couple RTW little black dresses that I love, but sadly I haven’t sewn one yet. I’ve got the fabric, just need to sit down and do it.


  6. Some of these are properly cute! To be honest, I rarely wear black, but I could be persuaded… How sweet is Audrey with the little tie straps! The wigs are hilarious though lol


  7. Cute book! A lot of the patterns look really wearable and interchangeable for more options (usually that’s what puts me off vintage-style books: you can’t imagine where you’d wear the clothes!). Looking forward to seeing the tops you make over the next while!


  8. Very cute lbds. I like the Joan Crawford one. I always think of big shoulder pads (and Faye Dunaway) when I think of Joan Crawford, but I haven’t seen many of her films.


    • Same here- I tend to think of her in tough ’40’s styles! But she played softer roles in the ’30’s and I think that’s where the inspiration for this dress came from. I saw a movie, can’t think of the title, from the 20’s- she was so young and dewy and played a sweet flapper. She seemed like a totally different person!


  9. Isn’t US Burda pattern sheets with colored lines? Way easier to trace than lets say Drape Drape where its real easy to loose your original pattern piece.
    This book actually sounds interesting. All dresses! And I dont realy wear dresses.


    • They might- I’m not sure. I buy my Burdas from a little magazine stand that imports the European Burda (they don’t stock the US version, for some reason). Drape Drape is super hard to trace! The dumbest thing I ever did was buy a Japanese pattern magazine- not only were the lines really hard to follow, all the sizes and pattern names were in Japanese! So silly!


  10. So much elegant inspiration in that book! I own a pretty great little black dress made from lace. It’s RTW but it’s fancy enough that I wouldn’t have made the effort to sew it for myself…. If that makes any sense! The only issue is, I have nowhere to wear it. Time for some more casual LBDs in my life I think!


    • No, that totally makes sense! There are some things that would be just too time-consuming or annoying to sew. I recently bought myself a moto jacket for just that reason- I reallllllly didn’t want to sew all those zippers myself!


  11. I have her other book, Famous Frocks…I’ll admit I’ve never made a thing from it! I think the dresses aren’t close enough to the iconic originals to be worth tracing off her pattern, working out whatever body shape she patterns for, etc. when really most of their lines look a lot like Big 4 patterns.
    But, since I haven’t tried it I don’t know if they’re any good or not.


    • I had that book, too, although it’s written by someone else. It seems like the publishers listened to the criticism of the first one since this one greatly expands the size range and includes photos of every dress instead of drawings. But there are probably big 4 patterns that are similar to these, as you say, if you have easy access to those.


  12. I’ve been making Vogue 1360 as an LBD in ponte and I absolutely love it but it’s my first ever Vogue pattern (and only my 6th ever make) so it’s far from perfect. I only have the hem to go but I can’t decide whether to do some ripping and adjust the fit in the bust first. I already sewed the lining in the sleeve caps though so argh!


    • Oh, that is cute! That’s a complicated dress for only your 6th make! Congratulations! It’s usually worth it to make fit changes, even if they’re annoying- usually when I don’t do it, I end up not wearing the garment. :/


  13. shocking how many of these designs i really like! usually book compilations are pretty meh for me. i hear ya on needing more tops, but as it happens i could use a few nice dresses. my skills have improved so much since the days when i wanted to crank out dress after dress!


    • I know, right? I’m never interested in book patterns, but these are actually pretty cute! I guess now that I think about it you’re usually sewing separates… it would be fun to see some more dresses from you!


  14. What a lovely book! They’re all gorgeous dresses. And what a brilliant idea to use that Google form for entries, genius! Speaking of, if you’re not shipping internationally, you can exclude me, I couldn’t see if you were or weren’t.

    Hope to see you make something from this book!


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  16. I think I’ll be sewing dresses all year long- it’s basically all I like to wear! Something about the simplicity of it all. I know which one piece I have to put on and I’m done (with additions of cardigans/tights/boots in the colder months) So needless to say, I would LOVE this book! Fingers crossed!


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