A section of a 1986 Kmart catalogue featuring 4 dresses that are very of their time in blue, pink stripe, yellow and turquoise stripe.

I made a dress from a 1986 Kmart catalogue.

When I stumbled across this glorious photo from an authentic 1986 Kmart catalogue I was smitten! The hair! The shoes! The white tights! The fluffy hair! But most of all… the prints on those dresses! Now, being about 6 years old the year this came out, I didn’t have the opportunity to dress up exactly like this but damnit I would have thought these ladies were the epitome of fancy.

$22 in 1986 was a lot of money… someone suggested it’d be upwards of $60 in today’s money which is steep compared with the pricing you see in Kmart these days. However, in the 80s manufacturing was still mostly done in Australia because of the tariffs involved in importing goods. Since that time the tariffs have been reduced, manufacturing here has long been killed off, and as a result Kmart now sell $10 dresses made by people in dangerous working conditions overseas. (I can not recommend watching The True Cost to you enough.)

Fast fashion simply wasn’t as fast back then as it is today; I would say it moves at breakneck speed in 2019. Clothes were worn and mended and passed on. I benefited from quite a few of my elder cousins’ hand-me-downs, which was great because they were very fashionable!

Old photo from 1985 of two little girls, I'm the taller one with an ice cream shirt, and my sister is the smaller one wearing a pink dress.
I think this photo is 1985ish in vintage. I’m the elder sister with the stunning ice cream t-shirt I’d kill to own now!

Considering I’m a lady with the skills to make the 80s dress of my dreams, I set upon a mission of trying to source the fabric. The blue and yellow geometric doodle type prints had a very small chance in this game, let’s be honest. I searched all my regular fabric places and even on ebay but no similar prints could be found. The wide stripes were my best bet but yet they too proved elusive until I stumbled across a 4.5cm wide kelly green stripe on The Remnant Warehouse for $5.95/m. Sold!

Collage: the photo from 1986 of a woman wearing a turquoise wide striped dress; green wide stripe fabric; and a sketch of a plus size woman wearing a green striped dress in a similar style to the original.
The inspiration, the fabric, the plan.

My plan wasn’t to copy the dress exactly. I was always going to use my trusty, long-out-of-print 90s smock dress pattern. I shortened the sleeve, added a button front and copied the layout of the stripe direction. I tried to match the stripes up on the sleeve but alas I am not a Savile Row tailor.

The styling? Straight out of an Avon catalogue of my youth.

A crucial part of the styling of this dress for the all important photos was getting the hair and make up right. So out came my Morphe palette of colours I am 20 years too old for, and I dipped right into those blues without a single fear of looking like a clown. The contouring and blush were appropriately heavy and the brows as fluffy as I could draw on! I used a waving tool on my (now short!) hair and teased it to oblivion; and finished the look off with a pair of my Cool S earrings. Because when I was a kid in the 80s, that’s what we drew all over everything.

Photo of me wearing my green striped dress, tousling my hair.
Just a subtle striped dress.

Photo of my side view, I am looking very dramatic.
Channeling my best catalogue model poses.

I think this is going on number 10 for these smock dresses. They are the easiest thing in the world to wear, and I know I should probably sew up another pattern at some stage but this one is just so damned comfortable!

A photo of me looking quietly pleased with myself.
Looking adequately smug.