Complex Alterations: Kate Spade dress tailored into separates

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Kate Spade dress from eBay, altered & separated into 2 pcs, vintage bracelet & earrings,
Coach Legacy “Penny” bagNana sandals (in 3 leather colors, or colorblock suede)

I rarely come across a garment and am completely smitten by it, especially if it won’t fit without a lot of work. This last happened with this coat, and again when I saw this Kate Spade fan print dress at an online sample sale. There was only a size 8 left at half off, but I later found a size 2 for much less. Having never tried on Kate Spade before, I bought the dress with the intention of simply tailoring it to fit. When it arrived, however, I realized that it needed to be taken apart for all-over alterations, plus there would be a decent amount of pretty fabric remaining, wasted. I’ve been loving this DIY 2-piece “dress,” and the idea crept into my head to refashion this into something similar. I’d probably only wear the sundress 1-2x a month in warm weather, but the possibilities really open up with separates. I also figured that I’d be paying a pretty penny already for alterations, so why not make the most out of the resulting piece(s).

I want to note that I do not recommend buying anything with the intention of dramatic refashioning, unless you have a tailor whom you really trust (or the skills/patience to do it yourself), and are okay with the risk and cost of possibly ruining the item. I also do not recommend buying anything more than two sizes up than your normal size to alter down, because the difference in proportions become difficult and risky to work with.

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I love Kate Spade’s feminine, vibrant pieces, but most of them are designed for a regular-height frame. If I were just altering the dress to fit, the following changes would still be needed:

– Narrow the neck opening and shoulder width (my tailor considered adding darts or lifting the neckline, but in the end added a new seam down the front center) and re-attach the black piping trim

– Re-size the armholes

– Detatch the skirt to raise the waistline and re-do back zipper. Sometimes the waist can be lifted simply by raising the shoulder straps, if that area fits well already.

– Take-in along both sides, re-create pockets that are lost during the slimming

– Hem skirt length

The cost of this at the average tailor will probably run $100+, which is why I always recommend buying petite sizing (if available) to petite women. Even if something still needs to be slimmed or taken-in, at least the proportional aspects like waist placement, neck opening, shoulder placement, and armholes should fit.

Increased options with the dress as “separates,” worn with J.Crew Everly pumps:

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For this job, I brought my DIY outfit as a “prototype” for the tailor, but asked for an invisible zipper instead of elastic waistband on the skirt. I asked him to preserve as much as the original flared design as possible, and for pockets to be re-made. As shown below, the top came out of the bodice of the dress plus a few inches below the waistline. The skirt needed some crafting, with the waistband and pocket material coming out of the excess fabric on both sides:

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Difficult to alter neckline gap resulting from too-wide shoulder straps:

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I was prepared for costly alterations, but was only quoted a surprising $65. This could be because I have quite a bill with him each month (now mostly the endless tailoring needs of friends & family), plus also add gratuity. I would expect the average tailor to charge at least double for the amount of work. For fellow Bostonians, my tailor is currently at a temporary location on Knapp St. in Chinatown (you can see his sewing machine through the big window), and is open around 10AM – 4PM, 7 days a week. He only speaks Cantonese and some Mandarin.

kate spade fan dress

I’m happy with the results, but as with all my other complex tailoring jobs, this one did not come out perfectly. The top when worn alone is a tad short (apparently there wasn’t enough fabric to make it longer), the skirt isn’t gathered like the original, and more care could’ve been taken to make the print symmetrical on each piece. Some of these are communication oversights that I should’ve clarified in the beginning. I also acknowledge that it would’ve been easier for him to work from scratch with a piece of fabric, than play puzzle pieces with an existing garment.

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Quick note on these Nana sandals (colorblock suede version still avail. in sz 5), which were part of my Yoox keepers (related review of purse and flat sandals). I like the genuine leather uppers, the good fit of the sz 5’s, and the leg-lengthening taupe color and not-too-high platform. However, the ankle strap can be uncomfortable if they hit at the top of your ankles, so I don’t recommend these if you have higher ankles or usually experience discomfort there. I unfortunately didn’t realize this until walking further in them outdoors, and now reserve wearing these shoes for when we drive most of the way.

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64 thoughts on “Complex Alterations: Kate Spade dress tailored into separates

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Hi Erin, I picked it up after about 2 weeks but it depends on their work queue…all of this I estimate is probably about 4 hours of work for someone who is efficient and experienced.

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Haha I do love Taiwanese XLB, but I was born in Canton and speak a little Mandarin : )

  • Reply brian and amanda August 29, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    you are seriously AMAZING!!! i wish i could pay you to do this for me. 🙂

  • Reply MizzJ August 31, 2013 at 4:30 am

    Wow this alteration is amazing! Your tailor is a genius.

  • Reply Sze August 31, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Hi Jean, there's a line below the armhole area making the fans look folded in. why did the tailor fold it?

  • Reply marymary September 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I see nothing wrong, good job!

  • Reply Anonymous September 1, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Have you considered taking your bag to a shoe repair store? They have all of the equipment they need for sewing leather, and they're surprisingly willing to tackle small projects like adjusting purse straps. You might also consider a leather repair shop (or even a dry cleaner specializing in leather) or a luggage repair shop.

  • Reply Another Petite! September 2, 2013 at 2:40 am

    Your tailor is phenomenal. Love your creativity and vision, and print selection.

  • Reply Mineko September 2, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Gorgeous work on the alterations, even if you weren't completely happy. I'm so glad I stumbled across this blog – I find I as well am too small for most items purchased in-store, making more and more reluctant to make purchases which simply don't fit. I'll certainly consider some tailoring next time! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply SIYAAM September 2, 2013 at 8:50 am

    You are soooo talented seriously!
    I know you say here that the tailoring wasn't perfect but it honestly looks perfect on you 🙂
    Great inspiration!

  • Reply Maggie Adofo September 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    WOW … not this is what I call a DIY!! Beautiful and very creative use of an outfit.

    Maggie A
    Love Mavin

  • Reply Anonymous September 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    wow you are very talented. and this dress and separates looks amazing.

  • Reply Anonymous September 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    This post is awesome. I love the versatility of how the dress was altered and that invisible zipper is genius! -Pam

  • Reply Rouge's living November 3, 2013 at 8:50 am

    OH amazing! I am really petite and often have trouble finding my size, i end up buying whatever fits me no matter if i'll ever wear it. I have so many dresses just lying around in my closet that are beautiful and expensive, this really inspired me to do something about them. Thanks!

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