Complex Alterations: Kate Spade dress tailored into separates

kate spade fan dress2

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:

kate spade fan dress 5

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 Anonymous August 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    love how creative you are getting with alterations and your own DIYs. i agree with your assessment on how the alterations came out. the peplum top would have been perfect if it was a bit longer! love it on you anyway.

    also…i had no idea i was supposed to tip my tailor! how much would you recommend tipping them?

  • Reply maryeb August 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Wow, I think you did a great job! I can see why you fell in love with this dress, the fabric is stunning. The length of the peplum wouldn't bother me at all. Both pieces look like they fit you perfectly. You now have so many styling options. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • Reply Jean August 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I did write that it came out too short, but am making the best of it with higher-waisted bottoms : )

    As for tipping the tailor…I've read varying guidance and don't think it's necessary for the owner of a business. Most people don't, and I haven't with past tailors except with a gift around the holidays. The items I bring to this guy usually require a ton of work and he charges less than any other place I've been to. Since I've been going to him for a while now and he always does a good job, I just add on a little to support his business.

  • Reply Anonymous August 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I am so happy to see your posts again! Since Aug 15 when I met you at Prudential, I have been so much longing to see your new styles…The pattern of this Kate Sprade piece is gorgeous and you look stunning in the photo (but may I say that "real you" is even prettier and very elegant and well versed!!)
    I LOVE you and your posts!!
    Annie Li

  • Reply mai August 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    wow, that's pretty awesome. i love seeing how many ways you can wear it.

  • Reply Marian August 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I think it turned out really cute! Just today, I was thinking how much more versatile a dress would be if it were two separate pieces. Will definitely be keeping this in mind for future sewing projects.

  • Reply Rachelle ( August 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    That outfit is simply amazing, love the print. Must love Kate Spade.

  • Reply Anonymous August 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    This dress is adorable! Seeing the ways you wore it is encouraging. 🙂 Do you speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese? For some reason, I thought you might be Taiwanese.

  • Reply Loretta August 25, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Very nice altering! I like the print!

  • Reply Le monde des petites August 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Very nice dress! You're so talented!!!

    Le monde des petites

  • Reply Lady of Style August 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I am so happy to have a "magic" seamstress too and she takes care of a lot of my garments. I tend to round up the price.

    On these photos the final result looks great and the "new" dress just looks fabulous on you!

    xx from Germany,
    Annette | Lady of Style

  • Reply Erin August 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    The after is quite amazing. I'm curious though, how long did it take for your tailor to do all these alterations?

  • Reply Paris in Four Months August 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    This is so amazing 🙂 My jaw literally dropped! It looks gorgeous on you.


  • Reply V August 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Reading your entries makes me want to go buy a sewing machine. I love how you transformed that dress into pretty separates (fourth outfit is my favorite). Thanks for inspiring me. I will probably start altering my own clothes again. 🙂

  • Reply BusyElle Bee August 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Hi, I love this. If you get fed up with the peplum length, you could change up the top by adding either a waist band in a colour that matches the bias binding on the neckline and the arm openings, and then re attach the patterned peplum to the waist band, or add more fabric to the bottom of the peplum.

    You could also remove the patterned peplum altogether, swap it with a solid colour and use the patterned fabric for something else (a clutch, hair band etc for instance).

    But I think your outfit looks great as it is 🙂

  • Reply Suzie Q August 25, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I love the transformation of the dress. That's such a good idea to already bring in well fitted pieces that are similar to the styles you're going for to serve as a stencil for the tailor. My favorite ways of wearing the dress are the outfit shot and the skirt by itself 🙂

    Suzie Q

  • Reply Anonymous August 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I'm starting sew my own clothes and I love your idea of matching separates!
    As for the peplum top, you could always sew a band of matching blue fabric between the peplum's skirt and the top part in order to increase the length. You could even try to put it right at your waist to add emphasis!

  • Reply Carol Li August 25, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Wow, I love the new look of this dress. It's so much more versatile. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Happiness at Mid Life August 25, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    This does sound like a very complex alterations and your tailor did a great job from these pictures. I love pieces that can be worn as a dress or separate – so many more options.


  • Reply FashionEdible August 25, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Wow – this is truly amazing! I love each look and am amazed that they all came from one dress. Your tailor did a great job!


  • Reply Andreia Tarelho August 25, 2013 at 5:49 pm
  • Reply Anonymous August 25, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Hi Jean,
    Love your bag! Did u alter the strap cos I have the same bag and its too long for me? 🙁 Great dress too btw. I am thinking of learning how to sew as tailor here in Sydney is so expensive.

  • Reply Tiffany August 25, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Lovely! I like that fabric. 🙂

  • Reply Kai-Li August 25, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    I love how you converted it into so many versatile pieces, especially the peplum.

  • Reply Heidi Fuqua August 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I love what you did with that. It really turned out cute. Hope you have a great day.

    Heidi’s Wanderings

  • Reply Olivia J August 25, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Love these types of tutorial!

    Corporate Catwalk
    Facebook Page

  • Reply Tia August 26, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Your tailor did an amazing job preserving but also recreating this Kate Spade dress into an entire new outfit! I will be moving to Boston in 4 days for college (YAY!), I don't speak Cantonese or Mandarin, do you have any other tailor to recommend and a dry cleaner?
    Thanks! Tia

  • Reply EVA. August 26, 2013 at 3:46 am

    wow you did an amazing job! The dress look perfect on you <3


  • Reply Helen August 26, 2013 at 4:27 am

    I really like the length of the peplum, but cutting that one piece of the skirt off grain is really wrong! It looks like he cut two left pieces for the skirt and didn't have enough fabric to fix it. I'm betting that's why the alterations have such a low price tag – he's hoping that when you notice, you'll be less likely to complain if you didn't pay $130 for it. I worked for a tailor, and that sounds very plausible.

  • Reply GEMMA August 26, 2013 at 5:26 am

    You still look tan and gorgeous!! ahhaha Awesome!!

    HEYHEY! Check out my blog:

    Love, Gemma

  • Reply J L August 26, 2013 at 7:19 am

    Love the dress and the outfits, especially the fourth one! Where is that white blouse from?

  • Reply Anonymous August 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I live in Boston, and would love to know the tailor you use!

  • Reply Joules August 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Wow, I'm really impressed with your ingenuity here! The dress looks fabulous on you, and it's amazing to see the difference in the before and after photos. Your tailor did a great job. It's awesome that you did it in two pieces too so you can mix it up. Too often I buy a great dress and get sick of it (or my boyfriend gets sick of it) after a few wears and it never sees the light outside my closet again.

    Style by Joules

  • Reply SewPetiteGal August 26, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Totally thinking of making my formal gown DIY into multiple pieces because of the versatility you've been showing!

    Out of curiosity, to narrow the dress bodice, would you have considered pleating like this? Either having multiple or one in the center?

  • Reply More Than One Love August 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I'm going through a wardrobe update and I'm inspired! Time to dust my sewing machine!

  • Reply Quyen Nguyen August 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I think your ideas are great because it is importantly to see how we can update a piece that we already have instead of buying more!

  • Reply akaurr August 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    I falling in love with your style all over again and againnn 🙂

  • Reply Fer August 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    omg!!! beautiful!!! You have an amazing vision 🙂 congrats

  • Reply joliene wade August 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    I love this! I think it came out very nicely. Great eye, as well! I love the different combinations you were able to get out of it. Thanks for sharing.

    Young SF Lady

  • Reply Jane August 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    And the moral of the story is that petite women should never buy regular-sized clothes!

  • Reply Joanne Ku August 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

    wow. so talented! this is definitley on my to do list. thanks for sharing!


  • Reply the|avantguardian August 27, 2013 at 2:56 pm
  • Reply QUENNAVU August 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    You have such a great eye for fashion, I love how the dress turned out!!

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Oo, helpful illustration! Yes we did try with 2-3 darts but thought the one line down the center would be a little more clean.

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 9:55 am

    He doesn't have a shop name – but is located on Knapp St in Boston (across from where C Mart used to be) in a temporary location. You can see his sewing machine through the window 7 days a week, 10-4pm ish but he only speaks CHinese.

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Thanks! It's old from H&M; but they do have similar options every so often.

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:14 am

    He quotes at initial drop off, so any mistakes that happen subsequently are hopefully not factored in at that point! The print in the different direction was a pretty big deal to me…I was bummed to see it upon pick-up, but oddly enough, after I pointed it out both the tailor and my friend (whom was with me), they both looked long and hard and actually said they could barely notice the issue. I thought attention to detail like that was a 'given' but guess not. I determined it can be fixed in the future by rotating the pockets and zipper 90 degrees to have symmetry (because both right front and back panel print is symmetrical, and both left front and back are too).

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Hi Tia, unfortunately I don't have another tailor to recommend other than the one I currently go to…if it's basic alterations like taking in a skirt/pants or hemming, you can certainly visit tailors even with a language barrier and just communicate with gestures : )

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Hi there! I knotted the strap twice in the back. Really wish it were adjustable!

  • Reply Jean August 28, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Thank you and BUsyElle Bee above for this idea!

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