[I purchased this dress under my real name with my own money. The Pretty Dress Company is not affiliated with this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Few things cause me more anxiety and/or not-super-great-body feelings than realizing I need to buy a special-occasion dress. Clothes are just a tremendous pain in the butt for me: I have to take big boobs, broad shoulders, long arms and legs, a shortish torso, and some fiber sensitivities into account, and while I’m often sized out of core or ‘misses’ sizes, plus sizes don’t always solve the problem. So when I realized I’d unexpectedly be attending a black tie dinner on Boxing Day this year (!), I was excited to spend a special evening with my family, but I had a mild private meltdown over the prospect of finding something to wear.
I visited a few brick-and-mortar shops and department stores in the city, but I encountered the usual problems: stores’ inventories stopped at a size 10 or 12, the only options in larger sizes were too short or didn’t suit me, I couldn’t zip anything past my ribcage, the price was prohibitive (which for me means it’s over $250, I know “expensive” means different things to different people), the only larger sizes felt too staid and mature, or the colors and fabrics didn’t look or feel good. I’ve gotten myself into trouble procrastinating on dress shopping before, so with about two weeks to go before the event I bit the bullet and ordered two dresses from a website that I’ve seen making the rounds on Instagram for the last year: The Pretty Dress Company, based in the United Kingdom. It does what it says on the tin: pretty dresses in pretty colors in classic shapes with meticulous construction. The site is easy to shop, but there was only one shipping option available to the US and it was unclear how fast it would be; it was also a whopping £31. It was £31 well spent, my friends, because it was OVERNIGHT shipping: I ordered the dresses late on a Sunday in NYC (early Monday in the UK), and they arrived around mid-day on Tuesday.
I ordered two dresses for choice, in different shapes and fabrics. I decided to stick with black for versatility, and I chose a “safe” style (the Thea, with its full skirt and simple stretch fabric) and a “riskier” (for me) style: the stretch Velvet Fatale Pencil dress. Stretch fabric pencil dresses, like the super-popular pinup styles from Pinup Girl Clothing or Stop Staring!, historically don’t suit me, and I think some velvets can dull people’s skin tones and pull luminosity from their faces. Nevertheless, velvet dresses seem to be on-trend this year, and I’m so glad I took the risk, because the Fatale velvet dress absolutely blew me away.
The Fatale Pencil Dress is an off-the-shoulder fitted dress with a narrow skirt that stops below the knee. The body and sleeves are made of a super-soft velvet with generous stretch, and the bodice is lined with stretch viscose and the skirt with a smooth stretch poly fabric so that the dress comfortably hugs the figure. There is soft boning in the bodice (two pieces in front and two in back) to provide structure and support, and the sleeves are softly gathered with elastic to help them stay in position whether you’re broad or narrow-shouldered. It fastens up the back with a zipper. The bodice features a subtle surplice detail (cross-over or faux-wrap), and the neckline dips to a soft point in both front and back. The construction is impeccable, and the interior of the dress reveals careful, thoughtful seam placement and finishing to help both the bodice and the sleeves keep their shape and position.
I’ve learned over the years that size charts are more like guidelines, because the sizes I wind up wearing match my measurements only about half the time. My bust measures slightly bigger than The Pretty Dress Company’s size 18, while my waist and hips measure slightly smaller. The Pretty Dress Company notes on their product pages that their garments run a bit smaller than the high street, so I was wary of sizing down to fit my waist. Knowing that I generally need a US 14 to fit my bust, I opted for the UK 18, and it’s a fantastic fit. The dress fastens comfortably even over my strapless bras (which tend to increase rather than minimize my bust measurements), and I’m glad it isn’t super tight over my belly and hips. I love that the length falls below my knees– I’ve tried on so many lovely dresses lately that just feel too, I don’t know, almost childish on me because they’re so short (waves at Pepperberry, today and always).
I am wearing shapewear in these photos– my Elomi Imogen waist cincher, which has since been discontinued, but it looks like the similar Kiki style could be a good alternative. I tried the dress on wearing my What Katie Did Mae corset underneath, but the corset felt too stiff and bulky for my liking; I prefer the lighter look and feel of the waist cincher for a long seated dinner. In these photos I’m wearing the Curvy Kate Luxe Strapless Bra in 34GG, but for the Boxing Day event I wound up wearing my Freya Deco strapless bra in 32GG, which isn’t as shallow as the Luxe and is therefore a better match for my shape (side note: the regular Deco bra doesn’t do it for me but the strapless Deco is the BEST strapless bra I’ve ever worn, and I’m very interested in trying the longline Pinup style from this season).
Y’all, I couldn’t be happier this is the dress I picked for the dinner. I felt fantastic, both in terms of how I looked and in terms of how comfortable it was to wear. The fabric stretches beautifully– I never felt squeezed (even after four courses), and I could even take long comfortable strides in the fitted skirt and climb easily in and out of the car. I was worried my broad shoulders and the off-the-shoulder style sleeves wouldn’t play well together, but the elasticated gathered sleeves and stretch materials meant that I didn’t feel constricted (nor did it feel like the dress was ever going to fall down). Normally wearing a strapless bra means I’ll have to hoik my dress up all night, but once this dress was on and zipped I didn’t have to fuss with it again all night. I could have worn it for hours longer, gone dancing, you name it.
I would like five more Fatale dresses, please, including some of the long glamorous gown versions, and don’t be stingy with the sequins.
* * * * *
DRESS: Fatale Black Velvet Pencil Dress by The Pretty Dress Company (£145, about $178 at today’s exchange rates), available in sizes 8-18 (UK). Velvet also available in forest green, midnight, magenta, red, and teal. You can see the full range of Fatale styles, including sequins! and tartan! and embroidery! here.
COCKTAIL RING AND COCKTAIL BAG: borrowed from She’s in Parties Vintage.
PHOTOS: Michi Rezin