“Breathless” Dress

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A film by Jean-Luc Godard. A dress by Dixie DIY.

Let me begin this post with a bit of history. “Breathless” or “A Bout de Souffle” is a 1959 movie by French director Jean-Luc Godard and is arguably one of the most important films of all time. If that sounds a little pretentious, don’t worry, it’s also just a plain good movie.

If you haven’t seen it here’s the basic run down: Michel(Jean-Paul Belmondo), a car thief, who, frankly, doesn’t seem very bright ’cause he shoots a cop for a dumb reason, is on the lamb and runs up to Paris to hide out with his aloof American journalist girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg). He then tries to convince her to run away with him to Italy and she’s kinda like, “meh” about the whole thing.

It’s a love story and it isn’t. The characters are modern and likeable but also self indulgent. The movie is sweet but at the same time it doesn’t romanticize love. Unlike Hollywood movies of the time (and many still being produced now) Breathless doesn’t treat its couple like they’re “meant to be” with dramatic kisses set to a string overture. It’s much more ambivalent and the characters often struggle to emotionally connect to each other.

But the plot isn’t the main reason Breathless is so appreciated as a great film. Godard, himself a huge cinephile, used his directorial debut to turn filmmaking convention on its head. Everything was shot on location, no lighting, guerrilla style with no real “script.” It is self referential with plenty of references to Hollywood movie making styles without adhering to any of its rules. If you watch Breathless today it might just seem like a kind of quirky “indie” flick but at the time it was ground breaking.

Watch a handful of popular Hollywood movies from the late 50s, then watch Breathless, then watch some of the best movies of 1967: Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke and notice the differences. It’s all because of Breathless and movies like it.

So what about this dress?

The Goal: Regardless about how you feel about the movie or its message, politics, conventions, whatever, that Patricia had style! And this dress, worn toward the end of the film, was lovely so I decided to re-create it… like two years ago. Yes, this dress has been in the making for a long, long time.

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The Pattern: Self drafted based on a bodice block. The skirt is just a gathered rectangle (the original dress has a series of tiny knife pleats). I tried half a dozen versions of the collar in an attempt to get it right.

However I began this dress so long ago that I think I must be smaller now than my original block because it’s a little loose in the bodice.

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The Fabric: A pima cotton from, I believe, Mood. But since I bought it more than a year and a half ago I know they won’t still have it in stock.

The movie is in black and white so I just assumed that the stripe was blue.

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The stripes in Seberg’s dress are wider than mine but I think the weight of the fabric I bought is pretty spot on.

I bought the belt-buckle kit off Etsy. Sadly, they don’t make those anymore. You’d have to track down a vintage one if you really want a matching belt.

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The belting came from The Common Thread. The belt eyelets are regular old Dritz. And thanks to Susan and Miss Lulu for helping me cover those buttons. They look great but I can never get them to work for me.

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I also bought a vintage zip with that buckle kit. Might as well keep the vintage theme going. I did a lapped zip in the side seam.

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The Results: If only I had some white heels and gloves, a sweet pair of cat eye glasses, and the ovaries to cut my hair that short and I’d complete the look.

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Mostly, I’m just glad this project is finally finished!

If you’d like to learn move about Breathless here are a few articles:

Breathless on New Wave Film – lots of info on the making of the movie
“Why Breathless?” on Thought Catalog – Why Breathless is still important 50 years later
Breathless on Cinemalogue
You can rent the movie on iTunes or Amazon or on disc from Netflix. There are plenty of clips on YouTube but I can’t find the whole movie with English subtitles.

  • Absolutely stunning! What a superb copycat dress. You’ll get to wear it loads in the Texas heat, I bet.

  • This is just amazing and it suits you so well. I’ve never seen Breathless, to my shame – but actually this has really inspired me to watch it, so thank you! x

  • I love pretty much everything about that dress! There’s something so chic about self covered buttons and belts

  • Are these tears? My face is all wet. Oh right – I AM CRYING BECAUSE THIS IS SO FANTASTIC. Absolutely knock-out inspiration – I clearly have to watch this movie with Guillaume soon…

  • This dress is gorgeous on you. You have done an Amazing job!

  • Rose Pearce

    That is fantastic. Your dress is very close to the inspiration, and the fabric is perfect – it seems to hang just right.

  • Great, great dress. This takes the fit and flare to a new level and it doesn’t look costumie at all. I think the stripes are perfectly in proportion. Congrats.

  • So cute! Spot on! Thanks for pointing out this movie too!

  • Kaitlyn Emmett

    Such a good match. The collar is so lovely, matches those oversized buttons perfectly

  • Absolutely gorgeous, the stripes, the collar, the skirt, just amazing, I love that you even matched the belt and the buttons to the dress, I want, no, I need one too

  • Sandé Cross

    Dixie, this is a gorgeous dress! only one small thing, totally a difference of opinion, not a criticism: the buttons need to be only about 3/4 the size. (i always like smaller buttons.) you must have the perfect clothes wearing body, because everything looks great on you, no matter the style, color or variable. and this is not an empty compliment. some ladies don’t look good in much of anything. i have bought all your patterns i can find, and hope for more!! any new patterns any time soon?

  • Mancunian Vintage

    Gorgeous dress – it looks so pretty on you. And you made this without a pattern? Holy smokes!

  • A Stitching Odyssey

    Oh Dixie…where to start! A Bout de Souffle is one of my favourite films too, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned! And your dress?!? Absolutely spot on, you’ve done the original great justice and it looks super cute on you! Love this post so much!

  • Belgian Seams

    This is fantastic! One of my favourite films too! I really love the dress and you’ve done such a great job, it really looks like the original!

  • This is beautiful! I haven’t seen the film, but the dress alone kind of makes me want to. Might make me fall back in love with full, gathered skirts!

  • missceliespants

    ohmigoodness. that dress is absolutely delightful!!

  • pootleandmake.wordpress.com

    Wow it’s a perfect match. Adorable dress. The film is one of my favourites.

  • I haven’t seen this movie, but I’m a big vintage junkie so I’ll check it out. Thanks for the brief history behind the film. Love me a good lesson.

    The dress is spot on to me! Who cares if it took two years? It looks fabulous!

  • This. Is. Fantastic. Like, seriously.

  • Absolutely gorgeous, I love it!

    I think you might be wrong about buckle kits. My favorite local fabric store, Treadle Yard Goods in Saint Paul, MN, sells them, although who knows if they are just new old stock (the packaging is very retro with some psychedelic flowers!).

  • This is so gorgeous – seriously, this is my favorite thing you’ve ever made! You did such a good job recreating the one from the film. Hopefully I get good enough to basically copy you completely on this dress one day, lol.

  • Scruffybadgertime

    You’ve made such a great job of this! That collar looks spot on ( ok, it involved trial and error), but worth it!) it looks lovely on you as well, a gorgeous vintage inspired dress from the movies

  • I saw this film not too long ago and really liked it. It definitely helps to know some film background to really appreciate it, especially in the realms of Jean-Luc Godard, who’s directing I love. When watching the movie I could not get over this exact dress! You did such a wonderful job creating it!

  • Lara

    Oh my gosh I think this might be the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen! I love it! Great work with those stripes! Adding Breathless to my watch list right now.

  • Amanda Adams

    Hot damn, Dixie! This is fantastic! And your collar points are crazy crisp (weird point to fixate on but they are awesome!)

  • mokosha

    perfection! had a plan to make this dress for ages, but never menaged to find the right fabric (i planned to make it in gray-white stripey fabric, but only found jersey with that print, so i gave up eventually).. funny thing is that i never really liked that movie much, but since i saw it for the first time, many years ago, i was obsessed with the stripey dress :) and it makes me really happy to see one made so beautifuly!

  • Whoa This is amazing!! You did a wonderful job recreating this!

  • DDDiane

    Beautiful.. Looks great on you! Sheesh, how tiny is Jean Seberg’s waist??

  • WOW! I loooove Breathless and every time I watch it I lust after that dress. You did an amazing job on replicating it. I also assumed it was blue stripes, too. :) Lovely dress and it looks amazing on you!

  • sallieforrer

    This is such a spot on re-creation! Well done! I love Jean Seberg’s whole look in that movie, she just nails it. I actually took a picture of her to my hairdresser when I lopped off all my hair before my wedding – it’s seriously the perfect pixie cut, and if you ever decide to do it, do it like Jean Seberg!! Anyway, back to the dress! You totally nailed that collar, and the fit is really wonderful. Applause all around!

  • Gail

    Amazingly gorgeous!!

  • Susan Liane, The Smuggler’s Da

    Wow! Love it. I’m thinking of what costumes I might like to re-create. The only thing like that I’ve done is Dorothy’s gingham dress from The Wiz of Oz. Seems pretty silly in comparison.

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh j’adore!!! This dress has been on my fantasy sewing list forever, but I’ve never even taken the first step to making it. One day! In the meantime I will live vicariously through your dress because it is absolutely gorgeous!!!

  • Susan Menta

    LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • This dress totally captures the essence of the original, plus it’s still super wearable. Love!

    Now’s the part where I admit that I have never seen a single Godard film. I have this weirdly irrational thing about thinking black & white means boring. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But maybe I will make an exception for Breathless!

  • Ah it looks GORGEOUS! Congrats on finally getting it done!!

  • Christine Melgarejo

    This is to DIE FOR. Omg.

  • lisa g

    oooh i’ve never seen this movie! i took a film class back in college (just needed one more credit hour and thought it sounded fun) and it turned out to be one of my favorite classes. love a good film history lesson. and your dress came out fantastic! i love the striped fabric, covered buttons… perfection!

  • Oh my goodness, your dress is gorgeous! That collar, those buttons, the belt – beautiful!! Lynne

  • rehanonmackenzie

    Divine! That is an absolute gem of a dress. Great work and the finish is exquisite.

  • Beautiful dress! I love garments that were inspired by movies, music or art. So inspiring.

  • www.tresbienensemble.com

    Spot on! This dress is amazing. That colar. Those stripes. The buttons. It’s all perfection. Also, thanks for the information on the film. I haven’t seen it. I love watching movies/television just to observe the significance it has, so I’ll definitely be adding it to my list.

  • Wow Dixie! This dress is a perfect match to the actresses, and it looks awesome on you! You could totally pull of cat eyes and a pixie if you wanted to too!

  • Oh goodness, that dress is so perfect and I WANT ONE RIGHT NOW! Such a fabulous job you did, especially with getting that collar!

  • Lou Weez

    Oh my goodness, your dress is just simply Devine! And you made the pattern too, so very impressed…you should be super proud of yourself :) well done 👍

  • English Girl at Home

    Wow! This looks stunning & is an amazing recreation of the original.

  • Holy gorgeousness! This is a winner!!

  • Teri Dodds

    What a lovely dress! Now I want to check out the movie!

  • thank you! i’d never made a rolled collar like that before so it was a little tricky.

  • thanks so much!! if you split the center front of the Emery dress pattern and add a button placket an a collar it’s basically the same style. That was going to be my back up plan if my block bodice didn’t work out.

  • Thanks! You know, I found one company online that seems to make them but only sells them wholesale and only had one tiny pic of the product. I couldn’t ever find them in any online stores tho. I know A Fashionable Stitch used to sell some but they’re sold out. I think Joann fabrics sells the belting but I’ve never seen any kits. The matching belt just isn’t very popular anymore.

  • Thanks!! :)

  • thank ya! i feel very 50s wearing it. ;)

  • Thanks! There are a bunch of other french movies from that time period with awesome styling, Band of Outsiders, Jules et Jim, and Cleo from 5 to 7 come to mind.

  • thank you! glad to see some other breathless lovers.

  • Thanks! There’s some other cute outfits Jean wears in the movie, too.

  • Thank you so much!

  • Thanks! And it’s nice to know there are other breathless fans out there, too. ;)

  • thanks! well, the bodice was a basic block pattern that was altered, the only thing I really drafted from scratch was that pesky collar.

  • Thanks, it was hard to guess the size of the buttons from just the pictures (and considering the size difference on the stripes) so I went with 1″ buttons. I think the belt looks a bit big too but I had to go with the belt buckle size I could find – 2″.

    As for new patterns, I’ve been working on a skirt pattern off and on for ages, just sent it off to my first tester. Probably going to be doing more tests soon.

  • Thanks!!

  • Thank you! that collar was troublesome but I’m glad it turned out well in the end.

  • Thanks! finding that fabric was a lucky break.

  • haha, thanks so much!!! and yes, watch it!

  • thanks Melizza! funnily enough it got really cold here this last week so I guess I won’t be wearing it for awhile (unless it’s with tights and a coat).

  • Thank you! the movie is certainly an interesting watch, i hope you like it

  • thanks! and i agree, i need more covered buttons and belts in my life!

  • thank you!

  • thanks janet! i’m glad it just looks like a kind of retro dress and not an obvious costume

  • thank you jenny!

  • why, thank you :)

  • haha, thanks! i used that trick where you stick a pin through the point and pull it from the outside.

  • wow, thank you!!

  • thanks! i also really like godard but I think trouffaut is my favorite. his movies always seem more personal and tinged with sadness. godard definitely has the “cool” factor in his movies, though.

  • thanks a bunch!! :)

  • I know, right? I get the impression that she was probably on the petite side in terms of height but yeah, she’s tiny!

  • thanks! i’m glad someone else thought the same thing about the color choice. ;)

  • Thanks sallie! I love her hair but honestly I’m afraid it wouldn’t look good on me or I’d feel really exposed. mainly I’m afraid that if I didn’t like it then there’s no going back! i’ve loved the pixie cut on everyone I’ve seen, though.

  • thank you gail!

  • Thanks, Susan! I think the golden age of Hollywood has some stunning outfits and gowns I’d love to recreate someday.

  • Thanks so much, Tilly! And thanks again for the twitter share. And you should totally make a version for yourself!

  • Haha, thanks lady!

  • See, you seem like the kind of gal who would really enjoy watching some of these old french new wave flicks. Maybe we can have a sewing group get together and watch some fashionable old movies. Thanks a bunch!

  • thanks susan ;)

  • thank you!!

  • thanks! I was actually a film major in college. but in highschool I was doing this big project on movie history so that’s when i first saw breathless. film theory and history and screenwriting are really fun topics for me.

  • thank you, lynne!

  • truebias

    this is SO adorable.

  • That’s an awesome idea! Maybe we could all take turns sharing a fashionable movie we love! I would totally share Mood Indigo… both the stories and costumes are fantasic.

  • Leah Franqui

    This is amazing. I love this so hard. Well flipping done!

  • Amy

    What a great, great project, Dixie! And it turned out so beautifully! It must feel so good to finish a personal challenge like that. The fabric is dead on!

  • Wow! A perfect replica! Now I need to go watch the movie :)

  • I love this dress, so lovely!!! Oh my :)

    http://www.ensembledeux.blogspot.com

  • Sewrendipity London

    This is one of my favourite handmade creations of all the blogs I’ve seen in 2014! Well done, true blue beauty! Alex (sewrendipity.com).

  • Nothy Lane

    This is beautiful Since you drafted the pattern you should consider selling the pattern. It is beautiful!

  • Jeni

    Wow, you have done a fabulous job – everything has already been said, but I especially love the collar and those big stripey buttons, and the perfect match of the stripes across the bodice front and around the hem. I don’t see how you could have done a more perfect job. Now I need to see Breathless and buy the pattern from you – is it available yet? ;-)

  • Bridget Dickey

    This dress is amazing! WOW. Love your blog. I work full time as a pattern maker, seamstress and technical designer for the Fashion and Costume industry in LV and am always making things for other people but decided this would be the year to start making things for myself along with launching my own line. <3