When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-20th Century Edition, Part I)

Have you ever encountered closet shrinkage?

I’ve mentioned it here on the blog before, most recently in my modern wardrobe inventory post, but it is not only confined to my modern closet. Oh no, the things in my historical closet shrink, too!

In the past, I’ve shared how I updated two mid-19th century dresses to fit again, after finding that they no longer fit the way they did when they were first made, as well as how I updated two early 19th century dresses for the same reason.

I was recently inspired to finish off not just one, but two UFO ‘this doesn’t fit anymore’ projects that fall into the closet shrinkage category. I’ve decided to post about them separately, since I have a number of photos for each, so today we’ll look at my 1953 Dot Dress and next time we’ll look at my 1940s Inspired Anne Adams Dress.

I made this dress in 2013, for an adventurous day that included brunch, fall leaves, and roller skating (all followed by a Regency ball)!

I loved (and still do) the lightweight fabric, the fun dot print, and the pink, purple, and and rust colors of the dots. I wore this dress for the next few years–to a few historical/vintage events as well as in my everyday life.

This next photo is from 2016–the last time I could squeeze into the dress and actually close the zipper.

After that, I had to accept that the dress no longer fit. My shape had changed and it just wasn’t feasible. I was sad!

Fast forward to 2019, and I had the courage to decide to remake the dress, somehow, to make it fit. I got started by cutting straight down the front, stopping just short of the waistband, to see how much I needed to adapt the bodice…

It was rather a lot! I ran out of inspiration… and let the dress hang in my closet until recently.

I had thought I would just be able to add a piece to the front, somehow, and that would be enough. But when I started really looking at things again, I realized that the dress needed more than that to really do it justice. The side darts needed to be let out, the underarms need to be raised and filled in, the waist was still very tight, and there was the bust issue.

Oh, and I had minimal scraps for these alterations, partly because I’d used some of the larger ones to make ice skate soakers in 2015. (I’m not saying I shouldn’t have used my scraps to make a second project that brings me joy, but… the alterations would have been easier if I’d had wider scraps to work with!)

The front needed to have more more space created, about 3″ worth, but I had no scraps both wide enough and long enough to make a straight panel without seams. So I decided to get creative with a straight panel, adding tucks to it so I could hide seams within the tucks. I was inspired by the dotted dress Miss Hero Holliday wears in this wardrobe roundup post.

Here’s what my pieced piece looked like before pleating (lots of P’s!).

After a fair bit of complicated math (I’m pretty sure I made it more complicated than it needed to be), I was able to achieve a dress front that looks like this.

Essentially, I added princess seams. It was complicated to figure out, because I had cut straight down to figure out what was needed and I needed to add as much as 3″ at the bust while adding nothing at the waist, while actually adding in the panel that was 3″ wide from top to bottom. That means that I basically created a curve on the old center front line that was filled in with the straight pleated panel.

While being worn, it looks like this.

On the inside, I carefully bound all the raw edges in pink hug snug, just as I had when I first made the dress. However, I realized when trying on the altered dress that the pleats just opened up instead of staying put.

Oops.

This seems like it should have been an obvious problem from the beginning, but my brain missed it until I tried on the dress with the pleats in place.

So I had to figure out how to hold the pleats in place. The middle ones are held by the bits of grosgrain ribbon, while the side ones are invisibly tacked in place under the fold.

In addition to the front pleated panel, I also let out the side darts, which helped to create bust space and also raised the armhole a little bit as well. When I put the bias binding back on after doing all the other alterations I maxed out my meager seam allowance, which also raised the armhole up a bit.

You can just barely see my old stitch line on the side dart (on the top left side of the photo below). (You can compare this updated inside view to the original inside view in this post showing the original construction.)

And as you can see in both the photo above and the one below, I added a piece at the side seam, both above the waistband and in the waistband. There’s also a little crescent of added fabric on the back armhole (on the right sides of these photos), that fills in the raised underarm area.

I was very careful to re-finish the insides of the dress as nicely as I had the first time. That includes binding all the raw edges in hug snug (sometimes piecing in little pieces to do so) as well as adding pieces of bias to finish the new, wider neckline.

I decided to put in the zipper by hand this time around, as my first attempt on this dress with a machine sewn lapped zipper was a bit clunky where it went over the waistband.

All of these steps definitely added a bit of time to the alterations, but it makes me happy to still have lovely finished insides even after altering the dress.

The underarm area looks like this on the outside now. The busy print really helps to hide all my piecing seams! You can just make out some old stitch lines (like the one to the left of the zipper), but they’re not noticeable when the dress is being worn, thankfully.

I’m so pleased that I can wear this dress again! It actually fits better now than it did the first time, imagine that!

I wouldn’t have been able to make these alterations happen if I hadn’t kept my scraps!

I’m so grateful to all those seamstresses from the past few hundred years who have shown me that piecing is ok and making do/repairing/altering to keep getting wear out of clothes is ok, too! It’s a wonderful benefit of making my own clothes and knowing how to sew.

Welcome back, dotty dress!

1950s Queen Of Hearts

At the same sale that I purchased the base of my 1950s super-petticoat and the hat that I refashioned into a 1930s style I also purchased a rather sad 1980s style evening dress. I liked the brocade fabric and had an idea that I could remake the dress into a cocktail length 1950s style dress by removing the sleeves, changing the neckline, and shortening the hem.

I also had this dress in mind. I love the massive decorative butt bow and this remade dress seemed like a great opportunity to put the idea to use. The red had to wrap around the waist as well as making the bow, in order to cover up the original gold waistband, but I had a remnant of cherry silk in my stash that was nicely complimentary in terms of color and just the right size for the job!

From the front I feel generally ok about the dress, but from the back, I love it! Plus, that’s two things checked off the to-do list: I remade the 1980s dress into a wearable 1950s style and I put the butt bow inspiration into action. Plus the fact that I used up a fabric from the stash, which is a bonus!

But why the Queen of Hearts? I decided this was a dress I wanted to wear to an Alice In Wonderland themed event that I recently attended so I had to fit the dress into the theme. I decided on the idea of an elegant 1950s historical nod to Queen Elizabeth in The Crown (which I might have been watching right around the time I was looking for inspiration…). Aloof queen looks are totally my jam, so that works really well.

As long as I was going with a queen look, I decided that a royal order sash would be an easy way to say royalty and hearts all at the same time while also being easy to remove from the dress itself. I did some royal order sash research and decided I liked a sash with a narrow border of a contrasting color. Of course, mine needed to be made in Queen of Hearts colors: black, red, and gold seemed perfect. I pinned heart appliqués behind my shoulder brooch and on the bow to play up the Queen of Hearts theme.

It was fun to accessorize the dress and sash with long gloves, red drop earrings, a tiara, and my silver American Duchess Seaburys (the gold brocade fabric that makes up the back of the shoes complimented the gold brocade dress very nicely!). I think I like the butt bow with the sash even better than the butt bow by itself!

To make the sash, I googled ‘royal order sash’ and looked at lots of images to decide on a design. Mine is made of two rectangles, with an angled shoulder seam and tucks behind the bow loops for shaping. It’s made of red polyester with woven-in tiny black stripes and edged with sheer gold ribbon. For more detailed sash making information, Gina posted very detailed tutorial for making royal sashes that would probably be quite useful if you’re thinking of making one for yourself.

I’ll leave you with this silly shot of the Queen of Hearts with a flamingo. Croquet, anyone?

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1950s Super-Petticoat

This is a follow-up to my previous post, in which I shared more about this dress and the masquerade event I wore it to last year. While that post was about the dress itself, this one is about the petticoat that I wore under the dress.

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In order to help my dress achieve such a perfect 1950s silhouette, I put together a super-petticoat. It started with an organza petticoat from eBay, which I had worn before but been disappointed in. It just wasn’t big enough! Also, the elastic waistband was a bit tight for comfort.

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Layers of the super-petti: tulle, organza, and lining.

To upgrade the petticoat, I took off the waistband, replacing it with a yoke of cotton (inspired by Lily, who has done similar things to her petticoats) finished at the top with bias tape. I cut off the tulle ruffles from a full length bridal-type petticoat that I’d purchased for $5 due to its sad condition (a few rips in the tulle, a broken zipper–easily cut off and discarded) and attached those to the yoke over the organza.

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The top of the yoke with tulle attached.

And ta da! Super-petticoat!

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The finished super-petti!

This is the same petticoat I wore to the Tiki Party I posted about last year as well. It’s funny how the shape and weight of the skirt over the petticoat produces different silhouettes: a cupcake shape with the bubble dot skirt on top at the Tiki Party and a more angled silhouette with this heavier 1950s dress. But of course the super fluffy-ness of the petticoat is what allows the 1950s dress to maintain a nice shape even with the heavier black dress on top of it. I’m very pleased!

Masquerade! Paper Faces On Parade…

Masquerade!
Hide your face so the world will never find you!
Masquerade!
Every face a different shade…
Masquerade!
Look around there’s another mask behind you!

I’ve always wanted to attend a masquerade. This wasn’t quite the masquerade of The Phantom Of The Opera, not having sweeping orchestral music and head-to-toe colorful costumes, but it was nonetheless fun and a bit surreal in the masks-plus-fabulous-location-ness (I think a bit of a surreal experience is what makes a masquerade a unique experience, so this is entirely a positive description here).

Digressions about masquerades aside, back in November of last year I had the good fortune to attend such an event myself. The theme was 1960s, but I had recently acquired a 1950s dress that fit me so perfectly that it just HAD to be worn, so I opted to be a bit old fashioned for the theme of the party.

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The event was held in a very nice downtown hotel. We had a series of rooms including the ballroom, its foyer, and a parlor-type space far enough away from the music to easily chat and lounge. It was quite elegant feeling!

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Usually I don’t wear vintage or historical garments. I’d prefer to use them for study and don’t want to damage them. But I made an exception in this case and did my best to be gentle with the dress. I carefully mended it before wearing and then again after, as the delicate lace was pulling apart at the seams under the arms when I received the dress as well as after wearing it. My second version of the mend was to put gussets under the arms, using a tiny bit of leftover fabric I had from shortening the sleeves (I wanted to do this during the pre-wearing mend, but ran out of time). I think the sleeves were full length on the original owner, but they came down to an awkward mid-forearm length on me, so I shortened them to be a nice 3/4 length. I know! It was a hard decision to make, changing the dress, but I think it is in keeping with the period the dress is from and it allowed me to better fix the underarm problem, so I’ve come to terms with the choice.

Here’s a slightly clearer view of the bodice. The lace is backed by nude net and there is a silk faille band around the waist. The entire skirt is faille with an overlay of the same lace and horsehair around the hem for stiffening.

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For my hair, I decided it was go big or go home, so I used my largest bun form (part of the base of my Versailles hairstyle) to create a giant poof-bun-thing on top of my head that’s a nod to the 1960s beehive. I think it was balanced out well by the feathers on my mask. Plus, in general I’m pretty good at making big hair work.

I put the mask on a stick so that it wouldn’t irritate my face and so that something like an elastic wouldn’t squash my huge hair. A bonus is that I could peek out from behind it, as in this picture.

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With this ensemble, I wore the same sparkly earrings I wore to Versailles and my silver American Duchess Seaburys with silver rhinestone shoe clips to make the ensemble even more bling-y!

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The event included food and dancing and chatting. I had a great time that was even better than I was expecting, though I think that was due to being tired after a long week of work and not really sure if the event would be a hit or not.

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My friends and I did lots of silly 1960s dances–the monkey, the swim, etc. (Are these really 1960s? I don’t know for sure, but in my mind they are…) These pictures of my dancing in the lobby are some of my favorite, partly because swishing around in my 1950s dress was so much fun!

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Tiki Bubble Dots

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On a recent Saturday evening, I was to be found with the usual suspects at a local tiki themed restaurant. We were wearing, of course, 1950s and 1960s tiki-party themed clothing. What else would you wear, really?

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I took the outing as a sign that I needed to complete a revamped petticoat. There will be more on that later, as I haven’t taken pictures yet and I’ll be wearing it again soon. I will say simply that I am quite pleased with the shape I achieved!

The revamped petticoat was needed to puff out my Bubble Dot Skirt (which I’d made and posted about this summer) into a nicely full 1950s shape. I wore it with a 1950s fifties inspired cardigan, espadrilles, a super hair bun, some tropical flowers, and a down coat (not pictured, obviously) to stay warm outside!

We had lots of fun. The restaurant is intense in its decor. We were seated in a ship, including furled sails and rigging. There were fountains and volcanoes and thatched roofs and all sorts of other interesting things.

And it was a great excuse to wear a full petticoat with my Bubble Dot skirt! Now I’m thinking I need a less full one to wear with it on normal days. Something to make it A-line but not be obtrusively large and obvious. (This desire is also sparked by watching The Crown. Some of the skirts are so understated but perfectly A-line!) Do you have any ideas?

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Summer Dots

In June, I went to a picnic in the Boston Public Garden. As it was an open era event, I decided to wear my 1953 dot dress because it is easy and cool to wear in the summer heat.

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I took a long time styling my hair to look like this image from 1954. It’s quite a feat to tame the frizz and there was a moment of woe and frustration, but I didn’t have time to start again, so I continued on and was happy with the end result despite the angst in the middle of the process. Looking effortless is so much work!

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Charm Magazine, 1954

Picnicking! I plopped down to eat and then didn’t move much until picture time.

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I love how the pictures turned out! I purchased a new parasol to use this summer for 1920s events, but it matched this dress very nicely so I brought it along to the picnic. Raspberry is one of my favorite colors.

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There was a crowd of people watching the picnic most of the day, but we managed to get a lot of pictures without them. Yay! I don’t mind being gawked at (I’m rather used to it actually) but I do usually like images that don’t have modern dressed people in the background better.

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The palms remind me of Florida, and this picture’s story in my head is that I’m on vacation there in the 1950s.

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I may look composed in these pictures, but when I run out of pre-thought pose ideas chaos ensures. I often start waving my arms around wildly, talking (producing odd faces when captured as a picture), and flinging my legs around. Here’s an example. There are a a range of caption ideas that pop into my head here: ‘hi-ya!’ and ‘at the bat’ most often.

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I hope you’re enjoying your summer, too! It’s so nice that the days are long and there are lovely days for sitting in the park or other outdoor activities!

1950 Baroness Christmas Dress!

Success! I not only finished my 1950 Baroness Christmas dress the weekend after Thanksgiving, but we also managed to line up our schedules and go see The Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker at the beautiful Boston Opera House, where we took pictures! There were brass bands playing outside and carolers in silver down coats on our walk to the theatre. It was all very festive. And, of course, there was The Nutcracker with a live orchestra.

As you might be expecting, I wore my Christmas dress and took pictures for Edelweiss Patterns’ Virtual Christmas Dress Party. The original inspiration image is in this post. The dress is made from rayon and lined with polyester. I made an attempt to do a 50s stylized up-do, too, though I don’t have any close up head shots… but without further ado, here it is:

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There were a few changes from the original, like adding a slit behind the front drape for ease of movement, adding a self fabric belt over the waist seam, and not quite making the pleats across the front deep enough to read once the bow was attached. I’m quite pleased, however, and love how festive the dress is! (And it’s quite formal, with that low back…)

Our group was very well balanced in having two greens and two reds, and three hats, and four  gloves (two pairs, you know)… (It sounds like One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish or The Twelve Days of Christmas, doesn’t it?)

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3 hats!
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5 of us in 1950s inspired Christmas outfits!
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Merry Christmas!

 

Virtual Christmas Dress Party

Katrina, of the blog Edelweiss Patterns, has put together a Christmas Dress Blog Party. The short version is that anyone who wants to make a holiday dress and participate can share pictures and links on Katrina’s blog right before Christmas at the online party. Here’s the link to the full description.

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I have to say that I’m not a make-a-dress-every-holiday sort of person. I’m also not a wear-a-fancy-dress-for-Christmas-dinner kind of person. I don’t go to many holiday parties except historically clothed ones and for Christmas dinner I wear something nice, but then soon change into comfy clothes for lounging in front of the fire and playing board games (mmm, favorite holiday pastimes!).

This year, however, I’ve already started a dress that I’d been intending to wear to a Christmas party, which works out wonderfully! Unfortunately, the party I’d been planning to attend changed locations, making it impossible for me and my friends to be there, so we’re trying to find a date to do our own holiday-themed outing instead (if it works out there will definitely be pictures!). Regardless, my dress is well on its way to completion–hopefully I can finish it off over this Thanksgiving weekend–and I will get pictures somewhere even if our holiday outing doesn’t work out. It will be perfect for the Christmas Dress Blog Party!

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Here’s my inspiration: Vogue #588 from 1950, in the COPA at URI. (Click through to COPA to see an image of the pattern pieces.)

My dress is red sheer rayon with a slight textured stripe. I call it the Baroness dress because it reminds me of a mashup of the style of dresses worn by the Baroness in The Sound of Music (see below), despite the fact that the inspiration pattern is a bit later than the movie. It’s a fun coincidence, because Katrina particularly loves The Sound of Music, as you might guess by the title of her blog and pattern line, but I promise, it was the Baroness dress in my head long before Katrina posted about the virtual dress party!

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The Baroness by the lake. Hip bow inspiration. And red.
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The Baroness in an evening gown. Evening dress inspiration in general.

And, happy Thanksgiving!

1950s Adventures Part III: On A Roll

After eating brunch at a 1950s themed dinerstopping along the side of the road to take lovely autumn color pictures, and spending some time at a thrift store before the roller rink opened, we finally headed out to go roller skating! I had been jokingly warned that we were likely to be at the roller rink with a whole lot of 8 year olds and the warning was pretty accurate. There were a few adult couples on dates and a few by themselves, but mostly there were a ton of 5-13 year olds and their adult chaperones. It was a Saturday afternoon, after all, so it was to be expected that there would be a lot of birthday parties… It didn’t bother us, though, we’re used to being unique. And lots of the girls called out that they liked our dresses as we skated by. Perhaps one day they’ll be inspired to make or wear historic clothing!

Some of us had been more used to roller blading, but in the spirit of trying to be 1950s-ish, we all rented roller skates. Granted, the roller rink and the skates are obviously modern and not 50s, as you’ll see, but we had so much fun it didn’t matter at all!

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Putting on skates under a black light.
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Things started off a little shaky for some of us.
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But we were there to support each other.
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In fact, I almost fell over before I even made it onto the rink… But I managed to keep my balance, and here I am, successfully skating!
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Our confidence rose pretty quickly, and soon we were all making it around the rink.
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We were even managing to be graceful sometimes.
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And possibly even in sync…
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I did still lose my balance sometimes and make crazy faces…
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But they were balanced out by the successful moments.
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Look, here’s another successful moment!
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On a roll!
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This picture amuses me, because we might be dancing, or we might just be loosing our balance…
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Group shot (with fun lights!).
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Another group shot…
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You might remember our “raise the roof Charleston”… We just like to throw in raising the roof any chance we get, and this was a perfect opportunity.
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It almost looks intentional that we’re all in a line!
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Full circle. Returning my skates under the black light.

Fun, right? We really enjoyed ourselves and no one actually fell! But the day wasn’t over… we still had a Regency ball to run/attend that night. I’ve got pictures of that coming soon. It sure is a transformation from 1950s!

1950s Adventures Part II: Autumn Colors

Back to 1950s adventures! I started the adventures with my previous post about the beginning of our day at a 50s themed diner. After leaving the diner we wanted to get some pictures with the beautiful New England autumn colors in the background, so we thought we’d find a place along the side of the road. We took a wrong turn over a bridge and got a little confused, but the confusion wound up with us driving past a lovely side road/private drive with lots of lovely trees and rock clumps. Rather impulsively, we pulled over a hopped out to take some pictures… and here are some of the results!

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Autumn in New England!
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Striking a pose at the base of the road we stopped on.
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There’s a song that used to play on the Oldies radio station when I was young: “Secret Agent Man”–when I look at this picture I start singing that song in my head… “They’ve given you a number, and taken away your name… (instrumental: doo da doo da doo da doo da doo da doo…) Secret Agent Man!”
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This looks like it’s straight out of the autumn edition of a clothing catalog.
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We were playing pass-around-my-petticoat so no one would feel left out.
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Petticoat!
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There were so many fun places to take photos!
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Group shot on the rocks.
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Serious faces. It has since been determined that if we were to start a hipster band named Queens of Rock, this would be the cover of our first album “Colors of Fall.” Of course, we’d be super obscure and you wouldn’t have heard of us…
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The colors are so complimentary! And the glasses are cute.
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Showing off my more casual, modern footwear… purple crocs that match my dress!

So there you go. I hope you enjoyed all the leaves! Next stop is the roller rink…