The Black Leather Dress

Black leather dress.

Once upon a time, in the dying days of the 20th century, I bought, at the local vintage clothing store, a dress that was not vintage, nor really classic any way at all, but that was homemade.

Far more important to me at the time, of course, was that it was black and it was leather. Looking back on it, I have the sinking feeling that it was someone’s idea of a costume for Xena, Warrior Princess. Either that or it’s fetish-wear escaped from someone’s personal dungeon. Regardless, it was an absolute delight to my teenage sensibilities, and has never lost its place in my closet since, despite the situations calling for it being about as common as hen’s teeth in my life these days.

C’mon, you can’t model a Xena dress without a sword.*

I keep trying to come up with a quick description, you know, such as might be printed on the pattern for such a dress. Halter-type, open backed dress has princess seams, boning, and Roman Legionary skirt?

Like so many of our home-stitched garments, it has a few quirks. Although, it’s hard to say where design ends and quirk begins, and then there’s the issue that it was probably perfectly-tailored to the original wearer. Or maybe not.


So, the obvious: plenty of interesting seaming, perfect for using small scraps of (possibly reclaimed) leather. At least one of the gladiator-strips at the bottom has a previous stitching line crossing it, suggesting it has been repurposed. I do wish these bottom strips were a bit more substantial—double-layered or at least topstitched. They look kind of unfinished and cheap.


The straps are an odd combination-halter-type I’ve never seen elsewhere: the main strap is a simple halter, snapping behind the neck, but then there’s this accessory strap that rungs from under the arm up the back of the shoulder, and attaches to the halter just on either side of the snap.

Back view

This strap sits at a bit of an odd angle, and has always folded a little awkwardly on me at the back of the arm, unless I slouch significantly. Does this mean that the original owner had a more rounded, stooped, or slant-shouldered posture than I? Or was it just some quirk of imperfect or inexperienced drafting?

Snap and straps

The snap is not exactly perfectly-applied, but is less mangled than mine usually are, and let’s face it, anyone who sets snaps through that many layers of leather by hand has my kudos.

Back zipper.

The entire dress zips open at the back with a separating zipper that, oddly, opens from the bottom. Was this planned, or did our seamstress mess up and then decide to keep it since, well, unpicking leather? I can’t say it makes the dress any easier to get into, although it’s certainly quick to get out of. Hmm. Is that another point for the fetish-gear argument?


The inside is lined with a thin stretch lining of some kind, with all the same piecing as the outside. I think I would’ve wanted to simplify for the lining, personally. It is very short. In fact, I hadn’t quite appreciated just how short the whole thing is from the back until taking photos this time. Which is why the back view photo is only from the hips up. Hmm. And this is not the dress that caused my mother to declare I looked like a hooker when she first saw me wear it.

Lining attachment

The lining appears to have been hand-stitched in place all along the top edge, where there is a narrow leather facing; the hand-stitching continues up the insides of the narrow straps, which also kind of makes sense—I think turning straps in leather would be a pain in the butt.

Boning in front.

Something I only noticed just now (now that I’m finally looking at it with a stitcher’s eye is the presence of two pieces of flexible plastic boning stitched to the seam-allowances in the front. Along only one edge of the boning, since the seam allowance isn’t wide enough for both. They took the time to tip the bones with leather, though, so they wouldn’t poke through.

There’s no internal seam finishing on the leather or the lining, not that anything’s in danger of ravelling, and the hem on the lining is made with a simple zig-zag.


/sigh. For all its weirdness (and impracticality), I still love this dress.

Back in the day.

And, just to prove its antiquity, here’s a shot of it in actual use, from New Years Y2K itself. With Osiris, and though you can’t really tell, an itty-bitty Tyo bump.

*What, you mean you don’t have swords lying around the house? C’mon. I mean, some of you probably have guns in the house—now that’s whack.



Filed under Sewing

45 responses to “The Black Leather Dress

  1. There’s black leather, and then there is a black leather warrior woman’s dress that fits like glove. wow. And yes, we have several swords. Don’t all households?

  2. What a crazy random thing to find. It looks like it was made for you. And how cute were you for y2k?

    • Yeah—I think the 90s were the golden days of vintage style hunting. 🙂 And thanks, LOL.I feel like we look abnormally young in that picture—like younger than in the others I have from the same time…

  3. love it!! You could totally fix it up and wear it now!

  4. COOL!!
    You are all set for party dresses, for sure 🙂 That last photo is very cute.. aah young love.
    Sorry, I was being facetious about the rhubarb… of course we do get it here, just that I don’t grow it hehe. I have to go and buy it :/
    No swords or guns around our place. My eldest son has an umbrella that “looks” like a sword, but once you pull it out of its scabbard its mundane reality becomes all too apparent. 😀

    • LOL—I honestly have no idea what grows down there. I mean, back yard lemons. This floors me. 🙂

      That umbrella sounds hilarious—I’ve seen the opposite (swords that look like umbrellas), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. 🙂

  5. OMG GOTH SQUEEE!!! If only I had some pictures of the outfits I went clubbing in to thoroughly embarrass my children with. MUAHAHAHA! Also, what a bad-ass find that was for you.

    I have swords lying around the house too. And a two d-20 flail. Everyone needs one of those.

    • Yeah—we were so cheated (or is it blessed?) by the lack of camera-phones in our youth, weren’t we? My hometown was too small to have a full-time goth club, there was only a monthly event—so you would spend the whole month working on an outfit, pretty much. /sigh.

      The d-20 flail sounds awesome. (Confession: my husband is out in our hometown on vacation right now and was expecting to attend a D&D game with his old buddies on Saturday, so I originally took the photos to text him during the game. Sadly, the dungeon master got sick so it was canceled… then it occurred to me that the dress deserved a home-stitched feature. 🙂 )

      • I have pictures of me in a red vinyl dress but its totally not hand stitched.

        • Oh, yeah, and the kids are creating D&D characters now. And I like to send my husband distracting photos during D&D games too.

          I think the camera phone is a double edged sword. I’m having to add to “The Talk” things like “things on the internet never go away”.

          • Ok, I am so glad I’m not the only one who had the distracting photo idea, I was thinking maybe I was a total freak. Although for next time, I’m totally hunting down elf ears.

            Tyo and several of her friends would be all over D&D… I was sort of hoping one of the fathers would step up and DM something, but no luck so far. We’ll see what happens after the move…

  6. punkmik

    wow. i love that you can sill wear your old stuff! and who doesnt love a xena dress, especially when you have swords at the ready anyway!

  7. OMG – you rock :)!
    Besides leather = hard wearing + wipe-clean, surely you could do the supermarket run in it too 😉 ? (LOL!)

  8. Pretty interesting construction archaeology there, lol. I think you’re right the original wear had a broader more rounded back (and likely a bigger bust), hence the extra support straps in the back. I’ve drafted those myself for my daughters dance costumes, as she is too busty for a regular halter style

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it—I really like peeking at other home-made garments I come across. Thanks for the insight into the halter-strap-plus! I know a lot of women dancers who’ve struggled with bust size vs. the backless look—that’s a great idea for an alternative.

      • I also loved seeing the stitch marks across one piece, which made me think this was made from, maybe, remnants from leather upholstery? Which also might explain why the pieces are so narrow.

    • Huh. I’ve just given up on halter style garments since uh..things don’t hold up well. Those extra straps would help a lot, I think. Hmm. Thanks for the tidbit of info!

  9. I love it! I love the fact it fits you so well; that it STILL fits you so well!; and that you prefer a sword to a gun (super weird for most Australians!).

  10. Given my Phin’s Caribbean background, we prefer machete’s over at Casa Clio. No guns or swords, but if a jungle suddenly sprouts in our yard, we’d be all set.

    I think I have a faux leather skirt tucked away from that same era. LOL. Why is is so hard to part with those… um… questionable fashion choices of our younger years?

    • I had a machete at one point when I was a teen… it might still be buried in my mom’s house somewhere. I don’t think it was ever terribly sharp, though. Where the heck did I get that, anyway?

      I prefer to think of those old fashion choices as “differently cool” 😉

  11. That’s awesome for so many reasons! Not the least of which is that you can still fit into it after having two kids….

    And no, we don’t have any swords in the house, though someday I’d like to find a couple of antique ones to decorate with. We do have guns though…my hubby likes to hunt. 🙂

    • Confession: pregnancy aside, I actually hit my highest adult weight the summer I was 18, when I was doing precious little but hanging out with my friends eating crap. Since then, I’ve tried (with varying amounts of success) to be more conscious of my diet and, especially, my activity levels. I actually didn’t have too much trouble losing the baby weight, which I’ll blame on vigorous and protracted lactation. 😉

      Now if I can maintain it for another ten years, I’ll feel a bit more of an accomplishment…. 😉

      Most of our swords are meant to be decorative, but I can’t say we’ve ever found a really good way of displaying them. Someday when we have a forever house, /sigh. I’m related to enough hunters and farmers to understand having hunting weapons around—just not something we’d actually own ourselves. 🙂

  12. That is so awesome! It totally brought memories flooding back to me of my best friend’s home made Xena outfit; she took repurposed bits of leather from other items and fashioned them together into a VERY accurate costume, complete with hand applied studs, and papier-mache breastplate handpainted coppery gold for effect!! Despite the fact I was not a fan of the show, I was VERY impressed with her creativity… yours seems to be hardware and armour-free, so it may just very well be a super cool leather dress! ^___^

    • Yeah, this is not so much a Xena costume as an homage, an “inspired by” sort of thing. Which is fine by me, not having been an avid follower of the show, either. But I have a hard time thinking that a dress like this, made in that time-frame, *wasn’t* meant to be referencing Xena in some way…

  13. Uh wow, that’s a smokin’ hot dress (and you look even more so in it – aha creepy comment)! I can’t believe that you’ve kept so many garments from ‘way back when’. I’ve lost nearly all fun key garments from my teens (and later too) over the years. Of course, it’s probably easier to keep when you can still fit in them (damn you). lol And also if you have kidlets who might want them someday themselves. 😀

    • It’s probably a problem (hmm…), but a good half my closet (meaning the stuff that gets hung up, as opposed to stuffed in drawers) consists of relics from my crazy-teenage-dressup days. But yes—-the stuff that I’ve outgrown has tended to disappear. There used to be a pair of crazy leather pants, but they had a ridiculously teeny waist…

  14. I think this might win the award for best secondhand dress find ever! It looks pretty dang awesome, and I think it’s even better to see those unpicked lines of stitching…kind of gives it character and a history, you know? I think you look fabulous in it, especially with your matching belt, hair, and blog shoes.

    We have a couple of “swords,” but they’re all wooden katanas and practice kendo swords. I am so tempted to paint the katana to look more “real,” but am afraid that would only make it look even more fake and like I’m trying too hard.

    • I probably wouldn’t bother painting the wooden katana, but go ahead and use it if a photo-shoot calls for it! hehe. It kinda references the real thing without being so, hmm, unwelcome in public?

      It is pretty cool. I remember thinking it was too crazy to pass up.

  15. Very cool and I do see the Xena influence. It’s very cool to see all the inside and construction quirks/details.

    We have, no, check that, my husband has a few decorative small swords I think, nothing quite in that league. He owns a crossbow now for hunting, he’d like a gun for hunting but the rules and lottery for hunting make it rather impractical in Southern Ontario. However, he does refer to our camping axe as his zombie chopping axe. When the zombies rise, we’ll be taking that with us to the Interlake area of Manitoba. 😉

    AND how freaking cute are the two of you?

    • LOL. But wait, isn’t your husband going to go on to make zombie documentaries? I mean, that’s when his film career is really going to take off, right?

      And thank you. 🙂

      • Well, yes, that’s true. But they still see us as a food source, they may not wait to hear that we are zombie-friendly. It’s good to be prepared. To quote Mary from The Post-Lifers, brains are the tastiest.

  16. clearly that must stay forever. Honestly, I think it looks better now.

  17. Zena

    Sword count at our place: 2 balancing swords (mine); 2 wasters (wooden practice swords); one replica Norse sword; a pair of bokken (Japanese wooden swords in katana and wakizashi sizes); officer’s sabre c. 1950.

    I have thought that a gun rack would probably hold swords, since a sword rack would be hard to come by in this part of the world. Otherwise an umbrella stand could also work. Depends if the place needs to be kid-proof.

    • You can find sword racks, but I haven’t seen many that aren’t cheap and/or cheezy. A gun rack would certainly work, although I can’t say that I’ve stumbled across many of them in my wanderings, either. 😉 I have the two balancing swords as well, they live in the bottom of my closet, sadly neglected for the past few years… Someday when I have a forever house and decorate my Turkish Corner they will find their place. 🙂

  18. Cool! Thanks for the look inside the Xena dress… Though I’m kind of leaning toward fetish wear. Who knows, right? I’m with the person who suggested wearing it out grocery shopping.. With some slim jeans or pants underneath? Why not? 🙂

    We had guns and many swords in the house when I was a teenager… I had lessons on swordplay (at school no less) and gun handling… Even more guns and swords when my 20-something brothers and I moved out of the house and into apartments to go to college… It was nice. 🙂 I don’t have anything like that nowadays… Sniffle.

    LOVE that last picture! I’m thinking about it and I don’t think I actually have any photos of the crazy stuff I used to wear to clubs and parties. oh well. I dress weird enough on a regular basis she’ll grow up with it anyway. 😉

  19. That is so crazy awesome! Only you would that fantastic in a black leather minidress! I think you should make some black leather leggings to wear with it.

    And just so you know, we have MANY swords around our house. Seven or eight different samurai swords, I believe. J managed to bring them in to the house along with his collection of monkey sculptures.

  20. Oh I loved your write up…..for so many reasons…and all of the pictures of you wearing it were a joy, once again for so many reasons….particularly enjoyed the balance between current day sword pic and the y2k pic…and besides all that, your commentary on the stitching is fascinating…

  21. Wow how cool is that and you kept it and it still fits. Holy s*^t its short and got me wondering what the outfit was like that did have your mum declaring you looked like a hooker wearing it!

    I second wearing it out somewhere utterly everyday errand-y, like to the store or something. With seriously good tights/bike shorts/skit/something underneath to preserve dignity etc of course….. :o)

    PS no guns or swords at my house growing up, of the real variety anyway. Not sure if that makes me weird or not …. lol

  22. Pingback: Chillin’ Down Home | Tanit-Isis Sews

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