The story of one groupie queen, one wannabe muse, and one very famous blue dress.
Pictured, left: Pamela Des Barres wearing the iconic blue dress (circa 1967, photographed by Allen Daviau) Right: Yours truly in the loose replica (circa 2022.)
Since I first saw those photos of Pamela Des Barres, looking ethereal as ever clad in blue velvet and lace, I was captivated. Here she was, queen of the groupies and a style icon. She’s effervescent and feminine, and she used those attributes to get everything she wanted in life. Her blue dress was the very personification of it all.
I didn’t know when or how, how I could ever be worthy of it, or if it was even possible. But I knew from the moment I saw that dress I had to have one too. This is the story of how I made it happen.
Fangirl moment here: Pamela’s blue dress was one of the reasons I learned how to sew! Knowing how to use a needle and thread is so helpful for dressing vintage-style. You can alter thrifted clothes to fit you, take beat-up vintage bought for cheap and bring it back to life, or do what I did and replicate a one-of-a-kind piece you’re obsessed with! I'd been seriously considering this Blue Dress Project since the summer of 2021; and I knew going in that there was a very slim chance I’d be able to exactly replicate the dress. That’s not what I was going for. Instead, I wanted to do an interpretation of what Pamela’s dress might have looked like if it was ’60s vintage instead of ’30s. Still, in order to make my ’60s flower child pipe dream happen, I had to learn as much about the original dress as I could. Having studied art history in college, I like to think I’m pretty damn good with research!
So I can say with confidence that there are very few people who know more about the history of this dress than me. And what a miraculous history it is!
The first thing I needed to look for was reference photos, reference photos, reference photos!! During the research phase I found – no joke! – just about every photo of every time the blue dress has seen the sun. I even found a photo of Miss Pamela at a Griffith Park Love-In that might just be the Blue Dress's first-ever outing, pre-embellishments! (But it's just my hunch – if anyone can confirm this for me, please do!) I wanted to get everything just right: the color of the velvet, the width of the collar, and most importantly what those little flowers were made of. At first I thought they might’ve been silk flowers. But from photos of the original, plus some close-up photo's I got from the Blue Dress's only official replica, I decided the flowers were appliqués made from cutting flower motifs out of antique lace.
Miss Pamela’s iconic dress actually vintage from the 1930s. Yes, Pamela was wearing vintage in the ’60s! Isn’t that the coolest? As she tells in one of her columns for Please Kill Me, Pamela’s early collection of vintage clothes came from a trunk in her friend’s grandmother’s attic. "Gammie" as she was affectionately known let the girls have their pick of the silks, velvets, feathers and sequins in the trunk. I have this theory that only the tiniest of vintage (well, now they’re antique) clothes survive because no one was small enough to wear them then, and no one’s small enough to wear them now. But little 5’3” Pamela could fit into them all, Blue Dress included, and her iconic groupie style was born!
Picture: Miss Pamela attending a Love-In in at Griffith Park, c. 1967 (photographed by Waldo Nilo.) Looking at the drape on the sleeves I can’t help but wonder...could this be the first sighting of what would become the Blue Dress?
The dress is made out of blue silk velvet. There was no such thing as stretch velour or any of these weird velvet blends we have today back in the ’30s! The fabric on the original was cut on the bias, which gives it the most gorgeous drape. It began its life as a floor-length gown, but Pamela cut it into a mini some time in '67. It’s tough to gauge exactly how blue the Blue Dress was in its heyday from photographs. But I happen to have a blue silk velvet dress from the ’60s – I thrifted it for ONE DOLLAR! I used that one to get a sense of the shade of blue I was going for.
The trim on the collar is antique Irish crochet lace from about 1900, which Pamela added onto the dress herself along with the flower appliqués.
In her first book I’m With The Band, Pamela tells of wearing this dress to a Doors show and being approached by a photographer (his name is Allen Daviau, if my sources are to be trusted.) His photo series became her headshots; though she was a groupie in the '60s, Pamela really wanted to be an actress. Her photos got to the right people and she was asked to wear something "far out" to dance in for Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” video! For some reason that’s beyond me, the "Foxey Lady" video starring Miss Pamela is IMPOSSIBLE to find online. Apparently it's popped up on YouTube in the past but I’ve scoured there, Vimeo, and DailyMotion many times high and low and...nothing. It’s such a shame, it would've really helped to see that dress in action.
Most miraculous of all: the dress still exists! From my research, the last time it was worn was in a GoFundMe trailer for Groupie Couture; a clothing line that was supposed to replicate famous Miss Pamela clothing pieces. Sadly, it never came to fruition.
Pictured: Blink and you'll miss it! A screenshot of the blue dress, worn in the Groupie Couture promo video (2013.)
Pamela still shows off the original dress, even if it’s too fragile for wearing now. It’s a miracle it’s lasted this long considering it’s nearly a century old – remember, it's from the '30s! The most recent online sighting of the Blue Dress was in in May 2019; in a chat with Miss Pamela on Devyn Crimson’s YouTube channel.
Now that I knew pretty much everything there is to know about the Blue Dress, I had to take on the gargantuan task that was actually making it. I found the pattern for my '60s-does-'30s dream dress on Etsy. It’s vintage Simplicity pattern from 1969; a babydoll-cut mini with the most darling puff sleeves. There was just one problem: it’s a rare pattern. So right when I saved it on Etsy, it sold! I had to stalk the site well into October, but I found that pattern in my size for $13.
In November, I visited my cousin in Lake George. There’s this fantastic little spot up there – Laura’s Vintage in Glens Falls – and that’s where I found the flower crown I’d wear for the complete Miss Pamela look. It’s ’50s vintage and was just the most darling little thing, hidden amongst all the hats. I had to have it! The thread, zipper, and elastic for my dress all came from my grandma’s stash of sewing supplies. And when the new year rolled around, I bit the bullet and bought an antique Irish lace collar to use for the embellishments. It’s from around 1900, just like the lace on Pamela’s dress. It only put me out about $20, which I’m VERY thankful for. Antique hand-crocheted Irish lace is very collectible, and a long piece like mine can easily run you upwards of $50.
Pictured: My antique lace, pinned and ready to go on what would become the neckline. Look at those little rosettes! Isn’t she just the sweetest thing?
The fabric was a real bitch to find. Blue velvet is pretty highly sought-after, I guess. Go figure.
After scouring the velvets at every fabric store I visited for months, I hung up my hopes to find blue silk velvet for cheap. But finally, FINALLY, I found something! In February, I made one last stop at the fabric salvage. If I didn’t find anything useable this time, I’d have resigned to ordering cheap stretch velvet off Etsy. Yuck. By a stroke of incredible luck, I found an entire bolt of cotton velvet! (This is the same kind of velvet I used for my pink and brown dandy dresses and my Jimmy Page pink velvet pants; both of which you can find on my Instagram feed.) Even better, this was just the shade of blue I was looking for. I was so excited I just about passed out in the aisle, and wasted no time getting the yardage I needed (plus extra in case of catastrophe.)
It was time. The Blue Dress was officially happening.
Pictured: My pattern, fabric, and trim at the ready. Fabric scissors impending!
It’s A Gas Gas Gas!
Now this isn’t meant to be a tutorial on how to make the exact Blue Dress I did. But what I will do is give you some things to look out for if you’re like me and you work with velvets a lot.
This dress recreation project was my first time using this particular vintage Simplicity pattern in full. I’d used the bodice pattern for the silver silk dress I wore to an Elton John tribute show, and I used the full pattern again after the Blue Dress for my Pattie Boyd dress recreation. (You can find both on my Instagram as well.) What I didn’t anticipate was just how much gathering I’d be doing. There’s darts at two points in the bust as well as the back, plus lots of gathering at the shoulders and waistline. So if you want to take a stab at this, holy hell, make sure you’ve got enough pins! (No pun intended, I swear!) Velvets are slippery so the more pins, the better.
Pictured: An endless sea of pins...
The cap sleeve of my dress is cinched with elastic. This calls for an elastic casing. Fun fact: this was my first time ever working with elastic! One sleeve went just fine, but the other put up a real fight. As slippery as velvet is, it also grabs onto things (like the frayed edge of elastic) and doesn’t let go. So while I was threading the cord through my casing, it’d snap back on me and I’d have to start all over. I strongly recommend the safety pin method: where you pin a small safety pin into the end of elastic you’re threading, then use it to guide the cord through the casing until you reach the other side.
Pictured: The handy safety pin trick in action. It was a life-saver for working with such a small casing.
Lastly, velvet is a tough fabric on your sewing machine; especially a dinky, decade-old beginner machine like mine. Have extra needles on hand and know how to replace them. You will break one. I break needles every time I work with velvets (my pink dress, my pink bellbottoms, the Jenny Boyd cape, this project) without fail.
Pictured, left: The carnage. Try to find both pieces if you can help it, it’s an awful lot better than getting a tiny pin piece stuck in your machine.
With all that pinning and sewing, you get into kind of a rhythm. While working on this project, I listened to the music Pamela had mentioned in I’m With The Band via this fantastic playlist I mentioned in Groupie Heart. I work fast when I have tunes. I felt like the plucky seamstress for some pretty young new band, making herself a dress in between sewing shirts for her afro’d, rock-star loves. Swoon.
Aside from popping a couple stitches and having to re-do the shoulder seam my sewing machine ate (don’t you just hate when that happens?) the project was a breeze. I had it done in just four days. Well, almost...
Pictured: The finished dress! Or is it?
We Can Work It Out
That’s not to say I didn’t run into any problems!
I turn into a bit of a madman when it comes to my creative pursuits. It’s both my superpower and my Achilles' heel. I note every little thing about something I want to make, and it drives me nuts if I can’t exactly translate something from the picture I’ve got in my head.
Here’s me in a “final” try-on of the dress. But something’s...off.
My lace flower appliqués were too big for the proportions of the dress and collar, and I just could not un-see it. I was fully prepared to take off all the flowers and look for another piece of antique lace to destroy. However, upon closer inspection…
Pictured: A close-up of my appliqués, just before the carnage of altering them.
Huzzah!! There were smaller flowers inside the flowers!! So instead of taking out every single stitch and spending $40 on more lace, I took the stitches out of just the big petals, leaving the ones in the center, and cut away the big petals. It’s no fun un-doing hours of work for the sake of your vision.
But that’s the thing about these kinds of projects: you’ve gotta keep an open mind, have a keen eye, and be willing to do and re-do things until you appease the bully in your head.
Speaking of which, I had to get over a real mental block while moving through this project. As stated before, Pamela was in her teens and very petite when she wore this dress. And well...it’s been a long time since I was 17 years old, 5’3” and 115 pounds. Some time ago I wrote a poem about grappling with “the feminine urge to emulate the beauty of the women and girls who came before.” I’m 5’5” with some disordered eating recovery weight on my bones. It's a pretty sensitive topic for me still, I think it always will be, and if I can ever muster up the guts to talk about it in full then I absolutley will. Anyway, I’d NEVER fit into Pamela’s dress nor the Groupie Couture replica; no matter how much the current owner of the only other existing replica of Pamela’s dress (my ex) assured me I would.
Even while I was making myself a dress that would easily fit my body, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever fit its essence. Pamela Des Barres is youth and delicate femininity personified. But me? Though I’ve only been around 22 years, I lived a long time with a whiskey in one hand and a Spirit Light Blue in the other. I’ve had the soul of a craggy old writer-man since I was born! I want to embody a hyper-feminine energy but I just feel ridiculous when I try. Maybe it's the rock-and-roll in me too, I don't know.
Once upon a time, my body could into little blue sundresses. But I’ve never felt light or feminine enough to fit them.
The only way to work my way out of this mental block was through. Through the poem that may never see the light of day unless I’m given a real fat sum of cash, and through making this dress.
It All Comes Together
After hand-stitching the hem, my Blue Dress was done! While, yes, it was finished in the beginning of March, I waited until the end of April to photograph it. I wanted things to be at least a little warmer for my shoot – March up North is COLD! I don’t have Pamela’s sunny Reseda backyard for a location, but I do have access to my grandma’s garden in rural Vermont. Close enough.
Pictured: The finished look! Here are the photos from my Pamela-inspired shoot.
The making of the Blue Dress wasn’t just me replicating a look of one of my style icons. It wasn't just emulating somebody I whole-heartedly look up to. This dress was an act of devotion – a real act of love – to myself.
I am worthy of the Blue Dress. You are worthy of your Blue Dress too.
Pictured: My homage to my very favorite photo of Pamela.
EDIT 5/5: If you made it this far, you get the perfect ending to this saga...LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE PAMELA DES BARRES SAW MY DRESS!! She said, and I quote, she was "honored!" And called me "honey"! I can die happy now!!