Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows I have a fairly extensive repro wardrobe, but one popular brand missing from it until recently was Bernie Dexter. Going all out, for my first Bernie Dexter purchase I bought not one but three dresses. Typically the lovely dresses designed by this international pinup model fall outside of the per item budget I will allow myself to spend on a dress, but I happened to find that a host of dresses in the clearance section of her site were down to $80 a few weeks ago, almost half their usual price tag. So for the sake of this blog, and not at all because I am a dress buying fiend, I splurged.
Splurged is the right word, not so much because of the dresses but because shipping of these 3 lightweight items cost an astounding $70. SEVENTY DOLLARS. This is the first problem I had with my purchase, and it came very close to me refusing to place an order at all because even for international delivery that is outrageous. I have typically had to pay around $30 for international delivery from America to the UK on every other pinup site I’ve ordered from, sometimes a couple dollars more and other times over $10 less when a site offers only international ground mail options rather than courier company. I can’t fathom why Bernie Dexter deals exclusively with UPS if UPS charges rates double that of competing couriers but doesn’t deliver any faster or offer any other benefits to the customers. I was further irked when my delivery arrived at my house when I was, you know, working, as adults do, but the rigamorole for arranging a re-delivery saw me waiting an extra 5 days for my parcel thanks to a British national holiday, the weekend, and UPS taking an additional day to deliver after the day I had arranged. Furthermore, unlike Fedex which sends you a bill for custom import charges in the mail after delivery, UPS demands payment upon delivery, which means if you aren’t expecting an in-person charge and don’t have money on you they’ll take your parcel away and wait for you to request a redelivery at a time when you can pay. It was a headache I was not prepared for.
The delivery costs aside, the other thing that caused me a little stress during the anxious wait for my clothes is that I made a stupid mistake of not double checking my order summary before payment, and thus didn’t notice that I’d ordered a size 2 sizes too small in a classic drop-down-box-roll-back error. I immediately sent an email and hoped the issue could be sorted before my order was dispatched. Bernie herself replied within hours saying she would send me the correct size, no problem, was generally lovely, and did indeed make sure I was sent the correct size. Orders ship out only once a week, Mondays I think, so if you order midweek expect to wait a while to get your dispatch email.
Now, ordering woes over, it’s on to the dresses. The lovely ladies I ordered were the Osterley in Winter Wonderland, the Paris Lilac, and the Chelsea Japanese print dress.
The lilac Paris was straight up amazing. Of the three dresses I ordered, this was the one I was least excited about, but in person and on it was just lovely, so much so that it became my favourite. It’s a bit boobalicious in the low cut of the bust but in a flattering and classy way. It does fit a tiny bit loose but that’s okay too, it’s not noticeable to anyone but myself who’s used to the feel of dresses cinching me in. That looseness was surprising though because my waist measurement is technicaly an inch and a half over the measurements of the size I chose, so if anything I expected the dress to come up a little small, not a touch loose. Strange. Overall, this dress was gorgeous and I’m excited to have a lilac/purple item in my closet, something I have until now not felt the need for.
Next up is the Japanese print Chelsea dress. I was very excited to receive this dress because I don’t have a print like it in my collection and I felt the cut looked a bit like a Pinup Girl Clothing Jenny dress, one of my all time favourites. When I tried it on, I was disappointed. The thin cotton of this dress means it doesn’t have the solid structure of the Jenny, which admittedly this dress never claimed to have, but while I wasn’t expecting boning I was expecting a feeling of substantial craftsmanship, a feeling of weight or heft in the fabric. A cotton this thin is something I wasn’t prepared for from a dress with such a high price point; it doesn’t feel dissimilar to my Hell Bunny dresses, which is a big price difference. In terms of fit I once again found the waist was too large, and the lack of adjustable straps means it was too loose on top around the straps too, fitting awkwardly so that it was noticeably too big. The adjustable straps is also another feature, like the hefty fabric, that I’ve gotten used to almost as standard from PUG, and clearly need to remember that does not come as standard from all repro brands. Because of this, I will have to shorten the straps and add a dart into the bust to get it to fit me better, but for now I’ve made do by knotting the straps on the back of my shoulders.
Finally, we come to the Osterley Winter Wonderland dress. The dress I was most excited for, the dress I placed this order almost exclusively for. I had seen this print on another Bernie Dexter dress, the Jubilee Winter Print, when sported by Vintage Vandal last Christmas on one of her Instagram posts, and back then had deflated when I saw the $225 price tag. So deeply outside of my budget, but such a gorgeous print. So when I saw that the same gorgeous snow covered cottage print was available on the skirt of another dress, a cheaper dress which was also on sale, I leapt at my chance. I wasn’t thrilled by the cut and design of the dress from the waist up–that high rounded neckline isn’t an easy one to pull off for me. Add in that it was sleeveless and had a bow-featured cutout back and I had my concerns.
Concerns that rang true.
Like the other dresses, the size I ordered fits, though perhaps a bit too loosely on me, still baffling as I’m larger than the size measurements and I suspect the size below would not have fit me at all. However the waist was the least of my problems with the fit. The round neck really was unflattering. It did nothing for me. The rest of the bodice felt boxy and sagged, not shaping to my curves at all. Had I tried this dress on in a store it would have gone back onto the rail. But I had paid $70 to get it and its two sisters across the Atlantic to me, as well at the $88 for the dress itself, so something needed to be done. I contemplated selling it, but I loved the skirt print too much to let slip the dream of donning this print in winter. The solution was to rope in my talented Costume Design student sister to ask what we could do. A total overhaul of the neckline into something with thin straps or a sweetheart bust would have required me to ask too much time of her already heavily loaded sewing schedule. We decided turning this into a skirt was not only the easiest and quickest option, but also produced the most versatile result–I could then pair my favourite winterland print with whatever tops, cardigans and blouses I wished. So I shall frolic in the snow covered English countryside while sporting the print of a snow covered countryside, there is hope yet! Let my dreams not be dashed.
The dresses in general are all made of the same lightweight cotton that I wasn’t expecting (you can tell I don’t read the product descriptions carefully for clothes.) This is my own fault, clearly, and I can’t blame the company for that. These kind of lightweight cotton dresses would be really good for summer wear, but for the price tag I’m as confused as I am disappointed. The dresses I own from other pinup brands, like Unique Vintage, Tatyana, Pinup Girl Clothing, all feel heavier and of a sturdier stock, and thus feel they will last, but considering these dresses are costlier not only than their sales prices but also all those other brands I was actually shocked to feel that they didn’t feel much different in quality than something I could pick up for half the sale’s price on the British high street. Pinups in hot climes will find benefit in this, a breatheable, lightweight range that allows them to look pretty in sweltering heats, but for me, within the British climate I dwell, it was a turn off that, along with the sizing problems, will likely stop me from making a Bernie Dexter brand I repurchase in future unless I stumble across a killer deal (and shipping alternatives.)
I’ll get good wear out of the Lilac dress and I hope I get to bore people sick with my custom Winter Wonderland skirt this Christmas once my sister adapts it for me, but I can see the Japanese print will likely get overlooked in favour of my many other dresses that simply fit better.
There’s no denying these are beautiful pieces, and definitely suitable for those who have a broader budget and hotter surroundings, but I simply didn’t experience the purchase satisfaction I’m accustomed to feeling and I can’t abide by that for dresses typically retailing at over $150. Maybe some other day, some other dress, Bernie. Maybe we will find a perfect fit together. But perhaps ours was a love that was never meant to be. That’s probably for the best anyway; my debit card will be pleased to have one less temptation out there.