My first and only ever review of Bernie Dexter dresses was over a year and a half ago, when I was very new to blogging and still fairly new to being a pinup. At that time I’d tried several repro clothing brands but not nearly as many as I have now. My wardrobe had quickly and largely become full of Pinup Girl Clothing, still my favourite brand for top quality retro inspired pieces offered in a variety of styles and at a reasonable price for the high quality presented.
Comparatively, the Bernie Dexter dresses I tried were…kind of disappointing. I had a bad experience with the delivery, since UPS can be a pain in the ass to receive an international parcel from, as they don’t pre-alert you of the customs fee demanded upon delivery and arranging pre-delivery can be tricky sometimes. That aside, I opened my package of 3 Bernie dresses to discover they were shorter than, less well fitted, and made of less fabric than the dresses I was accustomed to, as well as being unlined and lightweight. And despite all that, they were more expensive than my usual Pinup Girl Clothing buys, which aren’t exactly cheap themselves. Add in the hugely costly shipping and custom fees and I was not just disappointed but massively out of pocket.
That was more than a year ago now, and now I own 10 Bernie dresses. So what’s changed? I still hold a lot of the same views on them as I did when I got my first shipment, yet I’ve begun collecting certain Bernie dresses nonetheless. How? Why? Let’s take a look.
For me the Bernie Dexter game-changer came in the form of the Paris dress. It was a cut I reviewed that first time around in the lilacs print I first ordered, but I was disappointed then for a multitude of reasons. I followed the size chart, ordering an XL, yet it was loose on me as I hadn’t known that this dress typically sizes a little large. It was shorter in the skirt than I prefer and it didn’t have the adjustable shoulder straps I’d come to take for granted in my strappy repro. It was also made of a lightweight cotton, so it didn’t have the weighted feel of quality fabric that I was accustomed to feeling as I donned my favourite dresses. I cut up or sold off the other 2 dresses I received in that same first order, but I kept the Paris dress because people liked the lilac print on me and because, quite frankly, my boobs looked great in it. (Above I’ve worn it without a bra for a more subtle look, but when I add even a normal non-push-up bra suddenly it’s boobs city, so busty ladies should know it’s a very boobalicious dress.)
The Paris dress is one of Bernie most popular cuts, so every season she releases it in a variety of new prints. As I’m very active in our vintage-themed corner of the internet, I regularly saw images of the newest pretty prints here and there as they were released. I considered the $156 price tag too hefty for a piece structurally identical to the lilacs dress that I almost never reached for, but I discovered that Bernie had an eBay account where she sold off samples, end of line and almost forgotton pieces at a discounted price. The discovery got me thinking: if the dresses were cheaper, would I like them more?
The answer was yes. When I removed the bitterness I felt at spending such a huge chunk of change on a package of 3 dresses that were each disappointing in their own ways, I didn’t mind the idea of BD so much. If the dresses had been cheaper, and perhaps a little easier to get a hold of in England, I would be more willing to buy others. So I began to keep an eye out for potential Bernie deals, in case I found another dress I liked at a price I could justify. I checked Bernie’s eBay, subscribed to her website newsletter for discount codes, paid attention when BD was offered on Swap/Sell pages, and checked the sales sections on websites that carried the brand.
Now, I own 9 Paris dresses and 1 Chelsea. So let’s look at those dresses again, removing my bitterness-tinged glasses, to see them again through clearer eyes for a more thorough, fairer review.
THE PARIS DRESS
I’ve gained enough weight since I bought my lilacs Paris that the same XL size fits me properly now, fitting me snugly in the waist as I like dresses to and showing ample cleavage in a way that really makes this dress BAM on me. I love spaghetti straps on a dress because I think they’re both delicate and sexy, displaying that wide swath of collarbones and shoulders which looks good on everyone. The straps still aren’t adjustable, but realistically I don’t need them to be in this dress because the straps are the correct length for me. The lipstick pockets are fairly useless for me personally because any pocket that doesn’t fully fit my whole hand may as well not be there as far as I’m concerned; it can’t fit my phone so I’m still going to have to bring a handbag with me anyway, so I don’t really care that I can keep my lipstick and a small mirror on my person.
Bernie Dexter doesn’t offer a specific size chart for each piece she makes, so the general site-wide size chart states her XL size is for 32 inch waists. The Paris dress measures 34 inches flat, however, with enough give to stretch flat to 35 inches, so as long as your bust will allow it then you may be able to size down. The skirt is 26 inches long.
I still wish that the skirt was 2 or 3 inches longer, because at 5ft 7 it only just hits me below the knee. The plus side of that, though, is that Malco Modes Jennifer petticoat fits under this dress perfectly–no, really, perfectly, because it’s the exact right length and amount of floof. Still, even though I wish the skirt were longer, the fact that it’s a little shorter became part of the reason I began to collect Paris dresses. That, coupled with how good it made my boobs look and how comfortable it is to wear. Paris became my easy-go-to dress. The fact that it’s shorter and lightweight means it’s an easy dress to pack when you’re taking a trip, as well as making it a more-casual but still-cute dress to wear when enjoying and travelling on that trip.
It’s also an excellent date dress. While I won’t date men who take issue with the way I dress, I do like to tone it down a little for the first few dates, as my look is fairly overpowering. (You know, in a not-blowing-my-own-trumpet kind of way.) The Paris dress became my first choice date dress for when I need to feel comfortable, sexy and still myself in a slightly less shouty HELLO HAVE YOU SEEN MY VERY UNUSUAL 50S AESTHETIC kind of way. Plus, it’s an excellent dress for the later lounging-on-the-sofa-together stage of dating too, when you’re not quite ready to commit to full on sweats-slobbing together.
So, won over by Paris, I began to snap up the prints I liked anytime I could find them on sale for a price nearer £75, rather than the £150+ it typically costs to get one here in the UK. For £75 or under, I am happy to be all about the Paris. It’s one of my favourite dresses on my body now, and I encourage anyone who’s curious about her to try to find her on sale if, like me, you can’t justify the full cost.
THE CHELSEA DRESS
The only other Bernie dress I know works on me is the Chelsea dress. When I first tried this dress, I found it just as baggy in the waist as the Paris dress. The straps aren’t adjustable so I found the bust gaped awkwardly around the arms because the straps needed to be shortened. It was even shorter than the Paris dress and equally as lightweight. The waist tie refused to sit flush against the waistband on me, so I had to tuck it out of the way because I didn’t like that it kept inching up my torso during wear.
Now, just like the Paris dress, that same XL fits me snugly, with my 2-cup-sizes-bigger boobs forcing that gaping straps issue to be mostly resolved. I would still prefer the straps to be adjustable so that it’s possible to get a perfect fit, but as is I’ll just have to sew the straps to the right length when needed to customise the fit. It’s worth noting that I’ve known several ladies tell me the straps were the wrong length for them too, so be aware this might be an issue for you as well. If you’re scared of cutting or sewing the straps, you can always tie a small knot in them at the back of your shoulders as a temporary fix, which is what I used to do with my first Chelsea dress that fit me loosely before I sold it.
I still don’t like the waist tie, as I just don’t feel it’s substantial or controllable enough to warrant being part of the dress, so I unpicked the stitches fixing it to the lefthand side of the back zipper to remove it.
The Chelsea dress I have in this cherry tree lane print measures 33.5 inches flat in the waist, with enough stretch that I stretched it flat to 35inches. As it’s an XL stated as 32 inches on the size chart, that shows this dress runs a little large. It’s only 23 inches long as well, wincingly short for my tastes, but the Paris dress in this print was only exclusively available from an Australian shop that had a confusing order process, so I settled for this Chelsea. That short length does make it a great choice for petite ladies, though, however I will note that even my Jennifer Malco Modes petticoat struggles not to peek out from under this dress slightly. The lipstick pockets are still useless per my requirements in this dress, but that’s personal preference.
Let’s Be Fair Here
So, really, I think it’s time I stop reacting with such reluctance when it comes to Bernie. Do I wish her dresses were longer? Yes, but there are plenty of brands who do offer longer hemlines. Do I wish the straps were adjustable? Yes, but not all brands offer that anyway. Do I wish they were cheaper? Yes, but that’s not really a fair thing for me to want because no brand can cater to every person and every budget.
A lot of the ways that I feel BD dresses fall short are because they don’t 100% line up with the tiny personal preferences I look for in my clothing. They’re still dresses I enjoy and think look wonderful, I just don’t have the kind of budget that allows me to spend full price on them without thinking I should be getting something more for my money. That’s down to me, my tastes and my spending preferences, and it’s not something I should blackball an entire brand for. It took me a while to really realise that. All things considered, I like my Bernie Dexter dresses–it’s just a brand I can only allow myself to buy on sale, and that’s fine.
So if you’re petite or like your repro dresses on the shorter side, if you live somewhere hot and like to wear lightweight breathable cotton summer dresses, or if you like your clothes made in the USA, then these Bernie Dexter dresses have something to offer you. If you have the budget to buy from her line without qualms, then go for it, you’ll be getting a vibrant, fun piece. But if, like me, you find $168 on a summer dress to be outside of your budget when you’re uncertain as to whether the fit or quality will be up to your personal standards then just try to find some BD on sale. Here are best tips for doing so:
- Check out her eBay ‘Berniebelledexter‘ and ‘follow’ it to get notifications of new listings.
- Sign up for Zulily, where the line is now regularly offered at discounted prices
- Keep an eye on the Unique Vintage sale section, where their stocked BD items sometimes go on sale
- Sign up for the newsletter on Berniedexter.com, as she’s been offering 25% off orders regularly this year (25dress is the current discount code.) It’s also worth noting that they now offer cheaper international shipping options than they did when I first ordered. Now you can select USPS, which is slower than UPS but cheaper. I’m happy to take a slower delivery for $24 than get a swift delivery at $75+.
- Join repro Swap/Sell groups on Facebook, where you might find new, like new, or good quality second hand BD pieces offered cheaply. (I’m only apart of the PUG Swap/Sell Group which allows almost all vintage inspired brands, including BD, but there are tons of other groups.)
Have you had a similar experience growing to love your Bernie Pieces? Or was BD an immediate love for you, your favourite brand?
You’re so spot on here – the price tag kills me and I’m in the US! My collection of Bernie’s has been possible because of eBay, Zulily, and swap groups. When she has a discount code floating about (she does right now), sometimes I’ll splurge. I try to only buy them if they’re $100 or less. It’s challenging – but that’s just my budget!!
THE POCKETS KILL ME TOO!! hahahahaha I am so glad someone else’s hands don’t fit inside the pocket! The pockets on newer styles – like the Kelly – are bigger so that’s nice – but the others are so tiny!! I guess they’re literally for lipstick. 😉
Speaking of the Kelly, if you get a chance, I think you should try this style! The green gingham or the beauty mark print would ROCK on you. The dress zips in front (I hear busty gals say it’s a big squishy in the boob area) and the cut is just so flattering on so many gals!!
I’m super intrigued by the style of the Kelly, but I just don’t think I can get on board with the front zip. I don’t really like visible zippers in the front of clothes. The beauty mark print is so cute though!
I’ve been eyeing at some BD dresses, but I heard that since Bernie herself is very short, the dresses are short because of that too. Being 5’8 tall and having a long back makes me very worried that the dresses will be way too short. I have no problems with having a 26 inch skirt (and I have one 23 inch one too), but if the waistline ends up being closer to my boobs than to my waist, it’ll be a problem.
Also since I live in Finland, I’d prefer a medium weight fabric as well, or at least a proper lining, but your Lilac dress is so beaaaautiful, I’d really want to try BD, or at least their shirtwaist dresses. It’s hard to find proper ones anywhere!
I love how honest you always are, babe. I mean we are part of a beautiful community where most women are open and honest, but I know some bloggers wouldn’t change their opinions publicly about something they’ve reviewed before. I know we all appreciate your constant insight and spot on reviews, so thank youuuuu!
PS You look smokin’.
PPS Your hair is amaze.
Hi Amy! First off, I want to say that I love your blog. I have followed you for a while and value your insight, feedback and brutal truth on various repro brands. I read your previous review of Bernie Dexter last year (…Ms. Dexter, if your nasty) and even though I found it very informative it left me even more confused about Bernie’s size chart or rather where I am on it. I’ve been obsessing over buying a Bernie Paris dress for a VERY, very long time but like you I’m reluctant to pay $$$ for something that I can’t try on first…especially when the size reviews on the internet are all over the place…not to mention that 15% restocking fee if the dress doesn’t fit and you need to return or exchange, topped off with the huge shipping cost (I live in Canada). I am a plus size gal and I typically wear a 3XL when it comes to repro brands like PUG, Heart of Haute and Hell Bunny (sometimes a 2XL depending on the cut and fabric of the piece). On Bernie’s site she states that the Paris dress is “a snug fit and tends to run smaller” but you also mention that there is about an inch of give to the fabric. I was under the impression that because it’s 100% cotton that there was no give. I’m also busty and know that this dress kinda puts the ‘girls’ on display (which I don’t mind – mama always said accentuate the positive!) but I’m really curious as to how much stretch there is in the gathered shelf bust. Basically I’m trying to decide if I can get away with a 3XL versus a 4XL. Like you, I like my dresses to fit SNUG and not baggy as it helps to define my waist and gives me a great hour-glass shape. Please help me!! 🙂
Done! 🙂 Dawn Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2016 17:52:13 +0000 To: email@example.com
Very good review. I own one BD, I am short so it works on me, I thought the quality is quite good for the one I bought. I have heard mixed reviews about PUG, I still plan to visit their store, see for myself. It doesn’t seem to matter what brand I buy , there does not seem to be consistency …even in my custom clothing is the same….all we can do is try a brand at least twice I guess.
What an awesome comprehensive review!
I’ve been considering buying the Chelsea dress in the Lipstick print for my graduation recital, but I’m not sure about sizing. According to the size chart I fall between a medium and a small (but closer to the medium). Would you suggest sizing down? (In PUG I wear a small in the Lydia and Renee dress, although my boobs are a bit squished.)