How to Fake a Dress in Photoshop

December 10, 2015

We have a fun tutorial today from Lady Caroline showing us how to fake a fancy dress with scraps of fabric.  If you try this technique, be sure to let us know how it turned out!  You can find more of her beautiful work on her website or Facebook page.  Enjoy!


OH, the dilemmas we face when we are starving artists… Most of the dilemmas are connected with wanting to produce something we don’t have the budget or the resources to produce. Which is where I found myself when I decided I wanted a specific dress for a conceptual portrait shoot I had planned. The dress in the image above? It’s not really a dress.  Starving artists get resourceful when their primary character trait is stubbornness. HA! While planning this conceptual portrait, “She Took The City By Storm”, I was inspired by Oscar de la Renta”s beautiful dress design, published in Vogue for his 2013 Ad Campaign (Pictured below).


Oscar de la Renta Spring 2013 ad campaign shot by Craig McDean, styled by Alex White. Starring Liu Wen and Caroline Brasch Nielsen. Image above originally appeared here.

 I absolutely adore that hot pink gown with the large rosettes. I wanted that dress. But alas, when I looked into renting it, it was very difficult to find and dress rentals are very expensive. As far as sewing something myself? I can hem a pair of pants or sew on a button but this is a level of artistry I don’t possess. However… I can Photoshop. :-) Photoshop skills can really get you far in the “fake it till you make it” department.

Here is how you can fake any style dress, using some safety pins, a few yards of fabric and some Photoshop Magic!

You will need:

  • 3 Yards of skirt fabric
  • 1 Yard of bodice fabric
  • 1 Yard of scarf fabric (optional)
  • 1 fashion corset
  • 1 basic pencil skirt (sized to your model)
  • 20-40 Large safety pins (depending upon the style dress you are creating)


The first thing I recommend you purchase is a fashion corset. Fashion corsets are very aptly named. They are for looks only. They don’t provide any real support. However, they work really well when needing to fake a dress. The idea is to have a foundation upon which to pin your fabric. Fabric, especially when you drape it, has no foundation or support in and of itself. I speak from experience…wrapping fabric directly on someone’s torso ends up making your model look like a busted can of biscuits. It’s SO unflattering. Fashion corsets are fairly inexpensive. I got mine through a small storefront on Ebay and I paid about 15.00/each. Note: Make sure to purchase the style of corset that laces up in the back, as well as snap/hook in the front. You want both closure types in order to make the process of fitting your model much simpler. I purchased three basic fashion corsets in sizes small, medium and large. I recommend you choose a fashion corset with no lace or ruffle detail and stick with a solid color such as black or even a basic color nude.

The next thing you will need to purchase is fabric. You will need fabric for the skirt as well as fabric for the bodice. The color or pattern combination is up to you. I used my fashion magazine tear sheet as my inspiration. I went to my local fabric store and looked for something I could use that would at least give me the romantic vibe of the rosette dress. I decided the rose theme was actually what I liked most about that dress, so when I ran across a fabric with the large rose pattern I was thrilled. When faking a dress, you need to purchase enough yardage to drape it it on your model in a number of different styles and looks. That magic number to me is 3 yards. For the bodice fabric I went with a matching red in a stiffer satin. You will only need about 1 yard for the bodice. I also picked up 1 yard of lightweight scarf fabric. I wanted something I could use to cover up all my pins on the bodice, if I needed. It ended up being my favorite detail of the “dress”.

Lastly, have your model bring her own pencil skirt. This will serve as the foundation upon which you will pin your skirt fabric.  I also recommend all my models (no matter their size) wear foundation garments that cover their entire torso and bring their own strapless bra. The fashion corset may or may not be enough support for your model, depending upon their size and shape.

Grab some large safety pins and you are ready to put it together! I’ll start with the skirt.

Take your skirt fabric and fold it in half. Place your model’s pencil skirt in between the fold and pin both of your fabric’s free ends to the same skirt seam.


Next, grab the fabric at the fold (the half-way point on your fabric) and pin that point to the other side seam.


Now you have 1 1/2 Yards of fabric for the front and 1 1/2 yards for the back. Continue to pin the fabric to the skirt, each time grabbing the loose fabric at the halfway point and pinning that point to the skirt’s waistband. Doing it this way ensures your gathers or pleats are nice and even, as they would be on a “real” dress and it keeps your pins nice and evenly spaced.


Once you finish pinning all the gathers on one side of the pencil skirt then flip the skirt over and do the same process of pinning on the other side. I typically pin the fabric to the pencil skirt while the model is actually wearing it, however that is not required.


Now for the bodice!

First – fit the fashion corset to your model, making sure the lacing strings are in the back and they are laced and tied at the correct width to fit your model. Doing it this way is much easier than trying to measure your model. If you purchase the corsets that have lacing strings in the back and the snap closures in the front, once you fit the corset to your model you can then unsnap the front without unlacing the corset. Then your model can quickly put the corset back on by using the snaps in the front.

Once the corset is fitted to your model take the bodice fabric you purchased and place it on a large flat surface, with the pattern facing down. Then place the fashion corset, front facing downward, with the lacing strings in the middle. You can then start wrapping and pinning the fabric around the corset pinning the fabric to it.  Don’t worry if you have a few pins showing. You can quickly take out any of the little pins peeking out using the healing brush tool in Photoshop.


Once the fabric is pinned to the corset, have your model put on the skirt first, then the corset. That way the bottom of the corset will cover your pins on your skirt. I then draped the scarf fabric around my model’s shoulders in order to create the romantic neckline. Here are a few behind the scenes of the shoot. You will notice the seams and rough edges of the dress are still showing. I cleaned everything up using a simple mask in Photoshop. The dress silhouette was created using a combination of the following images:


Here is another shoot using the same “dress”. Ironically, another client loved the dress from the “She Took the City by Storm” image and was lamenting to me how she wished she could wear it for her senior portrait shoot. I told her, “You are in luck!” and I held up the fabric. She couldn’t believe it wasn’t a “real” dress. Here are a few behind the scene shots of that senior shoot.


Notice how the pins and extra fabric are visible off the front? No problem. I got rid of that extra fabric using the mask tool again and used the healing brush tool to get rid of the pins. I then cut out the sections of the dress I wanted to keep and masked out the rest. By piecing and combining a few different skirt and scarf shots I created the silhouette I wanted.


Here is the final image:


You can use this scrap fabric technique for any style dress. I usually dive into the scrap bin at my local fabric store and snap up fabrics I like with at least 1 yard or more. There are so many ways to mix up the above process. You could even cut your fabric into swatches of varying widths and lengths, pinning the different swatches to your model’s foundation garments in order to create a certain style of neckline. Then accessorize the dress with scarves and broaches – anything that would cover up the pins and seams and add to your look. The key to this technique is having a good foundation upon which to pin the fabric. Everything else is free form. So the next time you have a dress you would love to use for a photo shoot, no worries. Just fake it ’til you make it. One size fits all.

Lady Caroline

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