1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns

Susie Stephens – Midwest Goodness

Butterick 6879.

I listed this cute pattern in the shop this morning. It’s Butterick 6879 and it’s adorable. I love View A, but can’t imagine doing all that bias tape trim. It’d be worth the work, but wow. This pattern is part of the “Susie Stephens” line from Butterick.

Susie Stephens, in case you didn’t know, is a line of sewing patterns designed by students at Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri. (Fun fact: I grew up not far from there, and always thought of it as a rich kids school. But I digress.) At Stephens, they had a yearly fashion show done by the students. It was called “Susie Stephens.” It commonly had a theme, such as in 1952, where the them was “Campus Classics from the Classics,” and featured garments and millinery inspired by books such as Little Women, David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights. These garments were shown in fashion shows around the Midwest.

A 1947 article notes that the designs were fresh and adaptable, with rompers that had skirts to go over them, coats with enough volume to carry books underneath during the rainy season, and much more. On the day of the show, it was surmised that the garment district of St Louis must’ve emptied out and headed to Columbia, along with designer staff from Kansas City and New York. Budding designers were hired straight from these shows. The next day, the show was done again for the people of Columbia, where customers could choose the garment or the patterns, to take to their dressmaker for adaptations.

By 1950, Butterick had taken notice, and started their “Susie Stephens” line. This line was specifically created from the Stephens College students’ designs, and was advertised for teenagers. By 1952, they had printed 30 designs in the Susie Stephens line, but it seems to have waned in popularity after 1953, and disappeared completely after 1954. It’s worth taking a look at this cute line of patterns.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Thank Your Lucky Stars for Claire

I saw this meme over the holidays and had to laugh. It’s said that it’s a white-girl thing that every time someone admires a dress, the girl responds in kind “thanks, it’s got pockets.” Now I don’t know that it’s purely a white-girl thing, but women do love themselves a good garment with pockets. And do you know who you can thank for that?

Claire McCardell.

Ms. McCardell was known as the one who invented American sportswear, and for good reason. She was tall and athletic herself, the only sister in a family with three boys, and she wanted comfortable clothes she could move in. She ended up as a founding board member of Sports Illustrated. I doubt that a fashion designer has ever had that privilege since. She really did push sportswear to a whole new level (and I’m not talking about polyester gym suits and tennis dresses here).

Claire McCardell liked simple clothes that you could move in, in fabrics like jersey that draped well and moved with you. She loved cottons too, especially in plaids. Indeed, she made plaid ok to wear for evening wear. She pushed the notion of wearing tights and flats on the streets, instead of spike heels. She made jumpsuits and their shorter version, the playsuit, ok to wear outside of the Rosie the Riveter factory jobs. She put details on clothing that hadn’t been seen before or were seen only on jeans, like topstitching and yes, pockets. Those pockets that we love so much now.

Claire McCardell made it ok to wear separates, like shorts and blouses, capris, and the like. I’ve had two Claire McCardell patterns over the years: a Spadea (that sold for over $200 at auction) and a rarely found McCall’s pattern that probably sold for much less than it should have (I can’t remember). The Spadea was for one of her iconic dresses. The McCall’s was for sportswear separates. They aren’t easy to find, but the two patterns showed the full spectrum of what McCardell did.

I’m pretty sure that this Spadea 1130 is the one I had (it’s been a while). Simple lines and pockets.

Spadea American Designer’s #1130, 1953.

Here’s the McCall’s one I had. It’s a great representation of her love for sportswear separates and sadly, is from 1958, the year Claire McCardell died a very untimely death from cancer.

McCall’s 4494, 1958. Photo compliments of the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

If you are interested in Claire McCardell’s philosophy of dress, take a look at What Shall I Wear? , a book she authored that includes all kinds of advice on how to dress. I have a copy, and I love it. If you want to see more of her designs, grab Claire McCardell Redefining Modernism. It’s a coffee table book that has all the history of her designs, along with beautiful full color photos. Set aside some time for this one. You’ll want to give it its due, because it really is a wonderful book.

Until next time,
Lisa

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Uncategorized

The Marion Nixon Dress

Pictorial Review 4232, from 1928

If you’ve read previous posts, you know I have a particular love for Pictorial Review patterns, because of their connection with my grandmother, so when I saw this dress, it made me smile. It’s Pictorial Review 4232, from 1928, which was shortly after my grandmother had my dad. She likely had only recently left Pictorial Review, so again, this may be a pattern she had a hand in choosing. Oh, my heart.

In researching this pattern, I found that it was advertised as “The Marion Nixon Dress,” because it was designed specifically for the actress of that name. She worked at Universal Pictures, and was quite beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact.

Marion Nixon

Ms. Nixon had quite the career, mostly playing wholesome roles. She was one of the minority of actresses who was able to successfully transform from silent movies to talkies. She retired from acting at the age of 32. She died in Cedars-Sinai Hospital on February 13, 1983, from complications following open heart surgery. Her age went unreported at the time, as different references gave different ages, and she always referred to herself as being 31-plus.

I find it particularly interesting that she had a dress named for her in 1928, because this means that Pictorial Review was doing what Hollywood Pattern Company would do later: associating patterns with a movie star. And for good reason, because Ms. Nixon was not only a popular actress, but also was president of the Beauty Arts Institute, which did merchandising of beauty products nationwide, and who set the standards for beauty professions of the time. Talented and smart — the greatest combination. Add her beauty and it displays a picture of a woman who I’d love to have a long dinner conversation with.

vintage clothing, vintage fashion

College Wardrobe – 1913

I found an article in an old McCall’s Magazine from 1913, listing what a girl should take to college. Interesting, especially given the fact that not that many women went to college, and most of the time, I think their parents did it so the young woman could find herself a husband. But if you’re interested in what Edwardian co-eds packed, here goes.

A medium weight suit that won’t be worn often. Hat and gloves to match, as well as a dressy silk or chiffon waist and half doze whit waists of tailored or lingerie styles. Note that all of these waists, hat and gloves are to go with a suit that they say will be worn only to church or afternoon teas, or for trips into town. The suit would be worn more often if you were in school in a large city.

Plain dresses for wearing to class. Because buildings were better heated than homes, and were close together, gingham and linen was worn later into the fall and earlier in the spring than at home.

“Nine out of ten Freshman” wear one piece or blouses dresses of dark serge or flannel in the winter. They may be embellished with rosettes or ribbon ties. These dresses were worn with cardigans or lightweight coats in spring and fall, with a heavier coat for the winter.

It was not acceptable to wear middy (sailor) blouses or jumpers (sweaters) outside a skirt unless you were on an outing or at an athletic event. They reported that one unnamed student association made a dress code saying a blouse could not be worn outside at chapel, recitations or at the table.

Hats were only worn for dress occasions (with the aforementioned suit), but a simple felt hat was worn in the winter or for walks off campus. They suggested a crochets cap was also welcomed for cold and stormy weather.

Later in the day, style of dress “depends upon the size of your — or your father’s — purse.” Dressing for dinner was the norm, to change out of the dress you’d already worn all day. This was wear the suit-skirt came into play, or gowns from last summer, in light colors in silk, cotton and wool. It was also acceptable to wear white pique or linen skirts with lingerie waists. Just don’t wear your day dress!

Dinner wear or elaborate evening gowns for concerts and other more formal evening events were worn with an evening coat or cap. It is suggested that it should be durable in fabric and color, because it would be worn to everything “from fudge parties to committee meetings.”

One should also pack two or three wash dresses, a couple of simple afternoon dresses — one thin and one thick, and a boudoir cap. Pack a washable kimono for slipping on at the last minute, as well as another for dress up occasions. Kimonos were the rule for hanging out in the dorm, and silk crepe was the best fabric to make one in.

Underwear should be sturdy underwear that can stand up to college washerwomen, in enough quantity so as not to run out if the laundry runs a week behind. A nightgown of better quality, for when the girls drop in — no sleeping in a T shirt in 1913.

Extras: a gym suit and shoes, another kimono for washing, a warm bathrobe, bedroom slippers, a soap box to carry to the tub, percale or seersucker petticoats, high boots, low shoes and pumps, rain boots, umbrella, raincoat and a hot water bottle.

They also remind the reader to start a memory book as soon as they arrive at school, by keeping ticket stubs, programs, invitations, postcards and the like, and to remind family to keep their letters. They suggest making the book from manila paper and brown linen cover, or buy one in the college bookstore. I still have my grandfather’s memory book from his time at West Point. It is one of my most cherished items.

So now you are ready for college. Get packing!

1950s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Start the New Year With Something Pretty

Vogue 1434, Nina Ricci, 1959.

I was listing this gorgeous pattern on the website today and went searching for Nina Ricci online. I came across this equally beautiful photo of a dress from her 1961 collection and had to share it, because we all need to go into the new year thinking pretty thoughts. Print available here.

Nina Ricci, 1961.

Happy New Year to you all. May your year be full of light and joy and beautiful things.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Blast From The Past

I listed this Hollywood pattern in the shop last week. I love old Hollywood movie star patterns. It’s so fun to see who they feature. I listed this catalog last week — it features both Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis. I’ve also had one in the past that featured a dress from Gone with the Wind and Ann Rutherford. Fun stuff, they are.

So this pattern, besides being super cute and versatile, features Ruth Warrick. Ruth Warrick went on to play Phoebe Tyler on All My Children. She was one of the original scheming divas of daytime television, and I should know, given the fact that I was basically raised on soaps. My mom will tell you that she was watching As the World Turns when they broke in to say that Kennedy had been shot. Years later, they showed that exact moment at the beginning of the Kennedy movie, with Kevin Costner. I actually said out loud “that’s what my mom was watching when this happened” right there in the theatre. Yes, people stared. I didn’t care. I was having a moment.

I think at some point Mom watched almost all of the soaps except perhaps General Hospital. She was a big CBS person, so most of her soaps were there, but she watched All My Children and some of the other ABC soaps too. Little secret, I have a male friend who is 60, and he watches Young & The Restless every day. His whole family does, so it’s a bonding experience for the Texas and Arkansas sisters and parents to have with him, here in Indiana.What about you? Did you watch soaps growing up? Do you still watch them now? Tell me in the comments.

1950s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Something is Afoot

Some of you have followed my foibles in sewing. I suppose it’s a bit funny to watch someone who’s sold sewing patterns for twenty plus years actually learn how to use them. Even I think it’s rather funny that I love seeing patterns so much, yet have such limited sewing skills. So here we go again.

Simplicity 3388

I decided to make my mom a flannel nightgown for Christmas. She’s always cold and loves curling up in flannel, especially since her electric blanket isn’t working. I chose Simplicity 3388, because it’s marked easy (a lie) and it’s pretty (truth). I got the flannel from FABRIC.com, because I absolutely hate Joann’s website, and still can’t go into stores because yeah, pandemic. It’s a super soft flannel called Comfy Flannel Micro Dot, and it’s really pretty. They also have a similar one with stars, and that one’s on sale right now. I’d definitely use this fabric again.

First disaster: I didn’t order enough fabric. I’m not sure how that happened. Maybe I read the requirement for the shorter style, I’m not sure. I realized when I laid it all out that I’d need more, so I went ahead and cut what I had while I was waiting for more to come. No worries, I have plans for the extra, so it won’t go to waste.

The bodice went together ok. I even felt rather smug that it was going well. The big detour I had to take was when the instructions talked about collar facings, and I had none. I spoke with my favorite handy dandy Facebook group and found that in 1950, the my didn’t make separate facings—you just cut two of whatever you needed. One piece was the actual piece, while the other was the facing. Then I was informed that I’d cut the collar wrong. Apparently when they wanted you to cut something on the fold but it wouldn’t fit along the fold, they made dotted lines on the cutting chart, and you were supposed to flip the piece and cut it as one. See below:

The ones with dotted lines mean “flip that piece over and cut it again, so you have two pieces.”

So I realized that I had cut the collar wrong. No biggie. I decided to make the Peter Pan collar as two pieces instead of one long continuous piece. I think it may have made it a bit easier. At this point, I realized that in this time period they had you make your own bias tape, which is a thing of the devil, so I pulled out some white bias tape and went to work. Because of my shortage of fabric and the cutting faux pas, I did without the facings and used interfacing as the under collar. It all came together ok.

I’m not sure why this pattern has a button and a ribbon tie at the neckline. It seems a bit much, and since I’ve never done a buttonhole yet (rookie), I just left the bodice open, and will add a ribbon if Mom wants it. Also, note that the ribbons shown on the sleeves are run through a casing, and there’s no elastic. They also are located further up the arm, to create a kind of flounced cuff. I thought the ribbon might be annoying, given the propensity for things to slip through a casing (yes, I could’ve anchored it, I suppose) so I just added elastic instead. The bodice ruffle is a bit wonky, but I’m going to add a ribbon there, I think, to help cover it.

It didn’t come out perfect, though I do feel kind of proud that I got the sleeves set in on the first try. I’ve never done anything with sleeves yet, so I expected trouble, and got none. All I have left to do is the hem, and although it’s not perfect, Mom won’t care, because it’s warm and it’s pretty. Here’s a quick picture of the finished gown:

The only other thing I will say about this pattern is that the skirt is very full. Like, when I held it up to show hubby, he thought it was way to big for my tiny mom. It actually looks like the skirt is way too big, but the bodice fits my bust 34 dress form perfectly. I think it’s just designed to be really full. And if you are making this for someone elderly, that can be a worry, because the elderly have problems sometimes with getting caught up in their bed linens and falling — it happened to my dad a couple of times. I’m a bit worried about that with Mom, but she’s still pretty spry, so we’ll see. I hope my sewing doesn’t kill her. Seriously.

But it turned out pretty and I’m happy, and I think Mom will like it. I still have to hem it before Christmas. If you love the pattern and want to try it, you can get it from my shop by clicking here for bust 34 and here for bust 42.

sewing, sewing patterns, Uncategorized, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Lookie, Lookie!

Butterick 3205, from 1890.

I was looking through this amazing Butterick monthly catalog from 1890, and came across this gorgeous wrap on the right. I have no idea how it works, but I’m in love with the idea of it. Is it a coat? A cape? A cape-coat? Where do your arms go? What does the front look like?

I. Have. No. Idea. But it was love at first sight, and I’d make it in blood red velvet or even green, and I’d probably never take it off. What do you think?

self help

‘Splain This To Me, Lucy

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I love to read old etiquette books, and have quite a collection of them. It’s fun to see how manners have changed over the years, and it’s good to have a reminder of how grandma would have expected for me to behave, given I’m just shy of a caveman in comparison.

I was listing a 1940s etiquette book in the shop today, after quizzing my husband on the customs of 1940 last night. He actually did surprisingly well, though I shouldn’t be surprised. As irreverent as he is most days (he’s a Marine, after all, so he says it how he sees it), he was trained in the 1950s by his brother, who was in a fraternity at Miami University. His brother was very proper, and drilled it into my husband. Hubby also got some training on protocol in the Marines, especially since he was an officer, and there were expectations. I have a vintage book about how to be a good officer’s wife, but I’d fail from the get-go since I don’t cook.

So when I came across this piece in a 1929 Vogue etiquette book, I was confused. You tell me what this means:

“The sight of bones being picked and the appearance of fingers and faces afterward to not linger agreeably in the memory….The only way to meet the ordeal of removing fish and terrapin bones from the mouth is to meet it frankly and firmly. If the bone can be brought to the edge of the lips, it can be pulled out quietly between the finger and thumb. If it dludes the pursuit of the tongue, there’s nothing to be done but choke or hunt for it. The elegant who object to choking are sometimes driven to the cover of the held-up napkin while they hunt. This is one degree worse than hunting in the open, and it is therefor suggested that any beast bristling with bones be chewed cautiously and in the front of the mouth.”

Vogue’s Book of Etiquette, 1929, p. 197.

Are they suggesting that you choke on a fish bone rather than removing it? Have they never heard of how Christian Dior died (true, he died 25 years after this book, but still…). Am I reading this wrong? I have so many questions.

Tell me what you think.

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