sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Bicentennial Celebration Patterns

Left to right: Butterick 4208,4260,4207, and 4261

I came across this illustration in a Butterick brochure from 1976, and it got me remembering what the bicentennial was about. 1976 was a huge year for our country, as we celebrated America’s 200th birthday. Red, white and blue was everywhere, and there were all kinds of events to celebrate. Many of these events had people in period costume, so pattern companies put out patterns so that people could create their look. These four patterns are the ones Butterick put out, and I always wondered how they measured up to today’s attention to detail in costuming.

According to the brochure, Butterick did a great deal of research into colonial Americans, so as to make the costumes as authentic as possible. They also consulted with Robert Pusilo, an antique clothing expert and Bicentennial costume consultant to get the fabric details correct. Mr Pusilo has a number of movie credits to his name (Klute and The Owl and the Pussycat among them), but also did Broadway costuming, most notably for Hello, Dolly. According to an article in the Atlanta Constitution in 1974, Mr Pusilo owned hundreds of articles of 18th century clothing, putting him in a unique position of being able to not only design for period clothing, but to handle the originals. He felt that 18th century clothing wouldn’t lend itself to the mass marketing of the 1970’s, because the result would just be a 1970s version of the original. He had a real respect for the men’s shirts of the late 1700’s, stating that they were “truly comfortable”, in contrast to more modern shirts. Interestingly, Mr Pusilo is quoted in the article as saying that there were only a few houses in New York where appropriate fabric could be obtained for such period clothing, as the patterns used in that era were very distinct. I’d love to have been listening to the conversation as he made fabric suggestions to Butterick, knowing full well that the fabrics a home sewist would use would be wrong, no matter how accurate the pattern might be. I wonder if this offended his sensibilities, or if he just accepted it as it was — a modern take on antique clothing?

These patterns came with an insert that gave suggestions on how to make your costume authentic. Three accessories suggested were a gentleman’s can, a lady’s panier, and a lady’s sleeve ruffle. The insert gave instructions on how to make each of these accessories, and the sleeve ruffle is illustrated here, as well as a small panier, on the lady on the right. (I can’t tell if the lady on the left has it as well, but she may.)

The costumes shown are for an affluent colonial family. The called the lady’s costume their Dolly Madison costume, and the father and son costumes Stateman costumes. Reading the descriptions of the patterns makes one think that perhaps these patterns were a bit more accurate that the more modern interpretations of the 18th century, since they closed with buttons instead of the zippers seen in today’s renditions. I may have to do a deep dive to compare the versions. I’ll add that to my to-do list.

Butterick 4260 is available here. 4208, the men’s stateman’s pattern, is available here and here. 4207, the boys’ statesman’s pattern, can be found on Etsy here and on Amazon here. The girls’ costume can be found here.

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