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

Fira Benenson

Spadea 1158, ©1958.

I’m reading a 1940s book about the fashion industry, and am learning all kinds of things about lesser known (now) designers. Case in point: Fira Benenson. I’ve seen Fira Benenson patterns before. They are generally 1950s Spadeas, sometimes very early 1960s, but I’ve never heard of her name outside of this. Turns out she’s an interesting person.

I always thought, given her first name, that she had to be Italian, but she was actually Russian. She was a driving force for Bonwit Teller and got her start as the director of imports there before World War II. During the war years, she was the one who designed Bonwit Teller’s collections. She was one of the first retail buyers to return to Paris after the war.

She was very much a team player, saying that no designer designs in a vacuum. “A designer works with the assistance of many people — the fitters, operators, fabric people and her other workers. I would be helpless without my staff.” This is so true, as you’d be surprised how many designers can’t draw, sew or make patterns. Many of them, of course, would never admit it publicly.

Fira Benenson evening dress with jacket in silk shantung, 1942. Photo: New York Daily News.

Ms. Benenson was noted for elegance. She used rich fabrics and embellished with embroidery, shirring, tucking and intricate seams. In 1941, she used a rounded shoulder technique she terms the “hug shoulder” to accentuate women’s curves. That same season, she showed a “soupcatcher” waist, with horizontal looped draping below the waist that created a shelf -hence the soupcatcher name. It was basically a front pannier and based on a Victorian fashion, and created a beautiful, draped effect that accentuated a tiny waist.

Fira Benenson evening dress, 1957. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

“Miss B”, as her staff called her, was soft spoke and gracious, always wearing black, and generally a shirred dress of her own creation. She always wore a huge black pearl left to her by her mother, surrounded by ribbons of diamonds. She was born in Russia in 1898, the child of the Czar Nicolas’ banker, and came to the United States in 1921, after the death of her mother. She opened her own dress shop and was recruited by Bonwit Teller in 1934 to head up their Salon de Couture. This required frequent trips to Paris to view the collections, as she did not design at this point. She only began designing again in 1940 when the war made it necessary. She opened her own shop again in 1948, going into the wholesale business. She maintained both couture and ready to wear collections, as she felt that women wanted clothes that looked “made to measure” to be widely available.

In private life, Ms. Benenson was the Countess Fira Ilinska, married to a Polish nobleman. She spoke seven languages, collected Belgian blown glass, and was known for her dinner parties, where she did much of the prep and cooking herself. The count and countess celebrated 30 years of marriage in March 1961 with a posh dinner party at their apartment that included many of the same guests who originally attended their wedding, including diplomats, artists, writers and businessman. Four months later, the count died in Paris from heart disease. He was 64. Ms. Beneson died in 1977 in the New York apartment she had called home for many years.

1950s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

My Superpower

McCall’s 5185, ©1959

I have a superpower that few can lay claim to. Maybe nobody. This pattern is a prime example. Isn’t it great? I sold it today, and therein lies my power.

For some whacky reason, I will sometimes come across a pattern in my stash. It’s been there a while, or maybe not. Maybe I listed it a looooong time ago (see last post) or maybe I just listed it but it’s one that should’ve sold overnight, as some are wont to do. Either way, it’s in my files and it shouldn’t be. Or maybe I look at it with a new eye and say to myself “wow, that is so cute.” Once in a while I even have the thought of inactivating the listing because I’ve just had it too long. But that little thought? That’s it.

That little thought means that that particular pattern is going to sell within 24 hours, guaranteed. I’m virtually 100% on this. It’s always by happenstance. I just come across it and wonder why I have it, or think to myself that it’s cute and I may as well package it up because it is going.

I’m not sure what causes this particular phenomena. I don’t do this every day. Most days I’m just madly crashing through my files looking for whichever particular beauties are going out the door. Maybe I’m cursing a bit under my breath because yet again, they have gotten out of order. Maybe I’m annoyed because they are in the back of a bottom drawer, and I’m not ready for the gymnastics required to reach that particular pattern, but trust me when I say that I don’t stare longingly at my filed patterns. But once in a while, a spark happens, the angels sing and one just jumps out at me, then BOOM. It sells.

I think the quickest this has happened has been half an hour after I came across it. It averages less than twelve hours from thought to sale, and it can’t be forced. I can’t pray to the patron saint of sewing (who is, if you must know, Saint Tabitha) because believe me, there are days where I’d try. Some days I can’t even run a massive sale to get one out the door (like today – 25% off because yeah, it’s my birthday). I sell all day, every day, but I can’t make it happen. It’s just my little Magic Kingdom and it happens when the stars align and the angels sing.

So that’s my superpower. What’s yours?

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

Advance Imports

Advance Import 105, circa 1954. Photo: Merete Hvalshagen 

I cam across this pattern on Pinterest today and was fascinated. Advance Import patterns are hard to find. It’s difficult to use the word “rare” for anything that is mass produced, so let’s say they were limited editions, so not many still exist today. I’ve had a number of them over the years, but never two copies of the same pattern. They aren’t easy to find, and there are collectors who covet them fiecely. They are always fashion-forward and couture styles, like this one.

It’s always been presumed that the Advance Import line was created to do line-by-line copies of designer garments, likely out of Paris, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with the actual designer’s name on it. I’ve often said that one day in my spare time (that I don’t have), I will sit down and try to match pattern to designer, but of course I haven’t done that yet. I’m not even sure how many Advance Import designs were created. If there are more like this with the designer’s name on it, it’ll make the job easier.

I also can’t find much about Emanuel of Spain, though he made some awfully fetching suits like this one. Isn’t it pretty?

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

Friday Fun Stuff

Butterick 6655, 1950s.

I came across this pattern in my stash yesterday and thought “wow, what a cute dress.” Except, it’s not. It’s an apron and a coverall. Very stylish, isn’t it? It does a back wrap, then comes around and buttons in the front. I’m not sure that those huge triangular pockets would be helpful, because everything would fall out of them, but isn’t this a chic look?

The coverall is designed to wear over your frock whilst you clean, so your day dress stays fresh. It’s basically designed in the same vein as a Claire McCardell popover dress, which was meant for the same task. The earliest ones came with a matching potholder, and the popover was a staple in Claire McCardell collections.

Photo Credit: Michaelzee.com

Claire McCardell is one of my favorites, because she basically birthed American sportswear. She created comfortable fashion that was also stylish. Her use of plaids was also really beautiful. Not red carpet glam stuff, most of it, but comfortable day wear. She died at 52 of cancer, which was far, far too young. I would’ve loved to see what she would’ve done had she lived longer.

I came across this interview with Claire’s brother, which I found super interesting. Given the fact that she skiied so much, and that she was on the first board of Sports Illustrated, I always thought she must’ve been a talented athlete. Not so. Who’da thunk?

Enjoy your weekend.

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

Still Waiting

Simplicity 3464. ©3464

Still no baby. Lots of contractions that my daughter ignores, but no baby yet. I’m convinced she will be in denial until he’s born on their family room floor, with the 3 year old and 18 month old sisters cheering her on. I suppose it’s just as well that he hasn’t hatched yet, as he still has no name. They can’t come to an agreement on a name, so it’ll be interesting to see what he ends up with. My daughter suggested Dawson — her husband hates it, and her 3 year old heard it as Dolphin (her current passion), so I just call him Baby Dolphin. If you have suggestions for an Irish or Scottish name, drop it in the comments. Their last name starts with an O, so that can complicate things a bit. I suggested Christian this week, but apparently my daughter knew a guy in college named Christian who was a raging alcoholic, so I’m not going to make any other suggestions.

Meantime, I came across this pattern in my stash. It’ll be listed in the shop soon, so I stole the picture from the Vintage Pattern Wiki. I think it’s wonderful. I’m not a fan of the tight maternity clothes these days, though I’m not sure my daughter even owns any maternity clothes. Being an archaeologist, she lives in leggings and sweatshirts, so I think she just guys a larger size than usual. I know she doesn’t wear the typical maternity stuff, which I am thankful for.

When I was having babies (wow, that makes me sound old), I wore smock tops. The eighties and nineties still welcomed them, and I thought they were comfortable. My shorts didn’t have the panel on them, but were super comfortable with an elastic waistband. They were so comfortable, in fact, that my ex husband would wear them when I turned my back. You wouldn’t have known they were maternity to look at them, so it wasn’t as weird as it sounds, though yeah, he was weird anyway.

But look at this suit. I’m not convinced about buttons on the back of the skirt, because it always looks so uncomfortable. Pretty, but uncomfortable. But at least it appears that the buttons stop before the derriere, so at least you’re not sitting on them. The top is what is so special though. That wider Peter Pan collar and those amazing cuffs — I die. I also like wide sleeves and generally push up long sleeves because I hate things being tight, so I think that helps this style to appeal to me. They suggest novelty braid at the collar and cuffs, but I’d do it in velvet or velveteen. The blue they show is gorgeous, but I think I’d like it in navy as well.

And those gloves complete the look so beautifully. It’s my goal that, before I die, I will own a pair of Cornelia James gloves. They are SO expensive and I might have to keep them under glass, but I covet them so much. I don’t see any that would work they way I’d wear them with this, but I’m putting this out there in case Santa wants to know what I want. I’d get a pair of dove gray with the lighter blue, or taupe to wear with the navy. But then again, I guess it doesn’t matter what I think, as my baby days are long gone, thank heavens.

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

I’m Baaaaaack

Simplicity 1889. 1957.

We are back from our tour of the South. After nine days of being gone, it was good to get home. I call it a tour of the South, but really we just went to a condo on Pawley’s Island in South Carolina and parked it. With my husband’s mobility issues and COVID, we don’t go out much, but we were on the water and the weather was perfect, and that’s enough for me. We did get out to eat a couple of times in places with open seating areas, so it was nice to pretend that everything is normal for a while. But now we are home and it’s back to COVID reality again. Blah.

I did get out to my favorite antique store down there, which I always know is chock full of fun stuff, especially patterns. Got to turn it into a work trip, after all, so I went out most days at least browsing, plus picked up a great load of patterns from someone on Facebook Marketplace, so I came home with a couple hundred more patterns, including this lovely.

I thought at first this was sixties, but it’s actually 1957. You didn’t see as many cape patterns in the 50s as in the 60s and 70s. Of course there were plenty in the 20s and even thirties too, but the 50s had more capelets, and earlier in the era, so this one is interesting to me. We like to go to Scottish festivals in non-COVID times, so I’m really wanting to get a cloak a la Outlander style. Claire wears so many fantastic capes and cloaks in that show — I haven’t seen the latest season, so don’t ruin anything for me. Here’s one of my favorites:

Caitriona Balfe as Claire, in Outlander. Photo: Starz.

That yellow is just wonderful and puts her squarely in the center of the action, as Claire is always wont to be. The details in the costuming in this show are just amazing. But for the Simplicity pattern, I’d go with the pilgrim collar mid length one. I’ve always loved pilgrim collars. They just say luxury to me. I love red, of course, so red would be fine, as would a soft blue. Unless someone wants to make me a real full length hooded cloak a la Claire, which I’d of course be fine with too.

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

Fabulous Friday (or, It’s Friday Somewhere)

McCalls 1954.

OK, so it’s not Friday here in the US, but as Jimmy Buffet says (or my version of it), it’s Friday somewhere. Actually probably not, but it’s been a crazy week. I’ve been driving my dear husband to cardiac rehab twice a week, because he’s not allowed to drive till late October. They play some pretty righteous 80’s tunes while I’m in there, so it’s fun to sit there and wait, listening to Prince and the club music of my day, while reading Jane Eyre. But let’s get on with the pretty.

Isn’t this little girls’ dress just lovely? I think it’s probably my all time favorite girls dress, in over twenty years of selling patterns. I’d make it without the lace, but I think it’s perfect otherwise. That little drawstring bag is the perfect addition to the look. It’s size 4, and I could see my granddaughter really loving this, since she loves to wear her Elsa and Anna outfits anywhere she goes. What do you think?

Have a great Friday, Saturday, or whatever day you’d like for it to be. Enjoy the weekend!

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1950s fashion, 1970s fashion, Celebrity, designers, Hollywood, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

70s Does 30s

Vogue 2286, from 1979.

When people mention something is 70s does 30s, or 80s does 50s, for example, do you know what they mean? Fashion has a great way of repeating itself, as seen in this iconic scene from The Devil Wears Prada, where Miranda dresses Andy down like no other:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja2fgquYTCg&w=560&h=315]

So when someone says 80s does 50s, they mean that it’s an 80s style, done in the vibe of the 50s. This is how I actually realized I loved vintage, because all of my 80s dresses were done in a 50s vibe, with a few 80s does 40s thrown in for good measure. I had a wonderful white peplum dress with red polka dots that was a particular favorite, which my ex also dumped coffee on during a five hour drive to Boca Raton for a wedding. Nothing like showing up with a huge coffee stain across you lap. But I digress.

This beautiful Bill Blass patter is a great example of 70s does 30s. The disco era is full of echoes from the 30s, with the beautifully cut bias maxi dresses, and this one is no exception. It also has a great tuxedo vibe, which is reminiscent of the Annie Hall look of the same time period. It’s a beautifully draped menswear inspired dress, and that is one hard thing to pull off. Also, because of the jacket, you can wear it in winter if you’re daring, and taking off that jacket would give you a great Grace Kelly “Rear Window” reveal vibe, seen here at :57, in her 50s does 30s top:

Well, maybe not that dramatic, but still — you’d catch everyone’s eye when that jacket comes off.

What do you think? Click here to purchase.

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

Simplicity 1502

Simplicity 1502, 1955.

I love this pattern. Look at how many looks it makes. Princess seams are so flattering, and you can make this in so many styles that it’s almost a capsule wardrobe pattern for the mid-1950s. It lacks the huge full skirt so prevalent in those years, which makes for economy of fabric.

I imagine this pattern being loved by women who grew up in the Great Depression. They’d be looking for thrifty ideas to save them money, and here is a pattern that you can mix up to create a whole wardrobe of dresses from, that won’t break the bank on textiles. It’s a thrifty woman’s dream. Women of that era can squeeze a dime and make it bleed — my mother is a prime example.

Keep it less detailed for day wear, and dress up the fabrics and accessories for cocktail hour. The collar, cuffs and dickey are detachable. Lovely, isn’t it?

Click here to purchase.

1950s fashion, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Fabulous Friday: Norwood Hosiery

Someone on a Facebook group that I’m part of asked this week about Norwood Hosiery. I had never heard of them, but she had some stockings she was wondering about. I found out something interesting.

I didn’t delve too deeply into them, but Norwood Hosiery was around for some time. This person was asking specifically about the packaging, which featured an orchid, and what time period it was used in. I found that it was used in the 50s and 60s. Pretty. They liked to advertise women’s things so beautifully then — have you ever seen the Modess ads of that time period? Women dressed in gorgeous designer gowns to advertise sanitary pads. We likely will never see anything like that again. But I digress.

That beautiful orchid packaging of Norwood’s Hosiery held a little secret (or maybe it wasn’t, but it was new to me). They hosiery were scented with orchids. Now, I have zero since of smell, and when I do, it’s wrong (think entire weeks where things smell of cat pee), but I think that’s pretty cool. Nowadays I’m sure they wouldn’t do something like that because of allergies and asthma and the like, but I imagine opening a lovely package of stockings and having a gentle scent of orchids wafting up to me, and it just makes me happy. What about you?