1950s fashion, designers, vintage clothing

Fabulous Friday: Goddess

Dovima and the Elephants, 1995, by Richard Avedon.

This may be the first post I’ve done about Dovima, but it most likely won’t be the last, because I. Love. Her. She is truly a goddess, to my eye, and the most iconic model in fashion history, with perhaps the exception of Carmen Dell’Orifice. Actually, she is the most iconic, but Carmen has had a longer career, by virtue of living longer and modelling into her 80s. But Dovima. ::sigh::

Dovima hit the fashion scene in the 40s, and worked into the 60s. She came from an era where models brought their own accessories, shoes and makeup, and did things on the fly. They did their own hair, they did their own makeup, and often the photos were done in any location they could find quickly, especially after a fashion show, when all of the photographers were vying for pictures of the same garment. This is why you will see so many photos of that era outside, where they ran to shoot after a show, or in front of a plain backdrop. It’s some of the most recognizable fashion photography ever done.

The models of that era had an elegance you don’t see now. Dovima was especially so. The way she placed her hands and tilted her head could not be replicated. Her relationship with also-iconic Richard Avedon was muse and mentor, as he considered her one of the last elegant models and she trusted him to capture beautiful images. He shot the unforgettable image above, Dovima and the Elephants, shot at a circus in Paris and featured in Harper’s Bazaar in 1955. The original dress was the first one Yves St. Laurent did for Christian Dior, and it is now housed at Newfields Art Museum in Indianapolis. I have stood and stared at it in awe many times, imagining the scene as Dovima created the image of soft and hard, old and new, elegance and animal instinct. It evokes a lot of emotion for me.

Dovima, for all of her elegance, lived a complex life. Married three times, and the face of both Dior and Balenciaga, she ended up broke in Florida, waitressing at a pizza joint. She had a particular affinity for abusive men, and according to other models of the era, would sometimes arrive at their apartments in the middle of the night, crying about what had been done to her. They wanted to help her, but she always fell back into relationships with the wrong men. She retired from modelling as Camelot crumbled and the mod era arrived, never to be seen on camera again. She died from liver cancer in Florida in 1990, but her images will live forever.

Dovima, by Richard Avedon, 1955.
1950s fashion, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

The Answer Dress

Simplicity 2390, 1957.

I came across this pattern, soon to be listed in the shop, and was intrigued by the fact that they call it an “Answer Dress.” What now would be known as a Little Black Dress was known as the Answer Dress in the late 50s.

The term Answer Dress was used for a few patterns in 1957-1959. Simplicity used it as a marketing term for “an ensemble that fills every dawn to dark need in a woman’s wardrobe.” They also marketed Answer Dresses for girls as well. These styles could be worn at work or for shopping, but could also be dressed up for cocktail parties. Some could be used as jumpers as well, which increased options even more.

How could you use this today? It’s perfect for someone who travels a lot, especially if you have to travel for work and need a dress that will take you from work to a more formal function. Add to it that these patterns are listed as “simple to make” and it’s a great idea for expanding your wardrobe easily. (Disclaimer: “simple to make” in the 50s is not necessarily the same as an easy pattern nowadays.)

These dresses have simple lines and can be dressed up or down according to your needs. They are a perfect idea for a capsule wardrobe, for those of you working on simplifying life. And yes, dresses can simplify your life! You can totally change these looks with accessories or shoes, or if you wear it as a jumper or not. Need more information on making a capsule wardrobe? Check out Project 333, by one of my favorite bloggers, Courtney Carver. She teaches you how to create a capsule wardrobe from only 33 items that you change up quarterly. I love this idea, especially since for the past year, I’ve probably only worn about a dozen different garments, because we are securely entrenched in quarantine. Post quarantine, perhaps it’ll be something more stylish than sweats and leggings, but there’s more time for that later on, post COVID.

Meantime, check out these patterns for cute Answer Dresses, and consider adding them to your wardrobe.

Simplicity 2444, 1958. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki
Simplicity 3130, 1959. Girls’ Answer Dress that grows. Photo: Vintage Pattern Wiki
Simplicity 2466, 1958.

I LOVE this one! There are so many options to choose from here. Plus, of course I’m always drawn to red, so that may help to explain why I am nuts for this one.

Which one would you make? Do you know of another pattern that would work for an Answer Dress but wasn’t marketed as such? Drop it in the comments and let me know.

Have a great day,

Lisa

Links may be for affiliates, where I get a small amount of compensation from purchases.

1950s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

Fashionable Friday: McCall’s 9706

McCall’s 9706, 1954

When you reach into your stash, looking for something to list, and randomly pull out this. Wow. That top is amazing. I sell a repro pattern similar to this in the shop, but this one includes the shorts and skirt too? It’s almost too much to handle that early in the morning. That lime green is pretty eye catching too, and although as a fair redhead, I couldn’t handle that color, it’s perfect for almost everyone else.

They really overdid themselves with this pattern illustration, yes? Now available in the shop.

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

Some links may be affiliate links where I may get a small stipend if you make a purchase.

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.

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.

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

Aurora Battilocchi

Advance Import 113, by Aurora Battilocchi

Aurora Battilocchi designed ladies’ fashion in the 1950s, and was thought by some to be the most creative Italian designer of the time. Her designs had a Parisian feel that combined with contemporary designs. Her designs worked for most women, because she did everything — empire looks as well as long torso looks with incredible details. She favored rich fabrics in brocades and satin, and her colors were equally so, in gold, flame red, sea blue and basic black.

One of her typical looks in 1955 was designed in tiers: a jacket where the hem created the first tier, and worn over a sheath dress that was cut again above the knee, creating the second tier above the final hem. Another model had a twilight themed skirt, with layers of pink, violet and blue organza. She was one of the only designers of the season to show a silk print. Ballgowns from this collection included a aquamarine silk dress with a pintucked bodice as well as a “tightly wound red and gold sheath with a huge bustle.” How I wish I could find a video of one of her shows!

She didn’t have much of a lifespan in American fashion though, as she disappeared from the scene here after 1961, and I can’t find anything about her from that point on. Perhaps she passed away, but she left a beautiful legacy. As was said about her in 1952, she was “renowned for her refined taste and understatement of the dramatic that is in itself dramatic.” Coco Chanel would approve.

1950s fashion, sewing patterns, sexual abuse

Birdcage Waist

Butterick 8227, ©1957

I listed this pattern in the shop the other day, and found the waistline interesting. They call it a “birdcage” waistline. It’s a cummerbund waistline that included large tabs — like belt loops for a cummerbund.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I love cummerbund waistlines. I think they give a wonderful silhouette, whether they are on a party dress or a sheath, but belt loop looking things? Hmm. That being said, View A is pretty fabulous, so I could be convinced. I want to see this in person.

In looking around, it appears that Mollie Parnis did a “birdcage jacket” in 1956 that was a short jacket that stopped above the waistline. Her collection of that season had a lot of high waisted dresses, so I’m sure that looked nice, and have seen patterns with that effect. Here’s a photo:

© Photo: Courier-Post, Camden, NJ

Pauline Trigere did a “bird cage” jacket in that same year, but it sounds confusing to me: “…for girls so reed-thin that there is no risk of a pregnant look. The bird cage’s big pouf is caught in just below the knees. She uses it in everything — coats, dresses, even headdresses made of veiling tied at the top and around the shoulders with velvet ribbon.” The jacket was hipbone length. I can’t envision what the look was.

Dallas Dickey designed a birdcage jacket in 1957 that was just one inch bands of linen, spaced an inche apart, and sewn only at the shoulder and hip, over a fitted sheath dress. The effect was to look like you were wearing a blouson jacket, but then up close “the sheath shape under the spaced bands is as visible as a parakeet.” These were done in different color versions, with the designer’s favorite being a gold jacket over a red, white or black sheath. This sounds interesting, and I’d love to see a real life version.

I did find a version of this particular dress, described in a New Jersey newspaper, and done by Mr. Sidney. These were full skirted dresses though, worn with more than one petticoat and striped around the waist in contrast to the vertically striped skirts.

I’m not sure what the inspiration was in the mid-50s for all these birdcage looks. If you have any ideas, drop it in the comments.

1950s fashion, Celebrity, designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Who was Hannah Troy?

McCall’s 5289, 1959, by Hannah Troy.

I came across this fantastic pattern the other day, and as I was listing it in the shop, noticed that it was designed by Hannah Troy. I’ve never seen a Hannah Troy pattern, and never heard of her, so I did some digging.

Hannah purportedly entered into the fashion industry in 1940 through a design she made herself, then sold for $3. She became a fashion model, and in a rather ballsy move for a model, suggested a different drape of fabric to the designer she was modelling for. I guess she didn’t believe in the (very wrong) belief that models are just clothes hangers and shouldn’t think. That suggestion led to her immediately becoming assistant to the designer, then head designer for another company, then to her branching off on her own to create Hannah Troy, Inc. Not bad for someone who started as a home sewist, yes?

Hannah revolutionized the clothing industry when she began designing for women with short waists. She was working as a model at May Company, and after spending days watching salespeople show short waisted women how to alter clothing to fit, decided there should be a petite line, made particularly for short waisted women. She enlisted help from the military, of all places, deciding that they would have the best database of women’s measurements. She got measurements of the WACs from the quartermaster, and found that the majority of women she studied were short waisted. She called the measurements she used in designing “Troyfigure,” and went to work.

One of Hannah’s most influential designs was one that Grace Kelly wore when she went to Europe early in her career. That also happened to be the trip where she met Prince Rainier. Hannah was also considered to be one of the most influential people in bringing attention to Italian fashion. In 1951, exports of Italian goods was $1 million, and by 1955, was $1 billion dollars, all in large part of the fact that she lauded the Italian goods. She was celebrated all over Italy for the help she gave their fashion industry, even being given the Star of Solidarity — the first American woman to be so honored.

Hannah designed with “complete wearability” as her foundation, and felt that the best designs were those that “lent themselves to the individual tastes of the greatest numbers of women.” She wanted to design for the masses, and bring the European styles to American women. Not unlike Coco Chanel, she felt that the best designs compliment, not overwhelm. Interestingly, she didn’t think women’s knees were pretty on anyone, even those with good legs. As the sixties marched on, she pronounced the pantsuit trend as “silly”, and thought the trend of women wearing teen styles was “ridiculous.” She did very well for herself, designing for a number of socialites and celebrities. Newspaper articles describe her apartment as elegant, and having decor that included rare antiquities from ancient Chinese dynasties.

She retired to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after thirty years in the fashion industry, and died of a heart attack June 22, 1993, in a Miami hospital. She was 93.