1970s fashion, sewing patterns

Mrs Roper Was a Prophet

I wasn’t allowed to watch Three’s Company when I was a kid. My mother said I was “too young.” Basically, she was appalled by all that jiggling, but then again, she said I was “too young” to watch Gone With the Wind until I was in high school too, so I’m not sure where the bar was for her. I’ve seen a few shows of Three’s Company over the years, and was always amused by the always-clad-in-a-caftan Mrs Roper. Looking back, I think she most likely was an ancestor of the beloved Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek, but it would take a month of blog posts to discuss Moira’s fashion (which is AMAZING!).

Mrs Roper probably wore the most comfortable wardrobe in television history. Can you imagine how comfortable it was to never have a waistline, never have to worry about weight, and to have fabric fluttering around you under the lights? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important it is to be comfortable, especially over the past few months. But you know, I got thinking about it and realized that Mrs Roper was really preparing us for a prophet.

Think about it — caftans are perfect for Netflix and chill evenings (or days). They’re perfect for quarantine when, if you are like me, some extra pounds accumulate from baking banana bread and eating a lot of carbs. They hide all the figure flaws. You can even hide the fact that you’ve not been to the gym. Alternately, many of them can be belted, to change the look up. So when I came across this pattern in my stash, I squealed. It’s not only a long caftan, but you can make it in a pullover caftan top AND elastic waistband palazzo pants! I think this is the perfect 2020 outfit. Click here to purchase in my shop.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Donald Brooks

I found this pattern in my to-be-listed pile and wondered, as is typical of my inquiring nature, who Donald Brooks was. What I found was that I’m not sure I liked him very much.

Donald Mark Blumberg was a lifelong New Yorker. He worked in the early 50s doing window dressing for Lord & Taylor, while he was still a student at Parsons. Lord & Taylor asked him to design a collection for them, and his career took off from there. He began working at Townley in 1958, and took over the helm after Claire McCardell died — those were some BIG shoes to fill. (The more you learn about him, the more you will realize how different he was from her).

He worked at Townley until 1964. He favored bold prints. His 1960s Townley collection featured a python printed chiffon evening gown as its centerpiece. 1964 featured cowl necks (like the one above), bare shoulders, and got away from side closings on dresses. He opened his own house in 1965. Mid 60’s found him noted as one of the “three B’s”: Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Donald Brooks. He was all about details like back belts (martingale belts, as they had been known in the 40s and 50s), detailed metal belts, and the like. He dressed Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy, and did a number of theatrical costuming jobs as well.

In 197s, it was said by the New York Daily News that Pat Nixon must’ve been planning a trip to China, because she bought one of his evening gowns, in a Chinese theme. He denied this, saying he had “no great rapport with the Nixons,” and added that his designs were “to theatrical and young” for the First Lady. Well. Judgmental, much?

In October, 1972, he was interviewed and said that women had been dressing down for a period of time and during that time had gotten away from fur. He thought fur was coming back. He said “American women’s guilt complex about ‘obviously chic’ clothes are erased now because achievement prone women have concluded that fashion is not a deterrent to accomplishment.” Wow. By this point, I was really thinking him to be rather a misogynist and wondered about many of his life choices. That year, he showed a collection of fur caftans in poncho, street and cape lengths, saying basically that any woman could wiggle, but wearing a draped poncho was more sensuous. He defended himself on the fur issue by saying he didn’t use any endangered furs because he did “no crimes against nature.” He did one collection a year from that point on.

Later in the 70s, he was primarily known for his work with fur, which continued to be his focus for the remainder of his career. He was quoted at one point as saying “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.”

See what I mean?

He was a great designer, winning the Coty Award three times, starting in 1962. He had Three Oscar nominations, including “The Cardinal” which required 2000 costumes, including 138 ball gowns. He ultimately designed for Ann Taylor, beginning in 1990, and died on Long Island in 2005 at age 77, as a result of effects from a heart attack he had a couple of weeks before.

That being said, I do love the dress shown above. It’s simple chic, and not difficult to sew, either. Click here to purchase from my shop.

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.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Victory Sewing – the original upcycling

Anne Cabot pattern, 1941

I was researching this pattern, and found something interesting. It is from 1941, and was published by Anne Cabot, a mail order company. Ms Cabot wrote in a newspaper article that she first saw this apron during a fashion show at the White House, held during a press conference of Eleanor Roosevelt’s. The fashion show was to show off defense clothing that was durable and practical , and was put on by the Department of Agriculture’s Home Economics Department.

Ms. Cabot went home after the show and copied the apron, declaring it to be the best looking apron she’d ever seen. The bottom is separated into two pockets, and the top is one big pocket, so you can carry lots of supplies like brushes, rubber gloves, etc. It’s made from a yard and a half of fabric, so it can be made from scraps. Remember that during the war, fabric was rationed and there weren’t supposed to be frills or ruffles on clothing, so this is a great use of what you might have on hand, or make it from an old skirt or dress.

She suggested making it in denim — it would last forever — cotton, ticking, chambray or gingham. Denim would make this durable enough to wear at a defense job or in the garage! She designed a cleaning cap to go with it, along with a cute applique of a dustpan.

I love this little story of how this apron came to be. Buy it here, in my shop. If you want to read an interesting book about the history of home economics as it relates to fashion, read The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. It’s fascinating reading.

I post links to things I love. I may get a small commission when you purchase from these links. This enables me to continue to bring you beautiful fashion.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Alexander McQueen Genius

Photo: Vogue
Jacket: Alexander McQueen
Model: Anok Yai
Photographer: Ronan McKenzie

I came across this photo of an Alexander McQueen jacket (designed by Sarah Burton) in the November issue of Vogue, and it stopped me in my tracks. My husband thought I’d lost my mind as I showed him the seams and tried to figure out what was going on. The seam coming from under the arm was driving me crazy. Was it a dart? Was it a side seam? I couldn’t figure it out.

The bodice and waist are obviously two different pieces. If it was a seam, then I’d like to see how it was cut, because it makes no sense to me. It couldn’t be joining front to back because it ends at the top of the pocket. But I’ve also never seen a dart starting under the arm like that either. It does look like there is a side seam behind it, but that one doesn’t appear to be coming from under the arm.

I pretty much obsessed over figuring this out, then put it out on my Facebook page, to have my sewing friends weigh in. They agreed that it’s a dart, even though the placement isn’t like anything I’ve seen before — but I haven’t seen a lot of true couture garments up close, either. But then my friend and guru of all things sewing patterns (and sewing) weighed in. She said it’s a princess seam, or perhaps just a curved tailoring seam. It’s a seam, not a dart. She also said it’s a true pocket (some thought it was just a flap). And then she drew me out what the front would look like in the pattern. It’s in three pieces:

Drawing by Julie Kempf

It makes a lot more sense to me now. The tailoring on this jacket is amazing, and the results are beautiful. I’m going to have to study more designs and marvel at the patternmaking. It seems to be an Alexander McQueen year for me, because I’ve basically watched all of his shows on YouTube during lockdown, and I really want to get his book, Savage Beauty (buy it here). Also, if you get a chance to watch the documentary about him, McQueen, on Amazon Prime, do it. His death was such a loss to the fashion community. I’d have loved to see what he would have done today.

I share links to things I love. I may get a tiny commission on purchases at those links. It helps me to continue to do what I love, bringing you lots of gorgeous fashion.

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.

sewing patterns

Fashion Wars

Spring, 1876 Butterick Pattern catalog

I added this 1876 Butterick catalog as a downloadable PDF in the shop. I found something interesting inside.

Butterick started selling sewing patterns in 1863. May Manton had already been selling patterns for three years, and other pattern companies developed soon afterward, but Butterick was generally at the top of the pile in the 1870s. There is a foreward written by Ebenezer Butterick in this catalog, stating unequivocally that they are not going out of business. From what he writes, the rumor mill had started spreading word that Butterick was “winding up our business and making arrangements to retire from trade.” He states emphatically that this is not the case by saying “these, with similar reports too numerous to mention, too contemptible to notice, have been spread with a persevering industry and an intense malignity that could only find their source in the hatred of interested parties or the envy of unsuccessful competitors.” Mr. Butterick is pissed.

He goes on to say “we have always endeavored to treat parties engaged in the same business as ours with all proper consideration and respect; we have encouraged, not thwarted, competition, and we have generally met with similar treatment at the hdns of others, but where the public prints have been made the medium of libelous slanders, and where agents have been specially instructed to spread them among business men, we feel it a duty both to the public and ourselves to expose their falsity and absurdity.”

I just love how people spoke back in the day. Our speech has gotten so lazy, and our vocabulary has shrunk so much from earlier years. But I digress, as usual.

Mr. Butterick gives a “most distinct, emphatic, unqualified denial” of the rumor, stating they never have considered retiring from business, are in a great position business-wise, and never expressed an intent to leave. He states they never spoke detrimentally about the competition and welcome them openly.

This must have been a whisper campaign, as I can find nothing in the archives to indicate that Butterick planned to retire, but it also must have been whispered loudly enough that he felt he needed to address it for posterity, and in writing. Corporate business was ugly, even before the turn of the century.

If you want to learn more about the history of sewing patterns, check out Blueprints of Fashion, by costume designer Wade Laboisseniere. He wrote two volumes, one about the 40s, and one about the 50s, and they are full of photos and text of the history of patterns of the eras. (This is an affiliate link, meaning I may make a tiny bit of money from your purchase.) They are two of the best books written on the subject of sewing patterns, and even include information in the back about what pattern numbers correlate with which years of printing. Just don’t reprint and sell that information. It’s copyrighted, and I’ve spoken with Mr Laboisseniere about people who profit from his research. He is not amused, and rightfully so.

If you want to purchase the downloadable 1876 catalog from the shop, click here.

Until next time.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Palazzo pants

McCall’s 3541, 1973.

Palazzo pants were a thing in the 1930’s, and were glamorous as heck. You saw them in beach pyjamas and loungewear especially. But as is the habit, fashion repeats itself, reinventing itself along the way. Palazzo pants were reinvented in the early 70s as “elephant pants.” I remember seeing a jeans version of these on the playground as a kid. An older girl, probably middle school age, had them, and I thought they were amazing. I couldn’t wait to grow up to wear them. They were made from worn denim and weren’t hemmed, dragging on the cement playground. I’d never seen anything like them.

Looking back, that image is heinous to me. I don’t remember if my older high school sisters wore them. I feel like my mom wouldn’t have approved, and my tiny sisters (5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 1 1/4 inches – and you’d better believe that 1/4 inch was fought for) wouldn’t have been able to pull them off. A denim version of palazzo pants just didn’t really work. The look was revisited in the 90s with the skate culture, where it worked better as an aesthetic. How that girl pulled them off on the playground is beyond me.

This McCall’s pattern is a much better version of the elephant pants of the time. It’s disco ready, and would work great as cocktail or loungewear too. Make it in silk if you’re not clumsy like me. Add the front wrap top and you have a really chic look, yes?

Click here to purchase from the shop.

sewing, sewing patterns

The Learning Curve

Note the wonky stitching. LOL

I think I’ve said in the past that I’m kind of a fraud. I’ve been selling sewing patterns online for 20+ years. As in, I was selling on eBay when it listings were only text — no photos. I didn’t even own a digital camera. True fact: I got my first digital camera by trading my middle school son’s best friend for it. So yeah, I’m an online seller dinosaur.

The sewing pattern thing started when eBay came up with the stores concept. I opened a store in 2001, and was selling different things, with no real focus. I was doing some selling for other people as well, but it was a pain because of trying to get shipping materials, peanuts, bubble wrap, and worrying that things would get broken. I wanted to focus on one thing, but couldn’t figure out what. I really don’t know how I came up with sewing patterns, but I do know I got my first ones in the thrift store, and can still remember the particular one I first listed. And hence my store’s focus was developed.

My now-ex was on a mission trip to Mexico. I was home alone with the kids for a week, and I, being a night owl, was in heaven. No husband to answer to and I could stay up as long as I wanted. I finally had that digital camera, so I turned on The Two Towers and started listing patterns. I had the movie on primarily to listen to the music as I worked, and I think I heard it at least a dozen times that week. (Honestly, in that time period, I listened to a lot of movies, because the kids would watch them in the van while I drove. I think I heard The Others twenty times before I actually saw it. But I digress.) I was off to the races in selling, eventually becoming the second or third highest seller of patterns on eBay, depending upon the week.

But here’s the fraud part: I didn’t sew. I loved patterns, and had a very, very general idea of how to sew, but didn’t even own a machine. I bought one several years ago, and used it to make some Tshirt quilts for my stepsons from their mom’s Race for the Cure shirts. But then nothing. So in the past year, I’ve decided it’s time. I’ve made a few things and I’m still learning. I’m definitely a rookie, as you can see in past posts, but I’m learning.

I’ve found that sewing is pretty addictive, and it’s definitely fun. I pull up Spotify and listen to a music or podcasts while I’m working. Sometimes I rip out more than I sew, but that ratio is improving. I don’t always pay attention to directions. The project I’m working on now, from Rebecca Page, is a Christmas gift, and I didn’t really even read the directions. I’m kind of winging it, but it’s a project that is designed for that. My seams are wonky, and my colors aren’t always right, but when you’re sewing for grandkids, they don’t notice. I haven’t ventured beyond cotton (though the plaid part of this is wool) but it’ll come. It’s all a learning curve.

So if you’re learning to sew, just keep doing it. Be prepared to rip out a lot. Even experienced sewists do, from what I’ve seen. You may not like the end result. It’s not going to look professional, but that’s ok. Every project you do, you will learn more. You can add to your skill set. Just keep doing it. Start with small cotton projects till you get the basics down, and then move up from there. Of course, I started with Tshirt quilts, without using a walking foot, and without knowing a darned thing about what I was doing. Those quilts are definitely wonky, but my (adult) stepsons understood it’s the thought that matters and they like them. People are willing to overlook some flaws because most people are in awe that you tried. (Thank God for that!).

If you want to find some learn to sew patterns in my shop, click here. And check out this link for books to help you along the way.