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.

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?

genealogy, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Connections

Pictorial Review 2712, 1927

I love genealogy. I love to see how we connect to our past, and all the stories connected to it. This pattern is one example. It’s Pictorial Review 2712, and it’s from around 1927.

My grandmother worked for Pictorial Review in the 1920s. She was a fashion editor, and was something of a Manhattan socialite, having come from a family who came over on the Mayflower, then settled in New York. She went on to marry my grandfather, a West Point graduate, and to give birth to my dad and uncle. Grandma was born Helen, but changed her name to Helene because she thought it was more romantic. She continued to write under pseudonyms, including Camilla Kent — ironic, given the fact that the former Camilla Parker-Bowles is now the Dutchess of Kent. She did a lot in her life, and lived to be 95. I wish I could talk to her now and hear her stories.

So Pictorial Review patterns have meaning for me, especially the 1920s ones, because maybe she had her hand in choosing them for the magazine. This one, being from 1927, has special meaning, because that’s the year my dad was born. I imagine her wearing the 1920s styles Pictorial Review put out, and even though this one is a girls’ pattern, it might have fit Grandma because she was TINY.

Grandma went on to author a book with my grandfather, after collecting antique dolls and dollhouses for years. Grandpa wrote his autobiography, as did his dad, and then my dad. The stories are there. I hope that my kids appreciate them one day as much as I do.

Click here to purchase this pattern in my shop.

sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Poor Boy Tops

I listed this pattern the other day. It calls these (very cute) tops “poor boy tops.” I’ve never heard that term before. Apparently it was something that was seen in the 60s and 70s, and was a real thing at the time. Poor boy styles started to be seen at the end of 1961, but didn’t really start taking hold for a few years later. 1961 saw them being sold in combination with “hot dog pants”, which cracked me up. In 1964, they were described as “ribbed, gently shaped pullovers.” The name reported had nothing to do with poverty, but I can’t find a reference to where the term actually originated. The original poor boy tops looked more like a sweatshirt style: looser and very casual, with ribbed cuffs and collar. Keep in mind that the early 60s were a time where it became more acceptable to be seen in public wearing pants, so the style morphed over time to something more fitted and stylish, designed to be tucked in. When they were worn with hip huggers (or low-rise, for the younger set who may not know the hip hugger term), it showed off the detail of the pants, gave a longer look and accented the waist.

Poor boy tops were often knit, but were also seen in cotton, with embellishments like lace. I even found one that was made of wool. Collars could be plain or rolled. They were occasionally cropped length. I found at least one reference to poor boy dresses with dropped waistlines, but have never seen a pattern for one.

. They continued to be seen in fashion over the next few years, and dominated the Fall, 1966 season, and continued to be seen well into the 70s, though not on the top of the fashion heap. By 1976, the style had disappeared — or at least the term had.

Click here to purchase.

designers, vintage fashion

The Couture Group

While researching Donald Brooks for the previous post, I found that he was part of “the couture group.” Although I had heard of FOGA before, I hadn’t heard of this specific group, so I went looking.

The New York Dress Institute was a group of designers which numbered 1300 New York designers, and the Couture Group was a subset of top designers. The Dress Institute was the sponsor of the twice yearly Fashion Week, and dozens of designers showed there. First mention of the group is in 1945, but the Dress Institute was created in 1941, with the encouragement of the Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in order to encourage people to buy American Fashion. It was much better known starting in 1946. This likely was due to the devastation of Paris’ fashion industry during the war years, and Americans attempting to establish themselves at the forefront of fashion.

In 1946, the designers numbered 19, but it grew over the course of time. The original 19 were: Hansen Bang, Anthony Blotta, Hattie Carnegie, Fox-Brownie, David M. Goldstein, Joseph Halpert, Anna Miller, Clare Potter, Jo Copeland, Ben Reig, Ren-Eta, Nettie Rosenstein, Herbert Sondheim, Spectator Sports, Claire McCardell, Pauline Trigere, Samuel Kass, Adele Simpson and Joseph Whitehead. By 1948, there were 30 members, all “high style, high price ready to wear manufacturers.” The group grew over the years to include Ceil Chapman, Mollie Parnis, Tina Reser, Ben and many more. Some of the members were also creators of French Haute Couture, such as Christian Dior.

Though the Couture Group definitely set the trends for fashion, they also seemed to be involved with the price of fashion as well, especially in the early 50s. They released statements seasonally in 1950-51 stating that the prices of their clothing would not rise, even if the government changed or even froze the prices of fabrics. Members of the Couture Group also contributed to underwriting the cost of Fashion Week (then known as Press Week) in New York, to the tune of $3000 each in 1952. That would be about $49,000 now, meaning the show cost about $1.5 to put on. That was a LOT of money, and though the couture designers showed collections, there were over 100 shows total to be seen during the week.

In 1966, the New York Dress Institute merged with the American Designers’ Group, which had been started in 1962 by a former chairman of the Couture Group. It was renamed the New York Couture Business Council, and in 1976 was again renamed New Directions.

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.