I recently came across the term “Peter Pan Dress” in a 1906 magazine, and wondered what it was so of course I did some research. It was a popular style of the time, of course brought on by the publishing of the Peter Pan stories. The first installment was published in 1902, with further installments in 1904, 1906 and 1911.
The Peter Pan dresses debuted in 1906, and were were made from gingham, lawn, linen or henrietta (a fine, twilled light wool). They were considered to be “outing outfits”, to be worn for play outside. The dresses purchased in shops were made for ages 2 to sixteen. The older girls’ styles (known as “misses’) were usually done as suits, while the younger styles were done as dresses. The dresses generally featured a lowered or dropped waist, pleated skirt, and cuffed sleeves. They usually had some type of emblem embroidered on the collar — often a nautically themed one such as anchors. They sold for $2.75 to $7.50.
By 1912, advertisements are seen for Ladies’ Peter Pan dresses, perfect for “the dressy garment for the office girl or shop girls,” and made in women’s sizes up to 40. These dresses were made from serge or silk.
The style seems to have died by 1913, when mentions are made only of the Peter Pan collar, which continues today.
Look at the mastery of details here, in not only the garment, but the illustration itself. This pattern shows why the 1930s were so spectacular. That little twisted belt effect at the waist. Those cowl sleeves on the middle version. Even the little detail on the puff sleeve is a simple but perfect detail to make this dress special.
You won’t see dresses like this in Target. The cost of putting those details in is prohibitive in today’s disposable, fast-fashion society, and it’s a shame. This dress would take a child from Easter, to springtime tea, to summer weddings, and straight into Christmas (though you might have to size up. Kids grow, after all).
Add the details of the illustration, and I’m really in love. The little shoes. The slouchy socks. This era of McCalls patterns are the ones that, if I were having babies today, I would frame and put on a nursery wall. They are just so delicately beautiful. What do you think?
I came across this ad for Ferris Corsets in a 1913 newspaper, and it stopped me in my tracks. It reminds me of this scene in Titanic, where Rose realizes how trapped she is in a proper life (the sound is terrible, but it’s the visual that matters).
I’ve never forgotten that scene, in part because the costumes are so beautiful, and also because you don’t generally see children’s costumes in period dramas like you do adults. The biggest reason it stuck with me, however, is because it shows just how young girls were when this staunch, rigid training started. And yes, training corsets were a part of it. Women didn’t just start wearing corsets one day — they wore training ones to get them used to them as children.
I can imagine it would’ve helped me tremendously to wear a corset as a child, because my posture is absolutely abysmal — likely the worst you might ever encounter. I slouch like no other. But I can’t imagine playing as a child while wearing a corset. Granted, these are training corsets, so they aren’t tight laced, but still. And boys had no equivalent. They likely didn’t have the same level of training either, for what is proper, because girls had to learn stitchery and the like from an early age as well. Look at this beautiful sampler in redwork, done by a child at an “orphan house” in 1886. It’s lovely, but the fact that she was an orphan makes me so sad. What did her future become?
It’s simply lovely. Girls learned such intricate skills at such an early age. I hope that we never lose these artists, but I fear that we are, especially since Home Ec doesn’t really exist much anymore. That’s why I love sewing patterns so much. I love being a part of keeping the needle arts alive.
I’m rambling, I know, but we’re having a huge snowstorm and perhaps it is making me think harder — I love winter so much. The snow makes me feel alive in a way nothing else does. But I’ll say this: I won’t be shovelling snow in a corset!
I came across this amazing early 1900s pattern in my stash and, as usual, I had questions. This was, I believe, the first time I remember seeing the McCall Bazar name. I did a little research and found that they advertised that McCall Bazar patterns were available since 1870, but I don’t think that the Bazar was actually in the name until about October 1902. That is at least when the name started showing up in ads. That being said, there is a blurb in a 1900 ad for the McCall Bazar Dressmaker magazine, which was essentially McCall’s monthly catalog, so I guess it’s probable that the Bazar name was included at least by that time.
The ad in 1902, however, said that the McCall Bazar line was new, and started with number 6414m so it’s a bit of a mystery. I’m going to have to start paying more attention to my early McCall patterns. Don’t kid yourself, it’s very unusual for me to come across one this old in the stash. Research shows that the Bazar named disappeared from ads in 1914, so that gives a rough idea of what time period these patterns were designated as such.
Meantime, how’s about this wonderful sack apron pattern? Sack aprons were designed to be worn over one’s dress, so that a lady could do the washing up, then take her apron off and still have a fresh dress in which to entertain. They also made sack aprons for little girls, so that they didn’t muss their dresses whilst playing. The girls’ aprons were a French trend brought to the US, but I think that the women’s sack aprons were around earlier. It was a great way to avoid wear on clothing that was expensive to make, both in time and money, and to cut down on laundry.
What do you think? I wouldn’t be able to stand wearing it, as I have zero tolerance for heat, but I think it was a great idea. You can take a look at the pattern in my Etsy shop.
Helen Lee created some of the cutest children’s patterns published during the 1950s and 1960s. She was a designer of international fame who partnered with Sears & Roebuck in 1965 on their popular Winnie the Pooh line, seen in their store for years. She was an icon of children’s fashion for decades.
Ms. Lee was from Knoxville, Tennessee, where she studied psychology. Her little girls were her muses. First note of her collections was in 1948, though she may have started just before that. By the 1950s, she was a top children’s designer. She held the belief that little girls associate themselves with their clothes from a very young age and that by age 7, could not separate themselves from their dress. She said that little girls should not be dressed in blue jeans, even if it meant that mothers had to iron ruffles every day. Her feeling was that if a girl was complimented on her dress, she would think positively of herself and feel pretty, but if she was criticized, it would be hurtful, creating bad feelings about herself. The thought of the day was that blue jeans were better for children, because mothers didn’t want them to get their good clothing dirty, but Ms. Lee held that children would get dirty regardless.
Her 1964 McCall’s pattern line was inspired by her toddler granddaughter Hillary Ball, daughter of journalist Ian Ball, who walked the runway in one of her shows. She stated that the entire line was inspired by Hillary. Her collection of that line, called “Little Craft”, and designed for preschoolers from ages two to six, had no frippery like loops or dangles, to keep them from getting caught on playground equipment. By this time, she included rompers and bell bottom trousers in her collections. For older girls that year, she said jumpers and pinafores were “cliche” and created A line Easter dresses with matching capes, and pleated skirts. She was no longer showing what she called “grandmother’s dresses” full of frills and ruffles — called this because “only a grandmother could keep up” with the care required for all the bows and ruffles. Oh, how times had changed.
The late sixties saw Ms. Lee shift, saying that the department stores were full of Carnaby-Street inspired clothing that didn’t go together. She produced a sportwear line of dresses, jumpers, skirts and sweaters that were more adult-like but stopped, per usual, at size 14. She veered away from cottons and used man-made fibers that looked upscale but were machine washable. All of the separates went together for a great mix and match look.
Ms. Lee shunned pastel colors, calling them “propaganda started by adults.” She felt that children have such wonderful coloring that they can wear any color, so she preferred oranges (as seen above), yellows, browns, reds and black. She preferred cottons, but used a lot of velvet for special occasion dresses. When asked about the daily ironing that cottons necessitated, she said “a mother who cares wouldn’t mind.” Ouch.
Ms. Lee won the Coty Award in 1953, and later the Ribbon Award for design, as well as the Neimann Marcus award. She had international shows as well as shows in the US, even selling in Russia in the 1960s. Caroline Kennedy wore her clothing. She designed for not only Sears & Roebuck but also for Danskin, and two other companies who she never disclosed. She not only designed patterns for McCall’s, but also for Spadea and Prominent Designer. She travelled internationally looking for inspiration, and planned her fabrics a year in advance. In later years, her daughter Jenny, who had studied art, helped her with the Winnie the Pooh line at Sears. The last mention of a fashion line from her was in 1977, where it was mentioned that she planned to put out a line of clothing for boys. It’s not clear if she ever did. She died in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1991 after a series of strokes. She was 82.
Click here and here to see Helen Lee patterns listed in my shop. You can see patterns available from other sellers here, here and here.