1900s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns

We Must, We Must….Support Our Bust

New Idea 4155, ©1906

I came across this pattern in a 1906 issue of New Idea Woman’s Magazine. “For stout figures the bust supporter is almost indispensable, as it gives a trim, firm effect to the figure. It is worn over a corset, and may take the place of a corset cover, though many women prefer to wear a chemise or corset cover with it.”

The front is two sections, a top yoke and a lower boned portion. There are five bones which are eight inches long each. The back buttons at the top of the back, and the tape wraps around from the back to tie in front. I’m not sure the purpose of that tape? It is shown plain but some would also embroider it to make it more dainty, as per the dainty fashions of the era. These were made from coutil (corset fabric) but could also be made from heavy linen or heavy muslin.

Edwardian women wore so many layers, I really don’t know how they could survive in the heat. I am NOT a summer person at all, and never have been, and I think I would’ve been in a swoon all the time. I would like this as a stand alone undergarment if I were not a stout woman though. I think it looks super comfortable if it were made without the boning. God knows it looks more comfy than a bra, yes?

1900s fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Weekly Patterns from Vogue

I’m still reading my 1940s book about the fashion industry. It’s been very interesting in reading how mass manufacturing happened, the differences between US and French fashion industries, and how different styles came into fruition. For some reason, this little gem of knowledge was tucked into it. Read the fine print and then say WOW.

Vogue Magazine (US) started in 1892. When it first began, it was a weekly magazine, which I did not realize. These snippets from 1901 advertise weekly patterns that were put out in each issue, so that in the end, you had 52 different outfits, all curated to work together. That’s some fascinating stuff, and boy, do I wish I could see all 52 together. Can you even imagine?

Vogue 100, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

I wonder if this was the only year that they did this, or if it was a one-off. Sadly, I ordered a 1903 Vogue Magazine — the earliest I’ve ever seen — from Facebook Marketplace, and it never arrived. That might have given me some idea, but alas, it was not to be. I’m still mourning that loss, but it may still arrive, since I only just got a birthday card mailed to me from the next town over in early July. If it arrives, you know I will post pictures here.

Vogue 132, 1901. Photo: Vogue Magazine.

It’s interesting that the pattern numbers are three digit, not four. It’s also amazing to me that they cost $1, which was really pricey at a time that most patterns were five to ten cents. I’d love to see the entire grouping, but Anna Wintour and I aren’t on speaking terms right now (she needs to retire and refuses), so I guess there’s no hope.

It’s these little details about sewing pattern history that intrigue me, as well as the fashion itself. I hope that you enjoy it too.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Geeking Out

Standard Fashion Company 1818, 1890s.

This is one of those moments when you know you have gone full on sewing pattern geek. I came across this pattern in my stash. Pretty amazing, yes? It’s got those classically huge leg o mutton sleeves from the 1890s where you could carry a ham home on one bicep and a rump roast in the other. I was perplexed though, because the pattern front is stuck to one of the pattern pieces. I didn’t want to damage it but couldn’t figure out how — or if — to remove it, because it’s fixed in such a way that you could still use the piece perfectly fine whilst it is still attached. That being said, I didn’t even know if it was complete (though I thought it was) because there were no instructions.

But then it happened.

See that patent number down there on the bottom? I did a pattern search and voila! I realized what I had. The patent isn’t for the pattern. Patterns are not patentable, as they are considered “useful items”. When you see patents on patterns, it is for the art and the directions, not the pattern pieces. But I digress. Like I said, I’m geeking out. The patent is from 1897 and is for how the label is stuck to the pattern! It is titled “Fastening Together Paper Dress Patterns,” and shows the pattern cover attached to a pattern piece, with a perforated part at the bottom which, when you cut thru it and lift up, the instructions are underneath! I hadn’t lifted up the cover I have, so I didn’t realize that the instructions were underneath. Now I know that my pattern is complete, and I have the instructions!

Patent 371144, dated 1887. Submitted by Frank Koewing.

Frank Koewing submitted the patent. He was a “pattern manufacturer” and “style publisher who founded the Standard Fashion Company for a number of years. His reason for submitting the patent was that this invention avoided the cost of a pattern envelope to the manufacturer, but also avoided people being able to open and damage or copy a pattern without purchasing it. The full patent information is here. It talks about the inability to open it or see the directions without it being obvious that it was done. It’s really pretty ingenious in protecting their sales. I can’t see if Mr Koewing submitted any other patents because of the way that the archive works. I’d be interested to see if he did. He died in 1933, at the age of 79.

Of course, the patent date isn’t necessarily compatible with when the pattern itself was printed, but now I know that it is no earlier than 1897, and since these “carry a ham from the grocery” sleeves were classic 1890s, I can be pretty sure that that they are early 1890s. Pretty awesome, yes? Or am I the only one who geeks out on stuff like this?

Pattern available in my Etsy shop here.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Good Housekeeping Clothing

I like to read vintage magazines with my husband. He loves to cook, so we have lots of interesting discussions about the recipes and presentation ideas women’s magazines have. I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping from 1946, and wow, was it interesting. It is a thick issue — 334 pages! It includes everything from short stories to recipes to the macabre articles about how to avoid suffocation (!) and what you should do if your house is on fire.

Important side note, from someone who has had a house fire in the middle of the night: the fire department said that sleeping with your bedroom door closed gives you and extra ten minutes if a fire breaks out, because it decreases your exposure to smoke. But I digress.

I was looking, of course, at the sewing patterns they advertised which, surprisingly, were Simplicity, not Good Housekeeping. Since McCalls and Ladies’ Home Journal had their own lines of patterns, I’m surprised that they weren’t doing the same. They did at some point, because I have a few from the sixties, including this Geoffrey Beene delight:

Good Housekeeping pattern 2, 1960s.

But what I found most interesting was that Good Housekeeping put out their own clothing line. I thought at first that the article was just hawking different designer labels, like most do, but when I read it in detail, I realized that they had their own Good Housekeeping Facts First label. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label. Interestingly, the article does not tell you where you can buy them locally, or even by mail order. You had to write to the magazine to ask where they were available locally. This seems very cumbersome, especially in today’s click and buy world, and I wonder how long this sales model was sustainable. In looking around, they applied this label in some of their ads for patterns, and I can’t find any clothing for sale with this label, so perhaps it was not for long.

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.

designers, Hollywood, sewing, vintage fashion

Jacques Fath & Rita

Photo: Life Magazine

Rita Hayworth was something of a muse to Jacques Fath, who designed her blue wedding dress to the Prince Aly Khan, as well as her trousseau of 15 gowns to get her through the wedding week. Her wedding dress, designed in a powder blue Fath called “Rita Blue”, was copied almost immediately, and made available to the American public whilst the happy couple was still on their honeymoon. It was only available in America in navy and black. He then designed her maternity wardrobe shortly afterward. The sale of her wedding dress design caused an on again off again feud between the two, and Fath reportedly didn’t even send congratulations to Rita at her next wedding only four years later. There is no word whether they reconciled before his very untimely death from leukemia in 1954.

This dress, shown in Life Magazine was also designed for Rita, and was also seen in her namesake blue.

sewing, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Gown of the Year

As the fashion industry began to hit its stride after World War II, new fashions began to be seen. Dior’s New Look, of course, was one. Dresses began to be made with voluminous amounts of fabric that weren’t allowed during wartime rationing. In New York, a contest for “Gown of the Year” was held.

14 designers were asked to submit their designs, and they were worn by socialites at the ball. The jury was all men (!), and included Basil Rathbone, Richard Aldrick (a producer), and singer Morton Downey. The winner? Jean Desses, who had not only never been to the US before, but had never exhibited a dress here.

The ball gowns were worth a total of $7650 and were designed by Sophie, Jo Copeland, Christian Dior (New York), Henri Bendel, Ceil Chapman, Mme. Garnett, Desses, Carrie Munn, Lilly Dache (who I didn’t realize designed dresses, as she was known for hats), Oleg Cassini, Charles James, Omar Kiam, Nettie Rosenstein, and Adrian. Shown here (designers as listed above, from left to right).

The winning gown, with Msr. Desses on the right.:

Photo: Life Magazine.

The Christian Dior, New York dress, constructed 80 yards of lace and tulle just in the skirt:

Photo: Life Magazine

The Carrie Munn design. Is that skirt quilted?

Photo: Life Magazine.

The (fantastic) Adrian dress:

Photo: Life Magazine.

No word on the criteria for design or judging, other than it needed to be considered as Gown of the Year. I don’t know if they continued this contest yearly, or if it was just to jumpstart the fashion industry, but I’d love to see something like this today. I doubt we’d see it, as designing for a contest is probably too cost prohibitive for today’s fashion houses, but it sure would be interesting to see. With some female judges this time, please?

Celebrity, designers, Hollywood, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

The Whole (?) List

Simplicity 2849, ©1938

After the discussion about unknown designer patterns yesterday, I went to look for as many of the Doublemint Gum designer patterns as I could find. Here is the list. There may be more, but these are all I could find at the moment.

Simplicity 2849, above, is attributed to Sonya Henie as the designer. Now, Sonya was a prolific skater, but did she actually design this, or were they just using her name? We will never know for certain.

Simplicity 2718, ©1938

This cute number was modeled by Joan Bennett in the ads, and is attributed to designer Elizabeth Hawes.

Simplicity 2902, ©1938

This beautiful suit was modeled by Claudette Colbert and designed by Travis Banton.

Simplicity 2951, ©1938.

This ad featured Deanna Durbin, with the pattern being attributed to Vera West, “Universal Pictures’ Fashion Creator.”

Simplicity 2978, ©1939

This one is different. Though it mentions the movie The Last Frontier/aka The Real Glory, the ad does not mention a designer. If it was designed by the costumer of the movie, it would be Jeanne Beakhurst, but there’s not a way to confirm this attribution.

That is the only one I can find for 1939 that mentions an actress. It may be the only one, and perhaps the movie/designer/actress/pattern/gum collaboration was confined to 1939, but considering they snagged Schiaparelli and Valentina, I’d say it was pretty successful, wouldn’t you?

Celebrity, designers, Hollywood, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Again With the Valentina

I’ve posted about Valentina before, but I was listening to an episode of the Dressed podcast today that was about all things Valentina, and it led me to a rabbit hole of sorts. I’m impressionable that way.

They mentioned in passing two things: that Valentina never had commercial paper patterns made of her designs, but also that she was featured in a Doublemint gum ad that featured a paper pattern of the design. A bit of confusion ensued, but I took them at their word and went searching for the pattern. I found out some interesting stuff.

First, the Valentina pattern, as shown in the 1938 ad.

This dress is being modeled by Gloria Swanson, was designed by Valentina, and was produced by Simplicity as #2784. I haven’t found a copy of it, but I don’t think that it is attributed to Valentina on the pattern envelope, if the other information I’ve found is accurate. The ad itself attributes the design to her, and if you really dig deep, you can find that 1938-1939 is full of similar Doublemint ads with other designers as well.

Case in point: Schiaparelli.

Simplicity 2740, ©1938

This beautiful dress is modelled by Anita Louise, and was designed by none other than Elsa Schiaparelli herself. It’s beautiful, yes? There are other designers and actresses in this ad campaign, like Joan Fontain, Sonya Henie and a few more. I find it fascinating, because they were taking patterns in the same vein as Hollywood Patterns, by featuring the actress and movie title, but the Simplicity ones actually added the designer names in the ad, if not on the pattern envelope. It’s also advertising in triplicate, which is so smart: the gum, the pattern and the movie the actress is in. Add in the designer – many of whom did not need advertising — and it’s four ads in one! Now that’s smart marketing!

I know that Hollywood has some famous patterns from movies, like the ones based on Gone With the Wind, but I’ve never considered that perhaps those patterns were designed by Adrian or Schiaparelli. I’m not even sure that there is a way to prove if they were, which is what makes this Simplicity series so unique. It’d be a great way for thirties pattern collectors to ad to their collections if they can match designers up with the patterns in their stash. It’s just the kind of sleuthery (is that a word?) that I love, because it’s much harder to match pattern with designer than if you look at a 70s Vogue with the designer’s name emblazoned across the front.

I will not go down this rabbit hole, I will not go down this rabbit hole, I will not……….gotta go!

sewing

Hubby is in the hospital again, after a nasty fall that caused terrible back spasms to the point where he couldn’t walk. Never a dull moment around here. It’ll be a week tomorrow, and he still has a week and a half before they will cut him loose, so I’ve been filling the time when I’m not at the hospital with various projects that I’ve been putting off.

My daughter came over today and filed patterns for me whilst I wrangled toddlers, and she made several videos for social media of the gorgeous stuff I bought in Michigan. I’ve spent the evenings familiarizing myself with this newfangled thing called a “TV remote” that I have, up to this point, never been allowed to touch, as it is hubby’s domain. I’ve been watching shows I’ve been wanting to see, but still can’t find a way to watch The Great British Sewing Bee here in the US — and don’t you know I have tried.

I found that the chairs in hubby’s hospital room are terribly uncomfortable and were causing me no end of neck pain, so I decided to work on this little project, to keep me aligned better. It’s a vintage Avon kit — I didn’t even know Avon made needlework kits! It’s called Floral Sentiments Pillow, and I think it’s cute. I found it on Facebook Marketplace, and it came just in time to put me to work. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment every time I finish a square, as opposed to a big project that I may never finish.

I’ve never been a fan of crewel embroidery. I just don’t like how it looks. That being said, my dad did crewel embroidery right up until he died at age 92, and my mom was a flower nut, so it’s a tribute to both of them. Since I don’t like crewel, I will probably pass it along to someone, or perhaps add to things to pass to the grandkids one day, so they can remember dear departed crazy grandma. It gave me a notion to start a hope chest of sorts for the grands, with pillow cases and things, but that probably means that one day my kids will have to clear my house of all of the UFOs (unfinished objects), so perhaps I will rethink it. What do you think?