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.
sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Centennial Promos

1970 was the 100th anniversary of McCall’s Patterns. To celebrate that milestone event, McCall’s put out a promo ad in its patterns, advertising color prints of Godey’s Lady/s Book illustrations from 1870.

For the unenlightened, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the Vogue of it’s day. It was not actually a book, but instead a monthly magazine published specifically for women. It was published from 1830 to 1878, after which it was sold, continuing to be published as Godey’s Magazine until 1896. It was significant for the scope of its contents, which included poetry, art, and articles, including those about political causes. Its significance cannot be denied, due to its huge readership.

Each issue contained a beautiful fashion illustration in the front, and these are what McCall’s reissued in 1970 for its anniversary. In addition, each issue also included a pattern and instructions for a dress, much like other women’s magazines did later, such as Beldon’s in the UK, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s in the US. Looking at these magazines gives a huge insight into the evolution of fashion.

As far as I can tell, there is no true connection between James McCall and Godey’s, but the flyer for the prints notes that Mr. McCall came over to the US from Scotland in 1870, when he started his pattern company. Perhaps they chose Godey’s prints because they were in the public domain, so the cost of doing the prints would be less than if they paid an artist to do a rendition. Perhaps they chose not to put out historical patterns of 1870 for the centennial because there wasn’t a big revivalist/reenactor movement at the time. They were probably anticipating the 1976 bicentennial revival, so perhaps they didn’t want to jump the gun. Regardless of the reason, they chose some of the most beautiful fashion illustrations of fashion history to print, so it was a nice choice, for those who love fashion and art.

The prints that McCall’s sold for their anniversary were “printed in Italy,” which I suppose made them fancy to women of the day. The printer was in Milan, and was Amicare Pizzi S.P.A. They were done in eight color prints, as opposed to the normal 4 color prints of the day. They were embossed as well and were said to be ready for framing without a mat. They were sold for $2, including postage, which converts to about $13.50 today — a bargain! As far as I know, McCall’s did not do a 150th anniversary promo in 2020. Perhaps they think that putting out their retro reprinted patterns is enough. What do you think?

Take a look at the Godey’s Book illustration examples on Amazon, eBay and Etsy.

vintage fashion

Migraine Alert

Warning: many people who have seen this shirt say it’s triggered migraines.

I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off, and recently saw Noel in this cool Dries Von Noten Verne Paton shirt. I am mesmerized by it and can’t stop staring at it. It reminds me of the movement-inspired project Iris Van Herpen has been doing. I could look at it for hours.

That being said, it has triggered migraines, so it’s not for everyone. What do you think? Have you seen it on the show? Stills don’t do it justice

vintage fashion

Migraine Alert

Warning: many people who have seen this shirt say it’s triggered migraines.

I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off, and recently saw Noel in this cool Dries Von Noten Verne Paton shirt. I am mesmerized by it and can’t stop staring at it. It reminds me of the movement-inspired project Iris Van Herpen has been doing. I could look at it for hours.

That being said, it has triggered migraines, so it’s not for everyone. What do you think? Have you seen it on the show? Stills don’t do it justice

embroidery, sewing, vintage fashion

Fabulous Friday: Hieroglyphics

McCall Kaumagraph 1590, undated.

For our viewing pleasure, this Friday I’d like to show you this fantastic Kaumagraph from McCall. There’s no date, but also little doubt that it’s somewhere in the 20s or early 30s. Interestingly, it is stated to be monograms, and if you look at the illustration, each part of the transfer is for a different letter. Is it Chinese, or another Asian language? Is it artistic license? I don’t know, but I love it.

I’ve thought about getting the classic “tattoo of an Asian character,” but decided against it after a friend of mine said her friend got one. She chose the character for “friend,” and then when she met someone Chinese, she was asked why she had a tattoo that said “cow” on her neck. So I guess unless I go to a Chinese tattoo artist, I will hold off. And even if I did, I’d better make sure they like me, lest I end up with “vaccuum cleaner” on my ankle.

If you are interested in this amazing transfer, you can buy it in the shop.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Home Patterns

I was trying to date this particularly beautiful Ladies’ Home Journal pattern, and came across some interesting information. Note that the envelope says that Ladies’ Home Journal patterns are manufactured exclusively by The Home Pattern Company. This company was apparently dreamt up in 1904 by the people at Ladies’ Home Journal — probably trying to jump on the burgeoning sewing pattern business.

In 1907, the company held a dinner for “men in the pattern trade” — can you imagine? Only men were allowed? Sheesh. But I digress. Over 200 people attended. The toastmaster was the head of Home Patterns, Theron McCampbell. Mr. McCampbell said in his speech that his company was the “first to issue fine draft patterns,” and also the first to invite customers to meet with the officials face to face. He said that after three years in business, the Home Pattern Company now had 400 employees, sold in 2000 merchants across the country, and that in the last quarter, their printing bill had been nearly $150,000. Not a shy host, he. Apparently the biggest complaint amongst the speakers of the group was that “women were not made to fit their clothes, as designers of patterns insisted that they ought to be.”

Think about this. I’m not 100% sure what they mean, but I take it that they didn’t think women fit their patterns, or knew how to fit them, but they didn’t invite any women to the dinner where they complained about it. How does this make any sense? As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “women belong in every place where decisions are being made.”

In 1910, Home Patterns had an ad out, stating that they thought that American women could dress as stylishly as the French, and offering the chance for any woman who submitted a design to them to have her pattern printed for distribution. All they had to do was send in a rough sketch. Indeed, Home Patterns put themselves out there as being progressive, and really played down “old fashioned patterns.” It appears that the experts that they sent out to meet with women about their patterns were women themselves, but the officers of the company were always men.

It all appears to be rather short-lived, however. The Home Pattern Company disappeared from packaging certainly by 1920, and likely before 1915, when mentions of them disappeared from the newspaper. Ladies’ Home Journal continued to issue patterns into the 1970s though. It’s likely that the Home Pattern Company was absorbed somehow into the larger company. They continued to issue patterns for years, just under the Ladies’ Home Journal name.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Smartfit Patterns

I came across an ad insert in a 1932 Pictorial Review pattern, and my interest was piqued. It is for the Smartfit Foundation Pattern, designed for your figure, and available where Pictorial Printed Patterns were sold. It states that once the pattern has been adjusted to your personal figure, all fitting problems are gone. It says that it can be used with any tissue paper pattern and that you will always get a perfect fit. It appears that this was advertised as a new item in 1931 and by the end of 1932, it was gone. I haven’t been able to locate any, so I’m really interested.

The ad I have is for a 16 page instruction book that cost $1.50, which was pretty pricey for the 1930s. It appears that it was perhaps like a sloper pattern, as the ads say it was used to make a perfect muslin master pattern. The address is “Smartfit Foundation Pattern” in New York, so although it seems to be associated with Pictorial Review, they were sold under the Smartfit name. I haven’t located any yet. If you have one, please share it with me, as I’m really keen to see what they look like. I am not even sure if it’s an actual pattern, as much as it’s a booklet, because ads call it a “sewing course” as well. I’m really intrigued to think that it may be the precursor to the Golden Rule / Lutterloh pattern system.

I also found the sizing interesting. They call a 5’7″ woman average. That’s not even average now. And the “little woman” size is cute, but still wouldn’t fit my 4’11” grandmother, who was of the age at the time to use their patterns (and who worked for Pictorial Review). Interesting, yes?

Let me know what you think. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things about patterns, aren’t you?

Have a grand day,

Lisa

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Fabulous Friday: the slip

Simplicity 1466, 1934.

For your viewing pleasure: Simplicity 1466, from 1934, for floor length women’s slips. Slips are a thing of the past for most ladies, and it’s a shame. I could identify a vintage slip by feel, because the nylon of those days is so much nicer than the icky stuff of today. Make it in silk and it’s the thing that dreams are made of. And look at that wide lace hem! ::sigh::

This pattern would work well as a slip of course, but it’s not too far of a reach for it to become a nightgown or even an evening gown slip dress, especially when paired with the right lace shawl. It’d be gorgeous in the peach color of the day, over a candlelit steak dinner. Am I right?

Now for sale in the shop, in bust size 34.

Have a lovely weekend,

Lisa

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

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