sewing patterns, sexual abuse, 1950s fashion

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.

sewing patterns, Uncategorized

Cosmopolitan Patterns

Cosmopolitan patterns are not often found, probably because it appears to have had a short run as a pattern company. Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Company’s patterns first appeared in newspapers in May, 1895. The ad was addressed specifically to “ladies”, but they did offer at least some men’s patterns, as seen here. They were advertised for a “uniform price” of 15 cents each. An ad in September stated that “to make them more well known”, they offered a pattern for 15 cents, postage paid. That ad states that the retail price was normally 20-40 cents, but that they were again selling them for a uniform 15 cents. By far, the majority of newspaper ads of 1895 were seen in California.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1895. Number 548

1896 saw ads spread nationwide, indicating that they had indeed gotten the word out about their patterns. Pricing remained the same.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1986. No number indicated.

1897 saw a significantly fewer amount of ads, indicating perhaps that the company had gone into a bit of a slump, but 1898 saw an explosion of ads, so perhaps this was not the case. Perhaps they did so well in 1897 that they didn’t need to advertise. It’s not clear. One 1898 ad stated they were selling for 10 and 15 cents but were “just as good as 25 cent patterns.” Not the best marketing ploy, I think. Somewhere between 1897 and 1898, the name was shortened to simply Cosmopolitan Patterns in ads, though I believe that the packaging still said Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Co, as one I have from after 1900 has this still printed on the envelope.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1899. No number indicated.

1902 ads from Albuquerque indicate pricing of 10 cents, but no reference is found indicating what the “retail” (printed on the package) price was. By then, their slogan had become “none higher, none better.” By May of that year, some ads show prices of 9 cents, showing that perhaps they wanted to live by their slogan. 1904 found pricing at 10 cents. Continuing to 1907, the ad stated that Cosmopolitan was the only “10 cent seam allowance pattern.”

1908 saw some stores advertising free Cosmopolitan patterns with a purchase, and in 1909, many stores advertised that they were no longer carrying Cosmopolitan patterns, but had taken on contracts with McCall. Some stores were still advertising Cosmopolitan, but at 1 cent. The company was definitely in trouble. By 1910, they were no longer advertised at all.

Perhaps Cosmopolitan was bought by McCall, but I can’t find evidence of that. Indications are they they only published womens’ patterns, but if I am wrong about that, please do let me know. Cosmopolitan did well for a few years, in a very competitive pattern market. It may be that undercutting their prices meant they paid a heavy price, but they don’t seem to have caught on, and their marketing slogans definitely needed improvement. One thing to note though is that they always sold for less than the printed price, so price on the envelope will not help in dating them. You will have to study the style in order to come up with an accurate date, but it should always be between 1895 to 1909.

vintage clothing, sewing patterns, sewing

Treasured

McCall’s 4365

People email or call me from time to time, asking if I buy patterns. I do, sometimes. I’m always interested in what people have, and what the story behind them is. It’s very easy to hoard patterns, so I have to be cautious. At one point, I had 40,000+ patterns, but that was when I had a huge workspace. These days, not so much. That being said, I still have patterns in every corner of my office, mostly because I love them so much.

Last week, a lady emailed me saying that her mother had recently passed away, leaving several hundred patterns. The daughter plans to send some to the Vintage Sewing Center and Museum, but postage is very expensive, so she wanted to pass some along locally. We set a time and I went to look. What a sweet lady she is. She had all of the patterns laid out in boxes for me to look at in her garage. She even had a water bottle for me, in case I was thirsty.

The best part of getting patterns from people is hearing the stories associated with them. She said that her mother was a prolific sewist who made all of her clothes. She said that looking through the patterns was a blast from the past, because so many of them were associated with memories from her childhood. She had even found the pattern for her wedding dress in the mix, but she had thankfully pulled it out to keep it for herself. The patterns are a beautiful mix of kids’, women’s, mens and a few other assorted things like toys or home decor. She suggested that I take them home to look at them.

While I was browsing, she asked “is this you?”. I looked, and she was holding up a newspaper article about my shop, printed in the Indianapolis Star probably fifteen years ago. I told her yes, it was me — my name is different now — and we got talking. Turned out that we had lived in the same neighborhood in Indianapolis, gone to the same church, and she worked at the library we frequented for years. She left about ten years before we got there, but the parallels were crazy. Turned out that her mom had tucked the newspaper article into the boxes of patterns. “I think she wanted you to have them,” she said. I believe her.

So that’s how I ended up coming home with several hundred new-to-me patterns that I will treasure. And this is why I do what I do. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve connected to patterns from their past: their wedding dress pattern, kids patterns that their mom used for them and now they want to make it for their own kids, even one lady’s 1956 prom dress pattern, so she could make it for her granddaughter. I love what I do. I love the stories of where patterns came from, and where they are going, and I love the human connection. They are small pieces of fashion history that are so personal. I treasure them all.

Thank you, Melva. I will be custodian of your treasures until they find the next person who loves them.

Celebrity, Hollywood, vintage clothing

Valentina

Who knew that Milwaukee holds a treasure trove of a couturier for some of the icons of fashion history? At Mount Mary College, in their Historic Costume Collection, there are almost 400 original Valentina toiles and garments, as well as personal documents and more. In Milwaukee. I’ve always said that the hidden gems are held in places you’d least expect, and now Milwaukee is on my bucket list.

Valentina was born in 1898, and was orphaned during the Russian revolution, and reportedly was rescued at a train station by George Schlee, who she subsequently married after escaping the country. They were married in Russia in 1920, and emigrated to New York via Paris in 1922. She is shown in the 1925 New York census as a housewife to George and notes herself as a naturalized US citizen. In 1930, she is found living in Manhattan with George, again as a housewife, though reports state she started her business in 1928, with dresses she pulled out of her own closet. Of note, the 1930 census states she is still an alien, and not a US citizen, and she subsequently applied for citizenship in 1932, noting herself again to be a housewife. In 1937, papers laud her for her costumes in the play “Idiot’s Delight.” She costumed a few movies in the early 1950’s, but was most known for the celebrities she dressed, such as Greta Garbo and Lynne Fontanne. (The photo above are of garments from Ms Fontanne’s collection and was worn in Idiot’s Delight.)

Valentina was known for her monochromatic designs, often having a stark monastic look. She costumed many stage shows, including dressing Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. The drape of the garments is beautiful and so simple in design as to not distract from the wearer. She loved to use opulent fabrics to create a lush effect that had customers flocking to her. She was held at the same level as Claire McCardell would be later, and there are some similarities in their garments, as both created simple garments that were comfortable to wear. Much of the work was hand done and there was not a lot of ornamentation. She truly was the torch bearer for the minimalism that we see today, but would not be popularized until the 1990’s.

Valentina wore her designs and was able to build her business in that way, given her status as a fashion icon of the time. Barry Paris noted in his book Garbo that Garbo and Valentina had a falling out over George in the years before he died, and though they lived in the same apartment building, they created a schedule where they would never run into each other in the lobby. She died in 1989 from Parkinson’s Disease in New York.

Valentina’s name is not as widely known today, being overshadowed by Valentino, who is not only male, but Italian. Her work still deserves to be seen and studied, because she set the bar in many ways for many designers to come.

Photos: Threads Magazine

sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Interesting

I blogged about this pattern illustration some time back. Look at how weird it’s drawn. It looks rather juvenile, especially when compared to other similar patterns of the era. This is Butterick 4699, from the 1940s. I love the style and, like it says, it’s Quick and Easy to make. But that illustration is disturbing. The faces are so crudely drawn, and when you add the claw-like hands to it, it’s really kind of creepy.

Then I came across this:

Same pattern, without the wonky faces. Doesn’t it look so much better? Now, I’m not sure I’ve seen other Butterick patterns from the era that were drawn only in outline, but in this case, it’s a vast improvement. I have no idea what happened here, but I’m thinking that the fashion editors rethought it and reissued the pattern without the weird illustrations. What do you think?

Both are available in my shop. Click here for to purchase Ms. Outline (waist 24).

genealogy, Non-Hogkin's Lymphoma, sewing patterns

Me, Myself and I

Here I am again, starting over with my blogging life. Many moons ago, I was active with The Vintage Fashion Librarian, but I went through a rought patch in life, got divorced, got remarried, and life moved on. I ended up deleting the blog, which regret to this day, so I decided to start again, because my love of vintage fashion and sewing patterns knows no bounds, and I have a knack for finding nuggets of information that I think should be shared. So here I am. I am, as they say baaaaaack! I

My journey in vintage started in 1999, though if I think about it, it goes back to childhood. I have always loved old stuff: movie, jewelry, clothes, magazines, books, you name it. I grew up mostly in rural Missouri and Indiana, had had no idea that wearing vintage was a thing. I just knew I loved old stuff. So when I got grown, as they say, and had kids, my daughter and I began to scour shops for fun stuff. She did pet rescue as a kid, funding all of the vaccines and surgeries for her animals through garage sales and sales from a booth she had at a local antique mall. We found lots of interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, I was selling on ebay. I got started when listings were just text — no pictures — and actually traded something with my middle school aged son’s best friend to take his digital camera off his hands. Old ebay was so much fun. I sold a lot of homeschool books (we were homeschoolers), then started buying to resell homeschool books. Then I started selling for other people. When the store concept started on ebay, I wanted to open a store but couldn’t figure out what I wanted to have be my niche. Somehow — and to this day, I have no idea how — I ended up settling on sewing patterns. I still remember the first pattern I listed, with a crappy picture, taken with the 70s pattern for a dress with flounced hem and thick straps tossed on the carpet of our living room floor. And that’s where it started.

At given times, I was either the second or third highest pattern seller on ebay (when you could see that information — remember, ebay was fun then). I moved off ebay when the fees got too high, then moved yet again and opened my own site. LOVED it, but life was getting busy. I had three teenagers, my marriage was a mess, and I just didn’t devote the time to selling. (Through all of this, I was also working full time as a nurse. Good times.) I ended up taking the website down and moving to Etsy on a much smaller scale.

Fast forward through a divorce, sending 81 printer paper boxes of patterns to Texas, and severely downsizing, getting remarried, getting the kids graduated from high school and two out of college and grad school, and here I am. I have a new husband, and overseer of care for my mom (my dad died in April), and am in treatment for lymphoma. So, when COVID came around, I decided that with the health challenges I’m facing, it just wasn’t worth the risk to me, my elderly mom and husband, or my family for me to risk bringing that nasty virus home, and I took a medical leave. I didn’t look back. Mind you, I’m not sure I’m retired — I have to sell enough patterns to make this work — but I’m selling patterns and researching fashion full time, with a side of grandkids and genealogy to boot.

I’m also trying to learn to sew because, let’s be completely transparent here , I barely sew. I can knit (some), needlepoint (passably) and embroidery (fairly well). I can sew a straight seam and honestly can tell you a LOT about patterns, except detailed information about sewing. So I figured it’s time to learn. I also am researching more of my husband’s and my family histories, doing a little painting, and learning Hebrew (I’m not Jewish. I’m doing it for fun. I’m really nuts). So here I am.

I’m listing patterns every day. Researching details about fashion every day. Loving life during lockdown, since I’m a natural introvert. Just humming along. So that’s me. Stay tuned for fun and games with The Vintage Librarian.