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.

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!

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.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Victory Sewing – the original upcycling

Anne Cabot pattern, 1941

I was researching this pattern, and found something interesting. It is from 1941, and was published by Anne Cabot, a mail order company. Ms Cabot wrote in a newspaper article that she first saw this apron during a fashion show at the White House, held during a press conference of Eleanor Roosevelt’s. The fashion show was to show off defense clothing that was durable and practical , and was put on by the Department of Agriculture’s Home Economics Department.

Ms. Cabot went home after the show and copied the apron, declaring it to be the best looking apron she’d ever seen. The bottom is separated into two pockets, and the top is one big pocket, so you can carry lots of supplies like brushes, rubber gloves, etc. It’s made from a yard and a half of fabric, so it can be made from scraps. Remember that during the war, fabric was rationed and there weren’t supposed to be frills or ruffles on clothing, so this is a great use of what you might have on hand, or make it from an old skirt or dress.

She suggested making it in denim — it would last forever — cotton, ticking, chambray or gingham. Denim would make this durable enough to wear at a defense job or in the garage! She designed a cleaning cap to go with it, along with a cute applique of a dustpan.

I love this little story of how this apron came to be. Buy it here, in my shop. If you want to read an interesting book about the history of home economics as it relates to fashion, read The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. It’s fascinating reading.

I post links to things I love. I may get a small commission when you purchase from these links. This enables me to continue to bring you beautiful fashion.

1950s fashion, sewing patterns, sexual abuse

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.

sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing

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