The Woman’s Home Companion offered four dress patterns for hard-to-fit women in its February 1937 issue. The first two were “designed especially to flatter the large woman,” and the second pair of patterns were a pre-cursor of “half-sizes,” being designed for women under 5′ 4 1/2″ tall and with “hips a little larger than average.” All four Companion-Butterick patterns were available up to size 52″ bust measurement. The articles include period advice on flattering styles, accessories, and color choices for large women; some of it is standard [wear vertical lines, avoid over-large prints] , and some of it – tiny collars? – is a surprise.
Youthful Details for You Who Are Not So Slim [page 70]
“We are sure you feel as we do about the question of youthful clothes for the large but not old figure. You are tired of the staid styles you usually find in the big sizes. You have had an overdose of surplice lines. You want fresh-looking new-looking dresses – and there is no reason why you shouldn’t have them.
“These two patterns have been planned to solve your problem. Each is cut in sizes up to 52-inch bust measure, each has a way of concealing pounds, yet each has a smart touch that is worthy of size 16. [I.e, a teen dress size.]
“In Pattern 7215 it is the tiny contrasting collar and vest section – such a pleasant change from the usual V. Look at the belt, too. This flatters your figure because it is hidden in front. And note the smooth shoulders – a good idea if you happen to be large through the top of the body. You can make [it] in youthful colors – this flax-blue linen perhaps, with contrasting pink. It is just the type for one of the new medium-high felts [see hat] with a medium-high crown.”
“In pattern 7213 you will like the soft drapery of the jabot – as kind to the face as to the figure. You will fiind too that the sleeves have been cut to give the new broad look to sloping shoulders. Wine is a good color for the long-sleeved version – smart with black suède oxfords delicately trimmed with fine scalloped stitching. In both dresses, as you see, there is a convenient choice of necklines and sleeve lengths.”
Add to Your Height and Subtract from Your Hips [page 71]
“You may be short and your hips may be a little larger than average but you can still wear the new clothes to good advantage. One way is to choose patterns cut to fit your figure. Another is to be sure that every detail of your costume is in proportion to your height.
“Not for you the too-heavy hat, but the small saucy brim and the medium-high crown of this beige felt. Not for you the rough leathers and bulky lines of a peasant’s shoe, but the slender silhouette of these soft blue step-ins. Not for you the overlarge too-vibrant print, but the fine traceries of this monotone floral. Not for you any fluffy trimmings, but this crisp touch of white organdie or the new saddle stitching, used here to emphasize long up-and-down lines.”
“About the patterns: No.7217 has this season’s raised waistline – and excellent idea because it adds inches to your skirt. You will notice too that there is no belt to break your height and that there is enough fullness above the skirt to conceal any extra pounds about the diaphragm.
“No. 7219 has the flattery of a small collar, a tiny belt, and definitely vertical lines. It is perfect for beige and for piqué, the ribs of the material running up and down except in the blouse section and the sleeves. There the fabric is used cross-ways to add interest from a fashion angle.”
I’ve seen a lot of 1930s hats in costume storage that look like they got squashed; I never realized that they might have started life that way!
Truth in Illustrating?
As usual, Woman’s Home Companion has written about patterns styled for large women, but illustrated the article on standard 1930s fashion figures. [Illustrations by Ernst.] True, these four patterns were available from size 34″ bust all the way up to size 52″, but the illustrations don’t give any idea of how the dresses would look on, say, a size 42. To be fair, however, the illustrations on page 71 did show slightly larger-than-usual hips.
7 responses to “Flattering Styles for Large Women, February 1937”
I’ve also noticed that “what to wear” advice from earlier decades seems much more comprehensive that it is today. It includes advice about hats, shoes, gloves, and even hairstyles. What a shame that the magazine didn’t have to courage to show whether or not their advice would work on larger than average women, not even in the fashion drawings.
When I look at fashion coverage today, and especially at the layouts in certain magazines, I can’t even figure out what the rules would be, since the old “principles of design” don’t seem to apply, and even traditional advice on how to avoid unflattering styles for individual body types is over-ridden by the need to sell whatever is in the stores.
For example, a layered look that puts a short sweater over a longer tee or tank top, over an even longer camisole or top — visually breaking your body into segments horizontally across the waist and torso — will create the illusion that you are inches bigger around the waist and hips. That’s why those outfits are photographed on models who are exceptionally tall and thin! On the other hand, it is a look which sells, not a single garment or two, but at least four pieces of clothing. [OK, I’m taking my Grumpy Old Codger Hat off now….]
There is also the question of what, exactly, is meant by a “large woman”? I would imagine that a current “large woman” is much larger than one considered large in the 1930s?
I used to assume that women were generally shorter and thinner in the 1920s, so I got a big surprise when I discovered that the usual size range of Butterick patterns in the 1920s was “33 to 44 inch” bust measurement. 44 inches equates to a modern size 22, and allowed for a 47.5″ hip. Occasionally, Butterick issued a pattern up to size 52″ bust measure.
Smaller sizes were also available, as “Misses” patterns, which were for smaller busts and shorter women, and were confusingly — to me — sold by age: (“15 years, 16 years,” etc., up to “20 years.”)
When I started making my own clothes in the late 1950s and early 60s, size 18 — bust 38″, waist 30″, hip 40″ — was as big as standard patterns got. (I had a 38″ bust, and resented this. I was just very curvy, and not a size 18 anywhere else. Luckily I discovered that early 60s Vogue and Butterick pattern catalogs told you to take your over-bust measurement, not the ‘fullest point’ measurement, so a Vogue size 14 usually fit me well.)
Also when you look at old photographs there are plenty of women who were large sized and would qualify as large sized today. I think what has changed is that the average size has gotten larger,
This is so interesting. I disagree about small patterns, belts and collars flattering larger women. In fact small details will actually make you look bigger, whereas bigger scaled items will make you look smaller (eg Victoria Beckham with a huge handbag looks decidedly thin). The idea of a smooth line, emphasis on the vertical, is right though, dresses rather than separates, and I like the highish waist tip for elongating the legs. Thank you for an interesting post.
I agree about teeny-tiny details making really large women look larger — balance and proportion are important to good design. I, too, thought those dinky white collars were a mistake.