Embroidered Wool Jackets, 1950

Embroidered "Mexican" jacket, McCall Pattern 1399. McCall Needlework Catalogue, May 1950.

Embroidered “Mexican” jacket, McCall Pattern 1399. McCall Needlework Catalogue, May 1950.

Someone in my family had a gold-colored embroidered jacket, very much like this one. I remember finding it, sadly moth eaten, while cleaning out an old wardrobe.

I hadn’t appreciated the enormous craze for these jackets until I looked up “embroidered Mexican jacket” online. Plenty of them survived and are available from vintage dealers. In fact, I found a few in the first vintage store I checked — Decades of Fashion, in San Francisco — and took a quick photo or two. coat 72 dpiThis one was made in Mexico, probably brought home as a vacation souvenir.

Img_8530The very helpful clerk reminded me that, during World War II, the United States made an effort to form stronger alliances with our neighbors to the north and south, including trade agreements.

In the 1940s, while the war made it too dangerous to travel to Europe and the Pacific (and with cruise ships turned into military transports,) Americans seeking vacations in exotic locations had an incentive to explore closer to home. Many tourists seeking warmer weather in “Sunny Mexico” discovered a world of brighter colors, brilliant flowers, beautiful embroidery, gaiety, and chunky, handmade Mexican Silver jewelry from Taxco.

Unsigned, chunky Mexican bracelet, probably 1940s -1950s. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Unsigned, chunky Mexican bracelet, probably 1940s -1950s. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.

It’s surprising that McCall Patterns would offer several patterns for stay-at-homes who wanted to duplicate the look of souvenir jackets from Mexico, but these patterns for embroidered wool coats — usually unlined — were available for women, teens, and children in 1950.

Embroidered Coat Pattern for Women, McCall #1399

McCall pattern #1399, May Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall pattern #1399, May Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall "Mexican" coat pattern #1399, May 1950.

McCall “Mexican” coat pattern #1399, May 1950.

These coats were usually unlined and could be made from wool fabric or wool felt, so, except for the wool embroidery, they were easy to make. At least one person made one, and it turned up online (click here.)

Pattern #1399 description from McCall Catalogue, Dec. 1950.

Pattern #1399 description from McCall Catalogue, Dec. 1950.

The felt versions that I have seen had edges trimmed with blanket stitch, for definition, but the wool flannel versions had 1/4″ hems turned under and secured with cross-stitch in one or two colors. The red coat I photographed has the same stitching shown in this pattern:

A narrrow hem turned stitched in two colors.

A narrrow hem stitched in two colors.

collar of jacket made in MexicoThe embroidery motifs from McCall include colorful vendors at markets, donkeys and their owners, palm trees, and other stereotyped images, but — happily — not a sombrero-wearing man taking a nap against a seguaro cactus. That was a popular image for 1950s salt & pepper shakers, as I recall; tourists who had never lived in a hot country interpreted the sensible habit of resting during the hottest part of the day — a break in a workday that began before dawn and lasted until dark — as “laziness.” [One more image to file under “painful cultural misunderstandings!”]

McCall Pattern 1327, “Mexican” Embroidered Jacket for Girls 6 to 14

Pattern for Girls 6 to 14 years, McCall # 1327, 1950.

Pattern for Girls 6 to 14 years, McCall # 1327, 1950.

may 1950 p 281girl966I  like the burro loaded with flowers on the back .

McCall Embroidered Jacket Pattern for Boys and Girls Aged 2 to 6

McCall pattern #1464, McCall Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall pattern #1464, McCall Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

Travel-Wise Embroidered Coat Pattern: McCall #1565

“Far away places with strange-sounding names,

“Far away over the sea,

“Those far away places with strange-sounding names,

“Are calling, calling to me….” — song by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer, 1948

That song was on the Hit Parade for months in the late 1940s. It was sung by Bing Crosby (and others) in 1948 and became a hit; then it was recorded by Perry Como (and others) in 1949 and became a hit again!

One reflection of this travel-lust was McCall’s pattern #1565, from 1950.

McCall "world traveler" pattern #1565, from 1950.

McCall “world traveler” pattern #1565, from 1950.

dec 1950 500 dpi travel coat 1565It could be embroidered in cotton with the names of places you visited — or wanted to — or simplified, with just appliqued images of a plane and a ship on the pockets, and compass points on the sleeves. dec 1950 72 dpi travel coat 1565 plainer front dec 1950 photo travel wise coat975The “nice swingy” back could be covered with images of the Eiffel Tower, a Dutch windmill, etc. dec 1950 72 closeup dpi travel coat 1565 text travel wise coat978

dec 1950 1565 text travel wise coat976

1950s Embroidered Jackets: Who Wore Them?

“Wear it on a cruise or on campus,” says the pattern catalog. However, I suspect that these jackets were most often made as gifts, rather than by the woman who was going to wear them.

I can’t help wondering if the survival of so many embroidered Mexican jackets is due to an experience many travelers have had: The brilliant colors and “peasant” styles that feel liberating in their natural setting often seem loud or “costume-y” when you get them home to your normal, urban or small-town environment.

dec 1950 photo travel wise coat975This “world traveler” jacket — without the place names — looks chic and playful on the model. Would the version with the place names really help you to look sophisticated while sailing on the Queen Elizabeth? Or in Paris?


Even this conservative version of the embroidered jacket, with a floral pattern reminiscent of the 1920s, probably did not get very much wear:

Woman in embroidered wool  jacket, circa 1950 -52. Courtesy of  RememberedSummers.

Woman in embroidered wool jacket, circa 1950 -52. She has not changed her 1930s hairstyle. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.





Filed under 1940s-1950s, Coats, Sportswear, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs

10 responses to “Embroidered Wool Jackets, 1950

  1. Excellent theory about why so many of these jackets survived! When I was in college I lived right next to a Goodwill, which I visited all the time. I remember tons of these jackets. And at the flea market you could buy Taxco jewelry very cheaply. Not any more!

  2. I’ve only known a couple of people whose personal style worked well for wearing this kind of garment without looking costumey. It’s a very specific look (more art than fashion) but so fun!

  3. This is one ’50s’ look that I will not be recreating (!), but reading about them is fascinating!

  4. These were also available by mail order. I’ve seen lots of ads for them in magazines from the 1940s and early 50s.

    My gosh but that World Traveler jacket is incredible!

  5. Kay Wildes

    My dad made my mother a jacket like this when he was in recovery at the VA after surgery – some kind of rehab to help with boredom probably. I used to wear the coat to school in the 70s. I gave it to my older sister so keep for preservation, but, do you know where I might find the pattern I would like to make one of them.

    • You might try searching for the McCall pattern number on Ebay (which includes Etsy stores). I find that searching for McCall rather than McCall’s gets better results. Other pattern companies probably also sold “embroidered jacket” patterns — perhaps a google image search would lead you indirectly to someone who has one for sale. That’s a lovely story about your father making a jacket that stayed in your family. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Pingback: Peasant Blouses, 1940’s to 1950’s | witness2fashion

  7. Marg Palmer

    I made this jacket for myself when I was in Grade 8 1951 here in Canada it seemed to me that so many women were wearing them. I did a great job of embroidering, too!

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