Fashions don’t change overnight; there’s always some overlap in the pattern catalogs, especially. Catalogs usually have patterns from previous years as well as the most recent designs. But these two monthly flyers feature the latest patterns from Butterick, just two years apart, and we can see the change taking place:
Notes from an Eye-witness to Fashion
This is a period I remember well. In 1967, I finished grad school and my teaching internship and moved to San Francisco. It turned out to be “the Summer of Love,” but I wasn’t a hippie; I briefly worked in retail and then worked for a large bank until 1970. As a young, single, working woman, I was very conscious of fashion during those years. I can remember clothes I bought for the classroom, for the bank — where I dealt with customers every day — and the clothes I wore around the house and on weekends — which might include going to a free concert on Haight Street or shopping in Union Square.
A batch of recently acquired Butterick flyers are a giving me a retrospective of very happy years. But they are still full of surprises.
Also, with hindsight, I can see the shift from mid-sixties structured clothing influenced by Pierre Cardin, Oleg Cassini, and Carnaby Street, to the softer, more body-conscious styles of the seventies. Hippies, ethnic designs, “gypsies,” Indian textiles, and soft knits (which replaced double-knits and wools with fused interfacing) all contributed to the change.
Mid-Sixties: Mary Quant and Carnaby Street
Mary Quant and other “Young Designers” were prominently featured in Butterick Fashion News flyers. This body-skimming Mary Quant dress (# 3288) was on the cover in July 1964. (I was still wearing very similar, store-bought dresses in 1966.) Another “Young Designer” Deanna Littell, was on the cover in May of 1965:
The sleeveless overblouse, worn with an A-line skirt, often a dirndl style, plus a jacket that might or might not match the skirt, was a staple of my wardrobe in 1965 & 1966. This was the “Jackie look” on a college girl’s budget. These lady-like dresses and coats for young women were also featured in Glamour magazine. (You can see other versions of these designs in an interview with Deanna Littell by The Vintage Traveler: Click here.
Young Designer Mary Quant was still on the cover in 1968:
Inside, Mary Quant’s designs were still body-skimming, with dropped waistlines and crisp, rather than droopy, fabrics. These sixties’ dresses would have been lined, or made of thick jacquard double-knits, not made from thin silk or crepe, so they look quite different from the nineteen-twenties’ drop-waisted styles.
Less than a year later, the flyer with this cover . . .
. . . showed the wide variety of styles that could be worn in 1969 — sometimes, by the same young women, depending upon the occasion and their mood: We could choose to wear soft, sheer, prints with a hippie influence . . .
Or we could wear chic variations on the body-skimming styles we were used to:
Talk about a period of transition! Waistlines are all over the place: from Empire, to natural, to hip, to both high and natural (thanks to that wide, wide belt), to none (the princess line dress) to somewhat raised. Most of the styles on these two pages depend on double-knit fabric or interfacing for their stiffness.
Digression: These hairstyles were achieved with the use of “falls” or “Postiches” or full wigs, plus plenty of “ratting” — as we called it. Hairdressers called it “teasing.” On television, model-turned-actress Barbara Feldon had the ideal 1960’s hair and style. British model Jean Shrimpton was perfection.
Butterick “Gypsy” styles from 1969
Here’s a closer look at the “Gypsy” styles — Butterick could hardly call them “hippie dresses,” although now the word “Gypsy” is more offensive — from May 1969:
Butterick 5265 (top left) is a fairly straightforward shirtwaist: “The sheer shirtdress, precisely tailored from the notched collar to the snap front closing and full blown cuffed sleeves. Belted naturally over the dirndled skirt. Misses sizes 8 to 16. [Except for the sleeves, it would have been lined, or worn over a shoulder-to-knee opaque slip.]
Butterick 5279 (center): “The drawstring neckline of this tenty little dress, in a sheer print, shapes the fall of the full belled sleeves while a wrapped ribbon tie defines the waist. Easy. Misses sizes 8 to 14. Junior sizes 7 to 11. [This is a dress for teens and very young women. ] Click here for a version by McCall’s.
Butterick 5245: (right) “A gentle dress, gypsy mooded [sic] with a scoopy neck and blouson bodice tied at the waist over the softened skirt. The sleeves are soft and full. Misses 8 to 16.”
Butterick 5299: “The gypsy-yoked dress . . . tent like fullness falling from a curved and slashed yoke to a swirling hem. The sleeves are elasticized at the wrist. Easy. Misses sizes S-M-L. [Unless you were wearing it as a beach cover-up, a sheer dress like this would have a lining below the yoke. ]
Butterick 5225: “An angel of a dress . . . A tiny bodice rises to the low square-cut neckline elasticized all around. Misses sizes 8 to 14. Junior sizes 7 to 11.” [The size range tells us that this, too, is not a dress for mature women.]
Butterick Styles for Mainstream Women
The dresses on this page and the next are described as “Bare Beauties: The neckline news is bareness for day and evening in endless variety. Scoop it or plunge it low, open it with cutouts or a shoulder baring halter.”
Depending on fabric and accessories, most of these would be cocktail dresses. All the models are wearing or carrying gloves. Notice also their low-heeled shoes; early 60’s stiletto heels were not worn with miniskirts. Number 5246, with bow at waist, is a cocktail dress when made from silk (interfaced), but made from linen or wool (interfaced ) it would have been acceptable for me to wear it to work as a bank teller; the other three dresses are too bare for a business environment.
Butterick 5298 (far left): “A plunging neck with wide lapels and high belting marks this dress for after dark. Misses sizes 8 to 14.”
Butterick 5246 (left center): “The softness of a drawstring waistline combines with the bareness of a V neck for a simple yet charming dress. Easy. Misses sizes 8 to 16.”
Butterick 5283 (right center): “The bare neckline in a scoopy version with button trimmed over-the-shoulder straps. Easy. Misses sizes 8 to 16.” [This dress would cover your bra straps, but it’s still more of a luncheon or after work dress than an office dress.]
Butterick 5297 ( left): “The halter dress . . . baring the shoulders while skimming close to the body. Butterick Boutique. Misses sizes 8 to 14.” [Busty women were not expected to wear this style.]
Butterick 5241 (Center, white dress): “For daytime or evening dressing . . . a peek-a-boo cut out at the throat of a slim, dart fitted dress. Butterick Boutique. Misses sizes 8 to 16.” [This is about as covered-up as an evening dress gets, but even so, sizes only ran to 16 — usually a 38″ bust.] Being under 25 in 1969, I would not have worn this dress with the keyhole neckline! Too middle-aged!
Butterick 5233 (right): “Curved seaming emphasizes the high, narrow bodice with neckline scooped low. Butterick Boutique. Misses sizes 8 to 14. Junior sizes 7 to 11.” [The size range tells us that this, unlike # 5231, is not a dress for mature women.]
Witness to Fashion notes: Just as in pattern books, this wide-ranging variety was also available in stores in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I saw a lot of sheer printed voile or light-weight polyester knit “gypsy” dresses on Haight Street, and clerks in stores there could wear them to work; however, my bank’s one authentic hippie clerk did not come into contact with the customers. She was also allowed to wear sandals without stockings and ankle length skirts. Other women who worked out of sight, processing loan payments, etc., sometimes wore polyester pants to work. Those of us who were the public face of the bank, however, followed a dress code which did not include pants suits until 1970. Also, many of these patterns didn’t come in my size, which was about as big as they got: size 16, bust 38″. I was almost 5′ 8″ — 38-27-37 — and wearing the biggest pattern size available made me feel huge. [ If only those were my measurements now! Actually, I’d settle for my healthy 1960’s BMI. ]