Semi-Made Dresses, 1930’s

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

“You simply sew up the seams. Complete accessories with each dress.”

One way women could save a little on dresses during the great Depression was by buying a partially constructed dress and sewing their own hems, side-seams, buttons, etc.  I didn’t find much information online about the Berth Robert company, or its rival, Fifth Avenue Modes. But I have encountered a sampling of their ads in nineteen thirties’ magazines.

Just at random, I found this Berth Robert ad in The Delineator, February 1931 issue. I may yet find earlier ones.

Top of ad for Berth Robert Semi-Made Dresses, from The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 79.

Top of ad for Berth Robert Semi-Finished Dress catalog, from The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 79. “Dress smartly by the Berth Robert Plan and save.”

Text of Berth Robert ad, Delneatro, Feb. 1931. p. 79.

Text of Berth Robert ad, Delneator, Feb. 1931. p. 79.

“In Paris we select the smartest, cleverest styles. Then, in our own New York atelier these charming frocks are tailored to your measurements from the finest fabrics. All difficult sewing — necklines, tailoring, tucking and pleating — is completely, beautifully done. All you do is the easy finishing up. Even an inexperienced sewer can easily finish a Berth Robert Frock or Ensemble.

“This Spring, dress with Parisian smartness, yet actually save money by the Berth Robert Plan.”

The implication is that all the buyer will need is a needle and thread (see pictures.)

Berth Robert catalog ad bottom. Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 79.

Berth Robert catalog ad bottom. Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 79.

This ad, from the Fifth Avenue Modes company, appeared in the same issue of The Delineator:

Top of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes "Finish-at-Home" fashions. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 106.

Top of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes “Finish-at-Home” fashions. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, page 106.

“How to be well-dressed on a limited budget — that is the problem which the “Finish-at-Home” Plan is solving for so many fashionable women today! Finish-at-Home fashions save you half!”

Text of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes' "Finish-at-Home" catalog. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 106.

Text of ad for Fifth Avenue Modes’ “Finish-at-Home” catalog. The Delineator, Feb. 1931, p. 106.

“Made to Your Order. The dress you select comes from Fifth Avenue Modes cut to your exact size or measurements, with all the difficult work done. . . . Our expert men-tailors complete all the tailoring, pleating, hemstitching, tucking, etc., so that all you have to do is to put together a few completely-made parts. No bothersome patterns to follow, no expense for outside work, no trimmings to buy or make — we furnish everything you need for your dress, down to the spool of matching thread.

“A Little Sewing – A Great Saving. You can easily follow the common-sense finishing instructions we send with your dress. . . . And what you save by this simple sewing will enable you to have two stylish dresses for the usual cost of one ready-made dress of equal style and quality.”

No, both firms don’t have the same mailing address, although they do have very similar ads.

Both companies continued to advertise for several years, in various magazines.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dress Catalog, advertised in The Delineator, February 1934.

Text of Berth Roberts ad in Delineator, Feb. 1934.

Text of Berth Roberts ad in Delineator, Feb. 1934.

“All you need to do is to sew up a few simple seams . . . fitting the coat or dress perfectly to your figure . . . And presto . . . you have a luxurious spring wardrobe at what the cloth alone would ordinarily cost you. Buying direct from the producer, on the semi-made plan, effects these great savings.”

"Worn with Pride by hundreds of thousands of smart women." Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses ad, Woman's Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

“Worn with Pride by hundreds of thousands of smart women.” Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Feb. 1936.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Dresses Ad, Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

Berth Robert Semi-Made Frocks Ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

“Many women who can afford the finest favor Berth Robert Semi-Made dresses. . . . All you do is sew a few simple seams, adjusting the dress to your figure perfectly as you sew. . . and as you sew you save.”

Berth Roberts Semi-Made  ad, March 1937. Woman's Home Companion.

Berth Roberts Plan, Semi-Made dress ad, March 1937. Woman’s Home Companion.

Fifth Avenue Modes was still in business, too:

"Dress with Fifth Avenue Smartness Yet Save Half!" Finish-Your-Own dress ad, Fifth Avenue Modes, in Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

“Dress with Fifth Avenue Smartness Yet Save Half!” Finish-Your-Own dress ad, Fifth Avenue Modes, in Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

Fifth Avenue Modes ad, text, Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

Fifth Avenue Modes ad, text, Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1937.

“With our “Finish-at-Home” Plan, your frocks are cut to your own,  individual measurements! . . . We furnish all the trimmings and findings  . . . you have only a few simple seams to sew! . . . If you want custom-cut clothes and chic accessories, send today for our Magazine of Fashion. FREE!”

There seems to be a link with Betty Wales fashions, too. I’ve seen Betty Wales fashion ads in magazines as early as 1917. But’s that’s another story. . . .

Artfire dot com has pages from a 1939  Fifth Avenue Modes catalog for sale, but there’s no hint of “Finish-Your-Own” that I can see. There is a paragraph about both companies in an article by Madelyn Shaw about the Tirocchi sisters, dressmakers in Providence, which you can read online; click here.

I just found an affordable 1934 Berth Robert catalog at Ebay, so I’m looking forward to finding out more when it arrives. I’m especially looking forward to seeing the size range, and the prices of the semi-finished frocks and coats, which cost “half as much” as comparable finished clothing.

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10 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture

10 responses to “Semi-Made Dresses, 1930’s

  1. I have seen these ads before, too, and remain puzzled by them. If the frocks are really “cut to your own individual measurements,” then why wouldn’t the company finish them and charge more? If they are most likely cut to some standard size scale, then would they really fit better? I know that an inch can make a difference in a side seam, but this wouldn’t really solve many problems of fit. (Or maybe I’m overthinking this.)

    • I’m skeptical, too. My copy of the 1934 catalog is in the mail, and maybe it will have a better explanation. Many 1930s dresses have side seam closings, so getting the customer to sew on the snaps (zippers after 1936 or so) could save a few pennies on construction. But mostly, I think the side seams were the easiest to take in at the waist or hip — or let out, if there is a decent seam allowance. (If you adjust the side seam at the bust, you also have to adjust the sleeve/armhole.) I can’t imagine many repeat customers for these dresses. We’ll see!

  2. I found this whole concept amusing. I can’t imagine it would have had wide appeal, but maybe it did??

  3. D

    This is an old marketing trick. In buying the kit of parts the woman avoids the difficulties of cutting out and sizing. However, she can claim that she made the dress because she put it together and added her own buttons and other notions.

    Years ago a UK packet food did the same thing for a custard tart or similar. The publicity said ” you add the egg”. There is no need as many packet foods use egg powder. But by adding the egg herself the woman could proudly say that “she” cooked it, it was not bought in a packet.

    We should not under estimate the importance of this, particularly in the past where women were *automatically* expected to make dresses, cook using basic ingredients.

    D

  4. I love the idea, as the cutting out is my least favorite part of sewing.

    • I just discovered that Berth Roberts also sold completely cut out — but unsewed — dresses. I’ll write about them soon. Many years ago, when I lived in a studio apartment and my knees were younger, I sometimes cut out dresses on the floor. If I could have bought one ready-to-sew, I’d have been tempted!

  5. Pingback: Berth Robert Catalog for Summer, 1934 | witness2fashion

  6. I’ve seen photos of some unused kits that online friends have bought but I don’t remember them being partially sewn. That seems like it would be hard to make money doing.

    The cut out pieces and all the notions you need kits make much more sense and I understand the appeal (because cutting is my least favorite part of sewing). It’s the sewing equivalent of IKEA furniture, hehe.

    • Yes, Berth Roberts did sell some pre-cut totally unstitched dresses, too. I must get around to showing a couple! (The question with either semi-made or fully unmade would be: how well did they pattern match

  7. Pingback: Some Maternity Clothes of the 1920’s and 1930’s | witness2fashion

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