Dual (or Triple) Purpose Apron, 1949

This is a rather peculiar multi-purpose pattern: an apron that could be used as an evening cape….

McCall Pattern 1509 for an apron, or a cape, or ....

McCall Pattern 1509 for an apron, or a cape, or ….

“And that’s not all!” as they say in those ads on TV at two in the morning. McCall 1509 could also be an overskirt, made to match your dress material, or in lace, organdy or taffeta,  and trimmed with velvet, beads or sequins:

McCall pattern 1509, the "glamour tunic apron," first appeared in 1949. Images from McCall needlework catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall pattern 1509, the “glamor tunic apron,” first appeared in 1949. Images from McCall needlework catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall 1509.

McCall 1509. “The new costume stretcher. It changes day dresses into date dresses…. Glamorize your dresses with the new tunic apron! It’s smart to match fabric to your dress material. Wear this style tied at front, back, on the side…. Note slenderizing effect.”

If you wore the glamor tunic over a mid-calf sheath dress, you would have two looks without having to make two dresses.

Maybe it was the words “costume stretcher,” but when I saw this pattern, I remembered a fascinating item which Joy Spanabel Emery featured in her book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry. Butterick pattern B4408, from 1948, was a set of “Yoke, Flares, and Flounces for Skirts.”  The purpose of the pattern was “to lengthen skirts.” Click here to see it. I wonder if this McCall Apron/Tunic pattern was ever used the same way?

The black version, with velvet and bead trimmed pockets, would allow you to lengthen the skirt of the dress under it.

The black version, with velvet and bead trimmed pockets, would allow you to lengthen the skirt of the dress under it by adding fabric between the waist and the hip, and would work with almost any black sheath dress.

Why Would You Want to Do That?

During the years of the Second World War, America was “cut off” from French couture.

In England and America, regulations controlled the amount of fabric in garments.

Dior’s “New Look,” introduced in 1947,  was in part a reaction to years of fabric shortages, fabric rationing and war-time clothing restrictions.

The "Bar Suit" from Christian Dior's "Corolle" collection, 1947.

The “Bar Suit” from Christian Dior’s “Corolle” collection, 1947. American magazines called this “the new look.”

Julian Robinson’s Fashion in the Forties (which has a British slant) makes it clear that many aspects of the New Look — tiny waists, widened hips, flowing drapery and longer hemlines — were under way before the war, but fabric rationing and “utility” clothing kept women in short skirts and other late thirties’ styles until the war ended.

Slim Two-Piece patterns from a Butterick store flyer, October 1943. Patterns 2734 and 2725 have skirts that stop just below the kneecap/

Slim Two-Piece patterns from a Butterick store flyer, October 1943. Patterns 2734 and 2725 have skirts that stop at mid-kneecap, and use about three yards of fabric for the whole outfit.

Joy Spanabel Emery concisely summarized American clothing restrictions:

“In 1942, the War Production Board (WPB) issued Regulation L-85, specifying restrictions for every item of women’s clothing. The regulation essentially froze the fashion silhouette. It limited the use of natural fibers, limited full skirts to a seventy-two-inch circumference, and banned knife pleats and patch pockets (part of a ‘no fabric over fabric’ rule.) Pattern companies responded patriotically. For example, Simplicity announced ‘patterns with few pieces, made from 3 yards or less….’ ” — A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, page 136.

As in the 1929 – 1932 period, in the post-war years 1947 -1949 the fashionable skirt length dropped precipitously.

Simplicity store flyer, April 1948. Long, full skirts were a luxury after wartime scrimping.

Simplicity store flyer, April 1948. Long, full skirts were a luxury after wartime scrimping.

And, although it’s easy to make a skirt shorter by taking up the hem, it’s very difficult to make a skirt several inches longer without an obvious “patched” look. You can add a contrast band or ruffle to a full, gathered skirt and make the result look deliberate, but the dresses and skirts of the war years were made close to the body, in an effort to avoid wasting materials.

So — how could a woman on a limited budget get from this silhouette …

Left, two suits from 1943; right, a suit from May 1944. Butterick 2746, ad from Vogue, and Butterick 2979.

Left, two suits from 1943; right, a suit from May 1944. Butterick 2746, ready to wear ad from Vogue, and Butterick 2979.

… to this one?

Three Butterick suits from 1949. Butterick Pattern Flyer, Nov. 1949.

Three Butterick suits from 1949. Butterick Pattern Flyer, Nov. 1949.

It takes a while for fashions to change, since only a few people adopt a drastically new silhouette at first. But eventually, if successful, the new styles displace the older ones in the stores. By the late nineteen forties, dresses that could be made with less than three yards of material looked shockingly short.

War-time dress patterns: you could make aany of thers dresses in an average size (16) with three yards of fabric or less. Butterick 2721, 2735, 2600, and 2611;store flyer, Oct. 1943.

War-time dress patterns: you could make any of these dresses in an average size (16) with three yards of fabric or less. Butterick 2721, 2735, 2600, and 2611; store flyer, Oct. 1943.

For women used to making their clothes last for years, (and remaking them) and especially for women on a limited budget, patterns like B4408 — which offered a way to lengthen skirts from waist to hip instead of by letting down the hem — must have seemed like a very good idea (if you still had a well-defined waist).

Butterick 4408 circa 1948 from an image on Pinterest

Detail of Butterick B4408 circa 1948 from an image on Pinterest; ( I couldn’t find it at its source.)

The idea was to remove the original waistband or bodice, let out the waist-to-hip darts (if any,) and insert a new piece in the skirt  — which would be concealed by a peplum, as in B and C. Fortunately, a peplum was often part of the New Look, which exaggerated the width of the hips in order to make waists look smaller. Notice the peplum at top right in this Dior image from 1948 (from Life magazine.) I’m looking at the McCall multi-purpose apron pattern with this in mind.

McCall 1509 tunic apron used as a peplum would allow you to lengthen your old cocktail dress.

McCall 1509 tunic apron used as a peplum would allow you to lengthen your old cocktail dress.

What a cocktail dress from May 1944, might look like when lengthened with the addition of a peplum to hide a pieced skirt.

What a cocktail dress from May 1944, might look like when lengthened with the addition of a peplum to hide a pieced skirt. New hairstyle optional….

Of course I’m just speculating — which is always fun….

 

 

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4 Comments

Filed under 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Accessory Patterns, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns

4 responses to “Dual (or Triple) Purpose Apron, 1949

  1. I love this, Susan! What a fabulous example of “Make do and mend,” extended into the post war era.

  2. What a wonderful post! I have often made a cape/apron/peplum type garment for costuming purposes but had never thought about the use of peplums to conceal changes to the waist band and lowering a hem that way. Genius!

  3. K.

    That’s very clever, I’m filing it away for future reference! It’s like all the old skirts of regional costumes here (in Sweden) that have a cheaper fabric inset at the center front, to save on the expensive skirt fabric – the top center front portion of the skirt would always be covered by an apron anyway. It’s quite common in extant examples from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in the very best dress people had, the one they generally got for their wedding and wore on every special occasion for the rest of their lives.

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