Fashion Illustration and Fashion Reality, 1948

Butterick 4609, evening gownfrom Butterick Fashion News, back cover, August 1948.

Butterick 4609, evening gown from Butterick Fashion News, August 1948.

I’ve been looking at pattern illustrations from 1948, when Dior’s “new look” was getting women into waist-cinching undergarments, full (sometimes padded) hips, and a long, long silhouette.

Butterick 4610, from Butterick Fashion News, Aug. 1948.

Butterick 4610, from Butterick Fashion News, Aug. 1948. The waist is exceptionally narrow compared to the hips.

Simplicity store flyer, patterns from April 1948.

Simplicity store flyer, patterns from April 1948. Note the waist sizes.

Butterick suit pattern 4600 from August 1948, Butterick store flyer.

Butterick suit pattern 4600 from August 1948, Butterick store flyer.

I love to remind people that fashion illustrations shape women’s expectations (and self-critical self image) of what they should look like. This 1948 Butterick suit pattern was sized for women under 5′ 5″ tall:

Butterick suit pattern 4569 was available in a special version for women under 5' 5" tall.

Butterick suit pattern 4569 was available in a special version for women under 5′ 5″ tall. Store flyer, July 1948.

If suit 4569 seems awfully tall and thin for a petite woman —  it is.

Fashion models used to be 5’7 or so; this photo from the back of Butterick Fashion News, February 1948, shows a probably waist-cinched but otherwise real young woman:

Ad for Butterick, back of Butterick Fashion News, July 1948.

Ad for Butterick, back of Butterick Fashion News, July 1948.

It was hard to judge her head size exactly, since she is looking down, but from crown to heel (or front anklebone) she is six and a half heads high. The illustration of suit 4569 is relatively (well over a foot) taller and much thinner:

Photo and fashion illustration from July 1948. Using here head a a a unit of measurement, the real woman is six and a half heads from crown to heel. The illustration is eight heads high.

Photo and fashion illustration from July 1948. Using her head as a unit of measurement, the real woman is six and a half heads from crown to heel. The illustration is eight heads high — a woman stretched by more than a foot. And compare their waists!

Over the decades, we appear to have selectively chosen fashion models to match fashion illustrations, putting very thin,  5′ 11″ tall women into very high heels, to resemble these old drawings of imaginary human beings.

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4 Comments

Filed under 1940s-1950s, Corsets, Musings, Vintage patterns

4 responses to “Fashion Illustration and Fashion Reality, 1948

  1. Another thought-provoking post, thanks! I’d say it’s not just since 1948. Fashion illustrations have always represented an ideal, which very few live women can even approximate.

    Look at Godey’s Ladies Book, for example. Yes, 19th century women were smaller, but generally speaking, they were still human-sized and proportional. If I can fit in any antique clothes, and I can, that’s proof, as I’m “regular size.”

    The illustrations were never meant to convey reality. They were (and models are) meant to show off the clothing — to make you want to buy. I doubt much thought was given to how it made the potential wearer feel when the reality fell short. They wanted to sell patterns or dresses, not shore up egos. In the end, it’s our responsibility to differentiate fantasy (i.e. advertising) from reality.

    The fact that some of us, myself included, feel we often fall woefully short of the idealized goal, does not indicate any industry-dictated conspiracy to destroy our collective self-esteem.

    While I draw the line at the sickly looking, “heroin-chic” models of recent years — they don’t make the clothes look good! — the use of much thinner/taller/prettier-than-average women to show off clothes makes perfect sense, and is less a personal affront, if you remember that it’s all about making money.

  2. Man, these are ugly clothes! I would have been 4 years old, and I have photos of women in my family, all of whom were under 5’5″ and huskier than those clothes were intended for. Some of those photos are very unflattering!
    bonnie in provence

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