The cover of the Butterick Fashion News flyer for September 1939 showed a sheer black dress over a matching slip. It has the puffy sleeves of the era, and a V neck.
The Du Barry store flyer for the previous month showed a similar dress.
In fact, it was on the cover of the Du Barry flyer, in a yellow, printed, non-sheer fabric version:
Du Barry showed it a third time, in purple:
Butterick (and Companion-Butterick) patterns were sold in fabric stores, and, before the Great Depression, Butterick was aimed at middle and upper-middle class shoppers. Du Barry patterns were sold only at Woolworth’s — the five and dime store. “Du Barry Patterns are 10 cents Each — For Sale Exclusively by F. W. Woolworth Co.” By contrast, Butterick pattern 8556 cost 45 cents.
In fact the two sheer black dress patterns are not identical — just two different expressions of a current look.The Butterick bodice is probably more difficult to make, since its curved seams end in a crossed, tucked piece in front that becomes a belt in back.
The Du Barry bodice uses simple gathers or ruching for the bodice and the sleeve heads.
However, the Du Barry pattern has a soft pleat in the center front of the skirt.
The Butterick skirt is more flared and cut in several panels.
Even the sleeve heads are more tailored; both dresses are consistent within their own aesthetic.
At this point, I realized that I have a third, contemporaneous store flyer: Simplicity Prevue, August 1939. It, too, shows a sheer black dress pattern. In fact, Simplicity showed two!
Both of the Simplicity patterns have yokes at the shoulders (diagonal in the case of No. 3150, and horizontal on No. 3129. Both were shown made in opaque fabrics, too.
Simplicity patterns cost 15 cents each, more than Du Barry (10 cents) and much less than Butterick (45 cents.)
Although the Simplicity patterns did not come in larger-than- usual sizes, they had this caption:
Maybe because they could be made in black? Lynn Mally at American Age Fashion found this photo:
If it seems odd that older women were wearing see-through dresses, perhaps they were the generation that wore lingerie dresses twenty-odd years before?
P.S. Does this post seem familiar? My bad. I was trying to be sure I had scanned all my department store fashion news flyers, found two of these flyers missing from my picture files, and consequently didn’t realize that I had written about some of these patterns before! So, you are not having a deja vu experience…. Click here for “More Sheer Dresses from the Late 1930s” or “Sheer Black Dresses, Fall 1930.” That’s where you saw these pictures before….
5 responses to “Three Pattern Companies, Similar Styles: 1939”
The dresses that look transparent were worn with an undergarment that hid all but the upper arms and upper chest and upper back. If you look closely, you’ll see them – they tended to have fairly wide straps that were quite visible beneath the dress. I’m currently colouring a photo of a great aunt and her husband mostly likely taken in the 1930s (but may be 20s) that has this sort of style.
By the way, were clothes and fabrics rationed in America as they were in Britain, during WW2? Only here, there were only a finite number of styles and people had to pretty much learn to sew to be able to get anything original-looking from them.
When I was a teen (1957 -1965 or so) a slip was essential under all dresses or skirt and blouse outfits. a slip was lingerie, and people would whistle if your slip showed below your hem; it was also embarrassing if your slip strap slid down your arm while you were wearing a sleeveless dress. A slip (and of course, a bra) was “intimate apparel” and only supposed to be seen by people with whom you were “intimate.” That makes a slip that is supposed to be visible through a sheer dress rather odd-looking to me — and you can imagine how I feel about the 21st century style of visible bra straps! So yes, I’m well aware of the coordinating slips of the 1930s and after, but surprised that older women were comfortable wearing them.
And yes, the U.S.A. had wartime fabric restrictions, as well as a rubber shortage. “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….’ ” — Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, page 136.
I think the undergarments beneath the dresses from the 20s and 30s were an intended to be an integral part of the outfit and weren’t really regarded by their wearers (or the manufacturers) as lingerie. And those older women were younger women once. 🙂 I was in my teens in the 1960s and I remember exactly the embarrassment we felt (and sometimes unintentionally caused) with slips and petticoats showing when they shouldn’t have done. (I also don’t care for the 21st century desire to show bra straps… but then I also had my qualms about girls wearing petticoats with boots!)
I’ve a vintage photo of my great-grandmother taken probably when she was in her fifties, wearing a dress with sheer sleeves. She was a dressmaker (specialising in wedding dresses but she and most of her family were tailors and seamstresses making a lot of different clothes) and so the outfit was probably one she made herself. I remember also being surprised by the outfit, but since then I’ve seen countless photos of older women in similar. I suspect it says more about our own ideas of different times, than theirs.
Yes! That’s what I meant by mentioning that women in their fifties in 1939 would have been young during the period of sheer lingerie dresses before the First World War. I’ve also written about the “costume slip” of the 1920s — a slip that was intended to be seen peeking out from a tunic or under a sheer redingote which opened down the front. (They were made of heavier fabric than a normal slip.) What’s shocking in one decade may be modest in another.