Budget Savers: One Dress, Many Collars

Butterick 5391 collars from Delineator, November 1933, p. 76

I’ve been watching many documentaries on YouTube about “Fast Fashion,” and its ecological impact. The full documentary True Cost can be watched on YouTube. This month, British science magazine The New Scientist made “Can Fashion Ever Be Green? The environmental cost of your clothing — and what you can do about it” its cover article. How serious is our dependence on polyesters and plastic? Microplastics are now being found in human breast milk.

In my youth, in the 1950s and 1960s, most working class or professional women like me did not have (or need) walk-in closets. Clothes were relatively much more expensive than they are today. (I would spend $20 to $35 dollars on a dress in the sixties, when my salary was about $400 per month. My rent — a studio apartment — was $80 -$90 per month.) I had about 10 dressy work outfits — usually washable — and varied them with different scarves or jewelry. (Big pins worn near the shoulder were very popular in the 60s.)

In the 1930s, women working in offices, stores, and other “customer contact” jobs like mine often got along with just a few good dresses.

We think nothing of a man who wears the same gray suit every day, changing his ties and shirts; in the Thirties, apparently many office workers also wore a wool (or linen or rayon) dress with interchangeable, washable collars to give the impression of a larger wardrobe. (These collars would also work over a simple sweater and skirt combo.)


“If your dress hasn’t gotten to the point where it needs a new top, hide its 1931 neckline beneath a collar, one of the new big white ones that make the new dresses look so fresh…. Every one of the collars here was taken from a brand-new dress. They all come right up to the base of the throat and they’re all deep enough that even an antiquated deep V neckline can be made to look like a new high one. They all button on,… are smartest in white satin, rough crepe, linen and pique.” Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine, December 1932.

A reader contacted me about Butterick “Quick Trick” patterns from the 1930s. This 1932 evening gown has two looks:

A “Quick Trick” evening gown, Delineator, 1932.

That one, Butterick 4751, featured a separate capelette that could be made in several colors, turning one evening gown into a formal dress or dinner dress. The one below left, 4746, is based on an asymmetrical dress beneath.

The wrap-over collar at left (#4746) is separate from the dress; the little cape transforms the dress at right. Oct. 1932.

Below is another version of dress #4746. In the version above, which appears to have a white collar at left, the detail sketch (below) shows that the entire neckline, sleeves and upper bodice could have been white, or a print material, as illustrated..

At left above is the dress without the collar. “Substitute a bow, a clip, a scarf.” Imagine the dress in navy with a white or cream option, a print or navy striped option, etc. I shared some of these clever accessories for working women in earlier posts, but I found some more (ones I hadn’t photographed from Delineator, 1933 and 1934) at the Commercial Pattern archive.

Butterick collar pattern 5391, photographed for Delineator magazine, March 1934. Huge collars (and/or huge bows) were very much a part of early thirties’ dress styles. See Great Big Collars..The pattern for this collar included several collar and cuff variations.

A woman who could only afford one good dress for office work could make it look like a whole wardrobe by changing collars and cuffs, or even adding a short cape or a “gilet” which covered the bodice.

This gilet is part of Butterick pattern 5391, which included several collars and cuffs. From 1933.

A set of 1930s collars. Buttrick 4900,CoPA

A set of collars from Butterick 4900. CoPA.

Butterick collars from Delineator, April 1933.

Butterick patterns from Delinator, November 1934.

Butterick pattern 4900, a set of collars.

Perhaps we can take inspiration from those Depression era styles, instead of buying “throw-away” dresses.

Personal note: I’ve been suffering from a variety of old age complaints that made reading and typing difficult, and while I was “away,” Microsoft “upgraded” my photo program in ways I find very inconvenient! They really took the fun out of blogging. Nevertheless, may we all have a happy fresh start (or “reboot”?) in 2023!



Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Budget Savers: One Dress, Many Collars

  1. Linda Rahner

    SO glad you’re back ! Every post takes me to conversations my Mom and aunts had about sewing ‘the latest style’ with fabrics from Sears or Penny’s; fabric that was often $1/yard.

  2. Phil Juniper

    Fascinating.Thank you for your time and effort in researching and posting.Best wishes and blue skies to you and yours in 2023.

  3. I hope there are still people who can enjoy making things together — even if the results are sometimes disappointing, sewing can be fun.

  4. Emily O'Brien

    I’m thankful for your hard work on these blogs. I love them! I’m sorry to hear of your frustrations and pray you find good health and abundant joy in this new year.

  5. Thanks for sharing the wonders of the art of sewing and creating!

  6. Jewel Nelson

    Oh, don’t you love updates! And hope you feel better (old age is making me slower than usual). Love this tip, wondering if they secured the collars with pins or snaps. Have to sit down and read more carefully.

  7. Thank you for writing such a lovely post! Love this idea 🙂

  8. Thank you for writing such a lovely post! Love this idea 🙂

  9. JustGail

    Throw away fashion is vile. Bad quality, poor fit, trashing the environment at every stage, and then there’s the issue of sweatshop conditions. Even sewing doesn’t avoid those issues, except maybe poor fit once the sewist has figured out their needed fitting adjustments. Will we ever break the habit of fast fashion and the constant shopping it requires? I hope so.

    I’m glad you’re getting back to normal and posting again.

  10. Thanks! I’m looking forward to going for a walk sometime this year, after my second knee replacement. My favorite walking outfit includes a fleece jacket, for those cold afternoon winds. I live 1/2 a mile from the Pacific ocean, and I’m aware (now) that washing my polar fleece zip – front jackets means I’m sending microfibers into the ocean. I can see their fabric getting thinner, loosing “loft,” but if I throw them out and replace them with 100% wool or cotton, they will go directly into landfill…. so I guess I’m going to wear them for a few more years until they are completely unusable…. I already have a stash of threadbare slacks that are demoted to “Gardening or painting” togs: Too worn for Goodwill. (Can you guess that my parents lived through the Great Depression?) But getting away from polyester blends is really difficult, and usually costs more. “Buy less, buy better, buy used” is my general idea.

    • Jewel Nelson

      Excellent ideas and great thoughts from you and your readers. I giggle at the “garden” or Paint clothes. Ditto.
      I’ve seen companies that say they will send filters out for the washer discharge and I wonder, then what do they do with it? Doing some of what my parents did, but I decided that trying to fix everything (from bent nails to 20 year old socks that are more mends than original) is not actually workable–my space is finite.

  11. Laura Mary Lake

    I am so sorry about the upgrade. I have beef struggling with this type of thing, as well. My local library has helpful teenagers which have saved me many times.

    I remember re- making my collars in the 1980s when button down collars became popular, snuggly making button holes .

    • Jewel Nelson

      So true! Or carefully removing and all that hassle. Removable would be so much easier…. And wearing knit dickies (?).

  12. Happy New Year. You always bring us such
    fascinating fashion historys.

  13. I’m going to redo this by just wishing you a Happy New Year

  14. I’m a theatrical scenic artist, so my work wardrobe is pretty utilitarian. Nevertheless, I accessorize with scarves in the winter and 1930s necklaces in the summer.

    I’m and avid vintage knitter and have been on a slow campaign to improve my sewing via vintage patterns.

    Slow fashion all the way!

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