Category Archives: Dresses

French Lining

French lining pattern 6933 from Butterick. Delineator, June 1914, p. 74. It has princess seams and many neckline options.

As far as I can tell, a French lining is a closely fitting interior structure that is usually not the same shape as the finished garment we see. It is different from “flat lining,” or a “dropped in” lining shaped like the dress or skirt, or a coat lining that merely allows the coat to slide over other fabrics more easily.

“A French lining gives a perfection of fit that can be attained by no other means…. It makes an excellent foundation for the draped waists [blouses] now in vogue…. For stout figures a French lining is almost indispensable, and this design will prove most welcome, for it conforms to the newest lines. When made of thin material it may be used as a foundation for Summer dresses or waists, and when made of lawn or silk it is also an excellent foundation for the draped evening dresses now worn.” — Delineator, June 1914. p. 74

Delineator, June 1914, p. 74.

When you have a garment that is tightly fitted, “flat lining” [a lining whose pieces are the same shape as the fashion fabric and are sewed at the same time] will take some of the stress off the seams and the fashion fabric. But when you see a vintage garment that fits very closely in back, but appears to be loosely fitted in front, expect a French lining.

Inside this apparently loose-fitting bodice is a tight-fitting inner structure. Vintage garment.

This vintage bodice has no visible opening. The tight lining prevents “pull” on the fashion fabric’s concealed closure.

When you have a garment that is draped, or bloused, or which has complicated concealed closures, it will behave better with an invisible, body-hugging lining.

This vintage dress does not have a visible opening in front or down the back. It does not have a snap opening in the side seam.

How do you get into it?

Back of vintage lingerie dress. It doesn’t open down the back. Clue: There is a hook and eye closing on the left shoulder.

This sheer lingerie dress with a blouson top has a simple French lining made of net.

How do you get into this dress?

The bias cut lining, which takes the strain of the hooks and eyes, fastens at the center front.

The pattern for the inside of the dress is not the same shape as the pattern for the fashion layer. I would class this as a simple French lining.

The lining fastens at center front; the fashion fabric layer fastens with hooks and bars at the side and shoulder! The sleeves are attached to the French lining. The skirt opens at side front.

The “French Lining” pattern could be purchased separately, but was often included in a dress or blouse pattern.

The Commercial Pattern Archive has this Butterick pattern from 1914.

Butterick 7317; information from the pattern envelope, courtesy of CoPA (The Commercial Pattern Archive.) Notice how different the French lining pattern pieces (top center) are from the fashion fabric pieces (at the bottom.)

Left, the French lining is an 8 piece princess line pattern which fits closely to the body.

The French lining was meant to fit very tightly, and is the support for the fashion fabrics. It ensures that the weight of the dress is suspended from the shoulders, that the folds and blousing aren’t pulled out of place, and that the wearer always looks neat as a fashion plate. In No. 7317, the cross-over drape in front ties at center back.

Changing Body Shapes Seen in French Lining Patterns

These French lining patterns reflect the changing body shape as corsets changed.

1910: Butterick French lining pattern 3527, January 1910. Note the “sway back” shape caused by 1910 corsets. This princess seamed lining has 4 panels in front and 6 in back.

1914: Butterick French lining 6933 from June 1914. The lower bust and larger waist reflect a change in corset shape.

1917: Far right, French lining pattern 1042 from Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1917. The womanly torso is losing its curves.

1924: A French lining pattern from Butterick, July 1924. “…An excellent dress lining or… it can be used to cover a dress form.” It probably was intended for older or “stout” women, since 1920’s dresses were lighter and less structured than previous styles. It has a long, hip-length, waistless shape, like most Twenties’ dresses. Butterick 5361 came in sizes 32 to 48 bust.

French Lining Included in Patterns

The French lining is often based on a princess seamed pattern (like all of those above,) since this permits an extremely tight fit, perfectly contoured to the body. (A French lining also looks very much like the covering of a professional dressmaker’s mannequin.) When you are draping on a professional dress form, you can feel the underlying seams through your muslin — very handy for locating the exact bust point or side seam, or placing a dart.

Once the French lining was perfectly fitted to a woman’s body, she could also use it to figure out (Oops, accidental pun!) alterations to commercial patterns.

[I was taught to call an individually fitted basic pattern a “sloper;” they’re handy to have if you are making multiple costumes for the same actor — or several pairs of trousers for yourself! Fitting patterns are still sold.]

Butterick waist 6791; Delineator, April 1914.

Incredibly, the Commercial Pattern Archive at University of Rhode Island has the pattern for this waist! (If you just create a Log-in, you can use this wonderful site  — over 64,000 patterns and growing! — for free.) There’s always a link to CoPA in my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar.

Pattern pieces for Butterick 6791; Commercial Pattern Archive.

It’s no surprise that Butterick 7971 includes a French Lining.

You can almost guess from the illustrations which garments need a French lining: if you think, “That dress defies gravity! How can that be possible?” or “How did she get into that?” you are probably looking at a dress that has a French lining.

Fashion Plate, 1888-1889 from Metropolitan Museum Costume Plate collection. Below the wrapped outer bodice is a concealed side-front closing.

There are no visible openings on these late 1880’s dresses. Met Museum collection.

They definitely did not have a zipper down the back! A tight fit in back and a concealed opening usually means a French lining; you can probably deduce the rest….

Vintage garment with very full front. The lace was accented with large French knots. It does not have a visible opening in front or in back.

Butterick 3816, Delineator, May 1910.

Butterick 3816, May 1910. The gathers are stitched to the lining; they won’t slide around or come untucked, and the V’s in back and front will never gape.



Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, 1920s, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, Edwardian fashions, Late Victorian fashions, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Also Very Thirties: Great Big Collars

Butterick dress 5391 from March 1934 has a great big collar with matching cuffs. Delineator magazine.

A while ago I posted a collection of fashions that featured over-sized bows, which were “Very Thirties.” Today’s featured nineteen thirties’ look is Great Big Collars.

Great big collars didn’t necessarily have that “Puritan” look, but many of them did.

Butterick 5688 from Delineator, May 1934.

Butterick 5870 claimed to be based on a design by Lanvin. (I wouldn’t care to sit for long on all those big, big buttons….) Left, illustration from Delineator, September 1934, Right, photo of the pattern constructed, from Delineator, August 1934.

Digression EDIT 3/18/18: In response to a question from Christina, I looked for more information on these two images, and found that, in August, the dress design was supposedly from Lanvin, and in September, it was attributed to augustabernard:

From Butterick’s Delineator magazine, August 1934, p. 62. “Jeanne Lanvin’s button-down-the-back dress….”

Pattern description of Butterick 5870 from Delineator, September 1934. This time, the design is supposedly inspired by augustabernard. I guess that answers the question I posed back in 2014: When Is a Designer Pattern Not a Designer Pattern?

End of Digression.

Photography was just beginning to be used in the less expensive fashion magazines. I love seeing the “fashion ideal” alongside the fashion reality. What an awkward pose that model has had to take!

The illustration on the left seems to show a double collar, which was definitely a fashion “thing.”

Versions of Butterick collar pattern 5952, Delineator, November 1934.

Collars and scarves could change the look of a dress for the office; Delineator, November 1934.

Butterick dress pattern 5854 has a double collar and “don’t order soup while wearing these” cuffs. September 1934. Photo by Arthur O’Neill.

Butterick dress pattern 4564 has a soft, sheer double collar. June 1932.

Butterick dress 5785 from Delineator, July 1934. This sheer double collar is probably a stiff organdy — which would be crushed by a winter coat.

Butterick dress 5854 has a double collar and double cuffs. Delineator, August 1934.

These collars would make any woman look like the perfect secretary or executive assistant.

Some collars could also be changed from one dress to another, which helped to make a small number of dresses look like a more extensive wardrobe. This was practical fashion for the Great Depression. [For other examples of changeable collars, see One Good Dress in the 1930s,  or   More Button-On Collars.]

Here are some Great Big Collars I have shown before, but these are clearer images:

A great big double or triple-layered collar, Butterick 4797, was featured in an article about “new life for old clothes.” Very timely, in December of 1932.

Another version of Butterick collar pattern 4797 from Dec. 1932.

A new collar was cheaper than a new dress, and several collars could make one dress seem like a larger wardrobe — this was during the massive unemployment of the Great Depression, after all.

This V shaped collar has a high neckline to cover whatever “antiquated” neckline was already on your dress or sweater. Delineator, December 1932.

This similar V-shaped collar was part of the dress:

This vintage dress with a great big collar reminds us that black and white images don’t always give a true idea of what was being worn.

Butterick dresses from November 1934. Delineator. One has a great big collar; one has a great big bow (two, actually.)

Not all great big collars were so attention-getting. These dresses were recommended for the college girl:

September 1931: a dress for college. Butterick 4058 has barely a trace of 1920’s fashion. Delineator.

Butterick 5812, another double-breasted dress for college, from August 1934.

Sometimes crisp and business-like, a big collar could also be soft:

This big collar is an important part of the dress’ asymmetrical design. Butterick 4564 from June 1932.

Butterick 4558 from June 1932 also has a surplice closing. Delineator.

This big collar appeared on an evening dress for women over forty:

Butterick 5924 — “smartness at forty’ =– uses its large, cape-like collar to camouflage upper arms. Delineator, November 1934.

Big collars were not just for grown-ups:

Butterick girls’ dress pattern 4416 from April 1932. Delineator.

And, remember, big collars did not have to be white:

A woman in a big, checked collar visits her butcher. [Prime rib was probably not on everyone’s menu in 1934.] Delineator.

Speaking of dresses for secretaries: I can never resist a plug for the pre-Code movie Baby Face.

Movie Recommendation: Baby Face, 1933
If you watch the movie Baby Face, from 1933, you’ll see Barbara Stanwyck in many variations of the simple dress with accessories, as she literally sleeps her way to the top. This is a Pre-Code picture, a lot more frank about sex than movies were 20 years later! (In some versions, it begins with this teenaged girl’s father clearly prostituting her to the patrons of his dive bar.) Armed with determination, cynicism, and a series of ‘secretary’ dresses, she works her way to the penthouse suite – and a much more glamorous wardrobe.




Filed under 1930s, Accessory Patterns, Children's Vintage styles, Dresses, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

A Wedding Party in the 1920s

The bride and groom sit informally on the grass in front of a home, surrounded by a group of young men and women in late-1920’s clothing. (It does look like the bride was trying to avoid grass stains on her light dress.)

While sorting my Aunt Dorothy’s huge collection of photos, I found these charming pictures of an informal wedding in the nineteen twenties. The skirt lengths suggest 1927-28 to me.

Happy faces (for the most part) and real-people hairstyles and clothing from the late 1920s. Left side of group photo. The men’s hair looks natural, not slick or oily.

More wedding guests, this time from the right side of the photo.

Although my aunt knew a great many women called “Dot,” — and she herself was called Dot — I haven’t been able to match “Dot the Bride” to any other photos, so I can’t find her last name, or date her wedding exactly.

Dot Richardson and Dot Robinson, on an office outing to Monte Rio, California, circa 1921.

Dot was the usual nickname for women called Dorothy.

There’s a good chance that like my aunt, the bride or her groom and most of the wedding guests worked at the Southern Pacific Railroad Headquarters in San Francisco. They all seem to be in their twenties or thirties.

Dot and her husband. I love his pocket square. Like the bride, many of the female guests are wearing their Marcelle-waved hair loose, longish, and full. Dot wears dark lipstick, too.

The bride and groom have a sense of humor, judging by the toy bulldog on a leash in the foreground.

Her pale, short dress, worn with almost opaque white silk stockings, has a lace “bolero” jacket and lace flounces. Her feet are swollen; brides don’t get to sit down much at weddings. [When their feet hurt, people used to say, “My dogs are barking.”]

Here the newlyweds pose with the honeymoon car, decorated with a “Just Married” sign and several big, tin cans to make noise as they drive away.

Their friends have tied several cans tied to the bumper to ensure that everyone notices the “Just Married” sign on newlyweds car as it clatters down the road.

Her huge corsage must mean “Maid of Honor.” She wears a light coat over a knee-baring print silk dress; big bows trim her shoes. As sometimes happens with informal weddings, not everyone got the “not too casual” message. (Yes, I mean you, Mister Sweater and No Necktie.) His boutonniere says he’s part of the wedding party.

Even this guest caught in the background wears a dress with a graceful, curving pleated flounce:

I wish we could see more of this dress on a Bette Midler look-alike….

Whether she’s gaining a son or a daughter, this mother looks happy.

The mother of the bride (or groom) looks very up-to-date in her short dress, worn with dark stockings and low shoes. The bride’s dress appears to be waistless, possibly a princess style with a bow and drape at her left side.

The white-haired lady’s dress has a V-shaped lace insert in the bodice, and a two-tiered skirt that just covers her knees. She hasn’t bobbed her hair, however.

I hope this bunch of pleasant-looking young people had very happy lives, and many equally pleasant celebrations.

It’s easy to imagine enjoying their company.


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Coats, Dresses, evening and afternoon clothes, Hairstyles, Hosiery, Hosiery, Makeup & Lipstick, Menswear, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, Wedding Clothes

Twenties’ Styles for Burn-Out Velvet

Vintage Twenties’ dress in champagne-colored silk velvet chiffon (burn-out velvet.) Private collection.

Some people call this “cut velvet“; it’s also called “burn-out,” “voided,”or “devoure” (with an accent aigue on the final e: dev’-00r-ay.)  The places where there is no velvet pile can be sheer, like chiffon; or satin-y, as in this bustle-era cape or mantle (the leaves are plush velvet, and the spaces between feel like heavy satin:)

Victorian dolman cape made to fit over a bustle dress. Cut (voided) velvet/satin brocade with silk chenille fringe. Private collection.

Back view, vintage twenties’ cut velvet and chiffon evening or afternoon dress. The top looks lighter because the skirt lining has been lost.

A close-up shows damage to the vintage chiffon back drapery and the burn-out silk, but you can see how sheer and chiffon-like the burnt-out areas are. A silk or rayon lining in the sale color as the velvet makes the subtle effect seen at left.

I don’t have a really good photo of this twenties’ fabric, but, if I were trying to reproduce this dress, I would visit Thai Silks.  Currently, you can find convincing period fabrics like this one for $25 to $28 per yard. Multi-colored, printed burn-out velvets will make a glamorous Twenties’ dress, and work best with a very simple dress pattern: easy elegance. Thai Silk is also a good source for silk charmeuse, silk satin, crepe de chine, etc.

On this store-bought twenties’ vintage dress, designs in velvet form a border on sheer black chiffon.

Butterick 2125; suggested fabrics were satin, metal cloth, or lace, but rayon silk velvet would also look like this. Delineator, September 1928.

I don’t usually recommend businesses on this blog, but as a theatrical costumer — twenty years ago — I used to love the company called Thai Silks. I was close enough to shop there in person, but you can order (one yard minimum!) online. The online catalog is downloadable, and they will mail you a swatch or two before you commit to a purchase. Burn-out velvet (very 1920’s) is currently about $25 per yard. If you like Britex, you might love Thai Silks.

Butterick patterns for velvet dresses, Delineator, November 1928, p. 118. The printed velvet second from left is Butterick 1785, for sizes 34 to 48. Second from right is Butterick 2232. The print velvet on No. 2232 looks much like this one.  These velvet dresses are for afternoon wear.

Note: the “hand” of real silk or rayon/silk velvet is nothing like the stiff “decorator” velvet sold in many fabric chain stores. Thai Silks sells many rayon/silk blends, so asking for a swatch allows you to “feel” if it will behave properly for your pattern. Rayon and silk are both authentic 1920’s fabrics.

About rayon/silk velvet: one of the first synthetic fabrics, rayon is cellulose based, like cotton and linen. Silk, like wool, is protein based. Chemicals that make it possible to dissolve the protein (silk) and leave the cellulose (rayon) intact make it possible to create burn-out effects. (I’m working from memory here, so if you need more information, please look for a more knowledgeable source on devoure silk!)

These print dresses from Delineator, November 1928, could be made from printed velvet if you use silk velvet or a soft rayon/silk blend. Butterick 2335 and 2299. (Maybe this one?)

Printed silks in patterns suitable for the 1920’s (including “necktie silk”) are still being made, if you shop carefully.

It’s important to remember that the labor (or time) spent making a dress is almost always more “expensive” than the fabric. Three or four yards of quality silk or silk velvet fabric (under $100 total) will result in a dress worth hundreds of dollars, and putting all that work into a polyester dress will never give the same result. Luckily, the more interesting your fabric, the less complex your dress style should be, so that the fabric, not the trim, is the real star. [Be aware that stitching velvet requires careful pinning and basting, and practice.]

Two views of Butterick 1118, from Delineator, November 1926.

Delineator suggested transparent “night blue” velvet for this evening gown. White or plum or another color of velvet would be just as lovely. So would many other silks.

The Exotic Silks company offers basically the same products as Thai Silks, and offers a large sample set of velvet swatches for $12 (2017 price.) However, Exotic Silks is a wholesaler; (minimum order for silk is 15 yards and for velvet is 28 yards.) Thai Silks has a one yard minimum and will send you swatches of the fabrics you really are interested in; you can phone them. Thai Silks also offers several sets of swatches, $12 and up. (I believe Exotic Silks and Thai Silks are two branches of the same store, wholesale and retail.)

P.S. Here is the store label from this 1880’s cape; today, fabric similar to this is often sold as upholstery velvet:

1880’s dolman cape, front view. The “sleeves” are held in place with internal ties; this is a cape, not a jacket with fitted sleeves.

Label from bustle-era cape: “L.F.W. Arend & Co., Importers & Mfturers, Chicago.”

Click here for a Pinterest page full of late Victorian mantles like this.



Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Costumes for the 19th century, Dresses, evening and afternoon clothes, Resources for Costumers, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Mystery Dresses

This vintage dress has been altered and patched. It raises many questions.

The patches on this faded dress hint at a life of hardship. If I had photographed the back, dating it might be possible — but a poor woman might not have had access to current fashions. It’s a mystery to me.

Many collectors are interested in the beauty of vintage dresses. But the woman who collected these dresses saw them as windows into women’s lives. Sadly, neither dress had documentation, so we don’t know anything about the women who made them, wore them, patched them, and tried to make them last a few more months or years. I’m sharing them because such dresses rarely survive to be collected — they end in the rag bag, not a museum. I don’t have the expertise even to date them securely (and how I wish I had had time to take more pictures!) Comments and conjectures about them are very welcome.

A mystery dress circa 1930?

Back of red dotted dress with a puzzling insert at the waist.

Here’s the front again:

Is this a late twenties dress, lengthened as much as possible for the 1930s? Or is it a thirties dress, lengthened and altered for a new wearer?

It is very long, suggesting early 1930s. There’s no fading to mark a previously shorter hem line, but this hem is as skimpy as possible. Was it a hand-me-down from a shorter woman?

A tiny rolled hem.

This dress was home-made, and not by a very accomplished seamstress. Here’s the sheer collar:

The rolled hem on this collar is machine stitched, but quite uneven.

Maintaining even tension around the curve of a soft, sheer material isn’t easy.

Someone who worked on this dress didn’t cut perfectly on grain, so the skirt sags towards its right side. You can see that the vertical pattern of dots on the front of the dress lined up originally. Was there always a waist seam? It doesn’t look like it.

The slightest sag at the waist seam (the dots don’t line up evenly) affects the hang of the skirt. Did this happen originally, or when the wide piece was inserted? Was the front of this dress one piece from shoulder to hem before it was altered?

The pattern of dots isn’t straight because the skirt is off grain at the waist.

There are seams in the back of the dress:

Vertical back seams suggest that the dress always had a waist seam in back — or do they? I’m asking….

Again, this pattern matching is not the work of an experienced dressmaker. On the other hand, I once bought cheap  printed flannel plaid for a nightgown and discovered that it was printed off grain, so it was possible to make perfectly matched seams on one side but not on the other. Maybe it was hard to fold this material for cutting and make the dots line up.

Aside from the question of why this dress has a wide band inserted at the waist, it’s clear that the person doing the alterations had barely enough material for the band — not enough to match the dots and line them up inconspicuously. In fact, the stripes on the dress run vertically and those on the band run horizontally. It’s made from scraps.

Scraps were also needed for alterations to the armholes. Either they tore while the dress was being worn, or they had to be enlarged for a different wearer:

On each side, the armhole was made larger and a patch was placed underneath. The repairs to the sheer ruffle are not symmetrical. Did one side tear?

Presumably there wasn’t enough fabric to match the pattern — or the person making the alternations wasn’t skilled enough to try (these are very large patches, secured with another line of large hand stitches.

I’m not belittling the people who made and altered this dress. I’m suggesting that they did not have the luxury of perfectionism. They had to make do with what they had, and I think that whoever owned this dress, new or second-hand, had to wear it and hold her head high. Poverty limits choices.

Another mystery dress, probably 19th century (?)

The front of a long dress with fitted bodice and many patches.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this dress is that the patches accumulated over time. It appears to be patched with scraps of the original fabric, but the dress, the large patch, and the smaller patch are not faded equally. The fabric is lightweight, so the cream colored bodice lining contributes to the impression of fading there, but not on the sleeves.

How I wish I had had a mannequin available, and the time to photograph the back and the interior structure. The back seams would tell us something about the date when it was made. The waist seems to be cartridge pleated, but, again, I have no photo of the construction. The shoulders don’t look dropped, but it’s hard to tell on a big, padded coat hanger!

The neckline is crudely done, using fabric that matches the band on the skirt.

The hem is very worn, and the fabric at the shoulders is faded and worn through in one place.

It is possible to see two bust darts on the left side of the bodice (on its right, they are hidden by a patch.)

You can see characteristic Victorian bust darts which are not covered by the dark patch.

But the dress is a mystery as to date, especially because, if it was made and worn by a rural woman, she could have been using a much older dress as her only guide. Machine stitched or hand stitched? Or both? I don’t know.

Someone may recognize the fabric, or be able to date the dress from old photographs — for me, it’s a nagging mystery — and I wish I knew about the woman who wore it. To me, the dress says that she was strong and brave while enduring years of hardship.



Filed under 1860s -1870s fashions, 1870s to 1900s fashions, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Dresses, Late Victorian fashions, Musings, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s

A variety of McCall patterns from the 1940's showed glittering trim on simple tops.

A variety of McCall patterns from the 1940’s showed glittering trim on simple tops.

In the forties, McCall offered several patterns for simple tops which could be raised to evening wear status with sequins or beading. “Afternoon-evening” style implied a fashion that could be worn for dates when combined with your daytime business suit; a simple change of blouse and the working woman or traveler was ready for cocktails, dinner, and dancing.

McCall 1192 had an attractive back, too. The cap shoulders are a style that returns periodically.

McCall 1192 had a decorated back, too. The cap shoulders are a style that returns periodically. “Just two pieces to this blouse.”

No. 1192, from 1945, was still featured in the needlework catalog for May, 1950. It included an embroidery transfer and  instructions for applying the sequins one at a time, although you could also purchase strands of sequins by the yard.

How to stitch sequins or do a decorative embroidery stitch. McCall 1192.

How to stitch sequins or do a decorative embroidery stitch. McCall 1192.

You could also work it in bugle beads, or in six-strand cotton embroidery thread “for a  more restrained effect.” A simple chainstitch was also recommended. Most of the ornamentation would be done before before sewing the side seams.

Description of McCall 1192.

Description of McCall 1192. Embroidery transfers came in blue, for visibility on most light colors, or yellow, for use on dark colors.

McCall pattern 1283, from a 1946 catalog. The blouse is simple, but the sequin trim is glamorous.

McCall pattern 1283, from 1946. The blouse is simple, but the sequin trim is glamorous. Making a long skirt in matching fabric would give you an “evening gown” that could be varied with other tops.

The rows of sequins suggest necklaces. The sash seems to be attached in the back, and brought around to tie in front. [If I were making this blouse, I’d add more fabric to keep it tucked in at the waist.]

McCall 1283, circa 1946. A handbag pattern was included.

McCall 1283, circa 1946. A handbag pattern was included. “For daytime wear, trim with fine rickrack and wear under suit jackets. One of the ‘musts’ for that special weekend or vacation and so easy to pack.”

There was a time when a lady did not wear sequins in the daytime. However, late afternoon and the cocktail hour permitted a bit of sparkle.

Witness to Fashion note:  The wearing of metallic fabrics, rhinestone-studded clothing, and sequins during daylight hours was only beginning to be acceptable in the early 1970’s. I remember walking to breakfast with my husband in Hollywood one morning about nine; a woman passed us wearing tight jeans, high wooden platform heels, and a strapless sequinned stretch top, called a tube top. “Was she — or wasn’t she — a prostitute?” I asked to my spouse, figuring a man might pick up signals I was missing.  He looked utterly bewildered when he admitted, “I don’t know!” A few years earlier, we would have had no doubts.

Many forties’ dresses for late afternoon and evening have subtle sequin trim; some are not so subtle.

Vintage black dress with black sequin trim, 1940s. (It photographed navy, but it was black.)

Vintage black dress with black sequin trim, 1940s. (It photographed navy.)


A short forties’ party dress trimmed with green sequins and cream-colored seed beads. [A black petticoat visible near the hem is not part of the dress.]

Detail: a spray of flowers made from sequins on a vintage dress.

Detail: a spray of flowers made from sequins and beads on a vintage dress.

Black vintage dress with a sunburst of beads.

Black vintage dress with a “necklace” and sunburst of sequins.

Another late forties detail:  This blouse has beading around the neckline, suggesting a necklace.

McCall transfer No. 1408 used beading to transform a very simple blouse into a sparkling one. You wouldn't need to carry jewelry if you packed a blouse like this.

McCall transfer No. 1408 used beading to transform a very simple blouse into a sparkling one. You wouldn’t need to carry  jewelry on vacation if you packed a blouse like this.


Using an embroidery hoop,  organza, tissue, (or modern tear-away stabilizer) to keep the fabric from stretching makes applying these trims easier.

In 1950 you could choose among several neckline beading designs:  a bow, a pendant, etc.

More neckline beading designs from McCall. Pattern 1491.

More neckline beading designs from McCall. Pattern 1491.

A bow on your shoulder of a "brooch" could also trim your dress or suit jacket. McCall 1491.

A bow on your shoulder or a beaded “brooch” could also trim your dress or suit jacket. McCall 1491.

More beading patterns for blouses, dresses and suits. McCall pattern 1314.

More beading patterns for blouses, dresses and suits. McCall pattern 1314. (From 1947.)

Gold or iridescent beads were available, but many of these patterns were used very subtly, in black on black, bronze on brown, blue on blue, etc. The square pattern below would turn a simple wool crepe suit into an elegant one, if you worked it in beads or shiny thread on the pockets.

A square beading pattern like this would be subtle in black beads on a black suit jacket. Variations could be used on the neckline of a wool dress or the collar of a suit jacket. McCall 1314.

A square beading pattern like this would be subtle in black beads on a black suit jacket. Variations could be used on the neckline of a wool dress or the collar of a suit jacket. McCall 1314.

If you’re tempted to make a dressy forties’ blouse, remember how often sparkle was added to day-into-night clothing. Pick a simple style, and let the ornamentation supply the sophistication.

McCall 1404: simple linger sleeved blouses embellished with rays of sequins at the neck.

McCall 1404: simple longer-sleeved blouses embellished with glittering rays at the neck. Late forties.


McCall 1293 for a vestee, a timeless halter top, a hat and a bag.

McCall 1293 included a vestee, a timeless halter top, a hat and a bag. Dated 1946.

Picture that 1940’s halter with evening trousers or a short lace skirt; if you found it in a thrift store, would it scream “1946” to you?

McCall 1293.

McCall 1293 included this Juliet cap and evening bag. This cap would not work over high forties’ hairstyles, but was perfect over a close-to-the-head fifties’ cut.

A sequinned monogram on a blouse or dress was also worn by many — although I wonder whether monogrammed gifts are always appreciated by the recipient….

McCall transfer pattern 1339 supplied 5 inch high initials to work in sequins or embroidery thread.

McCall transfer pattern 1339 supplied 5 inch high initials to work in sequins or embroidery thread. (1947) Swing, anyone?

If you like the idea of adding sparkle, but not too much, consider an applique. I used to own several forties’ dresses which had bodice (and sometimes skirt) appliques of flowers — cut from printed material — and outlined or delicately accented with sequins. This dress does not have sequins, but a few on the appliqued tulip — clear or matching the colors — wouldn’t be out of period.

This vintage dress has a solid rayon crepe bodice, a floral printed crepe skirt, and one motif -- a tulip -- from the skirt fabric appliqued to the bodice. A few sequins on that tulip would be fine.

This vintage dress has a solid rayon crepe bodice, a floral printed crepe skirt, and one motif — a tulip — from the skirt fabric appliqued to the bodice. A few sequins on that tulip would be fine.

Obviously, this mannequin was too small for the dress; the flared, bias-cut skirt should hang from the natural waistline. A narrow self-belt probably accompanied this dress, but has been lost.

It’s not too late to make your forties’ style  holiday party blouse or dress!




Filed under 1940s-1950s, bags, Dresses, Hairstyles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Purses, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns

Beaded Roses in 1920’s Style

The stylized roses of the 1920’s are lovely, and putting just one on a simple dress can really make it look authentic.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator.

A wedding dress with a single, large beaded rose at the hip. Butterick 6224 from October 1925. Delineator. It would be equally attractive (and authentic) in black or gold beads on black satin, or white beads on pink, silver beads on pale blue, etc.

Butterick dress pattern 7047, beaded using transfer pattern 10472. Delineator, Sept. 1926.

The Robe de Style from 1926 has two spiraling beaded flowers on the skirt, and a band of beading on the cape-like collar. Butterick embroidery transfer 10472, on dress pattern 7047.

I’m not suggesting that you make a dress like this one for your first beading project:

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

Butterick 6227, October 1925.

However, here is the beading pattern that was used. It appeared in Delineator in May of 1925. It is Butterick embroidery design 10340.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations.

Butterick beading transfer 10340 offered the stylized rose in several variations — a single rose, a rose with tendrils, and the large repeating pattern used on wedding dress pattern  No. 6227.

Butterick transfer 10341, May 1925.

Butterick transfer 10340, May 1925. Work it in beads or in French knots.

You can actually count the beads. Putting a rose like the one in the center on the ends of a chiffon sash or the neckline of a dress would not really take very long. For that matter, you could do it in rhinestones on a T-shirt or in studs on the back of a leather jacket!

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator.

A photograph of one beaded rose. Delineator. A larger rose would take more beads or bigger beads.

In a smaller scale — or with bigger beads — this rose could also decorate the side of a cloche hat. You can play with designs, like this….

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

Top, the pattern turned sideways; bottom, used as a applique with two sets of tendrils.

… Moving or combining them, enlarging them as needed. Sometimes an applique was beaded.

Here is another Butterick rose beading pattern:

Embroidery transfer

Embroidery transfer 10378, Delineator, October 1925.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator.

Butterick embroidery transfer pattern 10378, October 1925. Delineator. “For dresses, blouses, scarfs, coats, etc.”

It’s easy to envision the large motif embroidered on a pillowcase with a scalloped edge, but it would also be perfect beaded on the hem of a 1920’s chiffon dress, or even on the front and back panels of a wedding gown:

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

Bridal dresses, April 1925. Butterick patterns 5719 and 5447.

You could work these embroidery patterns in beads or shiny silk embroidery floss on dresses, or in cotton on pillowcases, although French knots do make quite an impression on your cheek!

This circa 1920 blouse it trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading on top of the appliques.

This late teens or early twenties blouse is trimmed with shiny silk floss embroidery, appliques of orange fabric, and beading plus embroidery on top of the appliques. Rows of French knots in apricot and ice blue silk look like beading, but they are not. They’re knots :).

I once beaded just the bust area on a 1950’s cocktail dress for a play — enhancing the existing champagne colored brocade with small pearls and gold sequins and beads. I was amazed by how much a few hours of beading while watching (OK, listening to) TV enhanced the actress’ figure. (A new mother, she was self-conscious about the size of her post-delivery hips. The beading helped to balance her hips by making the top part of the dress more interesting.)

The neckline and hip band on this blouse were trimmed with clear beads.

The yoke and hip band on this vintage blouse were trimmed with pale, translucent beads for a subtle effect.

It’s is also possible to use lace trim and ornament it with just a few beads for sparkle. Look at the impact that made on this satin dress from earlier in the 20th century:

Lace was appliqued to the satin and then enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads.

Lace was applied to the satin and enhanced with matching gold-bronze beads. Lots of impact, but very little hand beading.

I’m sure there are plenty of “how to apply beads” videos available. I’m no expert, but what I recommend is:

Use a beading needle. Attach each bead or group of 3 or 4 beads using a backstitch. (Backstitch through the beads.) Do not use a running stitch, or a pull on one bead will pucker your material. Knot off every two or three inches, so a single broken thread won’t dump all your beautiful beading onto the floor. (Don’t cut the thread, just continue after stitching in a knot.)  A free-standing embroidery hoop is useful, so you can work with your more skillful hand underneath and your less skillful hand on top, where you can see what it’s doing. ( Q:  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” A:  ” Practice.”)

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the white beading on this pale pink dress.

In spite of the blurred photo, you can appreciate the opaque white and pink beading on this peachy pink vintage dress. The pieces were probably professionally beaded before being assembled into a dress.



Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, Dresses, Musings, Shirts and Blouses, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, Wedding Clothes