Tag Archives: 1950s fashions

Timing Fashions, from The Rag Race by Bernard Roshko

Wine red velvet suit with beige fox fur trim, Paquin, in Delineator magazine, Dec. 1926.

Wine red velvet suit with beige fox fur trim, by Paquin, in Delineator magazine, Dec. 1926.

I’ve just started reading Bernard Roshko’s book, The Rag Race, about the “Rag Trade” (the garment industry), published in 1963. His chapter about timing the release of fashions made me think.

“The calendar is no help; the temperature is what counts…. One fall season, for example, fur-trimmed suits were a high-fashion item. But the warm weather held on, dissuading women from buying them. Then wintry weather came in with a rush, so that women skipped the suits and bought dresses to wear under their coats.” — Roshko, p. 80.

Wine red coat made from a Vogue pattern, featured in Elegance, 1962-62 issue. Photo by Horst.

Wine red coat made from a Vogue pattern, featured in Elegance, 1962-63 issue. Photo by Horst.

My first thought reading Roshko was, “when was the last time I saw a woman wearing a wool suit?” — especially one that is fur-trimmed? I live in San Francisco, where some women do dress up, but we’ve just had a mild, dry fall season. In fact, our year-round temperature is moderate — rarely reaching freezing or staying above 70 degrees for long. It’s good weather for wearing suits, but I haven’t bought a suit in years.

Woman's suit pattern with two skirt options, No. 7928, Butterick Fashion News, Oct. 1956.

Woman’s suit pattern with two skirt options, No. 7928, Butterick Fashion News, Oct. 1956.

However, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, even a woman in her early twenties could wear a suit to church, to meetings, to restaurants, to concerts and plays, and while clothes shopping. (The suit guaranteed that you were wearing appropriate underwear and shoes for just about anything you tried on.)

Butterick coat patterns Nos. 7924 and 7923, Oct. 1956.

“Top Choice for Coat Weather:” Butterick coat patterns Nos. 7924 and 7923, Oct. 1956. The “clutch coat” with push-up sleeves (7929) was a very popular style, available in stores at many prices.

This clutch coat pattern also showed a button-up version. Click here.

My second thought has to do with the extreme weather events which are becoming more frequent. As I write, on January 22, the radio tells me that New York City is expecting 24 inches of snow. Roshko says that winter clothes had to be in the stores by September (“By Columbus Day, the stores hold sales on winter coats,”) because spring fashions and resort wear replaced them on the racks in February. Sometimes, by the time a woman needed a warm winter coat, it was too late to buy one.

Vogue coat featured in Elegance, 1962-63 issue.

Vogue coat featured in Elegance, 1962-63 issue. A slim-fitting dress worked best under such coats. A navy coat was a sensible choice, because it would not look out of place in Spring, while a burgundy or brown coat would.

Spring was a difficult season for sellers. Store buyers complained that “Spring can last three months or only three days;” if hot weather arrived early, women reached into their closets for last year’s summer dresses, and the “new Spring Fashions” — dresses in pastel wool or linen — were never purchased at all. I’m glad I’m not in the rag trade, especially this year.

Butterick Fashion News, October 1956

Roshko also mentions that a fall or winter dress that sold well would often be manufactured again, in a different fabric, for spring or summer. That might be just as true of these sewing patterns, which were featured in October of 1956:

Butterick dress pattern 7953. It could be made as a sheath or with a full skirt. BFN Oct. 1956.

Butterick dress pattern 7953. It could be made as a sheath or with a full skirt. BFN Oct. 1956. “Bateau neckline.”

It’s easy to imagine the sheath version in pale blue for Spring. Navy blue was also considered a Spring color.

Butterick No. 7847 could be a buisnesslike dressy sheath or a party dress, made with fly-away panels.

Butterick No. 7847 could be either a businesslike dressy sheath or a party dress, made with fly-away panels. The cinched waist that was introduced with the New Look was still fashionable in 1956.

Good heavens! Does that model actually have thighs? These are dresses for a mature woman, although teen styles in the 50’s were very like women’s styles. The “party” version would usually have been worn with a large necklace. The pattern envelope shows it in a summery, short-sleeved turquoise version, too.

Butterick pattern 7814 is a coat-dress, buttoning all the way down the front.

Butterick pattern 7814 is a coat-dress, buttoning all the way down the front.

Plaid, with a velvet collar, this dress is very autumnal. Getting a winter coat over it wouldn’t be easy, though. Made in navy linen, the pattern could be used in Spring. A white collar and cuffs would make it look quite different. According to Roshko, prudent manfacturers kept a stock of neutral color, medium weight fabrics — gray, black, light gray — which could be made up from the previous season’s dress patterns when the season was “slack” and the newest Paris styles had not yet been copied. The pattern envelope shows coat-dress No. 7814 in black faille with rhinestone buttons for afternoon or evening, and in a pinkish short-sleeved version for Spring or Summer.

Butterick 7812 dress pattern from October, 1956.

Butterick 7812 spectator dress pattern from October, 1956.

“A trim spectator [dress] gains new interest from its novelty plaid, its turn-around accents. . . .  the contrast collar, the back dipping belt, the fan shaped walking pleat.” From the front, this sporty dress is very simple; it’s the bold plaid that makes it a dress for Autumn. The pattern envelope shows it in summery green or pink versions.

Butterick 7927 is a sporty suit or separates. Oct. 1956.

Butterick 7927 is a sporty suit or separates. Oct. 1956. The jacket can be worn belted or “straight.”

A thrifty woman would make two skirts in colors coordinated with the colors in the plaid jacket, but it would be difficult to wear a coat over this jacket, which makes its season brief. You wouldn’t want to wear it to a football game on a snowy day. But you could always use the skirt pattern again. Click here for pattern envelope with jacket unbelted.

Butterick pattern 7892, Oct. 1956.

Butterick pattern 7892, Oct. 1956. Basic dress with optional capelet and vestee.

Shown in tweed wool for fall and winter, No. 7892 looks like it would work as a suit for church or shopping, and the eight-gored dress really is a “basic” that could be worn under coats and completely transformed by making it in different fabrics. The bow at the neck is part of a vestee [something like a dickey] worn under the dress. In Spring or Summer, you wouldn’t need it, as shown on the pattern envelope.

Butterick 7931, Oct. 1956. The shawl is completel separate and optional. The sleeveless dress is shown as a jumper worn over a sweater.

Butterick 7931, Oct. 1956. The shawl is completely separate and optional. The sleeveless dress (a “sheath-jumper”) is shown as a jumper worn over a sweater.

This Fall version of the sheath-jumper is made in plaid, with a matching shawl, but a look at the alternate view shows a dress that would be pretty in pastel linen or even in black, so it’s a multi-season pattern. Like dress maufacturers, pattern companies want their designs to continue over several seasons.

My personal favorite is this plaid jumper.

Butterick pattern 7930, a jumper.

Butterick pattern 7930, a jumper. It can be worn without a sweater under it, so this pattern might be made as a pretty summer dress, too.

Jumper-dress patterns are tricky — some of them have larger-than-normal armholes, to allow for the thickness of the blouse or sweater worn underneath. But this one says “alone it’s terrific.” In a pretty cotton, this could go to patio parties all summer. However, wearing that many crinolines to school would not be a good idea; you wouldn’t fit in your chair-desk.

 

 

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, Sportswear, Vintage patterns

Embroidered Wool Jackets, 1950

Embroidered "Mexican" jacket, McCall Pattern 1399. McCall Needlework Catalogue, May 1950.

Embroidered “Mexican” jacket, McCall Pattern 1399. McCall Needlework Catalogue, May 1950.

Someone in my family had a gold-colored embroidered jacket, very much like this one. I remember finding it, sadly moth eaten, while cleaning out an old wardrobe.

I hadn’t appreciated the enormous craze for these jackets until I looked up “embroidered Mexican jacket” online. Plenty of them survived and are available from vintage dealers. In fact, I found a few in the first vintage store I checked — Decades of Fashion, in San Francisco — and took a quick photo or two. coat 72 dpiThis one was made in Mexico, probably brought home as a vacation souvenir.

Img_8530The very helpful clerk reminded me that, during World War II, the United States made an effort to form stronger alliances with our neighbors to the north and south, including trade agreements.

In the 1940s, while the war made it too dangerous to travel to Europe and the Pacific (and with cruise ships turned into military transports,) Americans seeking vacations in exotic locations had an incentive to explore closer to home. Many tourists seeking warmer weather in “Sunny Mexico” discovered a world of brighter colors, brilliant flowers, beautiful embroidery, gaiety, and chunky, handmade Mexican Silver jewelry from Taxco.

Unsigned, chunky Mexican bracelet, probably 1940s -1950s. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.

Unsigned, chunky Mexican bracelet, probably 1940s -1950s. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.

It’s surprising that McCall Patterns would offer several patterns for stay-at-homes who wanted to duplicate the look of souvenir jackets from Mexico, but these patterns for embroidered wool coats — usually unlined — were available for women, teens, and children in 1950.

Embroidered Coat Pattern for Women, McCall #1399

McCall pattern #1399, May Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall pattern #1399, May Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall "Mexican" coat pattern #1399, May 1950.

McCall “Mexican” coat pattern #1399, May 1950.

These coats were usually unlined and could be made from wool fabric or wool felt, so, except for the wool embroidery, they were easy to make. At least one person made one, and it turned up online (click here.)

Pattern #1399 description from McCall Catalogue, Dec. 1950.

Pattern #1399 description from McCall Catalogue, Dec. 1950.

The felt versions that I have seen had edges trimmed with blanket stitch, for definition, but the wool flannel versions had 1/4″ hems turned under and secured with cross-stitch in one or two colors. The red coat I photographed has the same stitching shown in this pattern:

A narrrow hem turned stitched in two colors.

A narrrow hem stitched in two colors.

collar of jacket made in MexicoThe embroidery motifs from McCall include colorful vendors at markets, donkeys and their owners, palm trees, and other stereotyped images, but — happily — not a sombrero-wearing man taking a nap against a seguaro cactus. That was a popular image for 1950s salt & pepper shakers, as I recall; tourists who had never lived in a hot country interpreted the sensible habit of resting during the hottest part of the day — a break in a workday that began before dawn and lasted until dark — as “laziness.” [One more image to file under “painful cultural misunderstandings!”]

McCall Pattern 1327, “Mexican” Embroidered Jacket for Girls 6 to 14

Pattern for Girls 6 to 14 years, McCall # 1327, 1950.

Pattern for Girls 6 to 14 years, McCall # 1327, 1950.

may 1950 p 281girl966I  like the burro loaded with flowers on the back .

McCall Embroidered Jacket Pattern for Boys and Girls Aged 2 to 6

McCall pattern #1464, McCall Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

McCall pattern #1464, McCall Needlework Catalogue, 1950.

Travel-Wise Embroidered Coat Pattern: McCall #1565

“Far away places with strange-sounding names,

“Far away over the sea,

“Those far away places with strange-sounding names,

“Are calling, calling to me….” — song by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer, 1948

That song was on the Hit Parade for months in the late 1940s. It was sung by Bing Crosby (and others) in 1948 and became a hit; then it was recorded by Perry Como (and others) in 1949 and became a hit again!

One reflection of this travel-lust was McCall’s pattern #1565, from 1950.

McCall "world traveler" pattern #1565, from 1950.

McCall “world traveler” pattern #1565, from 1950.

dec 1950 500 dpi travel coat 1565It could be embroidered in cotton with the names of places you visited — or wanted to — or simplified, with just appliqued images of a plane and a ship on the pockets, and compass points on the sleeves. dec 1950 72 dpi travel coat 1565 plainer front dec 1950 photo travel wise coat975The “nice swingy” back could be covered with images of the Eiffel Tower, a Dutch windmill, etc. dec 1950 72 closeup dpi travel coat 1565 text travel wise coat978

dec 1950 1565 text travel wise coat976

1950s Embroidered Jackets: Who Wore Them?

“Wear it on a cruise or on campus,” says the pattern catalog. However, I suspect that these jackets were most often made as gifts, rather than by the woman who was going to wear them.

I can’t help wondering if the survival of so many embroidered Mexican jackets is due to an experience many travelers have had: The brilliant colors and “peasant” styles that feel liberating in their natural setting often seem loud or “costume-y” when you get them home to your normal, urban or small-town environment.

dec 1950 photo travel wise coat975This “world traveler” jacket — without the place names — looks chic and playful on the model. Would the version with the place names really help you to look sophisticated while sailing on the Queen Elizabeth? Or in Paris?

 

Even this conservative version of the embroidered jacket, with a floral pattern reminiscent of the 1920s, probably did not get very much wear:

Woman in embroidered wool  jacket, circa 1950 -52. Courtesy of  RememberedSummers.

Woman in embroidered wool jacket, circa 1950 -52. She has not changed her 1930s hairstyle. Courtesy of RememberedSummers.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Coats, Sportswear, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, Vintage patterns, vintage photographs

1950 Aprons for Barbecues and a Happy Marriage

McCall's Apron Patterns for Men and Women, store catalog,

McCall’s Apron Patterns for Men and Women, store catalog, 1950.

McCall’s featured these apron sets for men and women in at least two 1950 catalogs. I’m not sure how many men barbecued while wearing suits, but they certainly barbecued while smoking cigarettes. (See below.) The pattern on the left, #1481, is described as “Mr. & Mrs. Happy Marriage Aprons.”

Mr. & Mrs. Happy Marriage Aprons

McCall's apron pattern 1481, catalog, May 1950.

McCall’s apron pattern #1481, catalog, May 1950.

happy marriage text953

The happy marriage aprons show the husband doing the grocery shopping, washing the dishes, and mopping the floor. The wife does the cooking, the ironing, and the dusting. Not a bad division of labor, for 1950! (Uh-oh. These aprons “will amuse friends, each other.” I bet a lot of them were wedding shower presents, intended to get a laugh.)

Weiner Dog Barbecue Apron Set

McCall's Men's and Women's apron set pattern #1515, from store catalog, May 1950.

McCall’s Men’s and Women’s Barbecue Apron Set pattern #1515, from store catalog, May 1950.

weiner dog text p 22“Mrs. looks so barbe-cute in hers, with appliqued dachshunds, a toasting hot dog. And the pig chef appliqued on man’s apron will barbe-cure Mr. of hot coal shyness.” Because of strong anti-German sentiment during World War I (and WW II), dachshunds were sometimes called “liberty” dogs, “weiner” dogs, or “sausage” dogs. [cf. “freedom fries” nine decades later.]  In the fifties, my family called dachshunds “weenie dogs.” This 1950 catalog indulged in a lot of puns when it came to aprons and tea-towel embroidery transfers.

An Oh “So-Mannish Apron”

McCall's Apron Set Pattern # 1319 for Men and Women, store catalog, May 1950.

McCall’s Apron Set Pattern # 1319 for Men and Women, store catalog, May 1950.

chef and waitress aprons text1950“Mr. Never-go-near-the-kitchen will hustle to help if he’s wearing his own so-mannish apron.”

French Chef Embroidery Pattern

The McCall’s Needlework Catalog also offered a set of 8″ embroidery transfers suitable for dish towels or pot holders. [Big dish towels made from bleached flour sacks were often embroidered and sold at fund-raising bazaars. I’m still using some that I inherited 30 years ago; thousands of trips through the wash have made them lint-free and very absorbent — not at all like the small, not-very-absorbent ‘dish towels’ made from looped towel fabric that are common today.]

French chef embroidery transfer pattern #1055, offered in McCall's  catalog; May, 1950.

French chef embroidery transfer pattern #1055, offered in McCall’s catalog; May, 1950.

A set of big dish towels embroidered with these charming, cartoonish French chefs would still make a great gift! However, the copyright is probably still held by McCall’s, now part of Butterick, so I do not recommend making them for sale! Bon appetit!1055 french chefs embroidery text

 

 

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Accessory Patterns, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Vintage Accessories