Tag Archives: A History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Spanabel Emery

Dual (or Triple) Purpose Apron, 1949

This is a rather peculiar multi-purpose pattern: an apron that could be used as an evening cape….

McCall Pattern 1509 for an apron, or a cape, or ....

McCall Pattern 1509 for an apron, or a cape, or ….

“And that’s not all!” as they say in those ads on TV at two in the morning. McCall 1509 could also be an overskirt, made to match your dress material, or in lace, organdy or taffeta,  and trimmed with velvet, beads or sequins:

McCall pattern 1509, the "glamour tunic apron," first appeared in 1949. Images from McCall needlework catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall pattern 1509, the “glamor tunic apron,” first appeared in 1949. Images from McCall needlework catalog, Nov. 1950.

McCall 1509.

McCall 1509. “The new costume stretcher. It changes day dresses into date dresses…. Glamorize your dresses with the new tunic apron! It’s smart to match fabric to your dress material. Wear this style tied at front, back, on the side…. Note slenderizing effect.”

If you wore the glamor tunic over a mid-calf sheath dress, you would have two looks without having to make two dresses.

Maybe it was the words “costume stretcher,” but when I saw this pattern, I remembered a fascinating item which Joy Spanabel Emery featured in her book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry. Butterick pattern B4408, from 1948, was a set of “Yoke, Flares, and Flounces for Skirts.”  The purpose of the pattern was “to lengthen skirts.” Click here to see it. I wonder if this McCall Apron/Tunic pattern was ever used the same way?

The black version, with velvet and bead trimmed pockets, would allow you to lengthen the skirt of the dress under it.

The black version, with velvet and bead trimmed pockets, would allow you to lengthen the skirt of the dress under it by adding fabric between the waist and the hip, and would work with almost any black sheath dress.

Why Would You Want to Do That?

During the years of the Second World War, America was “cut off” from French couture.

In England and America, regulations controlled the amount of fabric in garments.

Dior’s “New Look,” introduced in 1947,  was in part a reaction to years of fabric shortages, fabric rationing and war-time clothing restrictions.

The "Bar Suit" from Christian Dior's "Corolle" collection, 1947.

The “Bar Suit” from Christian Dior’s “Corolle” collection, 1947. American magazines called this “the new look.”

Julian Robinson’s Fashion in the Forties (which has a British slant) makes it clear that many aspects of the New Look — tiny waists, widened hips, flowing drapery and longer hemlines — were under way before the war, but fabric rationing and “utility” clothing kept women in short skirts and other late thirties’ styles until the war ended.

Slim Two-Piece patterns from a Butterick store flyer, October 1943. Patterns 2734 and 2725 have skirts that stop just below the kneecap/

Slim Two-Piece patterns from a Butterick store flyer, October 1943. Patterns 2734 and 2725 have skirts that stop at mid-kneecap, and use about three yards of fabric for the whole outfit.

Joy Spanabel Emery concisely summarized American clothing restrictions:

“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….’ ” — A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, page 136.

As in the 1929 – 1932 period, in the post-war years 1947 -1949 the fashionable skirt length dropped precipitously.

Simplicity store flyer, April 1948. Long, full skirts were a luxury after wartime scrimping.

Simplicity store flyer, April 1948. Long, full skirts were a luxury after wartime scrimping.

And, although it’s easy to make a skirt shorter by taking up the hem, it’s very difficult to make a skirt several inches longer without an obvious “patched” look. You can add a contrast band or ruffle to a full, gathered skirt and make the result look deliberate, but the dresses and skirts of the war years were made close to the body, in an effort to avoid wasting materials.

So — how could a woman on a limited budget get from this silhouette …

Left, two suits from 1943; right, a suit from May 1944. Butterick 2746, ad from Vogue, and Butterick 2979.

Left, two suits from 1943; right, a suit from May 1944. Butterick 2746, ready to wear ad from Vogue, and Butterick 2979.

… to this one?

Three Butterick suits from 1949. Butterick Pattern Flyer, Nov. 1949.

Three Butterick suits from 1949. Butterick Pattern Flyer, Nov. 1949.

It takes a while for fashions to change, since only a few people adopt a drastically new silhouette at first. But eventually, if successful, the new styles displace the older ones in the stores. By the late nineteen forties, dresses that could be made with less than three yards of material looked shockingly short.

War-time dress patterns: you could make aany of thers dresses in an average size (16) with three yards of fabric or less. Butterick 2721, 2735, 2600, and 2611;store flyer, Oct. 1943.

War-time dress patterns: you could make any of these dresses in an average size (16) with three yards of fabric or less. Butterick 2721, 2735, 2600, and 2611; store flyer, Oct. 1943.

For women used to making their clothes last for years, (and remaking them) and especially for women on a limited budget, patterns like B4408 — which offered a way to lengthen skirts from waist to hip instead of by letting down the hem — must have seemed like a very good idea (if you still had a well-defined waist).

Butterick 4408 circa 1948 from an image on Pinterest

Detail of Butterick B4408 circa 1948 from an image on Pinterest; ( I couldn’t find it at its source.)

The idea was to remove the original waistband or bodice, let out the waist-to-hip darts (if any,) and insert a new piece in the skirt  — which would be concealed by a peplum, as in B and C. Fortunately, a peplum was often part of the New Look, which exaggerated the width of the hips in order to make waists look smaller. Notice the peplum at top right in this Dior image from 1948 (from Life magazine.) I’m looking at the McCall multi-purpose apron pattern with this in mind.

McCall 1509 tunic apron used as a peplum would allow you to lengthen your old cocktail dress.

McCall 1509 tunic apron used as a peplum would allow you to lengthen your old cocktail dress.

What a cocktail dress from May 1944, might look like when lengthened with the addition of a peplum to hide a pieced skirt.

What a cocktail dress from May 1944, might look like when lengthened with the addition of a peplum to hide a pieced skirt. New hairstyle optional….

Of course I’m just speculating — which is always fun….

 

 

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Filed under 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, Accessory Patterns, Vintage Accessories, Vintage patterns

Butterick Starred Patterns: Actual Fashions from the Movies (Part 1)

Katharine Hepburn in Butterick Starred Pattern 5156 5154, Delineator May 1933. P. 71

Katharine Hepburn in Butterick Starred Pattern 5156, Delineator May 1933. P. 71 From the movie Christopher Strong.

As far as I can tell, in 1933 Butterick decided to take advantage of the movies’ influence on fashion by issuing a dozen patterns that were exact copies of the clothes worn in films. The costumes were designed by Orry-Kelly, Travis Banton, and Howard Greer for actresses Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Kay Francis and Mary Astor, among others. The series was called Butterick Starred Patterns. The movie studios cooperating with Butterick were Warner’s, R.K.O., and Paramount.

These patterns are not to be confused with the Hollywood Pattern company; Hollywood Patterns only had movie studio tie-ins, with pictures of stars and starlets appearing on the pattern envelopes. The patterns were not exact copies of movie costumes. As explained in A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, by Joy Spanabel Emery:

“Hollywood pattern styles were not of the garments worn in films, for as stated in the April/May Hollwood Pattern Book, ‘[The designs] are inspired by the clothes of the smartest stars, not copied from them. The dress which may be perfect for the camera may be too dramatic in the office or home. Our staff studies the best previews, then creates clothes in the same spirit, but easier to wear.’ ” — Joy Spanabel Emery, p. 126. [Movies were often previewed a month before general release.]

SoVintagePatterns.com has many Hollywood patterns for sale. Click here and see if you find your favorite actress. Click here to see the Hollywood pattern version of a Scarlett O’Hara dress, translated into a 1939 evening gown or day dress.

Butterick Starred Patterns

Because of their rarity and their genuine movie and celebrity tie-ins,  Butterick Starred Patterns are collectors’ items now. Butterick No. 5215, a pattern for the bathing suit worn by Bette Davis in The Working Man, sold on Ebay in December, 2015, for $113.50 (unused.)

Bette Davis in The Working Man, and Butterick Starred Pattern. Delineator, June 1933.

Bette Davis in The Working Man, and  Butterick pattern 5215, a halter top bathing suit. Delineator, June 1933.

Butterick Starred Patterns only appeared in the Butterick catalog for one year: 1933. (Joy Spanabel Emery, p 127.)

As it happens, I have just finished going through all 12 issues of Butterick’s Delineator magazine — in which “Starred” Patterns were publicized — from 1933. From April through August, The Delineator featured a different movie each month, with illustrations of the patterns on the same page as photographs of those exact outfits being worn in the film.

Delineator, June 1933. p. 63. Four Butterick Starred Patterns designed for Bette Davis by Orr-Kelly in the film The Working Man.

Delineator, June 1933. p. 63. Four Butterick Starred Patterns designed for Bette Davis by Orry-Kelly in the film The Working Man.

I’ll separate the patterns by designer, starting with Bette Davis in four costumes designed by Orry-Kelly for the Warner Brothers’ film, The Working Man. Here is the text of the article “Four Costumes Worn by Bette Davis.”

1933 June p 63 Bette Davis 500 hollywood 5204 5215 5212 5214 left TEXT

1933 June p 63 Bette Davis 500 hollywood 5204 5215 5212 5214 btm half TEXT

Bette Davis’ bathing suit 5215  in The Working Man is searchable as Butterick 5215 C in the Vintage Pattern Wikia. The pattern envelope shows another, pleated version, too. That view was featured in Delineator’s July issue. It’s been named “Seaworthy,” and there is no mention of Bette Davis or the movies.

Butterick bathing suit pattern 5215 -- "Seaworthy" -- in a feature about resort wear. Delineator, July 1933.

Butterick bathing suit pattern 5215 — “Seaworthy” — in a feature about resort wear. Delineator, July 1933.

In June, Delineator said, “The plaid gingham bathing suit is fashion news, for the cotton suit is the suit of the summer, much, much smarter than the wool one.” In July, the same suit, in an alternate view with pleated skirt, was described this way:

Butterick 5215 as described in July 1933.

Butterick 5215 as described in July 1933.

Two designs for Bette Davis in The Working Man. Butterick Starred Patterns 5204 and 5215. Jule 1933, Delineator.

Two Orry-Kelly designs for Bette Davis in The Working Man. Butterick Starred Patterns 5204 and 5215. June 1933, Delineator.

Bette Davis wore Starred Pattern No. 5204 for her role as a secretary:

Butterick Starred Pattern 5204, a "four pocket" dress for a secretary. Delineator, June 1933, p. 63.

Butterick Starred Pattern 5204, a “four pocket” dress for a secretary. Delineator, June 1933, p. 63.

“It was a grand dress to get fired in.” 5204  is not in the Vintage Pattern Wikia, but click here to see the envelope.

Butterick Starred Patterns 5212 and 5214, designed by Orr-Kelly for Bette Davis. Delineator, June 1933.

Butterick Starred Patterns 5212 and 5214, designed by Orry-Kelly for Bette Davis. Delineator, June 1933.

Butterick Starred pattern 5214 is described in the June article as the “two color dress [which] tends to reduce one’s ‘Boss’ to a state where he will eat out of one’s hand.”

Bette Davis in the dress which Butterick copied as pattern 5214. Delineator, June 1933.

Right: Bette Davis in the dress which Butterick copied as pattern 5214. Delineator, June 1933.

Bette Davis Starred Pattern 5214 is listed in the Vintage Pattern Wikia as 5214 B. Patterns 5204 and 5214 had long or short sleeved versions, so buyers could make an exact copy of the movie dresses.

The “jabot frock” on the left, above, “would make the best possible Saturday dress.” Bette Davis Starred pattern  5212 is also in the Vintage Pattern Wikia.

Costume designer Orry-Kelly first worked with Bette Davis in 1932, when she still thought of herself as “a mousy, twenty-two year old virgin with knobby knees, a pelvic slouch, and cold blue bug eyes….”

“Davis credited Orry-Kelly’s designs for giving her a certain amount of chic, a quality that she did not feel she possessed…. During her eighteen years at Warner Bros.,  Davis came to rely on Orry-Kelly to help her build the characterizations for which she became so famous.” — Creating the Illusion, p. 170

Orry-Kelly and Bette Davis didn’t like each other, according to Jorgenson and Scoggins in Creating the Illusion, but they realized that they complemented each other’s work.  They made forty-two movies together in a period of fourteen years.

“Working with Bette Davis isn’t easy, but she’s worth it. She’s honest and outspoken. She’s one of the very few actresses I know who can look in the mirror and tell herself the truth. When I’m ready to give up and throw out a dress, she’ll give it a hitch or a twist and turn it into something great.” — Orry-Kelly, quoted in Creating the Illusion, p. 171.

Orry-Kelly has an astoundingly long list of movie design credits  (Filmography) at the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb), but he didn’t design all the costumes in all those movies. Studios often listed a department head or supervisor as the “designer” on films. Much of the work was done by assistants. However, established stars developed working (and sometimes fighting) relationships with studio designers. In addition to all those Bette Davis pictures, you may remember Orry-Kelly’s costumes for Gold Diggers of 1933,  Casablanca and Some Like It Hot. 

Next:

Butterick Starred Patterns, Part 2: Orry-Kelly designs costumes for Kay Francis, and Butterick makes patterns from his designs.

 

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Filed under 1930s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Bathing Suits, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Swimsuits, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns, Vintage patterns from the movies, Women in Trousers