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