In March, 1917, before America officially entered World War I, Delineator magazine began a series of articles on the advantages of making your own clothing. I find them interesting because the cost of making up the same pattern(s) in different fabrics is given.
Digression: Before I show the patterns and their budgets in detail, I can’t ignore that ad for Hump Hair Pins.
Not quite a bobby pin and not quite a traditional hairpin, the Hump Hair Pin seems to be designed for women who are bobbing their hair like Irene Castle, or at least wearing it shorter in front while pinning up the long hair in back.
Cutting the Cost of Clothes, March 1917.
The article by Evelyn Chalmers, “Cutting the Cost of Clothes,” was the first in a series intended to be of “very practical helpfulness to women of average means.” Delineator aimed at the middle and upper-middle class woman; not everyone lived near a department store, but most towns had dressmakers who made clothes from patterns their customers selected. Not every woman who bought a Butterick pattern would sew it herself. However, Butterick Publishing Company had good reasons to stress the cost-saving potential of sewing patterns.
“I am going to show how you can cut the cost of clothes. . . . I am going to show, . . . for instance, how you can have a delightful little suit under fifteen dollars that you couldn’t buy for twenty-five. . . . I am going to help you choose styles that will serve as many purposes as possible so that you will always be correctly dressed without having to go to the expense of a very elaborate and varied wardrobe. It is a question of using your brain, your thrift and your industry in place of money.”– Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator
“The three [suits] I have chosen . . . are simple but not too severe, smart enough to answer all requirements and yet so conservative that you can use them for traveling, shopping, etc. . . . The suits are smart. They are correct. They are young looking and becoming.”
Costs of Materials for Making Butterick Patterns 9039 and 9019
“A smart little suit with pinch tucks:”
Supplies for making this coat and skirt combination ranged from $7.21 to $11.03, depending on the version you made and the materials you chose.
I am assuming that “flannel” is wool flannel, but it is a facing, so perhaps not. Satin lining material varies from $0.80 to $1.00 per yard. I’m surprised to find that the coat is interlined with cambric (which I associate with handkerchiefs) which can cost either $0.09 or $0.12 per yard. As now, buttons could be cheap ($0.18 per dozen) or a bit fancier ($0.25 per dozen.) Chalmers suggested celluloid buttons.
Costs of Materials for Making Butterick 8980 and 9040
“A suit with splendid lines:”
The jacket has a rather interesting pocket and belt combination. High, and bizarre, hats were popular.
The jacket’s collar could be made of velveteen, at $0.75 per yard, or of velvet, at $1.00 to $1.25 per yard.
All three jackets are lined with satin, and interlined with cambric. “For your lining you can get a satin with a cotton back at the price I’ve quoted.” This outfit’s price ranged from $7.20 to $11.20.
Costs of Materials for Making Butterick 9041 and 9042
This is a typical “( “Six or seven inches from the floor is the length accepted by the best houses here and abroad.”
You can understand how the 1917 barrel skirt might have tempted women to let their figures spread a little, so that the slim lines of the 1920’s were a bit of a problem for the not-very-young. (See How to Look Thinner in the 1920’s; Corsets and Corselettes.)
This suit (jacket and skirt) could be made as cheaply as $8.27 or from more expensive “serge, gabardine or check” for $13.45, assuming you made it yourself.
All of the patterns call for dress weights, cambric interlining, silk thread, cotton thread, and basting thread.
Chalmers suggested making a satin blouse (with a peplum) in the same color as your skirt, so that it could be worn as a “street dress” when the weather got warmer and you didn’t need a jacket.
Prices for Mail Order Clothing from Delineator Advertisements
The cost of making the suits shown in Eleanor Chalmers’ article do make her point: “You can have a delightful little suit under fifteen dollars that you couldn’t buy for twenty-five”
In the same month, March 1917, advertisers in her magazine offered two piece suits, something like those above, for as much as $35.00.
Cost of Living, March 1917
One kind of ad that appeared in Delineator over a long period — decades — was for nursing schools. To give you an idea of a desirable income for a woman:
This Dodge convertible closed car cost $ 1135.00, F.O.B. Detroit.