1920s Patterns with Bust Measurement 44 Inches or More
In spite of the long, narrow figures in 1920s fashion illustrations, twenties dress patterns were usually available in bust sizes 33 to 44 inches – the equivalent of a modern size 22. Butterick routinely issued patterns even larger than 44. The gorgeous evening dress above, pictured in gold metallic brocade, is sized 36 to 48. More about it later….
Body Measurements from a Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927
This chart is on the back of a pattern envelope from 1927:
A woman with a 32″ bust was expected to have 35″ hips; a 38″ bust had 40 ½” hips; and a size 44 was assumed to have 47 ½” hips – and the pattern mentions “outlet seams” which can add another inch and a half if necessary.
Surplice Styles Flattering to Larger Women
As you can imagine, 1920s fashions which drew a horizontal line across the widest part of a woman’s body were not necessarily flattering — especially to a woman with 49″ hips. With that in mind, the editors of Delineator Magazine often recommended a surplice line dress for larger women. “There is no line more flattering to mature figures than the surplice closing, especially when it is softened by a scalloped and frilled lingerie collar. The straight skirt is gathered to a girdle that ties snugly….Designed for [bust] 34 to 48.”
The ‘surplice line’ meant that there was a design line, often the front closing, that ran diagonally from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Draped fabric falling from that point – as in the gold evening gown, #1187 below – carries the eye down, rather than across the body.
Two 1926 Evening Gowns for Size 48 Bust
Frock #1195: Draperies that develop wing-like properties in motion fly from the shoulder and hip of a Paris evening gown. The frock that composes itself entirely of Georgette, lace, or crépe de chine is the most useful kind of evening dress. In this particular frock the bloused body is sewed to a one-piece slip and the lower edge of the tunic [sic] is straight….For women 32 to 48 bust. [Controlling the blouson top by attaching the sheer outer layer to a slip makes the dress much easier to wear. The slip – with its straight hem – is visible below the asymmetrical hem of the dress. Such a slip would be made in a color to match the dress, and the silk used for the slip might also bind the neckline.]
Gown #1187: “Uneven lies the hem of the Paris gown intended for formal day or evening use. The long V line of the surplice closing, the tight drapery at the hip and the free drapery at the side have reducing properties. The gown itself is in one-piece style and so is the separate slip. An extra slip with sleeves for afternoon, make[s] two gowns. Size 36 will need 2 5/8 yards of metallic brocade 40 inches wide. Designed for women 36 to 48 bust.” [The version illustrated is an evening gown. An under-dress ‘slip’ with a higher neckline and sleeves, often of sheer fabric trimmed with the dress fabric, would make it modest enough for afternoon tea dances, etc.]
Mature Elegance in a Surplice Evening Gown
Elsie de Wolfe, Noted Interior Decorator (and about 63 years old at the time of this February ad) wears an evening dress very similar to Butterick #1187 in an advertisement for Lucky Strike Cigarettes, 1929. She is quoted as saying, “I recommend a Lucky instead of a sweet… an excellent substitute when your appetite craves a sweet but your figure must be considered.” [The ad goes on to say that “A reasonable proportion of sugar in the diet is recommended, but the authorities are overwhelming that too many fattening sweets are harmful. So, for moderation’s sake we say: – ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet!’ “]
Surplice Line Dresses for Young Women and Teens, January 1929
The surplice style was not limited to older women or those who had to “consider” their figures. Butterick pattern #2397, “a very informal afternoon frock for winter resorts, [was] designed for sizes 32 to 37, 15 to 20 years, and for [ladies with bust measurement of] 38, 40.” The dress next to it, #2424, is also for teens “15 to 18 years and [women bust] 36 to 44 [inches.]” A dress pattern for size 18 years had a 35 inch bust, but was proportioned for a smaller person. 1920s pattern descriptions often say “15 to 20 and smaller women.” Butterick Patterns for women who were both short and stout did not become available until the 1930s, as far as I have seen — but I’m still looking.