1950s Fashion History - The 'Look' of 50s Glamour with Fashion Dressmaking Patterns
The Growth of a Media and Consumer Influence on Society
In the 1940s and 1950s American culture became very dominant
in Europe. The influence of movie films and the prominence of film stars
set the fashion in manners, make-up, hair and clothes. Women, girls,
men and youths all desired look-alike copies of outfits, accessories and jewellery worn by
the most popular screen idols. It
was widely believed that Hollywood glamour would rub off on you if you had the
clothes and developed the look. One way to achieve the look was to make your own
clothes and customise them so they had a similar look to fashions worn by
celebrities of the day.
You can see how stylish and elegant some of these c1951 fashion designer
sketches for garment patterns are in this image below. This 1951
pattern collage I've made below is from images allcourtesy of Michelle Lee and who
features some of them for sale at her
http://www.oldpatterns.com/ website Patterns from the Past.
McCall Company in their autumn quarterly magazine dated August 1925 in
an article on Paris Fashions had stated that the magazine 'shows the latest
importations of Jenny, Lanvin, Patou, Vionnet, Premet, Renee, Drecoll,
Chanel, Lelong.' Each pattern shown, was also numbered with a by-line
of the designer's name.
The 50s was no different. Since 1949 Vogue had contracted with 8 famous French
Couturiers including Schiaparelli, Paquin, Balmain, Fath, Molyneux, Lanvin and
Heim to provide a couture pattern service. However these were often quite
complex patterns for the average home sewer and so evening classes were a way of
getting expert assistance to make a fashionable garment.
1950s Dressmaking Patterns
Made in an expensive fabric such as shot silk home
dressmakers could save pounds by making her own dresses. When
trimmed with a fashionable fake flower and a matching stole added,
the outfit offered an element of originality
amid mass produced goods. A dress pattern could just as easily be made up in a washable
cotton as a summer dress.
The Second World War left women craving for glamour which
they were able to recreate themselves. Dressmaking Pattern manufacturers such as Butterick, McCall's, Simplicity, Vogue along with magazines such as Woman, Woman's Own and Woman's Weekly all responded
by creating stylish dress patterns.
By the mid 50s dressmaking patterns made by pattern companies like
Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity and Vogue were vastly improved. The little
dressmaker had all but vanished, so middle class women began to take up dressmaking as a useful hobby.
In this set of sewing patterns below from c1950, you can almost visualize Doris Day
wearing the trim tidy precise check dress and the neat 'pure' white yoke and collar with
that pert little hat. These examples of old pattern covers are also all courtesy
of Patterns from the
Past, and if you look carefully you'll notice they all feature
check, stripe, plain or spot fabrics.
Just like now checks, spots, stripes, abstract designs, small flowers
and large florals all came in
and out of fashion and as the styling that followed on from Dior's New Look
survived for 10 years and more, change was shown mostly by the fabrics
used. You can see a wide range of skirt styles existed too,
but almost always the top was darted and fitted to show off a small waist
but with the skirt varying from
flared to full and roomy to straight. Two skirt versions were given on
many sewing patterns as the last image shows.
By the late fifties guaranteed sewing success was more certain, as new fabrics
like Crimplene, better quality zips, all coupled with improved patterns made
straightforward dresses very easy to sew.
For the 50s, simpler, "Easy To Make" sewing patterns were also promoted.
Once the late fifties and shift dresses arrived,
the shapes were so easy to construct, that many women simply read the sewing
instructions and taught themselves the necessary skills, running up a dress in
an evening on their new consumer durable - an electric sewing machine. If
they were very lucky the sewing machine would have a zig zag stitch feature
which speeded up the neatening process and enabled them to make machine
buttonholes by manually adjusting the zigzag width as they worked. At the
same time individuals could take their all but complete garment along to a
Singer Sewing Shop. There were many Singer shops then throughout major towns of
Britain and for a small charge women could have the buttonholes made at the shop.
Many garments made then were fully lined in true
couture style and turned through at the shoulders as the construction
method enabled raw seams to be covered and also encompassed a neat way
of completing tiny shoulder straps. The only equipment some women
had was a needle and thread, others would have used hand sewing
machines, some used treadles and some had treadle machine converted into
electric models. As a toddler I recall my grandmother buying a
'new' electric sewing machine from a man who worked for National and
came hawking at the door. The same man sold my father a 'modern'
Since the 1950s many names to suggest quickness such as the 3
Jacket or Jiffy pattern have been used to highlight how fast a
garment could be made into the latest fashion item.
These old sewing and dressmaking patterns are much
sought after today, under phrases such as
vintage ephemera. They
offer an insight into past fashion styles worn by real people and also
accurate pattern drafts for re-enactors who make clothes for
These 1955 pattern covers of suits remind me so
much of fashionable suits my mother wore. They would often be finished off
with a brooch or even a small corsage of fabric violets or acorns and
foliage or cheerful red cherries. Getting the whole 'groomed' look was
important and included a smart over arm handbag and
gloves. These formal straight skirted suits and jackets have
little finishing touches such as side vents, back half belts, flap pockets,
and seven eighths or three quarter sleeves.
The images used on this page were all used with permission
from and courtesy of Michelle Lee
from her website Patterns from
the Past. Michelle sells original, dress and vintage costume patterns as
well as original recently out of print and vintage sewing and craft patterns
of all kinds. You can visit Patterns
from the Past here.
These 12 pattern covers below both show styles of 1959. You
can see how the bouffant skirt was at its peak and contrasted with slim
sheath dresses. The straighter less shaped styles are beginning to
emerge in the bottom row and looser less fitted over blouse tops, less
focused on the natural waist, are a developing fashion line that would take
off in the 60s.
Straight shift dresses like these were economical on fabric
too and as the bodice became less fitted it developed a more relaxed air as
the new 1960s decade beckoned. The bottom end image is a wonderful
example of a duster coat of the era. Duster coats were great cover ups
over full skirted dresses, but also were used as maternity wear. They
could be made in a wide range of fabrics from brocade, to shantung silk to
cotton poplin. There are many old images of
Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth II wearing this style of fashion coat to events in the 1950s and
early 60s. You can see more patterns like
these and some of these in more detail at Michelle's site on old patterns at
Patterns from the
Past at http://www.oldpatterns.com/
My very sincere thanks to Michelle Lee and her website
http://www.oldpatterns.com/ for the use
of these wonderful images. Do visit her site for a feast of old
patterns spanning the best part of the 20th century.
Page Added 10 June 2005
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