February 3, 2016 § 4 Comments
It’s unseasonably warm here in Toronto, so instead of my planned wintry ephemera, here’s a resort-themed cover from the late 1930s.
Although it’s a winter issue, the February 1939 Butterick Fashion News shows a woman leaning off the rigging of a yacht. The pattern is Butterick 8245, a short-sleeved sports dress with matching shorts.
This is an English copy, from the John Lewis flagship on Oxford Street. On the back cover, the caption reads, “When your dirndl skirt blows wide open to the wind, let your admiring public see under it matching, brief new ‘baby shorts!’ Your shirt wears initials on its pocket and may have either the collarless or convertible neckline.” The pattern seems to call specifically for striped fabric:
January 11, 2016 § 5 Comments
Happy New Year! Vintage reissues give a taste of the pleasures of sewing vintage, without the bidding wars and grading. Here is an overview—with rarely seen archival images—of the contemporary vintage pattern lines from Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s. (Simplicity could not be reached for comment.)
Launched in time for Holiday 1998, Vogue Patterns’ Vintage Vogue line provides true reproductions of vintage patterns borrowed from private collectors. (See my earlier post and discussion, How Do You Take Your Vintage Vogue? or get the details on the Vintage Vogue Search.) Alas, the terms of the old licensing agreements mean that Vogue can’t reissue designer patterns.
Deco evening dress pattern Vogue 2241 remains a favourite; I recently came across a version at Toronto’s Spadina Museum. I found an illustration of the original, Vogue S-3543, in a Vogue Patterns news leaflet from December, 1931. The description reads, “Here is a frock that expresses the newest movement of the mode, its originality and charm. It has a slender moulded look from the décolletage to the circular panels that trail slightly on the ground”:
Butterick donated the original to the Commercial Pattern Archive:
Retro Butterick and McCall’s Archive Collection
Both Retro Butterick and McCall’s Archive Collection patterns are recreated and sometimes adapted from archival materials, not the original patterns. With archival images, sticklers for accuracy can restore these adaptations to the original vintage design.
Early Retro Butterick pattern B6408 is based on Butterick 4391, a “Quick and Easy” late 1940s design for an evening gown with hooded scarf:
McCall’s introduced The Archive Collection for Early Fall, 2014. The recent 1920s coat pattern, M7259, is based on McCall 5057, a 1927 design by Agnès:
The McCall 6057 gown is a couture adaptation: the design is after Patou. Here is the description from McCall’s magazine: “The Patou silhouette is beautifully exemplified in a formal evening gown which has curved bands at the neckline and hipline, a short bolero and inserted panels lengthening the skirt”:
For more on the McCall Pattern Company’s vintage lines, see We Sew Retro’s interview.
December 23, 2015 § 3 Comments
Evelyn Tripp (1927-1995) was one of the most prolific models of the 1950s. Born on a farm in Missouri, she was discovered at 20 while shopping on Fifth Avenue. You may recognize her from William Klein’s photograph, Smoke + Veil. She retired in 1968. (Read her New York Times obituary here.)
Evelyn Tripp did modelling work for Simplicity, Woman’s Day, Butterick, and Vogue Patterns in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The Fall-Winter 1950 Simplicity catalogue includes a few photographs of the young Tripp. Here she wears tent coat Simplicity 8217:
Tripp also modelled an early Pauline Trigère design for Woman’s Day magazine. The portfolio was photographed by Leombruno-Bodi (full size here):
Among Tripp’s many covers are several for Vogue Pattern Book. Here she wears suit pattern Vogue S-4625:
On this spring cover she poses in dress-and-coat ensemble Vogue S-4659 (with matching hat):
Inside, she poses in two-piece playsuit Simplicity 1608:
Tripp also appeared in a 1956 Vogue Patterns advertisement promoting the new printed and perforated patterns. The evening dress pattern is Vogue S-4735:
Here she wears Vogue 9607, made up in red, on the cover of the holiday 1958 issue of Vogue Pattern Book:
Tripp may also be seen in early 1960s Vogue Pattern Book editorials. Here she wears Vogue 4267, a one-shouldered dress in wool jersey:
October 30, 2015 § 8 Comments
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman isn’t set to open until 2017, but audiences will get a glimpse of Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Marvel’s feminist superhero, Captain Marvel (originally Ms. Marvel) will also get her own movie in 2018. (Guardian story here.)
Since the 1930s and ’40s, when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their first comic strip appearances, superheroes have occupied a special place in popular culture. The 2008 Costume Institute exhibit, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, explored the influence of superhero costumes on fashion. (Click for a look inside the book.)
With Halloween around the corner, here’s a look at licensed superhero costume patterns from the 1960s to today, with a focus on the place of gender in children’s costuming.
In 1966, the Batman television show premiered on ABC; just the year before, the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, had returned to the airwaves in syndication.
From 1966, McCall’s 8398 is a pattern for “Girls’ or Boy’s Batman, Robin and Superman Official Costumes.” The pattern is copyright National Periodical Publications, Inc., an early version of DC Comics:
The Fall 1966 McCall’s Home Catalog promoted McCall’s 8398 with McCall’s 8562 as “Magical Costumes for the Wonderful World of Make-Believe.” The text reinforces the idea that these superhero costumes were intended for imaginative, active children, regardless of gender: “Now that active young lad or lass with the vivid imagination can be Batman, Robin or Superman at the switch of a colorful costume. Only McCall’s has official patterns for the costumes of these swashbuckling heroes of comic books and TV…” (click to enlarge):
In 1978, the Wonder Woman TV series was still running, and December saw the release of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.
That year, Simplicity released two patterns for children’s superhero costumes: Simplicity 8714, Batman, Robin, and Superman costumes for children and boys, and Simplicity 8720, Catwoman, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman costumes for girls. (‘Child’ often refers to unisex pattern sizing for younger children.) The introduction of female superhero costumes seems to have prompted a sex-division on the pattern envelopes—although the categories could always be subverted by individual children and their parents:
Later official superhero patterns tend to be movie or TV tie-ins. As in contemporary popular culture, the balance shifts toward male superheroes, but there’s also an oscillation between strict gender categories and more inclusive costuming. The 1980s were the decade of Superman and Supergirl: Supergirl opened in 1984, and there were three more Superman movies ending with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).
In 1987, Butterick released two superhero patterns, both with iron-on transfers: a Superman and Supergirl play suit for small children (sizes 2 to 6X), and a Superman costume for men and boys. I couldn’t find a corresponding women’s and girls’ Supergirl pattern. The small children’s is a pyjama or jogging suit-style top and pants for stretch knits, with separate cape and skirt; the men’s and boys’ is a spandex stirrup jumpsuit and briefs:
(With thanks to Jan Lamm.)
Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) launched a new superhero franchise. Late 1980s Batman pattern Butterick 4201/6313, for men and boys, appears to have been timed to the Tim Burton film, but reflects the now-retro Batman. Like the Butterick Superman, it’s also a stirrup jumpsuit and briefs for spandex blends:
Butterick licensed costumes from Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995): Batman, Catwoman, and the Penguin, and Batman, Robin, and the Riddler. The Batman costumes reflect the movies’ increasingly hypermasculine armour, while Catwoman’s sexy, home-sewn catsuit is the only design for women and girls.
Maybe because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t human, this Ninja Turtles pattern is gender-inclusive, labelled as for both girls and boys. The design is called a playsuit, not a costume (click the image for envelope back, or see it made up on flickr):
On the other hand, this Captain Planet pattern for children and boys includes a grotesque ‘muscle’ suit. The second character is called Verminous Skumm:
’90s costume patterns start to show the influence of Japanese television shows—Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Masked Rider, and Sailor Moon. This Sailor Moon costume pattern came in children’s and girls’ sizes:
Marvel doesn’t seem to have ventured into pattern licensing until the 1990s, when Simplicity’s children’s costume patterns were gender-inclusive. Simplicity 7543 is a child’s Spiderman costume with sleeve webs made from fishnet:
Before the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises of the 2000s, there were ’90s animated TV shows based on the comics: X-Men from 1992 and Spider-Man from 1994. In the mid-1990s, Simplicity released several more Marvel patterns, all labelled as unisex Child’s costumes: Spider-Man and Venom (Simplicity 7241), Wolverine and Storm (Simplicity 7246), and Cyclops and Magneto (Simplicity 7251). Wolverine and Storm is my favourite:
This fall, Simplicity released five licensed costume patterns for Marvel and DC superheroes. The women’s DC costumes are featured on the cover of the Halloween catalogue: Wonder Woman (Simplicity 1024) with Batgirl and Supergirl (Simplicity 1036):
The women’s costumes match those of the comic-book characters, but for the corresponding children’s pattern (Simplicity 1035), all three costumes have been altered to become knee-length, long-sleeved dresses. Batgirl loses her catsuit and Wonder Woman is virtually unrecognizable. What message does this send to children comparing the comic-book illustrations on the envelopes?
The two Marvel patterns, Captain America (Simplicity 1030) and Thor (Simplicity 1038), have a different format. Both from Marvel’s Avengers, the adults’ and children’s sizes share the same envelope, which includes an illustration of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America down the left-hand side and a superimposed image of the pattern pieces with the text Sew It Yourself. Both are labelled as boys’ and men’s. The Thor should really be unisex if he’s now a woman:
(S0225 is the advance version; the S1030 envelope seems to have some strange retouching of the man’s crotch.)
It’s great to see Wonder Woman making a comeback, and the increasing popularity of costuming means we’re likely to see more licensed superhero patterns in the near future. Here’s hoping there will be a Black Widow or Mystique—and it’s not a dress.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
* As I wrote this post, spellcheck failed to recognize the names of female superheroes. Please fix this, WordPress!
October 9, 2015 § 7 Comments
Anticipation is high for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which opens in December. For fans of costume design, it helps that Michael Kaplan, who began his career with Bob Mackie and Blade Runner (1982), is designing the costumes for the new film. (Read Vanity Fair’s post here.) Here’s a look at Star Wars costume patterns.
Star Wars’ costumes must be among the most discussed in cinema. In 2005, LA’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) organized the exhibit Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, accompanied by a book by Trisha Biggar, the costume designer for the prequel trilogy (Abrams, 2005; still in print). Last year saw the publication of Brandon Alinger’s Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy (Chronicle Books, 2014). And a new travelling exhibit, Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, will open in New York next month.
John Mollo’s costumes for Star Wars, which won an Academy Award in 1978, have immortalized a certain strand of ’70s style. Compare Princess Leia’s iconic hooded dress with a 1976 Dior evening gown available as a Vogue pattern; both were made in white silk crepe de chine:
(I’ve made the Dior in red; photos coming soon.)
The year after The Empire Strikes Back (1980), McCall’s began releasing children’s costume patterns licensed with Lucasfilm.
McCall’s 7772 includes costumes for five characters from the first two films: Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Yoda, Jawa, and Lord Darth Vader. The Vader view calls for one single serving cereal box. I have several sizes available in the shop:
After Return of the Jedi (1983), McCall’s released a children’s pattern for Ewok costumes. And not just any Ewok: the envelope back names “Wicket the Ewok”:
In the 1990s, Butterick took over the Lucasfilm licensing. Butterick 5174 and 5175, official Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker costumes for adults and children, included an order form for the wig and light sabre:
Butterick also released two official Darth Vader costume patterns for children and adults. Butterick 5176 and 5186 included instructions for breastplate appliqués made from coloured, foam sheet remnants, and an order form for the helmet and light sabre:
There were only unofficial costume patterns based on the prequel trilogy. The year of Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), McCall’s released McCall’s 2433, a “Space Nomads” pattern for adults and children with a version of Sith warrior Darth Maul:
Based on costumes from Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Simplicity 4433 includes Padmé Amidala’s combat suit, which doubles as an Aayla Secura costume (but two-sleeved and without the headpiece):
Although Padmé’s Peacock dress was cut from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), it was widely seen in promotional materials for the film:
Andrea Schewe produced two versions of the Peacock dress and headddress for children and adults, Simplicity 4426 and Simplicity 4443. The adults’ pattern includes both Padmé and Princess Leia, while the children’s has Leia, Padmé, and young Anakin and Obi-Wan:
Men’s costume pattern Simplicity 4450/059 includes Anakin and Obi-Wan Jedi costumes, together with an unidentifiable warlock:
Based on Padmé Amidala’s nightgown in Revenge of the Sith, McCall’s 4995 is a dress with boned bodice, separate drape, chain or bead trim, and tassels made with three sizes of beads:
Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, perhaps there will be more licensed Star Wars patterns…
Update: Irving Penn’s 1999 editorial was not the first Star Wars-themed shoot in Vogue magazine: see Ishimuro’s “The ‘Force’ of Fur” in Vogue, November 1977. (Thanks to Devorah Macdonald for the reference.) Vogue recently posted some outtakes and reminiscences.
Update 2: Simplicity 8074, a Game of Thrones / Star Wars costume pattern (Sand Snakes / Rey) adapted by Andrea Schewe, suggests that Disney hasn’t licensed costumes from The Force Awakens (yet).
July 24, 2015 § 4 Comments
Equestrian. This Depression-era pattern for fall-front jodhpurs has jaunty cuffed trousers, the requisite reinforced inner leg, and three pocket pieces, including one for a watch pocket:
(Click the image to see sold listing with back of envelope.)
Interestingly, this copy of Butterick 5647 is stamped Pattern Made in Canada. Although the pattern was produced in women’s, misses’ and girls’ sizes, the early equestrian patterns that survive are usually in smaller sizes—intended for riding lessons, perhaps?
For more vintage equestrian patterns see my Year of the Horse post.
July 11, 2015 § 8 Comments
The new book by the curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive is the first comprehensive study of the sewing pattern industry. Published through Bloomsbury’s academic imprint, Joy Spanabel Emery’s A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution traces the history of commercial patterns from their beginnings in early modern tailors’ drafting systems to the 21st century.
Emery is Professor Emerita of Theater at the University of Rhode Island, where she also taught in the fashion department. In addition to her articles on commercial sewing patterns, she is the author of Stage Costume Techniques (Prentice-Hall, 1981).
The materials found in the University of Rhode Island’s Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) and the personal archive of CoPA founder Betty Williams are the main sources for the book, which focuses on the pattern industry and its role in the production of everyday clothing. Emery presents her research in short, textbook-style chapters, ending each chapter with a brief summary. In the back, readers will find an index, endnotes for each chapter, and a detailed bibliography with sections for primary sources, secondary sources, and archival collections.
As a special inducement to those who sew, the book also includes an appendix with nine patterns, each laid out on a grid by Susan Hannel, the chair of the University of Rhode Island’s fashion department. The gridded patterns range from an 1850s Demorest basque [bodice], originally published as a pattern sheet supplement in a ladies’ fashion gazette, to a 1960s men’s Nehru jacket from Spadea.
Recent academic books on sewing have used the framework of gender studies to examine sewing as a cultural practice. Barbara Burman’s collection, The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption and Home Dressmaking (Berg, 1999, to which Emery contributed a chapter, “Dreams on Paper: A Story of the Commercial Pattern Industry”), and Sarah A. Gordon’s “Make It Yourself”: Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture 1890-1930 (Columbia University Press, 2007) both present social histories of sewing that take into account changing understandings of femininity and women’s work.
Emery’s book takes a more conservative approach to the material culture of sewing patterns, aiming to lay the groundwork for further study by focusing on the historical timeline of commercial production and technical development. Each chapter traces the industry’s new technologies and companies, mergers and closures as the pattern business landscape shifted from early diversity to today’s conglomerates.
CoPA’s holdings are so extensive that they show not only the industry’s response to dramatic developments in fashion, like the New Look or youthquake, but also to historical events like the First and Second World Wars. A 1918 issue of Butterick’s magazine, The Delineator, shows two women in naval uniform (Butterick pattern no. 1101), while a 1943 McCall’s pattern for Victory aprons is printed with patriotic verse:
(For more on Butterick 1101 see Michelle Lee’s blog post.)
Industry players competed to improve the sewing customer’s experience. We have McCall’s to thank for the printed pattern. Other pattern companies couldn’t duplicate the technique until McCall’s patent expired—although Pictorial Review found a creative workaround with patterns that were both printed and perforated.
It was during the economic boom of the 1920s that the industry produced the first fully conceived designer patterns. As Betty Williams found in her research, McCall’s interwar couture patterns were based on garments purchased from Parisian couture houses for copying purposes. When Williams shared an early McCall Patou pattern with staff at the house of Patou, they agreed that the design looked like the couturier’s work, but were unable to find documentation of a McCall-Patou relationship (Williams 1995).* Intriguingly, Emery mentions a business agreement model along the lines of today’s licensing, but does not go into further detail.
Infelicities of layout and organization occasionally disrupt the flow. Including the discussion of interwar couture patterns in the 1920s chapter means that we read about the 1933 closure of the Paris Pattern Company, and see a 1930s example of a Paris Pattern, before reaching the 1930s chapter. Paris Patterns in fact survived beyond 1933: by the following year, the company seems to have merged with Style and was still releasing patterns for June, 1934.
The text is sometimes marred by typographical errors, as well as errors traceable to data entry errors in the pattern archive. Schiaparelli’s first Vogue Paris Original (no. 1051) is included in the chapter devoted to World War 2 rather than the postwar chapter, and its date is given as 1947 when it should be 1949—the year Vogue Patterns, still owned by Condé Nast, launched its Paris Originals with great fanfare. (See my postwar Schiaparelli post here.)
Countering the assertion that commercial pattern designs are already out of fashion, Emery argues that patterns historically allowed their customers to keep abreast of trends, giving some interesting before and after examples of patterns adapted to reflect the new proportions of the postwar New Look.
The question of the relationship between high fashion and the commercial pattern industry is an interesting one. Contemporary high fashion adaptations in pattern form are relatively current. Roland Mouret’s Fall 2005 blockbuster, the Galaxy dress, was adapted in 2006 as Vogue 8280, and Carven’s dress for Spring 2013 was adapted for that season as Vogue 8900 (see As I Said…). Current adaptations can be seen in McCall’s #sewthelook series on Instagram.
But licensed designer patterns are a different story. While trend-setting styles such as those from Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian and Ballets Russes collections could count on expedited production, more often there seems to have been a seasonal lag. A 1950s Laroche pattern discussed as typical in a contemporary report, Vogue 1450, is a design from the Spring 1959 couture that was released a season later, in late 1959.
Today, when the production time for a commercial pattern has been cut to as little as four weeks,** it’s still unusual for a new designer pattern to represent the current season. To take some recent examples: of Simplicity’s Cynthia Rowley patterns from the Summer 2015 release, Simplicity 1105 is unusual for being from the current season, Spring/Summer 2015:
In Vogue Patterns’ Fall 2014 release, the Donna Karan, Guy Laroche, and Rachel Comey selections are from the Fall 2013 collections, while the Ralph Rucci coat, Vogue 1419, is from the Pre-Fall 2013 collection:
The fashion industry has changed, and fewer designers are willing to enter into licensing agreements for commercial patterns, let alone license current-season designs. Historical analysis of the pattern industry shows how it has adapted in response not only to economic and social trends, but also to home sewers’ changing relationship with fashion. Emery has taken a much-needed look to the archives in this essential resource.
(Press release and interview here.)
Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
ISBN (cloth): 9780857858306
ISBN (paper): 9780857858313
* Betty Williams, “1920s Couturier Patterns and the Home Sewer,” Cutters’ Research Journal 6.4 (Spring 1995).
** According to a Forbes article cited on p. 201.
For review purposes I received a complimentary copy from the publisher.