We Can Be Heroes

October 30, 2015 § 8 Comments

Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman tv show, 1975

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, 1975. Image: Warner Bros./Getty Images via IMDb.

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.)

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977): Onlookers:

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977). Image via Talking Comics.

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.)

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibition catalogue by Andrew Bolton (with Michael Chabon)

Andrew Bolton with Michael Chabon, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008) Book design: Abbott Miller, John Kudos at Pentagram. Image via John Kudos.

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.

Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West) in Batman (1966) Image via Wikipedia.

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:

McCall’s 8398 (1966) Image via Betsy Vintage.

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):

McCalls Home catalogue, Fall/Winter 1966-67

McCall’s 8398 in McCall’s Home Catalog, Fall-Winter 1966-67.


In 1978, the Wonder Woman TV series was still running, and December saw the release of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978. Image: Keystone/Getty Images via IMDb.

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:

1970s children's Batman, Robin, and Superman costume pattern - Simplicity 8714

Simplicity 8714 (1978)

1970s Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl costume pattern - Simplicity 8720

Simplicity 8720 (1978)


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).

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984. Image via Pinterest.

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:

Butterick 5862 (1987) Image via Etsy.

1980s Superman costume pattern - Butterick 5874

Butterick 5874 (1987)

(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:

1980s Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6313

Butterick 6313 (1989) Image via Etsy.


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.

Batman Returns Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6377

Butterick 6377 (1992) Image via Etsy.

Batman Forever Batman costume pattern - Butterick 4172

Butterick 4172 (1995) Image via Etsy.

Butterick 6378 official Batman Returns Catwoman costume (1992) Image via Etsy.

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):

Girls' and boys' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle playsuit pattern - Butterick 5143

Butterick 5143 (1990) Image via Etsy.

On the other hand, this Captain Planet pattern for children and boys includes a grotesque ‘muscle’ suit. The second character is called Verminous Skumm:

1990s Captain Planet and Verminous Skumm costume pattern - McCall's 5642

McCall’s 5642 (1991) Image via Etsy.

’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:

McCalls 7859

McCall’s 7859/P310 (1995) Image via eBay.

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:

1990s children's Spiderman costume pattern - Simplicity 7543

Simplicity 7543 (1991) Image via eBay.

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:

1990s X-Men costume pattern - Wolverine and Storm - Simplicity 7246

Simplicity 7246 (1996) Image via Pinterest.

Current patterns

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):

Saturday Spooktacular! Simplicity costumes for Halloween 2015

Simplicity Costumes 2015. Image via Simplicity.

Women's Wonder Woman costume pattern - Simplicity 1024

Simplicity 1024 (2015)

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?

Simplicity 1035 (2015) Image via Etsy.

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:

Marvel Avengers Captain America costume pattern - Simplicity 1030/0225

Simplicity 1030/0225 (2015) Image via eBay.

(S0225 is the advance version; the S1030 envelope seems to have some strange retouching of the man’s crotch.)

Marvel Avengers Thor costume pattern - Simplicity 1038

Simplicity 1038 (2015) Image via Etsy.

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!

Simplicity 8720 detail

(For more see Dorian Lynskey, Kapow! Attack of the feminist superheroes, and Jill Lepore, The Last Amazon.)

* As I wrote this post, spellcheck failed to recognize the names of female superheroes. Please fix this, WordPress!

Star Wars Costume Patterns

October 9, 2015 § 7 Comments


Trisha Biggar, Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams, 2005) Image via Abrams.

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 couture 3

“Star Wars Couture,” Vogue, April 1999. Model: Audrey Marnay. Photo: Irving Penn. Fashion editor: Phyllis Posnick. Image via the Fashion Spot.

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 final sketch for the costume of Obi-Wan Kenobi, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.


John Mollo’s design for the samurai warrior concept of Darth Vader, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.

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:

Left: Karen Bjornson in Vogue 1553 by Dior, Vogue Patterns, November/December 1976. Photo: Chris von Wangenheim. Right: Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Image via PatternVault on Twitter.

(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:

Vintage 1980s licensed Star Wars pattern - McCall's 7772

McCall’s 7772 (1981) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

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”:

1980s children's Ewok costume pattern - McCalls 8731

McCall’s 8731 (1983) Image via Etsy.

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:

1990s Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker pattern - Butterick 5174

Butterick 5174 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s children's Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia pattern - Butterick 5175

Butterick 5175 (1997) Image via Etsy.

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:

1990s boy's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5176

Butterick 5176 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s men's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5186

Butterick 5186 (1997) Image via Etsy.

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:

McCalls 2433

McCall’s 2433 (1999) Image via Etsy.

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):

Andrea Schewe women's Star Wars combat pattern - Simplicity 4433

Simplicity 4433 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

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:

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress. Image via Pinterest.

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:

Padmé, Leia, Anakin, and Jedi costume pattern - Simplicity 4426

Simplicity 4426 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Women's Padmé and Leia costume pattern - Simplicity 4443

Simplicity 4443 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Men’s costume pattern Simplicity 4450/059 includes Anakin and Obi-Wan Jedi costumes, together with an unidentifiable warlock:

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi tunic and cloak pattern - Simplicity 4450/0579

Simplicity 4450/0579 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

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:

McCalls 4995 (2005)

McCall’s 4995 (2005) Image via eBay.

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.)

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma in Vanity Fair, June 2015. Photo: Annie Leibovitz. Image via Vanity Fair.

Pan Am Games 2015, Vintage Pattern Edition: Equestrian

July 24, 2015 § 4 Comments

This week I’m looking at vintage patterns showing sports of the Pan Am Games. (See the first post here.) Today: a 1930s equestrian pattern.

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:

1930s jodhpurs sewing pattern - Butterick 5647

Butterick 5647 (ca. 1934) Image via Etsy.

(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.

A History of the Paper Pattern Industry

July 11, 2015 § 8 Comments

Book cover - A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The home dressmaking fashion revolution by Joy Spanabel Emery

Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution. Image via Bloomsbury.

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.


The first Vogue pattern: Louis XV Jacket, Vogue 1 (1899). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

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:


Official Yeowoman’s Costume of the U.S. Navy, Butterick 1101. The Delineator, November 1918. From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

(For more on Butterick 1101 see Michelle Lee’s blog post.)


Ladies’ and Misses’ Victory Aprons: McCall 1090 (1943). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

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.


McCall Printed Pattern announcement, McCall Quarterly, Spring 1924. From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

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.


A couturier evening dress pattern by Madeleine Vionnet: McCall 5055 (1927). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

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.


A couturier dress pattern by Lucile Paray with cloth label: Paris Pattern 2243 (1933). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

An Augustabernard design on the cover of a Paris and Style Patterns booklet, June 1934, from the T. Easton Co. Ltd, Canada

Paris and Style Patterns booklet, 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.)

Vogue 1051

Schiaparelli’s first Vogue Paris Original: Vogue 1051 (1949). From Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

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.

Roland Mouret and Carven

Roland Mouret FW 2005 and Carven SS 2013. Images via style.com.

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:

Simplicity 1105 by Cynthia Rowley (2015) Tent dress with trapunto stitching and back ties, SS 2015

The originals for Simplicity 1105 by Cynthia Rowley (2015) – tent dresses with trapunto stitching, Spring/Summer 2015 collection. Images via style.com.

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:

Vogue 1419 PreFall2013

Vogue 1419 (2014) from Ralph Rucci’s Pre-Fall 2013 collection. Images via Etsy and style.com.

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.)

Publication details:

Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

ISBN (cloth): 9780857858306

ISBN (paper): 9780857858313


ISBN (ebook): 9781472577450 (PDF) / 9781472577467 (EPUB)

Available online from Bloomsbury or your favourite independent bookstore. (Why I never link to Amazon.)

* 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.

Schuss! Vintage Skiwear Patterns

February 11, 2015 § 5 Comments

Couverture ski - Vogue Paris décembre 1951 janvier 1952

Vogue Paris, December 1951-January 1952. Image via Etsy.

Winter carnival festivities are underway at Winterlude and the Carnaval de Québec. Here’s a look at vintage skiwear patterns—perfect for hitting the slopes, sleigh racing, or snow golf.

1960s ski resort fashions in The Pink Panther

Fran Jeffries and other spectators at Cortina d’Ampezzo in The Pink Panther (1963).


The first Winter Olympics in 1924 contributed to the growing popularity of skiing, which had been around since the late nineteenth century. I have not yet seen any 1920s skiwear patterns, but contemporary magazine covers attest to the sport’s fashionability. Helen Dryden illustrated this ski-themed cover for Delineator magazine:

1920s ski illustration by Helen Dryden for the cover of Delineator magazine

Delineator, January 1928. Illustration: Helen Dryden. Image via EasyArt.

The following winter, Jean Pagès illustrated a ski scene for the cover of Vogue’s holiday issue:

1920s ski illustration by Jean Pagès for the cover of Vogue magazine

Vogue, December 22, 1928. Illustration: Jean Pagès. Image via Condé Nast.


This McCall skiwear pattern for ski jacket, pants, and separate hood dates to winter 1932-33. The catalogue text reads, “The hood fits cozily about the throat. The jacket gains freedom through two pleats in the back”:

A 1930s skiwear illustration - McCall 7195

Skiwear illustration in McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1933.

McCall 7195 was also illustrated on the cover of the McCall Style News for January 1933:

1930s skiwear illustration - McCall Style News January 1933

McCall Style News, January 1933. Image via Etsy.

The 1936 Winter Games were the first to include Alpine skiing, and we see an increase in skiwear patterns from the mid-1930s. (Before 1936, Olympic ski events were limited to Nordic, or cross-country, skiing and ski jumping.) A page in the December 1936 issue of Butterick Fashion News shows women’s and children’s patterns for winter sports, complete with fabric recommendations—wool, suede cloth, snow cloth, and corduroy. The patterns are Butterick 7033, 5927, and 7062 (click to enlarge):

1930s winter sports illustration - Butterick Fashion News December 1936

“Wear ski clothes for all outdoor sports.” Butterick Fashion News, December 1936.

EvaDress has a reproduction of a 1930s snow suit pattern, Hollywood 1236. (The original is a Ruby Keeler pattern.)


The cover of Butterick Fashion News for February 1940 shows an alpine chalet scene featuring a ski suit pattern, Butterick 8793. The text inside reads, “Snow fun in a ski suit… When you zip off the reversible jacket, your monogrammed suspenders will be muchly admired.” (More scans at witness2fashion.) The pattern calls for snow cloth with poplin lining:

1940s ski resort illustration - Butterick Fashion News February 1940

Butterick Fashion News, February 1940. Image via witness2fashion.

A copy of Butterick 8793 is found in the Commercial Pattern Archive, where it is dated to 1939. The pattern includes the cap:

Late 1930s ski suit pattern - Butterick 8793

Butterick 8793 (1939) Image via the Commercial Pattern Archive. For research purposes only.

Postwar skiwear retained the slimmer silhouette that had been prompted by wartime fabric rationing. From 1946, Butterick 3985 is a ski suit with jaunty cropped jacket and detachable hood:

1940s ski suit pattern - Butterick 3985

Butterick 3985 (1946). Image via vintage4me2 on eBay.


From the later 1950s, Vogue 9332 is a ski suit consisting of hooded overblouse and slim stirrup pants, for flannel, worsted, gabardine, alpaca, and poplin. I plan to make this one up for après-ski purposes:

1950s skiwear pattern - Vogue 9332

Vogue 9332 (1957) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

McCall’s 4788 is a ski jacket with drawstring hem, stirrup pants, and separate hood. Recommended fabrics are corduroy, poplin, serge, jersey, and twill:

1950s ski suit and hood pattern - McCall's 4788

McCall’s 4788 (1958) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Unfortunately, no-one seems to have licensed Emilio Pucci skiwear patterns. This British Vogue cover features a Pucci ski ensemble:

Vernier photo of a 1950s Pucci ski suit on the cover of British Vogue

A ski suit by Emilio Pucci, British Vogue, January 1959. Photo: Vernier. Image via Vogue UK.


The only 1960s skiwear pattern I’ve seen is Vogue 6044, a hooded parka and slim stirrup pants for stretch fabrics. The envelope back notes that, for the view A parka, allowance has been made for quilting narrow fabrics. The fur cloth version is a fun alternative:

1960s ski suit pattern - Vogue 6044

Vogue 6044 (ca. 1963) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.


From Daniel Hechter, Butterick 4370 is a designer ski suit consisting of straight leg pants and a belted jacket with drawstring hood. The fabric recommendations range from pinwale corduroy and double knits to synthetic leather and suede:

1970s ski suit pattern - Butterick Young Designer 4370

Butterick 4370 by Daniel Hechter (ca. 1976) Image via Etsy.

Butterick also had two his and hers skiwear patterns, Butterick 5110/5111, a jacket or sleeveless jacket and jumpsuit (really overalls) for water repellent, quilted fabrics. The jacket and overalls have elasticized snow guards at the wrists and ankles and contrast yokes and front bands in poplin or ciré:

1970s men's skiwear pattern - Butterick 5111

Butterick 5111 (ca. 1977) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.


From 1980, Simplicity 9785 includes overalls in full or knicker length, a ski jacket with detachable sleeves, and legwarmers—all for quilted, double-faced, water-resistant fabrics:

1980s skiwear pattern - Simplicity 9785

Simplicity 9785 (1980) Image via Etsy.

I’ll close with this mid-1980s, ski-themed Vogue Knitting cover:

1980s Nordic ski sweater on the cover of Vogue Knitting magazine

Vogue Knitting magazine, Fall/Winter 1985. Image via eBay.

For more on the history of skiwear, see Lizzie Bramlett’s post, A Short History of Ski Clothing, or the recent Guardian gallery.

Vintage Jumpsuit Patterns

July 25, 2014 § 10 Comments

1970s jumpsuit or playsuit pattern - Vogue 8331

Vogue 8331 (1972) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Versatile and contemporary, jumpsuits and their cousins, playsuits and rompers, have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Jumpsuits—or all-in-ones, if you’re British—seem poised to move beyond a trend this summer.

The modern women’s jumpsuit has origins in two different garments: beach pajamas and the boiler suit. These twin origins mean jumpsuit styles range from fluid loungewear to utility-inspired or tailored designs. (See Vogue Italia for a short history of the jumpsuit.) Here are some favourite all-in-one patterns from the 1930s to the 1990s.


Beach pajamas, often worn with a matching bolero, had become one-piece by the early 1930s. This McCall’s design combines flowing trousers with geometric seaming details in the bodice and hip yoke. A reproduction is available from the Model A Ford Club of America:

1930s beach pajama pattern - McCall 6432

McCall 6432 (1931) Image via the Model A Ford Club of America.

(See my earlier beachwear post here; for more on beach pajamas, see the FIDM Museum blog and Amber Butchart’s essay for British Pathé.)

The boiler suits of wartime utility wear are said to have made bifurcated clothing more acceptable for women. This Vogue pattern from ca. 1940 includes both a hooded mechanic suit with cuffed trousers and a more casual, short-sleeved version shown in a dotted print:

1940s Rosie the Riveter all-in-one hooded boiler suit pattern - Vogue 8852

Vogue 8852 (1940) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

This early 1940s pajama ensemble with T-back halter bodice was not just for the beach—the envelope says it’s for “beach, dinner or evening”:

1940s pajama ensemble pattern - McCall 4075

McCall 4075 (1941) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.


In the postwar period, more tailored jumpsuits emerged as a choice for casual sportswear. This early 1950s pedal-pusher coverall has cuffed sleeves and pants and a front zipper closure:

1950s pedal-pusher coverall pattern - McCall's 8520

McCall’s 8520 (1951) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

From the late 1950s, this trim, one-piece slack suit from Vogue came in two lengths and with a matching overskirt:

1950s jumpsuit and skirt pattern - Vogue 9898

Vogue 9898 (1959) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.


The jumpsuit—sometimes called a culotte or pantdress—truly comes into its own in the later 1960s. Here Birgitta af Klercker models Vogue 2249, a loungewear design by Emilio Pucci (previously featured in my goddess gown post):

1960s Pucci lounge pajamas pattern - Vogue 2249

Vogue 2249 by Pucci (1969) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

In this late 1960s Butterick Young Designers pattern, Mary Quant combines a trim, zip-front jumpsuit with a low-waisted miniskirt for a sleek, futuristic look:

1960s jumpsuit pattern by Mary Quant - Butterick 5404

Butterick 5404 by Mary Quant (1969) Image via Etsy.


Both pajama and menswear-inspired styles continue into the 1970s. Famous for her palazzo pajamas, Galitzine designed this bi-coloured lounge pantdress with criss-cross halter bodice:

1970s Galitzine lounge pantdress pattern - Vogue 2731

Vogue 2731 by Galitzine (1972) Image via the Blue Gardenia.

From Calvin Klein, Vogue 1453 marks a return to the boiler suit style. With cargo pockets, self belt, and wide, notched collar, the jumpsuit could be made long or short, with long or short sleeves:

1970s Calvin Klein jumpsuit pattern - Vogue 1453

Vogue 1453 by Calvin Klein (1976) Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.


This Bob Mackie disco jumpsuit or evening dress pattern for stretch knits dates to 1980. (See my earlier Bob Mackie post here.) The jumpsuit has a plunging neckline, waistline pleats, and tapered, bias pants designed to crush at the ankles:

McCall's 7134 1980s Bob Mackie disco jumpsuit or evening dress pattern

McCall’s 7134 by Bob Mackie (1980)

An instance of the late 1980s jumpsuit trend, this shirtdress-style jumpsuit by Donna Karan has a notched collar, welt pockets, and cuffed or seven-eighths length kimono sleeves:

1980s Donna Karan jumpsuit pattern - Vogue 2284

Vogue 2284 by Donna Karan (1989) Image via eBay.


Also by Donna Karan, Vogue 2609, ca. 1990, is a long-sleeved, tapered jumpsuit for stretch knits with neckline variations, front pleats, and stirrups. View C has a contrast bodice with self-lined hood:

1990s Donna Karan jumpsuit pattern - Vogue 2609

Vogue 2609 by Donna Karan (1990) Image via the Blue Gardenia.

From 1996, Vogue 1821 by DKNY is almost vintage. It’s a novel suit consisting of a single-breasted jacket and wide-legged, halter jumpsuit:

1990s DKNY jumpsuit pattern - Vogue 1821

Vogue 1821 by DKNY (1996) Image via eBay.

Finally, this pattern is not yet vintage, but a jumpsuit collection would be incomplete without Vogue 2343, Alexander McQueen’s tailored, tuxedo jumpsuit for Givenchy haute couture Spring/Summer 1998 (earlier post here):

1990s Alexander McQueen for Givenchy couture jumpsuit pattern - Vogue 2343

Vogue 2343 by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy (1999) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

With their demanding fit, jumpsuits are ideal for home sewers. And they’re not just for the tall and leggy: many of the later jumpsuit patterns are marked as suitable for petites.

If you’d like to try your hand at an early all-in-one, Wearing History has a repro pattern for 1930s beach pajamas, and Simplicity 9978 includes a 1940s boiler suit.

Mad Men Era 9: Butterick’s Young Designers

April 24, 2014 § 3 Comments

Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) in a Mad Men season 7 promotional photo. Image via AMC.

My series on Mad Men-era designer patterns concludes this week with three Butterick Young Designers: Mary Quant, Jean Muir, and Emmanuelle Khanh.

In 1964, Butterick launched its Young Designers line, appealing to the youth market by licensing the work of up-and-coming, international fashion designers. The line would continue through the 1970s with the addition of new designers like Betsey Johnson, Jane Tise, and Kenzo. (For more on the Young Designers line see The Vintage Traveler’s Butterick Young Designers page.)

Mary Quant

Mary Quant (b. 1934) was the first designer to be signed to the new pattern line. Born in London, Quant met Archie McNair and her future husband, Alexander Plunket Greene, at art school; together they opened a boutique on the King’s Road, Bazaar, in 1955, selling Quant’s fun, youthful designs. Quant is perhaps most famous as a pioneer of the miniskirt. Butterick released its first Quant patterns, featuring Celia Hammond photographed by Terence Donovan, in the fall of 1964.

Butterick 5475 is a mini-length shirt dress with plenty of details including epaulets, side slits, and a self-buttoned belt:

1960s Mary Quant mini dress pattern - Butterick 5475

Butterick 5475 by Mary Quant (1969) Mini dress.

Jean Muir

Also born in London, Jean Muir (1928-1995) showed an early talent for dressmaking and needlework. During the 1950s, after working her way up from the stockroom at Liberty, she was hired as designer for Jaeger; she stayed with Jaeger until 1962, when she founded her first label, Jane & Jane. She launched her eponymous label in 1966. Muir was known for her fluid dresses with charming dressmaker details.

Butterick introduced Jean Muir patterns in the spring of 1965. This short, high-waisted dress dates to the late 1960s; the bodice front and slashed, modified raglan bell sleeves fasten with rows of tiny buttons:

1960s Jean Muir dress pattern - Butterick 5657

Butterick 5657 by Jean Muir (c. 1969) Image via eBay.

Emmanuelle Khanh

Born in Paris as Renée Mésière, Emmanuelle Khanh (b. 1937) married avant-garde industrial designer Quasar Khanh in the late 1950s, around the same time that she began working as a house model for Balenciaga and Givenchy. Turning her hand to fashion design, Khanh was soon at the forefront of yé-yé fashion (Paris’ answer to Youthquake), designing for brands including Cacharel and Missoni before launching her own label in 1969. (Read a 1964 LIFE magazine article about Khanh here.) Today her company focuses on accessories, particularly eyewear.

Butterick introduced Emmanuelle Khanh sewing patterns in the fall of 1965. This turquoise, suit-effect dress creates interesting effects with topstitching and collar details:

1960s Emmanuelle Khanh suit pattern on the cover of the Butterick Home Catalog, Fall 1965

Emmanuelle Khanh dress on the cover of the Butterick Home Catalog, Fall 1965. Image: myvintagevogue via Freshly Given.

The pattern is Butterick 3718. (Thanks to Jessica Hastings of myvintagevogue for confirming the number.) This photo shows a full-length view of the dress:

An Emmanuelle Khanh dress made from a Butterick sewing pattern in heavy turquoise blue wool jersey. The striped blue, grey and black stockings are by Corah and the suede buttoned gaiters and shoes by Rayne. The white stitched crepe hat is by Simone Mirman.

An Emmanuelle Khanh dress made from a Butterick sewing pattern in heavy turquoise blue wool jersey (1965) Image via Amazon.

It’s interesting to see an established company like Butterick responding to contemporary Sixties youth culture, facilitating access to Youthquake and yé-yé fashion in the process.

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