Make the Clothes that Make the Woman

The slogan for McCall’s Patterns in the mid-1950s was “Make the clothes that make the woman.” The advertising campaign with this slogan shows two identical women, one dressed in McCall’s pattern pieces, the other in the finished garment. It’s a charming campaign from the Golden Age of Advertising. Here’s a selection, in roughly chronological order:

This ad from 1956 shows the model enjoying a fresh strawberry at a party. (Could it be a strawberry social?) The pattern is McCall’s 3562:

McCall's 3562 - McCall's advertisement advert 1956.
McCall’s advertisement, 1956.

The September ad shows Dovima on a trip to Paris, before a mustachioed gendarme. The pattern is McCall’s 3785 by Givenchy:

1950s Givenchy pattern, McCall's 3785 - McCall's advertisement advert September 1956.
McCall’s advertisement, September 1956.

Another travel-themed ad shows McCall’s 3790 with some whimsically stacked luggage:

McCall's 3790 - advertisement advert 1956
McCall’s advertisement, 1956.

This 1957 ad featuring McCall’s 3952 shows a well-dressed tug-of-war:

McCall's 3952 advertisement advert February 1957
McCall’s advertisement, February 1957. Image: Allposters.com.

This Valentine’s Day-themed ad appeared in Vogue’s March 1957 issue. (The pattern is McCall’s 3967.) The model is Suzy Parker:

McCall's 3967 advertisement advert March 1957
McCall’s advertisement, March 1957.

This spring ad shows McCall’s 4046 by James Galanos:

McCall's 4046 advertisement advert April 1957
McCall’s advertisement, April 1957.

In the ad for May 1957, the binocular-wielding model wears an “Instant” dress, McCall’s 4070:

McCall's 4070 advertisement advert May 1957
McCall’s advertisement, May 1957.

This late summer ad looks forward to fall’s collegiate sports games. The design is by Claire McCardell, McCall’s 4208:

1950s Claire McCardell pattern McCall's 4208 advertisement advert August 1957
McCall’s advertisement, August 1957.

Within its variations on the playfully presented scene of leisure, the campaign conveys a visual reminder of one of McCall’s long-standing technologies: the printed pattern. (McCall’s had been producing printed patterns since the 1920s, whereas Vogue only introduced printed patterns in 1956—later outside North America.) Have you seen other ads from this McCall’s campaign?

25 thoughts on “Make the Clothes that Make the Woman

  1. What a great campaign, and it’s nice to see so many variations of the theme. The ‘trip to Paris’ ad featuring the Givenchy design reminds me very much of the photo-shoot scene in the film ‘Funny Face’ from about the same time.

  2. What a great ad campaign- I love the “Instant” dress, McCall’s 4070…I think it could be an appropriate saying for today as well, especially for us sewists that make our clothing! Thanks for sharing! ~Laurie

  3. I love this ad campaign too! I’ve seen the tug of war one but not the others…I particularly love the fitted red dress and the collegiate ad! Good ol’ McCalls…

  4. So clever, so classy! Thanks for sharing this really interesting bit of history; the designs are wonderful. Actually, it’s a truly inspired advertising concept, because it allows one to visually bridge the space between the flat pattern and final product. Also, thanks for stopping by my RemnantWorks shop on Etsy and leaving a favorite. Nice! 🙂

  5. Great post! Thanks for sharing. The campaign is genius; I wish McCalls would do a campaign with the same theme today!
    I love western fashion history, and own a McCalls Pattern publication from the 1930s. and 1953. I think Vogue Patterns were printing much earlier than the ’50s since I have their “leaflets” from February 15 and March 15 1930.
    Enjoyed this post and am sharing it on Facebook.

    1. Thanks! You’re right, Vogue was already in the pattern business in the 1930s—but until the mid-1950s their patterns were “unprinted”: blank tissue marked with perforations.
      Those old leaflets are lovely, aren’t they?

  6. Hi Sarah! Glad to ‘ad’ a new one featuring model Jean Patchett to your collection & see this gallery of top 50s models all in one place 🙂

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