Vintage Nurse’s Uniforms

Detail, McCall Special R & S Red Cross operating gown and helmet in McCall’s, July 1917.

As a salute to our health care workers, this post is dedicated to vintage patterns for nurse’s uniforms.

1910s

Claire Avery WW1 illustration: Woman's Place is in a Uniform, Vogue, July 1918
Red Cross nurse with Red Cross worker, Vogue, July 1918. Illustration: Claire Avery. Image: Vogue Archive.

During the First World War, McCall’s sold commercial patterns for war work, including nurse’s uniforms, as well as official Red Cross patterns.

World War 1 nurse uniform pattern McCall 7845 with apron and cap pattern McCall 7847 in McCall's magazine, July 1917.
“The Nurse Fitted with Her Uniform and Apron”: nurse uniform pattern McCall 7845 with apron and cap pattern McCall 7847 in McCall’s, July 1917.

Few of these antique patterns seem to have survived, but the Commercial Pattern Archive has the unisex Red Cross operating gown:

McCall Special R (1917) Red Cross Surgeon's and Nurse's Operating Gown in Two Lengths
McCall Special R (1917) Red Cross Surgeon’s and Nurse’s Operating Gown in Two Lengths. Image: Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry.

This illustration shows a nurse dressed for surgery in the gown, McCall Special R, and helmet Special S. (For more, see Patterns for the Great War.)

McCall Special R and S - Red Cross gown & helmet (1917)
McCall Special R and S (1917) Operating gown and helmet.

Nurses wore similar protective wear during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19. This archival photo shows a local Hamilton estate, Ballinahinch, that was donated for conversion to a hospital during the pandemic.

Ballinahinch Relief Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, ca. 1918. Image: Local History & Archives, Hamilton Public Library.

1920s

Twenties-era patterns for nurse’s uniforms always seem to include the cap. This design dates to circa 1921, just before McCall’s patented the printed pattern.

McCall 2207 (ca. 1921) Nurses’ uniform (with cap). Image: eBay.

This drop-waisted uniform was still available two years later, but with a much higher hemline.

McCall 3524
McCall 3524 (ca. 1924) Nurses’ uniform and cap. Image: eBay.
1920s Nándor Honti paper doll illustrating McCall's patterns - nurse uniform and cap 3524, infant dress and petticoat 4252, bonnet 3105, embroidery 1339 - in McCall's magazine
“Baby McCall Goes for a Ride.” Paper doll by illustrator Nándor Honti in McCall’s, March 1926. Image: Pinterest.

The Vintage Pattern Lending Library sells reproductions of this late 1920s design. Swap in a contrast Peter Pan collar and cuffs and it doubles as a maid’s uniform.

McCall 5805 (1929) Nurse’s & service uniform. Image: VPLL on Etsy.

Andrea Cesari has several nurse patterns in her collection. The description for this one reads, “A uniform whose trim lines always look smart. The absence of fussy detail assures perfect laundering.”

Simplicity 7006 (ca. 1929)
Simplicity 7006 (ca. 1929) Nurses’ Uniform. Image: Unsung Sewing Patterns.

1930s

This early ’30s uniform is similarly sensible. (View on Etsy.)

McCall 7052 (1932) Nurses’ & service uniform. Image: eBay.

From Vogue, a late ’30s uniform that also includes a pintucked shirtdress:

Vogue 8106 (1938) Nurse’s uniform or dress. Image: The Blue Gardenia.

1940s

During the Second World War, dressmakers could again sew Red Cross nurse’s uniforms, as well as commercial designs. This back-buttoned nurse’s uniform from Simplicity includes the apron, but not the cap.

Simplicity 3882 (1941)
Simplicity 3882 (1941) Nurse’s uniform or dress with apron.

As in the previous World War, Red Cross patterns were available from many companies. McCall’s and Simplicity both sold patterns for the Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps. Here, the envelope stipulates: “Must be made in poplin; veil may be made in chiffon, georgette, voile, or lawn.” This uniform was not intended for hospital workers.

McCall 4641 (1942)
McCall 4641 (1942) American Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps washable uniform. Image: eBay.

The next year, the veil and white contrasts were gone. (Compare Cesari’s equivalent, Simplicity 4626.)

McCall 2501 (1943) American Red Cross Volunteer Special Service Corps washable uniform. Image: eBay.

This McCall’s retail catalogue shows the Special Service Corps uniform with two other Red Cross patterns, with a note that they were only available by special order.

Red Cross patterns McCall 2500, 2501 - December 1944. "The three Red Cross Patterns shown on this page are not carried in stock but can be ordered for you."
Red Cross patterns in McCall’s catalogue, December 1944. Image: Unexpected Necessities.

After the war, patterns for nurse’s uniforms return to their peacetime selves, fashionable yet practical — in this case with a three-piece shoulder pad. Do you have any uniform patterns in your collection?

Update: Instructions for no-sew masks (The Guardian) | Mask-making for the fashion industry (Business of Fashion Professional)

McCall 7517 (1948)
McCall 7517 (1948) Nurses’ Uniform or Ladies’ & Misses’ Dress.

Harem Scarum

Pucci dice: affascinate lo sceicco (Sheikh) - Vogue Italia editorial photographed by Gian Paolo Barbieri
Pucci tunic and harem pants, Vogue Italia, January 1968. Photo: Gian Paolo Barbieri. Image: Pleasurephoto.

The early ’90s are back—and so are sarouel, or harem pants. Here’s a look at vintage patterns for this distinctive trouser style.

Like caftans, sarouel originated in ancient Persia. Persian sirwāl became Turkish şalvar, entering the Western fashion vocabulary via Ottoman culture and the early modern vogue for turquerie.

Tilda Swinton in 18th-century Ottoman dress in Sally Potter's Orlando
Tilda Swinton in 18th-century Ottoman dress in Sally Potter’s Orlando (1992) Photo: Liam Longman. Image: Pinterest.

Şalvar were introduced to Western women’s clothing in the 19th century as part of the Rational Dress movement: Amelia Bloomer conceived her eponymous trousers as “Turkish pants.” (On cycling bloomers see Jonathan Walford, The 1890s Bicycle Bloomer Brouhaha.) Couturier Paul Poiret is usually credited with making “harem” pants fashionable in the period before World War 1.

Bert Green illustration "The Harem Girl," 1911
The Harem Girl. Bert Green for Puck magazine, 1911. Image: Wikipedia.
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) in her new harem ensemble. Downton Abbey, season 1, episode 3
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) on Downton Abbey, Season 1 (2011). Image: Pinterest.

1960s

In the mid-’60s, harem pants enjoyed renewed popularity as glam loungewear. (I Dream of Jeannie started airing in September, 1965.) This Vogue pyjama with matching, dolman-sleeved overblouse has a cuffed trouser option:

1960s pyjama and overblouse pattern Vogue 6435
Vogue 6435 (ca. 1965) Image: Mermaid’s Purse.

Pucci’s interest in harem pants predates the jewelled version at the top of this post: a short, blue harem ensemble was part of his 1965 Braniff flight attendant uniform. These high-waisted palazzo pyjamas also have a cuffed, harem option, as worn by Editha Dussler:

1960s Pucci palazzo pyjamas and jacket pattern Vogue 1692 feat. Editha Dussler
Vogue 1692 by Pucci (1967)

Anne de Zogheb modelled these Pucci harem pyjamas, which feature an intriguing self-lined skirt with side openings:

1960s Pucci harem pyjama pattern Vogue 2094 feat. Anne de Zogheb
Vogue 2094 by Pucci (1969)

1970s

Bouffant knickers are a variation on the harem pant. This gold brocade, coat-and-knickers ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent’s Winter 1970 haute couture collection evokes the hippie trail. The model is Viviane Fauny:

1970s Yves Saint Laurent haute couture coat and knickers pattern Vogue 2501
Vogue 2501 by Yves Saint Laurent (1971) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

From 1976, this Kenzo pattern includes a cuffed harem pant option. (A copy is available in the shop.)

1970s Kenzo pattern Butterick 4793
Butterick 4793 by Kenzo (1976)

Hot pink harem pants catch the eye on this Very Easy Vogue pattern, which also includes palazzo pants and a maxi skirt:

1970s maxi skirt, harem or palazzo pant pattern Very Easy Vogue 9633
Vogue 9633 (ca. 1977) Image: Etsy.

1980s

This gold satin pair, from Krizia, has no side seams:

1980s Krizia pattern - harem pants detail - McCall's 7307
McCall’s 7307 by Krizia (1980) Image: PatternVault shop.

In the early ’80s, the dropped-crotch, Zouave style of harem pant came to the fore. This Simplicity pattern includes Zouave pants in two lengths:

1980s Zouave and harem pants pattern Simplicity 5538
Simplicity 5538 (1982) Image: Etsy.

The trousers in this Versace ensemble evoke the harem silhouette, with draped volume tapering to a fitted ankle (see my Versace post for more photos):

Early 1980s Gianni Versace tunic and draped pants pattern Vogue 2702
Vogue 2702 by Gianni Versace (ca. 1981) Image: PatternVault shop.

Very Easy Very Vogue got on the dropped crotch bandwagon with three styles of Zouave pants—view C with side drape:

1980s Zouave dropped-crotch pants pattern Very Easy Very Vogue 9591
Vogue 9591 (1986) Image: Etsy.

1990s

By the early ’90s, hip-hop musician MC Hammer had made so great an impact on popular culture that his characteristic trousers were known as “hammer pants.” Simplicity’s official MC Hammer unisex pants pattern came with not one but two iron-on transfers. (See envelope back here. There was even a doll clothes pattern for the MC Hammer action figure.) Drop-crotch pants could also be found as Butterick Classics and a unisex costume pattern.

Hammer time! 1990s official unisex MC Hammer pants pattern Simplicity 7455
Simplicity 7455 by MC Hammer (1991) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

Issey Miyake designed these lowest of the low dropped-crotch pants, as worn by Phina Oruche:

1990s Issey Miyake pattern including dropped-crotch pant Vogue 1328 feat. Phina Oruche
Vogue 1328 by Issey Miyake (1994) Image: Etsy.

Recent patterns heralding the return of the sarouel include McCall’s 5858, Kwik Sew 3701, and the unisex Burda 7546. If the trend continues, perhaps we’ll see a pattern for Rachel Comey’s Pollock trouser…

Dancers from the robbinschilds company (Pollock sarouel pant), Rachel Comey Resort 2016
Dancers from the robbinschilds company, Rachel Comey Resort 2016. Image: Vogue.com.

Taste the Infinite

Eight ways to wear an infinity dress - sketch by Lydia Silvestry in Vogue
Eight ways to wear an infinite dress. Sketch by Lydia Silvestry in Vogue, October 1976.

Summer means weddings and infinity dresses—or, if a couple is particularly on-trend, infinity bridesmaid jumpsuits.

TwoBirds bridesmaid jumpsuits, 2016
TwoBirds bridesmaid jumpsuits, 2016. Image: Instagram.

China Machado’s summer 1973 resort set was a precursor to the infinity garments of the mid-1970s. Like the infinity dress and its cousins, Machado’s pieces call for two-way stretch knits; but Grace Mirabella’s Vogue featured the design in muslin, as worn by Beverly Johnson:

Very Easy Vogue 2881 by China Machado (1973)
Very Easy Vogue 2881 by China Machado (1973) Image: Sew Exciting Needleworks.
Beverly Johnson in Vogue, May 1973. Photos: Kourken Pakchanian
Beverly Johnson in Vogue, May 1973. Photos: Kourken Pakchanian. Image: Youthquakers.

Lydia Silvestry trademarked “The Infinite Dress” and licensed it with McCall’s in 1976. As the pattern envelope says, “One size dress can be worn an infinite number of ways. See enclosed guide sheet illustrating 13 ways dress can be worn, or try creating your personal version.” (See Carmen Bouchard / Carmencita B’s posts about this pattern here.)

McCall's 5360 by Lydia Silvestry (1976)
McCall’s 5360 by Lydia Silvestry (1976) Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

Silvestry also licensed her infinite jumpsuit as a pattern featuring Maud Adams. I think this pattern has my favourite fabric note: For best results use a Lightweight, Non-cling Stretchable Jersey-type Knit Fabric such as Rosewood Fabric’s LA GRAND QUE of 100% QIANA, Burlington’s AMBROSIA of 100% Dacron Polyester, Millikin’s SURE THING of 100% Dacron Polyester. (Click to view in the shop.)

1970s Infinite Jumpsuit pattern by Lydia Silvestry McCall's 5529
McCall’s 5529 by Lydia Silvestry (1977) Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

From Carol Horn, this dress has strapless and colour blocking options:

1970s Carol Horn dress pattern Vogue 1573
Vogue 1573 by Carol Horn (ca. 1977) Image: Etsy.

Also one-size, the Seven Way Wonder Dress seems to have been Butterick’s answer to the Infinite Dress. A winter retail catalogue shows the Wonder Dress as black tie wear:

Butterick 5230 (ca. 1977)
Butterick 5230 (ca. 1977) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.
Butterick Feb 1977
The Wonder Dress – Wear It 7 Smashing Ways! Back cover of the Butterick retail catalogue, February 1977. Image: eBay.

Meanwhile, Simplicity had the Wonder Wrap Jiffy Jumpsuit and Jiffy Multi-Wrap Dress:

1970s Wonder Wrap Jiffy knits Jumpsuit pattern Simplicity 7957
Simplicity 7957 (1976) Image: Etsy.
1970s Jiffy knits dress pattern Simplicity 8086
Simplicity 8086 (1977) Image: Etsy.

Vogue released two Very Easy infinite dress patterns in spring, 1977:

Vogue 1640 (1977)
Vogue 1640 (1977) Image: Sew Exciting Needleworks.
Vogue 1641 (1977)
Vogue 1641 (1977) Image: Etsy.

Vogue 1641 is seldom seen, despite being illustrated by Antonio and photographed in Antigua for Vogue Patterns magazine:

1970s Antonio illustration of Vogue 1641, Very Easy Vogue news
Vogue 1641, Very Easy Vogue Patterns, May 1977. Illustration: Antonio. Image: Patterns from the Past.
Clotilde wears Vogue 1641, photographed by Albert Watson in Antigua, 1977
Vogue 1641 in Vogue Patterns, May/June 1977. Model: Clotilde. Photo: Albert Watson. Image: The Fashion Spot.

Is that Patti Hansen modelling the Glamour Plus Dress?

It's the Glamour Plus Dress!! Butterick 5683 (ca. 1977)
Butterick 5683 (ca. 1977) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

Fast forward to 2000, when McCall’s released an infinite dress by Debra Moises (Debra and Moises Diaz). The envelope shows 5 variations:

Debra Moises dress pattern McCalls 2781
McCall’s 2781 by Debra Moises (2000) Image: eBay.

In early 2011, the New York Times ran a story about the trend for convertible garments (see Ruth La Ferla, “Convertible Clothing Is a New Twist for the Cost-Conscious“). Butterick featured an infinite dress (now out of print) on the cover of that year’s Spring catalogue:

The Infinite Dress: Drape it... Wrap it... Make it your own! Butterick 5606 on the cover of Butterick's Spring 2011 catalogue
Butterick 5606 on the cover of the Butterick catalogue, Spring 2011. Image: Issuu.
Butterick 5606 in the Butterick catalogue, Spring 2011
Butterick 5606 in the Butterick catalogue, Spring 2011. Image: Issuu.

Last summer, as part of their Archive Collection, McCall’s reissued their 1970s-era infinite dress and jumpsuit as a single pattern (still in print). These patterns are usually adapted somewhat from the vintage originals:

M7384 in McCall's lookbook, Early Summer 2016
’70s Chic with Infinite Looks: M7384 in McCall’s lookbook, Early Summer 2016. Image: Issuu.

It’s easy to see why infinity dresses remain popular, with their carefree resort vibe and minimal fitting requirements. And on the pattern envelopes, the hall of mirrors effect never gets old, does it?

For more discussion and links, see Michelle Lee’s post.

Donna Karan's Infinity Dress, 2011
Donna Karan’s jersey Infinity dress, 2011. Image: New York Times.

Red Carpet Roundup

Vogue 1078 by Damian Yee for Guy Laroche on the runway
Vogue 1078 on the runway. Image: Vogue Italia.

Will you be watching the Oscars on Sunday? Here’s a roundup of my posts on red carpet dressing.

Hervé L. Leroux for Guy Laroche – Hilary Swank chose her Oscars gown from Leroux’s debut collection for Laroche. Vogue Patterns released two designs from this collection: cocktail dress V2899 and a backless evening pantsuit. (Bonus: check out this red Laroche gown on 1stdibs.)

Vogue 2937 by Hervé L. Leroux for Guy Laroche

Damian Yee for Guy Laroche – Leroux’s successor at Laroche has two evening designs with Vogue Patterns, including this gown from the house’s Jubilee collection.

Vogue 1078 by Damian Yee for Guy Laroche

Clash of the Titans: Goddess Gowns – My first Oscars post on the Academy Awards staple. This late ’40s gown might be this blog’s most-pinned image:

McCall 7862

Rock the Caftan – A non-Western formal alternative with origins in ancient Persia.

Billie Blair in Dior caftan V1346

Red Carpet Fashion: Evening Pantsuits – A trend that continues to pick up steam (see Hannah Marriot, “Red-carpet rebels: why trousers for women are a political act“).

Donna Karan bustier pantsuit pattern Vogue 1076

Jane Fonda in Yves Saint Laurent at the 44th Academy Awards, April 1972. Image: tumblr.
Jane Fonda in Yves Saint Laurent at the 44th Academy Awards, April 1972. Image: tumblr.

Fur Cloth for Fall

Anne St. Marie photographed in Vogue 1019,
Anne St. Marie wears Vogue 1019 by Jacques Griffe, Vogue Pattern Book, August/September 1961. Photo: Kazan.

Whether you call it fake or faux, this season’s fur trend is only fashion’s latest take on synthetic fur.

Many vintage sewing patterns call for fur banding and fur cloth. The reversible coat shown above, Vogue 1019 by Jacques Griffe, is fully lined with the latest black, synthetic fox fur. (Hover for full caption.) More recently there’s Donna Karan’s coat for low-pile fake fur, Vogue 1365, from the Fall 2012 collection:

Joan Smalls wears a faux fur coat from Donna Karan FW 2012
Model: Joan Smalls. Image: vogue.com.

Here’s a look at vintage patterns that call for fur trim or fur cloth, with an emphasis on the trendy, unusual, and outrageous.

1920s

From Winter 1926, this dolman coat by Martial et Armand has a deep fur collar and narrow fur banding at the cuffs:

1920s Martial et Armand coat McCall 4667 illustrated in the Winter 1926 McCall Quarterly
McCall 4667 by Martial et Armand in McCall Quarterly, Winter 1926-27. Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

This opulent, late 1920s evening wrap calls for a length of 4.5″ fur banding. A reproduction is available from EvaDress:

Late 1920s evening wrap pattern - McCall 5945
McCall 5945 (1929) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

1930s

Thirties patterns show many creative uses of fur trim. These two ca. 1933 coats both call for fur cloth accents. McCall 7206 has an attached scarf and contrast lower sleeves, shown in synthetic Persian lamb, while McCall 7207 has a deep fur collar and matching, triangular sleeve patches:

McCall 7206, 7207 Spring 1933 coats
Two coat patterns, McCall 7206 and 7207, illustrated in McCall Fashion Book, Spring 1933.

Simplicity 1541’s dramatic, curving collar and pointed cuffs can be made in contrast fur cloth; the fur-trimmed version was illustrated on the cover of the holiday 1934 issue of Simplicity Pattern Magazine. A reproduction is available from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library:

Via eBay
Simplicity 1541 (1934) Image: eBay.

From the autumn of 1939, McCall 3420 is a swagger coat with built-up neckline and optional, tapered lower sleeves and semi-circular shoulder insets. View A is shown in faux Astrakhan (matching hat unfortunately not included):

1930s coat pattern shown in check or faux Astrakhan - McCall 3420
McCall 3420 (1939)

1940s

McCall 3875, a World War 2-era swing coat, can be made with elbow-deep fur cuffs:

1940 coat pattern - McCall 3875
McCall 3875 (1940) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

This wartime cape pattern, previously featured in my vintage capes post, includes an evening cape with stand-up fur collar:

1940s cape pattern in evening or street length - McCall 4134
McCall 4134 (1941)

1950s

High-end postwar sewing patterns sometimes assume natural fur will be used and direct the home dressmaker to a specialist. From November 1949, Vogue 1075 is one of the earliest Balmain patterns. The voluminous “melon” sleeves can be made in fur contrast; the envelope back says, “Note: Have fur sleeves made by furrier”:

1940s Balmain coat pattern - Vogue 1075
Vogue 1075 by Balmain (1949) Image: Etsy.

This Vogue Couturier design includes a wide-necked evening coat with big fur collar and elbow-length sleeves:

1950s evening dress and coat with fur top-collar - Vogue 190
Vogue 190 (1959) Image: Etsy.

1960s

From Nina Ricci, Vogue 1217’s cape has a broad shawl collar that can be made in faux fur:

1960s Nina Ricci dress and coat pattern - Vogue 1217
Vogue 1217 by Nina Ricci (1963) Image: Etsy.

Vogue 1897 is a design from Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall/Winter 1967-68 haute couture collection, inspired by Queen Christina (see Paco’s post here). The fur-trimmed evening cape requires a taffeta stay for the fur trim unless made by a furrier:

1960s Yves Saint Laurent Queen Christina evening dress and cape pattern - Vogue 1897
Vogue 1897 by Yves Saint Laurent (1968) Image: Vintage Pattern Wiki.

1970s

David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965) seems to have prompted a fashion for Cossack coats and hats. Vogue-Butterick had Vogue 1983, and McCall’s had this fur-trimmed coat pattern:

1970s red, fur-trimmed coat pattern - McCall's 2676
McCall’s 2676 (1970) Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

There was even a pattern for fur hats for men, women, and children, McCall’s 2966:

1970s faux fur hat and bag pattern - McCall's 2966
McCall’s 2966 (1971) Image: eBay.

1980s

Eighties excess brought the more-is-more aesthetic to designs for synthetic fur. McCall’s 7736 is a raglan-sleeved jacket for lightweight fake fur or woolens:

1980s jacket pattern - McCall's 7736
McCall’s 7736 (1981) Image: Etsy.

From the Connoisseur Collection, Simplicity 7078 is for fake fur only:

1980s faux fur coat pattern in 2 lengths - Simplicity 7078
Simplicity 7078 (1985) Image: Etsy.

In addition to a hat and stole for fur-like fabrics, accessories pattern Vogue 9981 includes a muff with concealed pocket:

1980s hat, stole, and muff pattern - Vogue 9981
Vogue 9981 (1987) Image: Etsy.

1990s

The 1990s were another good time for synthetic fur—so good that Vogue Patterns licensed a designer specializing in faux fur outerwear. Not quite vintage, this reversible coat pattern by Issey Miyake calls for high pile fake fur:

1990s Issey Miyake reversible faux fur coat pattern - Vogue 2182
Vogue 2182 by Issey Miyake (1998) Image: Etsy.

From Alexander McQueen’s Fall 1998 ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy, Vogue 2228’s jacket has a fur-trimmed hem and large, standing fur collar that recalls the 1940s evening cape shown above. (See my earlier McQueen post here.) I have one copy for sale in the shop:

1990s Givenchy fur-trimmed suit pattern by Alexander McQueen - Vogue 2228
Vogue 2228 by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy (1998) Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

Vogue 2233’s fur-trimmed dress and jacket are from Anna Sui’s Fall/Winter 1998 collection (click to purchase from the shop):

1990s Anna Sui fur-trimmed dress & jacket pattern - Vogue 2233
Vogue 2233 by Anna Sui (1998) Image: PatternVault on Etsy.

Vogue 2233 is one of the most ’90s patterns ever: Björk meets Britpop. The jacket was worn on the runway by Kirsty Hume—hat by James Coviello:

Kirsty Hume on the runway, Anna Sui FW 1998
Kirsty Hume, Anna Sui FW 1998. Image: firstVIEW.

There was also a pattern for Anna Sui faux-fur accessories, Vogue 7950 (see my earlier Anna Sui series).

Tips for sourcing synthetic fur

  • Tissavel: This luxury French faux fur mill is unfortunately now closed, but ends can be found on Etsy.
  • Faux Persian lamb/Astrakhan: Available as a special order from Emma One Sock.
  • Fur banding: Mokuba carries high-quality synthetic fur banding in various widths.

Working with vintage furs and synthetic fur

Vintage patterns often direct the home dressmaker to a furrier; old sewing books and magazines also provide tips for refashioning vintage furs. (Woman’s Day 5045 came with a special instruction booklet and fur needle.) Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide includes a chapter on fur.

For tips on sewing with synthetic fur, see Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, Fehr Trade’s post, and Shannon Gifford’s post for Emma One Sock.

We Can Be Heroes

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: 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.

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: 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.

1960s

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 the 1960s Batman show
Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West) in Batman (1966) Image: 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:

1960s Girls' or Boys' Batman, Robin and Superman official costumes McCall's 8398
McCall’s 8398 © National Periodical Publications, Inc., 1966. Girls’ or Boys’ Batman, Robin and Superman official costumes.

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):

Magical Costumes for the Wonderful World of Make-Believe - McCalls Home catalogue, Fall/Winter 1966-67
McCall’s 8398 in McCall’s Home Catalog, Fall-Winter 1966-67.

1970s

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 against the New York City skyline, 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) Batman, Robin, and Superman.
1970s Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl costume pattern - Simplicity 8720
Simplicity 8720 (1978) Batgirl, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman.

1980s

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: 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:

1980s children's Supergirl and Superman playsuits Butterick 5862
Butterick 5862 (1987) Supergirl and Superman playsuits. Image: Etsy.
1980s Superman costume pattern - Butterick 5874
Butterick 5874 (1987) Superman costumes.

(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) Bat Man costumes. Image: Etsy.

1990s

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) Batman Returns costumes. Image: Etsy.
Batman Forever Batman costume pattern - Butterick 4172
Butterick 4172 (1995) Batman Forever costumes. Image: Etsy.
1990s official Batman Returns Catwoman costume Butterick 6378
Butterick 6378 official Batman Returns Catwoman costume (1992) Image: 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: 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) Captain Planet costumes. Image: 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:

1990s children's Sailor Moon costume pattern McCalls 7859
McCall’s 7859 / P310 (1995) Sailor Moon costumes. Image: 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) The Amazing Spider-Man costume. Image: 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) X-Men costumes. Image: 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: Simplicity.
Women's Wonder Woman costume pattern - Simplicity 1024
Simplicity 1024 (2015) Wonder Woman costume.

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?

Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl pattern Simplicity 1035
Simplicity 1035 (2015) Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl pattern. Image: 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) Captain America costume. Image: 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) Thor costume. Image: 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.

Update: Simplicity released several new DC patterns for Fall 2016, including an official Joker pattern and three DC Bombshells patterns—Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Supergirl:

Official DC Comics The Joker costume pattern - Simplicity 8195
Simplicity 8195 (2016) Joker costume. Image: Simplicity.
Official DC Comics Bombshells Wonder Woman pattern - Simplicity 8196
Simplicity 8196 (2016) DC Bombshells Wonder Woman costume. Image: Simplicity.
Official DC Comics Bombshells Batgirl pattern - Simplicity 8197
Simplicity 8197 (2016) DC Bombshells Batgirl costume. Image: Simplicity.
Official DC Comics Bombshells Supergirl pattern - Simplicity 8185
Simplicity 8185 (2016) DC Bombshells Supergirl costume. Image: Simplicity.

Update, summer 2017: Simplicity’s Early Fall catalogue added more DC patterns: Harley Quinn and DC Bombshells Black Canary, Stargirl, and Batwoman.

Simplicity early autumn 2017
Authentic costumes from DC Comics. Simplicity catalogue, Early Autumn 2017. Image: Simplicity.
Harley Quinn costume pattern Simplicity 8434
Simplicity 8434 (2017) Harley Quinn costume. Image: Simplicity.
DC Bombshells Black Canary costume pattern Simplicity 8431
Simplicity 8431 (2017) DC Bombshells Black Canary costume. Image: Simplicity.
DC Bombshells Batwoman costume pattern Simplicity 8432
Simplicity 8432 (2017) DC Bombshells Batwoman costume. Image: Simplicity.
DC Bombshells Stargirl costume pattern Simplicity 8433
Simplicity 8433 (2017) DC Bombshells Stargirl costume. Image: Simplicity.

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!