January 25, 2017 § 3 Comments
Today is Robbie Burns Day. This 1920s children’s pattern makes a full Scottish outfit, including the hat and sporran:
October 30, 2015 § 9 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.
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!
May 4, 2015 § 7 Comments
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Liberty London is celebrating with an Alice-inspired Spring/Summer 2015 fabric collection. At the V&A Museum of Childhood, an exhibition on Alice’s influence on fashion, The Alice Look, runs to November 1, 2015, and on Saturday the museum is also hosting a conference, Alice & Fashion. (Read the press release.) The exhibition and conference are part of curator Kiera Vaclavik’s larger research project, Addressing Alice: The Emergence of a Style Icon.
To celebrate Alice’s 150th, here’s a look at some rarely seen vintage Alice in Wonderland patterns.
This Alice in Wonderland doll pattern with flamingo, McCall 145, dates to 1933:
The costume of the McCall Alice doll seems to refer to Charlotte Henry’s Alice in Paramount’s Alice in Wonderland (1933). According to Vaclavik, the film appears to have “prompted the adoption of the Alice band as hair accessory of choice at hunt balls and wedding processions across Britain” (see her article in the Independent):
Nearly two decades later, Walt Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland (1951) set the image of Alice as we picture her today. Disney licensed two Alice patterns with McCall’s: McCall’s 8626, a girls’ Alice ensemble, and McCall’s 1643, unisex children’s costumes for the Mad Hatter and March Hare. McCall’s 8626 includes a puff-sleeved dress, apron, coverall, and jacket with rabbit-shaped pocket:
You can see the back of the pattern envelope here.
The Alice pattern was promoted in the August 1951 issue of McCall’s Style News with additional sketches of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. It’s worth quoting the original description: “Alice-in-Wonderland dress, inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ motion picture. Not a fancy-dress costume, but a 4-part ensemble to wear any day of the week. Straight-from-Wonderland ruffled apron that can accompany the little puff-sleeved, full-skirted dress everywhere—to school, to church, to parties. For helping Mother around the house, a jumper-like coverall. And to complete the ensemble, a reversible jacket with the ‘White Rabbit’ in pocket form”:
This photo from McCall’s Pattern Book shows the March Hare costume and Alice outfit made up:
It’s interesting that the 1950s Alice pattern isn’t a costume pattern, but a set of pieces for everyday wear. The pattern adds ruffles to the pinafore, but is otherwise close to Disney’s animated Alice, whose style was based on Mary Blair’s concept art:
Happy anniversary, Alice!
March 10, 2014 § 12 Comments
I made our little niece a vintage ’30s coat as a Hannukah gift. For the pattern I used Pictorial Review 6128, a double-breasted coat with optional back belt and pockets.
Here’s the diagram and description from the envelope back. It’s a unisex coat for small children, and was available only in sizes 1 to 6:
The recommended fabrics were flannel, camel’s hair, piqué, velveteen, cheviot, and serge. We had a length of purple Woolrich tweed that felt the right weight for a coat. (Established in 1830, Woolrich is North America’s oldest woolen mill. Today, Woolrich tweed is a wool-nylon blend for durability.) I cut some leather trim for the welt pockets from an old pair of leather gloves, and my modest button stash yielded a set of one-inch vintage Civil Defence buttons for the front and belt.
Since the pattern is the old die-cut type and needed no alterations, I tried cutting using the original tissue pieces held down with weights.
I’m new to tailoring (and coat-making), so throughout the process I referred to Paco Peralta’s tailoring tutorial and my 1970s Vogue Sewing Book on tailoring techniques. The coat collar gave me the opportunity to try out pad stitching. The pattern even gave instructions; the undercollar is to be interfaced with muslin and pad stitched, with the collar stand first worked with a running stitch:
Here are some progress photos of the pad stitched undercollar:
This is the undercollar attached to the coat body:
You could call my approach to the coat half-tailored—somewhere between the pattern’s Depression-era muslin collar interlining and modern tailoring’s padstitched hair canvas interfacing, all catch-stitched along the seam lines. As a compromise between vintage and modern methods I used a sew-in interfacing on coat facings, belt, and pocket welts. (None was called for in the pattern.) To handle the heavy tweed, I had no tailor’s clapper, so I pounded the steamed seams and edges with a small cedar block we had on hand. Paco’s tip of making a few stitches across lapel corners worked wonders for my first-ever lapels.
I bagged the lining and added handworked keyhole buttonholes—fanned at one end, with a bar tack at the other. Partway through making the coat we decided against the convertible collar, so I omitted the lapel buttonholes. (As with many vintage patterns, there were no button/buttonhole markings.) It was my first stab at handworked buttonholes on heavy fabric; I love how the hand stitches create an edge that curves out to the ridge of knots that lines the buttonhole opening.
Here are some photos of the finished coat:
I think of Civil Defence buttons as ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ buttons since the font and crown are similar to those on the WW2 propaganda poster originally produced by Britain’s Ministry of Information. (More on the Keep Calm font here.) Some closeup views of the buttons and buttonholes:
And the little back belt:
Our loft’s walls have some mysterious industrial hardware that proved useful in showing the scale of the coat:
Cutting straight from a die-cut pattern was an interesting experience, but I still prefer printed or traced tissue for cutting and marking. An oft-cited drawback of unprinted patterns is that the notches and other markings don’t always line up. This was true of the coat pattern, but it wasn’t hard to correct.
It’s always a pleasure working with wool, and I really enjoyed the challenge of trying out tailoring with a heavy fabric. The finished coat is something our niece will grow into, especially in the shoulders. But she does love the pockets! I see more coat-making in our future…
(Cross-posted to We Sew Retro.)
May 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
In my collection of Twenties patterns I have a group of children’s patterns that are shown in the McCall’s Quarterly for Winter 1926-27. (Many thanks to Debby for sharing the images.) I noticed something interesting about the envelope engravings. Observe:
Special engravings for the smaller sizes! Here’s another example from my collection:
Have you seen this on children’s patterns from other decades?
Happy Mother’s Day!