The Ultimate Vintage Pattern Haul! (And Some Tips For Buying Vintage Patterns)

As you all know, one of my favourite things in the world is trawling antiques malls in the hopes of finding some vintage delights. I’m super fortunate that, in moving to the US, I’ve found so many amazing vintage and antiques shops – my vintage collection has obviously benefitted where my bank balance has suffered. So when my hubs offered take me out for another vintage hunt, I totally jumped at the chance. We went back to my favourite antiques mall in the world – one that has never let me down – and oh boy did it come through for me. I can only described my resulting purchase as the ULTIMATE vintage pattern haul. Because seriously these patterns are some of the most beautiful – not to mention reasonably priced – that I’ve seen in the wild…

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Yes, yes, yes! I am so much in love. And I got literally all of these patterns from just one seller (and I think I pretty much bought them out!). Not only was I super impressed with the collection but they’re also all in amazing condition. One issue I find in buying vintage patterns from antiques shops is that there’s rarely a guarantee that the patterns are totally intact. I’ve bought a couple in the past that have turned out to be missing several pattern pieces. This feels very much the equivalent of buying a jigsaw puzzle and finding pieces missing – it’s frustrating and you always feel a bit cheated. But I was fortunate to get all of these patterns from a seller who had actually made sure that the patterns were complete! If you’re on the lookout for vintage patterns but are similarly concerned about finding ones that are complete, I have a few tips that might help:

  1. Look online! If you want to guarantee that a pattern is complete, it is probably best to look on Etsy or eBay. Sellers will typically state whether or not a pattern is complete in the description (if they don’t, you can always send them a message to ask). There will usually also be a returns policy, so you know that you can return it if you aren’t happy with the condition! That said, you will pay considerably more for these patterns than you would buying from a shop in-person.
  2. If shopping in person (at an antiques mall, for example), check their returns policy first! My favourite antiques place – where I bought all of the patterns in this post – has a no returns, no exceptions policy. So I always assume a degree of risk whenever I buy something from there. However, the prices are also about 50% of the price of the same items on Etsy or eBay so, for the most part, I’m happy to trust the seller and take the chance.
  3. You can tell a lot from the external condition. Generally speaking, I find that the external condition of the pattern is pretty reflective of what you’ll find inside. In some cases, you’ll be able to have a look through the pattern itself – this is usually the case in charity shops. Often, however, sellers will put the pattern into a sealed plastic folder (as was the case with the ones I just bought). In these circumstances, I will typically just check over the external condition – if the packaging is all torn up and rough, there’s a good chance that some of the pieces will be missing. You can also gauge a lot from the thickness of the pattern envelope – a coat, for example, will typically have a lot of pattern pieces to it so, if the envelope is super flimsy and thin, it probably doesn’t have a lot of the pieces inside!

There’s often going to be an element of guesswork involved when buying vintage patterns but, the more purchasing you do, the easier it’ll become to tell the complete from the incomplete! And yes, I’m definitely giving you license to go out and buy lots of vintage patterns for yourself so that you can learn!

Anyway, back to my pattern haul! I wanted to give close-ups of some of my favourites because I’m just so obsessed with these gorgeous finds. First up:

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Most of the patterns are 1940s but I also found these stunning 1950s gowns! Just look at them! I’m absolutely in love with the bodice on Vogue S-4264 (on the right) – it makes me think of a prom dress! Plus the sleeves are just incredible! Simplicity  2442 is also beautiful. I’m not usually one for sleeveless or strapless dresses but this one is so adorable. It definitely gives me a summer in Havana vibe!

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Who wouldn’t want some vintage swimwear?! I won’t lie, when I first saw this pattern (Hollywood 1775) I thought it was for nighties and dressing gowns. But no. And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to venture into the ocean wearing something this chic? I’ve actually never owned (or seen firsthand) a Hollywood pattern. I’ve seen them pop up on eBay and was always intrigued – largely because most of their patterns feature a Hollywood starlet on whom the pattern is based. However they also produce generic patterns, as with Hollywood 1775. If you haven’t seen their patterns before, it’s definitely worth having a look online because they’re so gorgeous!

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Here we have some gorgeous 1940s dresses! Do I even really need to say much about these? They are both so unique – I mean just look at the bodice on both of these patterns! I think I’ve actually seen the McCall pattern on the left reproduced – at the very least, I’ve definitely seen something very similar as a reproduction.

And, finally, I didn’t neglect menswear. I found a couple of gems:

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I’m pretty well in love with the blazers on the left. They’re definitely screaming Mad Men to me. And, even though I have no infant children in my life, I just couldn’t resist the coats on the right. Every time I look at it, I think of the Famous Five. I clearly have so many amazing cultural influences at work in my life right now.

So there we have it! I honestly can’t believe my luck. Proving once and for all that spending your free time trawling around antiques shops is always a valuable use of your time!

 

Book Review: Everyday Fashions Of The Forties By JoAnne Olian

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When I first picked up sewing as a hobby, it was almost an accident. I’d been on the lookout for an activity that would help me to channel the relative chaos of my life and had already cycled through a pretty impressive number of potential outlets – drawing and photography among them. I’d never had any previous inclination to take up sewing. In fact, my only encounter with a sewing machine when I was very young had left me terrified and certain that I would never touch one again. When I eventually decided to give sewing a go, it wasn’t due to a desire to overcome this long-established fear or a real passion for the idea of making my own clothes. Rather, it was a love of history – and vintage fashion, in particular – that first sparked my interest in getting reacquainted with the sewing machine.

I had always had a fascination with vintage styles. I’d taken up swing dancing while at university as an excuse to dress myself as authentically as possible. At the time, however, it never occurred to me that I might have greater success finding the outfits I was looking for were I to make them myself. Instead, I spent countless hours trawling eBay and a number of other sites for any authentic or replication 1920s-40s dresses and accessories. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck and, eventually, my passion for the jitterbug died out. But the fascination with vintage styles never disappeared.

Although my sewing skills have developed substantially over the past couple of years and I therefore depart every so often from sewing exclusively vintage-looking garments, I’m still constantly looking to bring sewing and vintage style together. When I’m not sewing vintage, I’m typically researching it. And my growing library has played a key part in delivering me great inspiration when it comes to my sewing.

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Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnne Olian is one of my favourite sources of vintage fashion inspiration. Alongside Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook (which I’ve previously reviewed), it is my go-to resource when I’m searching for that spark of creative instinct in designing or planning a make. The book contains a truly wonderful collection of advertisements used by Sears during the 1940s – ranging from women’s wear, to men’s wear and children’s wear. It is a truly thorough accounting of the styles that dominated the period.

The book opens with a detailed and incredibly interesting introduction, contextualising the whole collection with information on fashion in 1940s America. The manner in which the war impacted fashion choices is especially interesting:

“In spite of war-imposed shortages and hardships, and ‘sorry, not available’, stamped with increasing frequency over items in Sears wartime catalogs, the smiles of the clean-cut American women modeling in its pages never faltered. Wearing cotton stockings or leg makeup and rationed leather shoes, they took Sears’s advice and saved their treasured service-weight rayon stockings for ‘furlough dates’, conserving gasoline by walking in comfortable low heels or wedgies. They wore slacks for comfort and warmth even when pregnant.”

However, you truly come to this book not for the introduction (however interesting it may be) but rather for the amazing advertisements. The whole collection is an incredible historical snapshot. I mean just look at the hats:

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As with the hats pictured, the collection of advertisements gives a great amount of insight into 1940s accessories – as well as clothes. We get to see beautiful shoes, pins, and belts, in all of their authentic glory. There’s even an amazing ad for ‘leg make-up’ designed to offer “that silk stocking glamour”! I mean you really can’t more authentic in terms of understanding the 1940s war-time style environment than that!

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The layout of the book is impressively. Although obviously the ads are presented in black and white, they are all incredibly visually clear. You’ll also notice that the year of the ad’s publication is in brackets at the top of the page, meaning that you can track the advertisements and the styles they present with a mind to the social and historical context!

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those with a real interest in 1940s fashion. Whether you are looking for personal style inspiration or simply a wonderful historical snapshot, you really can’t do better do better than this amazing collection.


Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnn Olian is available in both the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

Sew Your Own Vintage Neck Scarf – Tutorial

Any avid sewists know that a growing stash of fabric remnants is an inevitable consequence of many sewing projects. I’ve been sewing for just over two years and the only thing that has helped to control my remnants is a trans-Atlantic move. Even then, I carted most of my fabric across the sea with me. Because remnants – as well as random measures of fabric that aren’t quite enough for a complete garment – are a relatively reliable part of sewing, I’m always on the lookout for ways to use up the bits and pieces that I’ve got lying around.

For a while now, I’ve had the most gorgeous piece of vintage silk in my stash. It was a present from my parents a couple of years ago, but there’s not quite enough of it to make anything big. Because of that, I basically just left it in my sewing cupboard to gather dust until I was struck by some sort of inspiration. Recently, I was on one of my trots through vintage fashion illustrations and photos online and it suddenly occurred to me that this fabric would work perfectly as a vintage scarf – the kind that you can tie in about fifty different ways around your neck, or even wear as a headscarf. So I set about making one and turned the process into an easy-to-follow sewing tutorial for anyone who has a stack of remnants searching for a purpose.

What You Need:

  • Fabric
    • A large scarf – of the size also workable as a headscarf – requires a square of fabric about 30″ x 30″. Alternatively you can make one much smaller than this – down to about 25″ x 25″, depending on the amount of fabric that you have available.
    • Choose a drapey fabric – silk, chiffon etc – so that you get that perfect flowing vintage-style scarf
  • Paper – pattern, tracing, or normal
  • Fabric scissors or a rotary cutter and cutting mat
  • Pins
  • Seam gauge, ruler, or tape measure
  • Thread to match your fabric
  • Sewing machine (unless you want to hand sew, which is also possible for the truly committed)
  • Iron and ironing board

Steps:

1. Make Your Pattern Square

While it would be possible to mark directly onto you fabric, it’s well worth the effort of putting together a paper pattern piece. Since you’re working with silky material, there’s always a risk that the shape will be warped by the fabric shifting when marking directly onto the fabric itself.

Pre-determine what size of scarf you want to make and mark a square of that size onto your paper (either pattern paper, tracing paper, or by sellotaping some regular pieces of paper together). As noted above, 30″ square will make a large scarf – but you can work with a much smaller square, depending on personal taste and the size of your remnant. Around the square that you draw, you’ll want to add 1″ for your seam allowance.

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2. Pin Your Pattern and Cut Your Fabric

Make sure that you use a good flat surface for pinning your fabric and ensure that the fabric isn’t moving or puckering underneath the pattern piece. Using a few weights (cans of beans will work just as well as traditional pattern weights) is a good way of making sure that the fabric doesn’t shift as you pin. Use plenty of pins to ensure that the fabric doesn’t shift around too much when you’re cutting it later.

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Once everything is pinned down, cut your fabric out. You can either use fabric scissors for the job or a rotary cutter and cutting mat. I really like the rotary cutter for this kind of fabric – it’s much less likely to pull the fabric out of shape.

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3. Press and Pin Your Edges

When you measured out the pattern piece, you left a 1″ seam allowance. To avoid any raw edges being visible, you’ll be using a double-fold hem to tidy the edges of the scarf. You also have the option of using some pinking shears to finish the edges before you start folding and pressing the hem, depending on your preference and how much your fabric has frayed. If you want to finish the edges, however, it’s best to avoid using a serger – this will bulk up the edges too substantially and make it much harder to get a neat, flat hem.

Start by turning the edges in 4/8″ and pressing – you’ll want to be sure to keep the corners nice and neat when you press them down.

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Once this is done, fold your edges over by another 4/8″ so that the raw edge is hidden. Press down – making sure that the corners are still nice and tidy. Pin the hem in place.

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4. Sew Your Scarf

Starting at one of the corners, sew around the edge of the scarf, using a 2/8″ – 3/8″ seam. 2/8″ is typically the best for keeping the corners well tucked but a wider 3/8″ seam can look great with a contrasting thread. It’s really a matter of personal preference! At each corner, be sure to raise your presser foot (with needle down) and pivot the fabric.

To reduce bulk, you may want to backstitch a few stitches by hand once your stitching is complete and you secure your thread. However, if the slightly bulkier machine backstitching doesn’t bother you, then go for it! I use a machine backstitch because I’m not the most patient when it comes to hand stitching.

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5. Give Your Edges a Final Press

Before wearing, its a good idea to give the edges of the scarf a final press to give them a nice crisp shape!

6. Wear and Enjoy!

The thing I love most about this scarf is its versatility. There are a number of different ways to style it around your neck and shoulders but it also makes for a great head scarf if you’re feeling that Jackie Onassis vibe! So go out and be your best vintage self!

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My Vintage Life: The Hollywood Canteen

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We’re finally returning to a normal blogging schedule after a month of intense disruption. It’s been a crazy time. Between packing up my life in the UK, adjusting to life in the US, and putting together a wedding in 4 weeks, I’ve been incredibly distracted! It has been a classic case of taking on too much. For that reason, I also decided not to make my wedding dress. With everything else going on, I’ve had such little time to work on it, added to which I botched it in a way that will make continuing incredibly difficult and time-consuming. With only a week to go until the wedding, I’m all about minimising the stress at this point! I’ll be posting next week about the entire fiasco and closing my series of posts on making your own wedding dress with how to avoid ending up in the place that I did. Even without a me-made dress, I’ll be sure to post some pictures on here after the day for those of you who have been following my journey!

In an effort to pull myself out of wedding mode, I decided to get back into blogging mode with a new My Vintage Life post. These are always such a lot of fun for me to write – I love having the opportunity to research such fantastically interesting quirks of eras past and (hopefully) peak your interest through these posts. Of all the stories that I’ve come across in my vintage journey, one in particular sparked my fascination. The events surrounding the establishment and running of the Hollywood Canteen, a club that provided food and entertainment to US servicemen, are genuinely some of the most interesting tales in classic Hollywood’s lengthy list of incredible accounts.

So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and the story of how Hollywood’s intersection with World War II produced a site where celebrity met fan, frivolity met fear, and political progress met conservative resistance.


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The Hollywood Canteen was opened on 3rd October 1942 as the creation of Bette Davis and John Garfield. Looking to establish a base to which allied servicemen could flock for evenings of entertainment, Davis and Garfield approached the president of the Music Corporation of America, Jules Stein, for help creating and funding the operation. By all accounts, Stein was fundamental to the success of the project despite his position as a somewhat behind-the-scenes personality. As Bette Davis described it:

“Jules Stein, up to this time, was seldom ever seen. Few people even knew what he looked like. He preferred to live this way. It was a big decision when he said he would head the financial committee. He would have to alter his way of life. Without his hard work, advice, and investments of our funds the Hollywood Canteen could not have been successful, to say nothing of the work of his wife, Doris, who I asked to be the head of the committee for the hostesses necessary for dancing partners for the servicemen. When the canteen was no longer needed after V-J Day, $500,000 remained in the canteen account. These monies were the result of Jules’ ideas. A great source of revenue came from a film he urged Warner Bros. to make called Hollywood Canteen, a large percentage of which was allotted by Mr. Warner to the canteen itself. With the remaining monies a foundation was formed, and to this day contributions are made to worthy projects dealing with the armed forces.”

Despite the popular personalities that dominated ideas of how the Canteen was conceived and run, it was undoubtedly the work of multiple minds. The work to establish the Canteen came to fruition and, as desired by Davis and Garfield, successfully provided a place where servicemen could associate with Hollywood’s biggest stars, dance, eat, and try to forget impending assignments overseas.

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Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth performing their magic act at the Canteen

It’s important to remember, however, how central Stein was to the operation of the Canteen. Responsible for the financing of the project, Stein not only had to fund its creation but also find money and donations to support the hefty expenses that came with day-to-day running. 50 percent of the Canteen’s food was donated, relying on a series of fundraisers in order to raise the money necessary to provide the rest. Since the servicemen went through 4,000 loaves of bread, 400 pounds of butter and 30,000 gallons of punch per month, finding the funds to provide such massive quantities was incredibly necessary. In order to navigate ration restrictions on meat, the Canteen’s head chef – Chef Milani – was forced to write to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding action:

“The Hollywood Canteen will not be able to provide the necessary amount of meat for the servicemen unless we are able to secure an allotment exception permit immediately. Will you please help us secure this permit by directing this wire to the proper authorities with your O.K.? God bless you.”

Needless to say, the Hollywood Canteen received its permit.

The Hollywood Canteen did much for the way Hollywood’s activities in World War II were perceived. By having major stars – including Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, and Hedy Lamarr – work voluntarily at the Canteen – serving food, signing autographs, and dancing with patrons – the Canteen bridged the gap between these distant celebrities and the men giving their lives for the allied cause. It advanced the idea that, not only was Hollywood fully behind US engagement in WWII, but also that the celebrities themselves were prepared to give their time to boost morale and work in service of those men serving the country at large. To control any potential ‘personal’ mishaps, the Canteen came with strict rules about romantic assignations between the hostesses (both famous and not) and those visiting the Canteen. Although there are accounts suggesting that, in a number of cases, romances did develop, there is nothing to indicated that the Canteen became a site of sexual mayhem.

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Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth working at the Hollywood Canteen

The Canteen was a revolutionary project in a number of ways. Not only did it provide a place for celebrity civilians and allied soldiers to mix on equal terms, it also served as a site of (relative) racial tolerance. Bette Davis immediately shut down the notion that the Hollywood Canteen would enforce a segregation policy. And, for the most part, the Canteen operated without racial incident. If such incidents did occur, the Canteen’s managers had instructed the band to play the national anthem, something that occurred only twice during the Canteen’s existence. It must be observed, however, that operating without segregation did not mean that the Canteen functioned as a site of racial equality. The managers made sure to recruit black hostesses to ensure that black servicemen were tended to by women of their own race and vice versa. Although, in 1940s America, Bette Davis’ decision on the side of tolerance was undoubtedly a forward-thinking move, it would be troubling to suggest that the Canteen totally avoided continuing a tradition of informal and customary segregation. That said, entertainers of all races were welcome to perform before the troops and renowned performers Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong were amongst the most celebrated.

The Hollywood Canteen was an incredibly successful initiative that undoubtedly boosted the morale of all who attended. It offered an opportunity for men, plagued by the thought of walking into the battle, to escape – however briefly. They could mix with celebrities as equals, eat, drink, and share in camaraderie. One of the most fascinating things about the Canteen is its true authenticity. There is little evidence to suggest the project boasted false successes or claimed an impact that it didn’t have. Instead, everything points to an initiative that delivered over and above what it set out to achieve. The 1944 Warner Bros. film Hollywood Canteen, although undeniably a staged and overly positivised account of the Canteen’s operation, is not so far from the mark in showing how fantastically the club boosted the morale of its soldiers and offered Hollywood stars an opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude. The fact that more than 3000 individuals – including celebrities, musicians, dancers, and publicists – had signed up to volunteer at the Canteen before it even opened its doors, shows just how keen people were to offer some form of service to those men ultimately giving their lives for the country. Here, the soldiers were treated like individuals. The millionth guest – Sgt. Carl Bell – attended the venue on 15th September 1943 and, as a prize, was offered both a kiss from Betty Grable and escort by Marlene Dietrich. Stories of stars going out of their way to make guests feel special and valued abound.

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Bette Davis in the film ‘Hollywood Canteen’ (1944)

As war initiatives go, the Hollywood Canteen was undeniably one of the best conceived and most successful. Although it is undoubtedly the case that the Canteen offered at least some opportunity for Hollywood to massage its own ego, there is too much contradictory anecdotal evidence to believe that this was the only motive at play. From 3 October 1942 to 22 November 1945, the Hollywood Canteen operated as a place of hope, fun, and freedom. It provided an invaluable reprieve for those preparing to walk into some of the most horrifying events in history. While the Canteen did not stop a war or save the men who walked through its doors, it reminded its guests that a country stood behind them. And, for that alone, the Hollywood Canteen will be remembered as one of Hollywood’s most generous acts.


For more information on the Hollywood Canteen, I would recommend watching the 1944 film Hollywood Canteen. There are also numerous videos and documentary extracts on Youtube. Another fantastic resource is the book The Hollywood Canteen: Where the Greatest Generation Danced with the Most Beautiful Girls in the World by Lisa Mitchell and Bruce Torrence.

My Vintage Life: Bradshaw Crandell And The Evolution Of Pin-Up Art

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Happy Friday, love bugs! I hope that you are enjoying the last few days of April. Things are action stations for me right now, trying to sort out my visa so that I can finally head over to my fiancé in the US. It’s all starting to move at long last, which is great! Although this means that I really need to step up the pace on my wedding dress making. I finally got around to taking the photos of my muslin yesterday so watch out for those next week!

Anyway, on to this week’s instalment of My Vintage Life. Since starting Sew for Victory, I often get asked about my sources of inspiration. For anyone who enjoys or admires vintage style, inspiration really is key. I tend to spend a lot of time perusing photos on the internet and watching classic films as easy ways to increase my exposure to a wide variety of vintage fashions. But, for me, probably the most effective way to obtain inspiration is looking through genuine vintage magazines. I’ve collected quite a few over the past 18 months and they provide not only an insight into the every day lives and priorities of women living in decades past, but also a mine of pictures and illustrations that offer a clear portrait of popular fashion choices. The portraits used in, or on the cover of, vintage magazines particularly intrigue me. I’ve always wondered at the stylistic choices made – why a particular cover star has been featured, why the fashion selection has been made, why this or that pose has been chosen. For any popular magazine, such choices are always purposeful.

As I started to dig around for more information, I came across the name Bradshaw Crandell. Crandell was perhaps the most successful magazine cover artist through the 1930s and 1940s, working with an incredible array of Hollywood’s most elite stars to capture their image. His work is pretty astounding and I think taps into what was going on with popular culture at the time. Although Crandell didn’t typically work in what we would identify as the pin-up style (more about this below), I can’t escape the feeling that there are some fairly major overlaps between his art and the proliferation of a pin-up culture. So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and a look at Bradshaw Crandell’s life, legacy, his contribution to the evolution of pin-up art.


 

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John Bradshaw Crandell was born in 1896, in what is identified as the Golden Age of Illustration. This period (late 1800s to early 1900s) was a period of incredible productivity and achievement in book and magazine illustrations, largely a consequence of new technologies that allowed for the cheap, mass reproduction of images. These developments were capitalised upon by professional artists, looking to make a name for themselves in the production of magazine or postcard illustrations for popular consumption. Raphael Kirchner, an Austrian artist, was particularly successful in exploiting the Golden Age with the production of what can be identified as early pin-up postcards and magazine illustrations. His relatively sexualised images of beautiful women were incredibly popular and, as World War I began, particularly favoured by soldiers.

Crandell was very much part of the legacy left by illustrators such as Kirchner. His aptitude for art was recognised early, although he failed to graduate from both Chicago’s School of Art Institute and Wesleyan University. But he never stopped being a student of his craft – he worked relentlessly at the fundamentals and could not abide inaccurate or careless work. This dedication to hard work undoubtedly served Crandell well as he moved forward in his career and, eventually, once he had attained true celebrity status.

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Lana Turner by Bradshaw Crandell (1943)

Crandell’s career truly began in 1921, after he was contracted to create a cover for Judge magazine. Although he had previously been hired to provide illustrations for a Lorraine Hairnets ad, it was his work for Judge that served as a launching pad for his unprecedentedly successful career. In 1925, Crandell created the John Bradshaw Crandell studios but, by 1935, had decided to drop his first name. The new Bradshaw Crandell went on to produce some of the era’s most famous magazine illustrations – including cover portraits featuring Hollywood stars such as Lana Turner (pictured above), Rita Hayworth, and Bette Davis. At the time of World War II, Crandell also turned his hand to producing ads for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and Pontiac, amongst others.

By the end of the 1940s, Crandell was virtually a household name. His celebrity portraits, in particular, made him a popular figure – so much so that he was used in an advert for Lord Calvert Whiskey. Crandell died in 1966 but his work is very much remembered – He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Bradshaw Crandell’s Ad for the Women’s Army Corps (1943)

The appeal of Crandell’s work is so interesting to consider. Disclaimer: I know very little about art from an artist’s standpoint. I can’t paint and I’ve never studied art. But it seems to me that Crandell’s portraits and his legacy are not deemed exceptional purely on the basis of his (considerable) talent. Clearly – even to the uninformed among us – he has some serious artistic abilities. What’s interesting to me, however, is thinking about the extent to which Crandell’s legacy exists because of the social and cultural dynamics at play while he was producing his portraits. Essentially: was Crandell just in the right place at the right time?

Crandell is not typically remembered as a pin-up artist. Pin-up art is traditionally identified as portraits or pictures of women that are sexualised (but not pornographic) or incorporate a degree of (usually not so subtle) eroticism. The resurgence of pin-up photography as a contemporary phenomenon means that pretty much everyone can conjure a mental image of what we mean by pin-up art. Little of Crandell’s work portrayed his subjects in this traditional pin-up manner. But he walked a line between the overt eroticism that we now identify with the term ‘pin-up art’ and pictures that, while sexy in their own way, would’ve been acceptable to a more traditional female audience. The origins of the term ‘pin-up’ are enough to inform us of the typical audience for the more sexualised pin-up portraits and illustrations – these were designed as pictures for men to literally ‘pin up’ on their walls, made acceptable by the fact that they were not pornographic but still appealing in their sexual content. The women portrayed in these pictures were sometimes celebrities, sometimes unknown and unnamed girls. Crandell provided a different kind of pin-up to the world.

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Rita Hayworth in The Loves of Carmen by Bradshaw Crandell

What’s truly interesting about Crandell’s work is the manner in which he provides a sort of pin-up that crosses gender lines. With his portraits, Crandell was able to appeal to both the soldiers on the front lines – men who wanted pin-ups of their favourite movie stars – and the women left back at home. When looking at his portrait of Rita Hayworth, for example, her curves and beauty – very much accentuated by Crandell – clearly appeal to a more stereotypically pin-up culture. But Hayworth’s obvious vivacity, and the lack of an overt eroticism in the picture, would make this an appealingly aspirational portrait for women.

While Crandell did occasionally work in a more traditionally erotic pin-up style (see his portrait of Liberty, below), the fact that he is remembered for his celebrity portraits speaks to his success at seizing on the characteristics that made pin-up art so popular and making it his own.

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Spirit of Liberty by Bradshaw Crandell (1940)

I highly recommend taking some time to browse Crandell’s portraits. You’ll end up with a very clear picture of his incredible talent and the way in which he managed to simultaneously defy and subscribe to the pin-up style that dominated popular portraiture during the period. His celebrity portraits provide images that are aspirational in a way that dramatically increased his popular appeal – sexually aspirational for male consumers and providing a type of aesthetical and social aspiration for female consumers. Although the more overtly erotic style of pin-up art would continue to enjoy cultural supremacy, Crandell’s legacy very clearly continues. When we look at the types of celebrity images we often see plastering magazines today, they walk a very similar line to Crandell’s portraits – not alienating in their sexuality but simultaneously aspirational across gender boundaries. It is the ability to obtain this type of popular appeal that can make or break a celebrity and Bradshaw Crandell’s work shows just how successfully images can be used to offer a broad and multifaceted audience exactly what it wants.

My Vintage Life: Lux Radio Theatre

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Thank you all so much for the response to last week’s post on Norma Shearer and pre-Code Hollywood, as well as the introduction of My Vintage Life. It’s been a big week on Sew for Victory with this, plus the launch of the Sew for Victory Book Club. Your comments and support has been fantastic and I’m happy to know that you’re enjoying these new features!

I’ve had an incredibly busy week sewing-wise. On top of finishing the muslin for my wedding dress, I’ve now completed my version of the Baltimore Dress from Decades of Style – I’m planning on posting pictures of the muslin next week and a post about the Baltimore Dress should follow relatively soon after that! One of my secrets to productive sewing is having something great to listen to. An interesting podcast will usually motivate me to get to the sewing table, even when I’m really feeling a loss of motivation. It was on a hunt for something new to enjoy that I came across recordings of the Lux Radio Theatre. I had never heard of this grand radio production that ran from the mid-1930s through to the mid-1950s – this is particularly surprising given that recordings of the programmes are easily accessible online. I started working my way through the recordings and could not escape the feeling that such an incredible treasure trove needed to be talked about! So it’s to the story of the Lux Radio Theatre that we now turn…


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For those living in the 1930s and 1940s, radio provided an essential source of entertainment and information. It’s difficult to imagine, in our era of unprecedented technology, that there was a time when even radio was a luxury. In 1921, there were just five licensed broadcasting stations across the entire US. By 1924, this had increased massively to 500. A similar pattern shows the dramatic growth of radio ownership among American households, increasing from 40 percent in 1930 to 83 percent in 1940. Other than trips to the cinema, radio was everything in the way of entertainment. Comedies, dramas, musical performances – all were broadcast via radio to households across the US. Given these figures, it was perhaps natural that someone would seek to exploit the opportunity to bring together America’s two primary forms of entertainment – radio and film.

The Lux Radio Theatre began broadcasting on 14 October 1934, as one of the most ambitious radio productions in history. The project was a conceptualisation of the Lever Brothers, makers of Lux Soap, who sponsored the programmes for the duration of its production through to 1955 (if you listen to the productions, trust me when I say that you will hear more than you ever could have hoped to about soap and complexions). The show was a weekly hour-long radio broadcast, initially created with the purpose of adapting successful Broadway plays for radio. Each week, actors and actresses would perform these adaptations live in New York before a studio audience, broadcast via radio to – at the show’s peak – an estimated 40 million listeners. During the first two seasons of the show, a number of great Broadway plays were adapted – including Smilin’ Through Berkeley Square and Way Down East.

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The first two year’s of Lux Radio Theatre productions proved a remarkable success – a success upon which the show’s producers and sponsors were determined to capitalise. They decided to broaden the scope of the programme – and widen its audience – by relocating the entire production to Hollywood and, rather than adapt Broadway plays, produce adaptations of successful Hollywood films. From here, incredible success was almost inevitable. On 25 May 1936, the Lux Radio Theatre presented its first programme from its new base in Hollywood, with an adaptation of The Legionnaire and the Lady (based on the film Morocco), starring Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable. Listening to this first adaptation, it is easy to feel why the production was a remarkable coup for all involved. The listener is given the opportunity to hear the most famous Hollywood stars acting live in a condensed and radio-appropriate version of an incredibly successful film. There’s the odd fumbling of words from the actors but this just adds to the sense of being right there, watching these performers do what they do best. Nothing like this had been done before and, in my opinion, modern radio productions would struggle to evoke the same effect on their listeners.

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Cecil B. DeMille

A large part of the Lux Radio Theatre’s success is undoubtedly owed to its long-time host – Cecil B. DeMille. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s worth going and doing a little digging. DeMille was perhaps one of the most interesting figures to work during the period we term ‘classic Hollywood’. He was an incredibly prestigious film maker and is often created as being the founder of American cinema. Lux Radio Theatre brought him on as host when they moved to Hollywood and he stayed with the production for almost a decade. As a man who would’ve been known to almost every movie-going American in the 1930s, DeMille added a definite level of authenticity to the production. When you listen to the episodes that he hosts, he often drops in anecdotes or converses with individuals with whom he has previously worked. At the end of The Legionnaire and The Lady, for example, DeMille introduces Clark Gable with this story:

Host: And now– And now a word about a certain young actor before he steps out on the stage. I want to tell you a little story of him. When I was casting “Madam Satan” six or seven years ago, I was looking for a villain. Somebody had given my script girl a screen test of a young man and she kept dinging the life out of me to see it. I asked her if he was a villain, and she said she thought he could do anything. Eh, so I looked at it and decided he was not a villain, but that he had definite possibilities. So I showed it to the other executives at the studio. When I asked them about the young man a day or so later, they said he never could succeed in pictures. I asked why not. They said, “His ears are too big.” … But evidently– Evidently, those ears were no obstacle to the triumph of Clark Gable.

These types of stories – with which every production is dotted – fantastically heighten the sense that you are listening to the ‘real’ Hollywood – hearing from those figures that stand at the very heart of this flashy, gaudy, and impenetrable metropolis of fame and fortune.

Over the course of its production, the Lux Radio Theatre adapted some of the best known Hollywood films and employed the most famous personalities in starring roles. Mostly, productions attempted to retain the original cast unless the stars were totally unavailable. In many instances, the production of films would be halted temporarily by the studios in order for the stars to be available for recordings of Lux Radio Theatre. Stars such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Kelly, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant, all starred at various points in Lux Radio Theatre productions. This list is only the tip of the iceberg. For many of these stars, however, appearing in the radio adaptations was no simple matter. To actors used to multiple takes for any one scene, the idea of acting live with no second chances was incredibly intimidating. However, the offer of $5000 for an appearance often quelled the fears. In addition, these radio productions offered an opportunity to promote any upcoming projects.

One of my favourite parts of the episode is right at the end, when the main stars of the adaptation come out to speak with the host. There’s typically a bit of back and forth conversation, sometimes a song if one of the stars is a singer, and a promotion of future films. Although these interactions are always scripted – and typically feel so – there’s something truly endearing about them. At the end of the adaptation of Burlesque, for instance, stars Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler talk with Cecil B. DeMille. Although this takes up perhaps just five minutes of the whole episode, it’s incredibly heartwarming listening to this husband and wife acting partnership interact with one another. This, more than anything, truly does give the sense that the listener is somehow penetrating those barriers traditional perceived to stand around Hollywood and its best and brightest.

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That fact that we have access to the recordings of every production of Lux Radio Theatre is incredibly fortunate. The archive of episodes provides potentially days of entertainment for those interested in classic Hollywood or classic radio productions. I can’t quite put across how impactful it is, for someone who is fascinated by the 1930s-1940s Hollywood era, to listen to these live recordings of radio adaptations based on Hollywood’s greatest triumphs. One of the biggest difficulties when researching those periods that we associate with the word ‘vintage’ is, I think, attempting to humanise and bring life to the people and events that we read about. Even watching classic films fails to bring this humanity – as with any actor who does a half decent job, the portrayal of a character on screen will always serve as a kind of wall between the audience and the person behind the actions and words. I read a lot of biographies with the explicit purpose of attempting to understand more of the ‘real’ Hollywood or the ‘real’ actors. The Lux Radio Theatre productions offer a different way of bringing some humanity to these people whose names we all know. The fumbling of words, the demonstrable nerves, and the genuine real-life moments that pervade almost all of the productions shine a new kind of light on the Hollywood of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.


If you want to listen to the Lux Radio Theatre broadcasts for yourself (which you absolutely should!), they are available via public domain from a number of sources. I have been listening via this archive.

 

 

 

1940s Vintage Apron (Simplicity 1221)

I’m on a real roll this October! Since it’s Sew for Victory‘s anniversary month, it makes sense that I should be churning out some adorable vintage makes. Following the success of my Objet d’Art dress – which, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know has already been out and about in the countryside – I was determined to capitalise on my new sewing momentum! So I whipped out Simplicity 1221 – a pattern that gives four different choices of 1940s aprons – and decided to create a truly flouncy apron for prancing around the house.

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Now, just to be clear, I don’t cook. I’m lucky enough to live with a fiancé who enjoys cooking and is quite happy to be in control of the kitchen. That said, every so often I decide to get my bake on and whip up a cake or some biscuits. I rarely wear an apron, but when I saw this pattern and the fabulous ruffles on the straps, I knew that – even if it goes totally unworn – I wanted to add this particular make to my collection.

I used a random cotton fabric that I found in my local fabric store, after falling in love with the polka dots and tiny alpine strawberries. It worked perfectly well, particularly in giving the apron that 1950s pin-up vibe. I decided to add a bit of extra flavour to the pattern by sewing some white piping along the inner edge of the straps. I had spent quite a bit of time debating how to break the apron’s various panels up a little so that it didn’t look too blocky – I think the piping did a great job of that. If I was going to make another version of this pattern, I would probably look at adding some more piping to the edges of the waist panel – it would just give the whole thing a little extra *pop*.

I love the vintage touches on this apron. Although the front panels were a bit of a nightmare to sew and I found the pattern a little unclear in places, the construction is definitely true to period. The ruffles obviously give the apron a real 1940s-1950s feel, which is accentuated by the fact that the straps cross at the back. There’s also a little pocket on the skirt – I appreciate a pocket on any garment, so this was a real bonus feature for me!

This definitely wasn’t the easiest pattern for me. Straying outside of the skirt/dress comfort zone is something that I rarely do. Since I’ve only been sewing for a year, every pattern generally exposes me to new skills or construction elements. Simplicity 1221 is a pretty drastic departure from anything I’ve made before so practically every step involved doing something new. I’m always up for a challenge and this pattern definitely presented it. I would caution anyone debating whether to make this particular version of the pattern to either make a muslin or take some time to really study the pattern before making. I faced a lot of confusion with some of the steps where I couldn’t quite work out what the pattern was telling me to do. Now this could just be a consequence of my relatively little sewing experience since I found that after a little perseverance I was able to figure out what needed to happen. But if you’re not used to making this sort of garment, it’s probably worth taking some time to familiarise yourself with the instructions regardless of sewing experience.

Overall, I’m super happy with this make. Despite presenting a challenge, the finished product was so worth the effort! When I put the apron on over my Betty dress (worn with petticoats) and some heels, I felt very glam! Although I am 100% sure that I would make a useless housewife and am quite happy to stay out of the kitchen, at least I’m now prepared if the Bake-Off inspires me to whip up a cake or two. At the very least, this apron is a great addition to my wardrobe of handmade goodies!

 

The Objet d’Art Dress

Oh I’m excited for this one! My version of the Decades of Style Objet d’Art dress has been a while in the making but, once I got properly under way, I just knew that this pattern was something special.

After wrapping up my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-Along, I was suffering a serious case of lost sew-jo. I poured a whole lot of effort into turning V9127 into something special and, although I was so incredibly proud of what I produced, I ended up feeling pretty burnt out. I wrote a while back about my search for a pattern that would help me recoup some enthusiasm and the Objet d’Art dress has definitely done the job. And here it is…

This dress is a 1950s inspired pattern – although, as I mentioned in my previous Vision Board post, I get definite 1940s garden party vibes from this one. The neckline and pocket detailing are truly unique points of focus for this dress. When I stumbled across the pattern (I say stumbled but I peruse the Decades of Style website on a near-constant basis), it was those unexpected twists on a classically simple silhouette that drew me in. These incredible details are something that Decades of Style patterns always do amazingly well – the Belle Curve dress is another example. And in the Objet d’Art dress, the detailing is used to perfect effect.

What is truly innovative about this pattern is its simplicity. Looking at the neckline or the pockets, you’d think that some serious sewing trickery was involved. But it is as simple as sewing darts and positioning them correctly. That’s it. Follow the markings and you end up with a gorgeous lapped neckline and some fantastic triangular pockets.

I’m trying not to rave too hard but I’m struggling to find anything negative to say about this pattern. I used a PDF version of the pattern and had no problems putting it together – that is to say, all the pieces fit and the markings were super clear. I went straight in without making a muslin (I really am the worst when it comes to making muslins because I’m impatient and always prefer to just alter as I go), grading the pattern out one size at the hips. The finished product fit like a glove with no further alterations to the size at all. Bear in mind that the dress borders on having a pencil fit around the hips/bum (although this could just be on me) so make sure you account for that when choosing your size. That pencil shape gives it a gorgeous silhouette but obviously a little less ease. Also there’s a fab kick pleat on the back of the skirt which I love!

My fiancé told me the left-hand photo captures my spirit because, in his words, ‘you look like you’re trying to teach me something’.

Fact: I hate zip insertions. They are the bane of my life. And, for some reason, no matter how many Youtube videos I watch, I’m still rubbish at it. I don’t think there’s a single zip in any one of my garments that doesn’t look at least a bit jerry-rigged. But I figure as long as it’s functional and doesn’t fall out, I’ve done the job. Probably my only piece of sadness about the Objet d’Art dress was having to put in a zip. It came out just fine in the end, although my hand is strategically covering a slight puckering at the bottom. Tips on zip insertions are always welcome (seriously, please help me).

The last thing to mention is the fabric! One of the things I loved about the look of the pattern was the photos I saw on the website, with a version of the dress made up in a green striped fabric. The pattern is designed to work incredibly well with vertical stripes. So I did a bit of hunting around and decided to exploit the gift voucher that I won from The Splendid Stitch for a photo of the Belle Curve dress that I submitted for Vintage Pledge July. The fabric is a Light Blue, Navy and White Striped Shirting  and it worked gorgeously well. If you choose to use a vertically striped fabric, no magic is needed on your end to achieve the final effect – if you position the pattern pieces as instructed, you’ll end up with a lapped neckline that is accentuated by the direction of the stripes. I particularly love the way that this came out on my version.

So there we have it! Another gorgeous pattern from Decades of Style who have, so my most recent look at the website has informed me, added a whole load more PDF patterns. I have a couple of other projects lined up for the next month or so but trust me when I say that it won’t be long before a new Decades of Style pattern is featured here!

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Vision Board: 1940s Garden Party

Hi dolls!

I hope that you are enjoying these last few days of September. One thing I love about the transition from summer to autumn is that brief period of time where the warm summer sun is accompanied by a cool breeze. I walk A LOT and this is my favourite time of year to explore the parks around my neighbourhood and exploit the end of the National Trust season with visits to stately homes. In honour of this gorgeous season, I’ve been working hard on my Objet d’Art dress from Decades of Style. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed autumn, totally equipped for a turn in the weather by throwing on some tights and a cardigan.

As with my other makes, I’ve worked hard to picture exactly how the Objet d’Art dress can be worn. In picking out fabric for any of my makes, I’m always aware of the various vintage accessories that might really draw out the era while also tailoring the garment to whichever setting I’m picturing for it. When I saw the Objet d’Art dress, my mind turned immediately to garden parties, hosted in that transitional summer to autumn period. It’s a dress for lounging, tennis playing on the lawn, and taking a leisurely walk.

For my reference, I usually create something of a ‘vision board’ that I work from in deciding on fabrics and accessories. To take Sew for Victory from simply documenting the beginning and end of projects, I’ve decided to introduce these vision boards to my posts here. Hopefully this will provide a point of inspiration for those of you looking to create a complete vintage look. So, without further ado, my 1940s Garden Party Vision Board:

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Pattern: Objet d’Art dress from Decades of Style

Fabric: Blue, Navy and White Striped Shirting from The Splendid Stitch

Shoes: Light Brown Brogues from New Look

Gloves: White Shirred Gloves from JewelryAndThings2 (Etsy)

Bag: 1940s Floral Purse from SL Vintage (Etsy)

Necklace: White Freshwater Pearl Necklace from Pearl Distributors

The stepping-off point for this board was the Objet d’Art pattern from Decades of Style. Although listed on the website as a 1950s pattern, it screams late-’40s style to me (particularly in the silhouette and the accessories that I picture it with). In that 1940s garden party setting, white dress gloves and a string of pearls are sophisticated accents. Pair with a simple, embroidered handbag to celebrate being out in nature and cling on to the remnants of summer. And finally, recognise the importance of practically – as well as the dominance of low-heeled pumps in the 1940s period – by popping on a pair of tan brogues. All of these bits and pieces are incredibly accessible and can be bought on the high street if you want to avoid paying for genuine vintage items (you might, for instance, want to steer away from paying $150 for a real pearl necklace, however gorgeous).

My version of the Objet d’Art dress is almost ready to go. I can’t wait to share it with you and, in the meantime, maybe this will give you a few ideas for building up your own vintage wardrobe!

Learning From Vintage Fashion Illustrations

Hello lovelies!

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been dipping in and out of the various vintage magazines that I’ve collected since I started sewing. I love these magazines for the insight they give into daily life of bygone eras and the general concerns of women that lived through these decades. But there are also so many great tips related to sewing, knitting, and crafting your own fashionable garments by hand.

Since my era of choice is the 1930s-1940s, most of my magazines and vintage fashion manuals date from that period. One of my favourite things to peruse when I’m looking for inspiration are the great fashion illustrations that populate regular style features. Since a lot of you email and comment about the general lack of non-contemporary vintage inspiration, I thought that it would be useful to post about a few of my favourite genuinely vintage fashion pictures from the 1940s.

Both of these images come from an issue of Woman’s Illustrated published on 1st April 1944 and show some great ideas for detailing on day dresses. The two dresses on the left offer fantastic examples of small additions used to turn relatively simple garments into unique pieces of 1940s fashion. C20,161 is – according to author of the feature, Sarah Redwood – a dress where “the lines of frilling and the front gathered skirt are responsible for quite seventy percent of its charm.” C20,293 offers fabric ruffles attached to the neckline and demands being made in a printed fabric. With my favourite line from the whole feature, Sarah Redwood suggests that: “Like the first swallow, the first printed crepes make one feel happy at the thought of summer just around the corner.” I have to agree with Sarah on that one, although I’m all about recapturing that summer feeling by wearing bright prints year round.

In the right-hand image, we have some great examples of how effectively gathering can be used to capture that vintage style. Both C20,635 and C20,519 use gathers at the neckline to really great effect. This isn’t something that I’ve come across in any vintage reproduction patterns but with some small modifications to the neckline of contemporary patterns could be pretty easily added in. I especially love the scalloped neckline on C20,519 – so gorgeous.

These two illustrations are taken from separate 1944 issues of Woman’s Illustrated and are particularly great for showing the importance of the wrap-style dress to mid-1940s era fashion. These are good examples of evening dresses, particularly when combined with the suggested accessories. I’m not sure bows have truly made their comeback yet but who knows? Perhaps we can be pioneers of the trend. Of CM20,777, on the right, Sarah Redwood says: “The frock that answers a thousand and one different calls is a treasure indeed, and that is the claim we make for this dress. It is a nicely balanced mixture of extreme elegance and extreme ease, comfortable, smart, and undating.” The fact that this dress could be worn pretty inconspicuously today pretty much proves her point.

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My final favourite fashion illustration has to be this one. I adore the shirt dress in particular. And since I have Sew Over It’s Vintage Shirt Dress in line for an upcoming project, its good to see that this contemporary pattern effectively captures a classic style. I also love the neckline of C20,215. Paired with a sparkly vintage brooch, it would be an easy vintage standout.

Hopefully this short journey through some of my favourite 1940s fashion illustrations has given you some food for thought. Perhaps the shape of the garments inspires you, or maybe the pictured accessories and fabric ideas feed your imagination.These gorgeous pictures always help me when I’m trying to get out of a sewing rut or otherwise plan some unique touches to patterns I’m working on. And if these few pictures aren’t enough, I’ll be making sure to write more vintage inspiration posts in the future. So stay tuned!