Friday, January 6, 2017

, , ,

Simplicity Pattern Catalog, August 1940

Simplicity August 1940
Simplicity Pattern Catalog, August 1940
About a month ago I acquired my first vintage counter book - you know, the big pattern catalogs we go and flip through at the fabric stores. I began my obsession after visiting Simplicity back in October and flipping through a couple of their original books. This first catalog, which is not the one I'm sharing with you today, was such a work of art that since then I've been on a bit of a bender, snapping up pre-1950s books whenever I can find (and afford) them.

So far I have two late-30s and two 1940s. The '40s books are both Simplicity, one from 1940 on the dot, and one from 1946. The difference between the two is astounding. I'll show you pages from the '46 later, but today I'll share a few of my favorites from the '40.

Simplicity August 1940
The dress on the left with the crazy plaid work is calling my name! So is the dress on the right!

Simplicity August 1940

I'm fascinated by the juxtaposition between the 1940 and the 1946 book. On the personal side, there's literally nothing I don't adore in the 1940 book and there's almost nothing I DO adore or even like a little in the 1946 book!

Simplicity August 1940
The 1940s catalog is choc full of interesting gathers and shaping like this.

Simplicity August 1940
This plaid-trimmed blazer needs to go in my closet right now.
Also of note, the patterns in the 1940 book are pretty complex, despite the "Simple to Make" stamp being tagged on patterns that we today would by no means consider simple projects! Apparently 1946 didn't think so either because their "Simple to Make" patterns are more in-line with ours today - two seams, no armscyes, etc. The 1946 patterns are *so* simple they're boring, but by contrast, the 1940 patterns are so complex they're intimidating. I'm intrigued as to why this major shift occurred....(down the rabbit hole we go!)

Simplicity August 1940
Here's and example of what 1940 calls "Simple to Make." Does this look simple to you?

Simplicity August 1940

Another interesting note about the 1940 book is that it contains older patterns, like our books do today. There are quite a few obviously 1930s patterns still available in 1940. In the 1946 book, though, everything looks new for that year. This is probably more me not being attuned to the subtleties of the mid '40s year-to-year, but there's also a marked change in the style of the illustrations. Fascinating. Bring on the social context.

Simplicity August 1940 Pattern Catalog
A very 1930s pattern still available in the 1940 catalog - a good example of how fashion flows.

Simplicity August 1940
A cute late 1930s look still available in the 1940 catalog. 
Of course, the most frustrating thing about flipping through these tomes of focused dress history is that I can't pull open the pattern cabinet at Joanns and help myself to any of these. It's that same feeling of despair that comes with "shopping" old catalogs. There's the joy of online pursuit, though - hunting pattern numbers on eBay, Etsy, and Facebook groups - as well as the challenge of drafting your own version. There's no shortage of inspiration, at least!

Simplicity August 1940
There's a small section on undies - mostly slips and negligees, but a few brassieres and tap pants.

Simplicity August 1940
This is one of my favorite spreads in the book - there's only one like it, and I'm not sure what it signified - mix and match, perhaps? Individual separates patterns (instead of suits)? Quite fun.
Next time, I'll show you snaps from the 1946 Simplicity catalog and we can compare and contrast. For now, back to sewing!

Share:

18 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    LOVE the black dress, but 'simple' is not a word which comes to mind! Does the catalogue include anything it describes as 'eye-wateringly complicated' so we can compare?

    ReplyDelete
  2. That crazy plaid is definitely screaming to me as well!

    The problem with not having the patterns for me is not knowing how to construct the thing. Does the dress have a lining? Facings? Where are the closures? Shoulder pads? etc...

    ReplyDelete
  3. That criss-cross bra that attaches to the tap pants is super interesting! Do you think it was intended for low-back dresses or something?

    ReplyDelete
  4. OMG, I love the "simple" dress and the black one with the gathers. The blue skirt suit with the waistcoat is also pretty much perfect. Thanks for sharing these!

    ReplyDelete
  5. The difference is that in 1946, WWII was just over (maybe not quite ended by the printer's deadline) and fabrics and notions for civilians were in short supply. Women had been working in war jobs (thanks, Rosie!) and styles were pared to the bone for simplicity and practicality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seconded - it's hard to understate the impact that fabric rationing had on styles. Hemlines shortened, sleeves thinned, and bias anything was out in favor of sensible (re-makable) pleats and solid pattern pieces.

      Delete
    2. Yes, have to weigh in late here.. The 1940s were my moms 20s. Most WWII women did some kind of war work, meaning their leisure time was pared, and probably their enthusiasm for more complicated construction methods was lessened as well. Mom got married in 1947, in Philadelphia, and made do with her best dress for the wedding. The new shoes were cheap post war knock offs and she said they squeaked horribly as she came downstairs.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for sharing these snaps! I wish pattern companies would scan their archives and release these counter books as e-books or something, I would give them all my money! Plus they should make digital versions of their archives anyway, if they haven't already, it's a win win ;)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ooooohhh, Aaaaaahhh! Those are fabulous. I love the "simple to make" one. What a great find.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I can't wait to see the 1946 one!
    Thte 1946 one might not showcase old patterns because people were so sick of the wartime fashions at that point - they were less considered fashion and more just another point of rationing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. oh wow I love those! especially that first plaid one I love the way it mixes Bias and straight of grain, which probably makes it harder to sew but its so cute.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Have you come across Lutterloh patterns? Some years ago I was given some of their books from the 40s and 50s and with those you can make them up! My current summer dressing gown was a 1930s Lutterloh dress pattern which I made floor length by adding a wide ruffle.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Can't wait to see the 1946 one to compare! I don't usually love the later 1940's either, so it will be interesting to see what the patterns were like at the time. Thanks for sharing!
    The Artyologist

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is unrelated by I have been meaning to ask this for a while:

    I love, love, love, love, love your midnight chemise a la rein and want to make one just like it! I just have no idea what undergarments to wear underneath it to get such a wonderful silhouette! What did you use?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The underpinnings for the chemise were - shift, stays, bum pad, under petticoat, another petticoat.

      Delete
  13. Oh my word, so many pretties!! I kept scrolling thinking 'oh, that's my favourite!', then I'd get to the next one and it would be 'No, that's my favourite!'. I really wish I could buy all these patterns :( xx

    ReplyDelete
  14. Interestingly I have a very similar hat to the one that goes with the green blazer with plaid trim. Now I know how to wear the darn thing ;) . Also maybe the "new' patterns in the 1946 book are in response to the "new look" after the war,or at least trying to come up with something completely different than what they'd had for all the years during the war?
    Heidi in L.A.

    ReplyDelete