Vintage Pants – 1930s – 1970s

I think I’m done with low-waisted jeans forever.  I hate the way they squeeze the fleshy bits of my hips up and create a belly where I didn’t have one before.  I’m done.

With that in mind, this brings about a dilemma – where to find normal-waisted pants?  There are a few vendors out there, and a proper dig through the racks at the local thrift stores might turn up an option or two.  Other than that, it’s down to sewing them for ourselves.

Luckily, pants patterns from the past are readily available.  I found gobs of 1970s trouser patterns at my local Savers thrift store, for 99 cents each, and was happy to discover that 1970s pants bear a striking resemblance to 1930s pants (don’t pay attention to the illustrations on the envelope – they have little to do with how the pants will actually look when made up).  I have a pair of jeans made from such a pattern to show you next time, but this time let’s take a look at some inspiring 20th century pants, to get the style juices flowing:

1930s wide legged trousers – via
1946 trousers with an option for peddle-pushers – via
1950s trousers, high of waist, trim of leg, short of length – via
1960s sees the transition from skinny leg back to wide leg, now with groovy cuffs – via
1970s – VERY wide legs, slim hips, a return to the ’30s – via

If you look past the funky fabric choices, and just imagine each of these trousers in denim, they make up a surprisingly flattering wardrobe staple, no matter the decade.  Why flattering? Because they make the legs look long, the waist look tiny (and by the way, they control the waist in a similar way to corset training), the hips look svelte, the derriere look sculpted….

…and what they *don’t* do is…show the top of your underwear, create a belly and love handles where there aren’t any, form a “dent” in your hips, uncomfortably squeeze your pelvis in an effort to stay up, and proportion the body to look short-of-leg and long-of-torso.

Next time I will show you the pants I made and am super stoked about.  Meanwhile, I’m off to the thrift store to find some more vintage pants patterns….

If you too are looking to Bring Sexy Back in normal-waisted pants, here are some resources:

Ready-Made Pants
Modcloth – several styles of jeans with skinny or wide leg.
Urban Outfitters – all skinny leg styles, appropriate for 1950s Teddy Girl looks.
Pinup Girl Clothing – a broad selection of 50s and 60s style shorts and pants
HeyDay Vintage Style – Great selection of 1940s trousers

Repro Patterns
Wearing History “Smooth Sailing 1930s Sports Togs” Pattern
Decades of Style #4004 1940s Empire Waist Trousers
The Tailor’s Apprentice “Jenny” Sailor Suit Pattern
Folkwear #250 Hollywood Pants
Folkwear #240 Rosie the Riveter (includes pants as well as overalls)
EvaDress – 1930s – #1210, #650
EvaDress – 1940s – #9016, #3322
EvaDress – 1950s – #7496

Vintage Patterns
MOMSPatterns – patterns from 1930s to present.
Etsy – search for vintage pants patterns.
eBay – search for vintage pants patterns


  • Mary Nease

    July 9, 2013 at 11:01 PM

    I like a happy medium. I hate low-waisted pants, but high-waisted ones make my butt look huge. I've found that the Grainline Maritime shorts pattern is the perfect in between for me. high enough that love handles and a tummy aren't created, but low enough that they look "modern" and squeeze my stomach in exactly the right place.

  • Rhonda

    July 9, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    I love the look of higher-waisted pants, but I happen to have a short torso and long legs, so a slightly lower waist is more flattering for me. I never go low-rise, though!

  • Crystal

    July 10, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    Canadians can shop at Reitmans (shameless plug; I work there) 🙂 Most of their pants sit just below the belly button. (Canucks AND Americans can shop the website too!

  • Unknown

    July 10, 2013 at 3:08 AM

    I love the fact that Nordstrom gives the measurement of the rise on all its jeans, front and back. Just make comparisons to your favorite pair and you can often find new great fitting jeans.

  • Lithia Black

    July 10, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    I have a very high waist, a rounded tummy and big hips. I look ridiculous in low waist jeans.
    I've been hunting for a pair of affordable high waisted jeans in my size for ages but i think I'll have to bite the bullet and make myself a pair, I'm so tired of the muffintop look…


  • Hana - Marmota

    July 10, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    I'm definitely with you. I am short-of-leg and long-of-torso as it is, so I really do not need to add to that… I used to equate high-waisted pants with those ugly 80s (?) styles that are full, pleated at the top and narrow at the bottom – those certainly do not suit my wide hips – but smooth high-waisted pants are perfect! I think from those styles you're featured, the best for me are 40s and 60s (maybe without the cuffs).

  • AuntieNan

    July 10, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    I'm pear shaped, and can't figure why any woman who has a real waist would opt to hide it in low risers! Yes, I'm short waisted, but you can accommodate that with a good fit, I.e., not too tight, and the right length top to go with it, high hip length, in my case. Two years ago I took an old pair of waisted pants and made a pattern and have used it for comfy business pants ever since. I hated the hip-hugger look the first time!! Won't wear it, and with a little style adjustment, anybody can look great in natural waist pants. Oh, another tip–not too tight!
    Thanks for this, Lauren. You are fab,
    Nancy N

  • vintagevisions27

    July 10, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    I'm with you! I hate low rise pants. I get so mad when I go clothing shopping and that's all I can find in my size! Not flattering and not all that comfortable either. I've used Eva Dress #3322 to make pants and they are very comfortable. I have a vintage 1940s pattern that I picked up on Ebay for pants, a skirt, and vest. Very 40s college girl! I haven't used the pattern yet but plan to. I'll post a picture. 🙂

  • Anne Elizabeth

    July 10, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Me too! I hated how when you crouch in low-waisted pants, everything shows, and how they create that muffin-top on even the skinniest of people. Also I find any pants tight in the crotch really unbearable.
    I am quite in love with the pants from that Simplicity 1940s repro pattern with the skirt, jacket and pants. They restrict me nowhere but slightly at the waist (so wearing them is as comfy as a skirt), they give me longs legs and emphasize my teenie waist (I'm a pear shape, my bum and thighs are huge – but I love my waist). Also, I love side-zippers…

    I made one pair in medium weight wool and one in linen. 🙂

  • Vincent Briggs

    July 10, 2013 at 5:56 PM

    Agreed. Low rise pants are evil! I wore a pair once and they felt so unstable, I was afraid to bend over. A lot of store bought pants also seem to be designed for people without butts, which is quite irksome. My favorite pair of pants comes up to my belly button.

    I've inherited several 70's pants patterns that I have ignored up till now because they are from the decade of extreme hideousness. Perhaps they do have potential to make nice pants after all, I must make a mockup and see.
    Thank you for posting this!

  • Anonymous

    July 10, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    I'm really digging that purple pair. And I have a pair of my mother's shoes that look just like the ones in the middle of the 70s photo, only they're navy blue and the platform is slightly thinner.

    I'm a bit tired of the low rise, but I'm afraid of making the wrong pair of high-waisted pants. Fearing the bumps (probably caused by low-rise pants) and fearing the dreaded long butt….

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