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.
The dress on the left with the crazy plaid work is calling my name! So is the dress on the right!
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!
The 1940s catalog is choc full of interesting gathers and shaping like this.
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!)
Here’s and example of what 1940 calls “Simple to Make.” Does this look simple to you?
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.
A very 1930s pattern still available in the 1940 catalog – a good example of how fashion flows.
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!
There’s a small section on undies – mostly slips and negligees, but a few brassieres and tap pants.
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!