A Pattern Parade

To meet the custom clothiers' demand for the designer fashions seen in Paris, London, and New York, fifties' couturiers lent their designs to many of the major pattern makers.

The top four pattern makers of the 1950's were Butterick, Vogue, McCall's, and Simplicity.

Beautiful dresses from 1950s pattern book with black sheath dress by Fath, Organdy Schiaparelli ballgown, Dior tulip print ballgown and pineapple print ballgown by Givenchy
Unknown 1950's Pattern Book
Jacques Fath Black Sheath Dress
Schiaparelli Organdy Ballgown
Dior Tulip Print Ballgown
Givenchy Pineapple Embroidery Ballgown
In the early 19th century, miniature patterns were included in fashion publications such as Godey's Lady's Book. The patterns had to be traced, enlarged to scale, and then resized to fit the user.

By the mid 1800's, folded, full sized patterns began to appear in ladies magazines and journals. These too were one size fits all with pattern pieces often overlapping one another.

Illustration of evening dress pattern from Godey's Lady's Book 1859
Godey's Lady's Book Evening Dress Pattern Illustration 1859

Pattern from Godey's Lady's Book 1859 for evening dress
Godey's Lady's Book Evening Dress Pattern 1859
Ellen Curtis Demorest conceived the idea of using tissue paper for pattern tracings while observing her maid cutting a pattern from stiff brown paper.

Realizing there was an easier way of producing patterns, Ellen and her husband, William Jennings Demorest, began making patterns out of tissue paper. They also opened a small women's fashion emporium on Broadway in New York. They initially hired salesmen to sell the patterns door to door but as their business grew, the patterns were sold in dry goods stores.

These early patterns were simply folded together with no picture of the garment or guides for construction provided.

In the fall of 1860, Ellen and her husband launched a quarterly magazine they named M'me Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions. Primarily a fashion magazine, the quarterly also carried advertisements for one size patterns.

In 1864, in response to their readers request for custom fit patterns, the Quarterly offered patterns fit to the readers measurements. Customers were advised to send in the cost of the pattern, usually only 25 cents, and three measurements - waist and bust circumference and underarm length. A custom fit pattern could then be mailed to them.

M'me Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions  November 1863 Illustration
M'me Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions  November 1863
Internet Archives

Pattern portion of M'me Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions  November 1863
M'me Demorest's Quarterly Mirror of Fashions  November 1863
Internet Archive
Ebenezer Butterick is credited with the first mass production of graded and sized patterns in 1863. Butterick founded The Butterick Publishing Company under the name of The Metropolitan Monthly. The name was changed to The Delineator in 1875. By 1876, Butterick Patterns was a worldwide enterprise.

1874 Dress Made From a Paper Pattern Bought In Paris
1874 Dress Made From a Paper Pattern Bought In Paris
©Metropolitan Museum
Gift of  Ethel M. Dixon in Memory of
Her Mother Annie Denton Merritt
Scottish tailor and sewing machine salesman, James McCall, established The McCall Pattern Company in 1870 and promoted the patterns in his magazine The Queen. The patterns could be found folded and stapled into the magazine.

He also published a small pattern catalog named, Catalogue of Bazar Paper Patterns. McCall's is recognized as one of the first pattern companies to place their patterns in an envelope with the date of release stamped on the cover.

Illustration of McCall Book of Fashions Today 1914
McCall Book of Fashions 1914
Public Domain
Vogue, a fashion magazine for high society, began offering monthly patterns to their readers for 50 cents. Although they were only one sized, these patterns became very popular. In 1914, the Vogue Pattern Company was set up to meet the demand for these higher end fashion designs.

Vogue led the way in making designer created patterns available to the public with their Paris Original Modes section of their catalogs.

Illustration of early 1900's women's fashions patterns from Paris Mode Pattern
Paris Mode Pattern
©Live Auctioneers
The early 20th century saw record growth in the pattern industry and competition for customers was fierce. Pattern companies were starting their own manufacturing and publishing divisions.

To gain greater customer acceptance, pattern packaging began to change. Patterns were placed in envelopes with more detailed sewing instructions provided.

By the 1920's, with patterns sometimes costing as much as the fabric to make the garment, Joseph M. Shapiro introduced the Simplicity Pattern Company as an affordable pattern alternative. It was an immediate success.

Collection of Simplicity 1950's dresses described as After Five Dress Patterns
Simplicity 1950's After Five Dress Patterns
©Live Auctioneers
Throughout the 1920's, all pattern companies began placing the folded patterns into envelopes and including instructions for altering the sizes. Counter catalogs were divided into sections, tabbed, and indexed.

Created by Conde Nast in 1932, the Hollywood Pattern Company quickly became popular due to the photos of Hollywood stars that graced the envelope. Starlets felt they had achieved success when they were featured on a Hollywood Pattern. Hollywood Pattern Company stopped production after World War II.

Dress Pattern depicting RKO Radio star Ruth Warrick for 1940's Hollywood Patterns
Ruth Warrick RKO Radio for Hollywood Patterns
Pattern companies met the war time rationing restrictions by promoting patterns requiring less fabric and by producing patterns directly related to war needs. Nurse uniforms, Red Cross uniforms, hospital patient gowns, and hospital operating gown patterns were readily available.

McCall's 1940's Nurse Uniform Pattern
McCall's 1940's Nurse Uniform
The demand for patterns greatly increased after World War II ended. The stay at home mothers who had left the work force wanted chic yet affordable fashions that expressed their individuality and style. This need was met by the flourishing pattern making industry.

1950's Simplicity Afternoon to Evening Dress Pattern
1950's Simplicity Afternoon to Evening Dress
Grandma Made With Love Etsy Shop

Pauline Trigere 1950's McCall's Evening Dress Pattern
Pauline Trigere 1950's McCall's Pattern
1950's Vogue Evening Dress Pattern
1950's Vogue Evening Dress Pattern
1952 Butterick Dress Pattern
1952 Butterick Dress Pattern
Vintage Pattern Wiki
We would love to know if you fashioned your own clothing. If so, did you have a favorite pattern company?

Feel free to read about my seamstress grandmother in my "Meet The Family" section at My Oklahoma City Grandma.

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