Friday, January 28, 2011

Dating Vintage Sewing Patterns

If you love vintage style then most likely you own a few vintage wardrobe pieces. Over the years many of these vintage pieces have gotten moth holes, faded, or the fabric has become fragile. In some cases this can add to it's charm and it can become "shabby chic", but if your looking for just "chic" then be prepared to shell out some cash or if your handy with the sewing machine (why, yes, I am!) then you can do the vintage thing and just whip yourself up a lovely frock or two!

There are benefits to sewing your own clothing! Here are just a few good reasons:
  • We all know what colors look good on us so we can choose the fabrics that best suit our complexions. Vintage styles can also have an updated, fresh look with new fabrics. 
  • By premaking a pattern using inexpensive muslin, you can adjust the fit so that the outfit fits you like a glove!
  • Making new clothing from vintage patterns means you can easily wash and wear what you make without fear of it falling apart. Great for everyday wear!
  • Making a piece of clothing from vintage patterns will give you the same time of experience that someone from that era would have had! (It can be an experience, because many older patterns come unprinted!)
  • Exploring vintage patterns will further your knowledge of the fashions of that era.
Personally as I've begun exploring vintage fashions, I've found that I am most attracted to styles from the 1940's. That's not to say I wouldn't mind making a couple June Cleaver type dresses, but mainly my personality and what I am used to wearing is more figure flattering for the 1940's. I'd really love to find a 1940's military style dress pattern with a hat. What fun that would be to make!

Dating old sewing patterns isn't as easy as just looking on the pattern envelope... although thankfully in the later years most companies did decide on printing the year on the envelope. When dating a sewing pattern that does not have a year on the envelope, you'll want to consider a few things:
  • Look at the Price of the Pattern
  • Look at the character drawings
  • Look at the style of the fashion
  • Sizing of the pattern
  • Pattern Envelope Changes
The one thing you CAN NOT use to date a pattern is... the pattern number. Companies reissue patterns using the same numbers so this won't be very helpful.

For my research, I'm going to share how to date patterns ranging from the 1930's-1970's. From the 80's on the dates are pretty well established on sewing patterns.

  • Butterick was the very first home sewing pattern company started in 1863.
  • Vogue Patterns began in 1899 through mail order only, but didn't take off to be the Vogue we know today until 1916 when they were sold in department stores. Vogue patterns did not begin dating patterns until the 1970's.
  • Simplicity Sewing Patterns began in 1927 and began dating their patterns in the 1940's. In 1940 they dated the pattern envelope on the bottom front and then in the later 40's you'll find the date on the back side of the instruction sheet.
  • DuBerry Patterns were Woodward's Store brand patterns produced by Simplicity. The original prices ran from 10-15 cents.
  • McCall began business in 1870. You can usually dates their patterns on the bottom in fine print or behind the back flap of the envelope. In 1951 McCall added an "s" to their name so they we're known as McCall's. They were also the first to print on the paper pattern pieces.
  • Hollywood Patterns date between the 1930's- early 1950's.
  • Advance Patterns were designed for JCPenny from 1933-1966. Original prices started at 10 cents and went up to 75 cents.
  • Mail order patterns became popular in the 1940's and designs were featured in various woman's magazines with a coupon that could be cut out and sent in. There were various companies that offered these patterns, but some of the most popular were Anne Adams, Sue Burnett, and Marian Martin.

The Price of Patterns

The price of a pattern then, like today, would vary based upon an elaborate pattern verse a normal pattern. Printed patterns (pattern pieces with printed edges) were more expensive than unprinted patterns. (With unprinted patterns you match notches and cutouts together).Keeping that in mind, you can still get a rough idea of the era based upon price and then use further assessments to narrow it down father.

15 cent patterns were usually unprinted "common" patterns. 
25 cent patterns that were printed were more detailed and elaborate patterns.
35 cent patterns were generally around in the mid-late 1950's. Many children's styled patterns remained this price as the adult size patterns increased in price.
40 cents Butterick had NEW DELTA patterns in the 30's that were this pricey!
45 cent pattens include later 1960's Advance patterns
50 cent patterns were in the 1950's. Early 1950's elaborate patterns, such as coats, suit sets etc. were 50 cents, while in the late 50's this became common price for all patterns. Early 60's kept this price and children's patterns remained this price for awhile in the 60's.
60 cent patterns were 1960's
$1.00 patterns are generally late 60's into the 70's.
$1.25-$1.50 patterns started in the mid 1970's (huge price jumps in comparison to the earlier years!)
$2.00 patterns were seen at the end of the 70's.
$2.50-$3.75 patterns were seen into the early-mid 80's
$4.25 patterns were seen in the mid 80's as well

From then on, I'm guessing our grandma's couldn't imagine patterns costing so much (or maybe it was the invention of the "barcode

The Character Drawings & Fashion Sense

In the 1930's character sketches on the pattern featured very faded faces and just really an 'idea image' that it was an actual person. 1930's fashions featured feminine, flowing dresses. Many styles were cut on the bias to mold to your figure. Hemlines in fashion go down with the dollar (don't know why, it just has played out that way... conservative nature I guess) so when the 30's depression came, down went the hemlines all the way to the ankle where they remained until the end of the 1930's. During the depression era women began to sew more now than ever before. Clothing was mended time and time again before just being tossed to the wayside. Children's garments were sewn with the idea of passing them down to younger family members.

Anne Adams Pattern #1787

In the 1940's character sketches were more detailed, but generally the pattern envelopes were only printed in 2-3 colors in the early-mid 40's. Later 40's introduced more color to the envelope. The character featured generally had small pointy lips, defined small facial features, her hair was curled under or tightly coiffed. Fashion sense in the 1940's was all based upon the war. The US government was rationing items such as cloth, rubber, and metal so the fashion industry had to adapt. The government also put restrictions on how much yardage could be put into a piece of clothing. The only fashionable items that were not under restriction were wedding gowns and infant clothing. Dressing for the occasion was key. Because we were all in support of our troops in the war, we put the effort in on the home front as well. Some women took over the factory jobs that the men held previously, thus companies (and sewing patterns!) began to create "coveralls". Rosie the Riveter was born. If you took to the farming fields, women found that denim trousers were a must. It became acceptable for women to wear these things if they were doing such dirty jobs. Colors for everyday wear tended to be muted colors and brighter (for the time period) colors were reserved for Sunday services or evening wear. Many times characters were depicted doing something to show you what the outfit was designed for. An example of that would be a house dress... it was shown with a model with a broom in her hand. Clothing designed for going out in would have the character wearing gloves with her purse and possibly a hat.

Simplicity Pattern# 3782 

Simplicity Pattern # 1459

In the 1950's characters were in full Technicolor glory! Lots of vibrant colors. Models were still sketched out.  Hairstyles were generally a lot more "fluffy" rather than the tight, sleek look of the 40's. An hourglass figure was achieved by wearing foundation garments. Once the war was over the government released restrictions on fashion and in a rebellious nature Christian Dior created the bell dress which required wearing a petticoat underneath to help fill out the bottom half of the dress. A tiny waist was achieved by the use of girdles. Many of his runway designs used up to 5 yards of fabric in the skirt alone! In contrast, Chanel didn't care for Dior's New Look, and reinvented her designs to a more boxy suit jacket and slim pencil skirts. Givenchy followed suit with more slimming designs and A-lines that soon blossomed heavily in the 1960's.

McCall's Pattern # 9244
Indicative to the Christian Dior "NEW LOOK" of the era

Vogue Couturier Design Pattern #859
Inspired by Chanel's slimming look.

In the 1960's patterns mostly stuck with character drawings, but began to photograph live models wearing the clothing. The 60's era began much like the end of the 1950's, but very quickly began to take on a new style with the new first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie's style was influenced by French couture and tended to be fitted, great lines, a very classic, timeless fashion sense. The mid-60's gave way to British Mod Fashions. Clothing became looser, more casual and the need for foundation garments had gone to the wayside. Clothing became brighter and more geometric. The late 60's gave way to the hippy fashion movement. Bell bottoms, jeans, fringe and flowers were all popular to the younger generation and continued to move into the 70's.

Simplicity Pattern #4768
Very Jackie O in style!

The British attacked with the 60's Mod Style
Simplicity Pattern #6973

Hippie Style. This Simplicity Pattern # 9374 is actually a pattern from 1971, as finding sewing patterns styled for "hippie"/bo-ho clothing weren't readily available in the 60's. I believe this is due to the fact that the "hippie" or hipster movement was designed to move away from the traditional and the younger generation didn't want to sew like their parents had. What crafting that took place in that scene was a more "free spirit", sew without a pattern/ create your own look idea. Embellishing ready made items were also popular in this scene. Painting on jeans and t-shirts (or heck, just skin!) was popular... adding beads and fringe to items became a way to express yourself.

Sizing of Pattern and how we've GROWN over the years

In the very beginning of home sewing patterns just a bust size was given. In the 1940's a bust AND hip measurement were given, but a waist measurement was NOT given because it was assumed that the sewer was experienced and able to change that part of the pattern to fit their need.

Up until 1956 a size 12 meant a bust size of 30. From 1956 on, a size 12 bust increased to 32". In 1967 they changed it again and a size 12 meant a bust of 34" and so it stands today.

While the bust measurement grew, so did the hip and waist measurements! Darn!

Pattern Envelope Changes

Just as today, graphic designers changed around the fonts and logo's. Here's a few dating tips for some of the major pattern companies:

  • The 1930's was when Simplicity began to use color on their pattern envelopes. Previously, it had just been a brown printed paper envelope. The early 30's envelopes were small, but in 1934 they increased the size of the envelope to the standard we still see today. In 1941 the graphic font changed, and the logo down the side of the pattern went from grey to black with yellow writing. In 1944 Simplicity Printed Patterns font changed so that the word PRINTED was in red. In 1951, Simplicity added two black bars above the price of the pattern, which then changed in 1953 to ONE black bar. In 1957 they added one red line one inch from the left hand side of the pattern. 
  • In the 1930's Vogue Patterns were in brown envelopes with the words VOGUE PATTERN in the upper left hand corner. In 1950 Vogue Patterns was moved to the right hand side of the envelope. Vogue Junior patterns were offered from 1945-1959.

If you have found a love of vintage sewing patterns, I have a couple of sites I'd like to recommend you check out:

Sewing Pattern Review : Just as the name implies, this is site reviews sewing patterns both new and vintage! Readers showcase how the pattern turned out for them and any tips or suggestions. Great to check out before you begin your next project!

Vintage Sewing Patterns On Loan : Accumulating patterns can get to be addictive (and expensive depending upon the type of pattern your looking for!) This website offers reproduction vintage patterns as well as complete originals. You can either buy them individually or get 4 free patterns a year by joining a membership ($25 fee). You can also earn free patterns by submitting a review of one of their patterns.

Fashion Era : Pick an era, any era! This site has all the fashion history you can imagine! I spend hours here. I love it!

And don't forget to Google "Vintage Pattern Reviews".... I love reading about other's adventures with old patterns! If you've got a blog and have tackled a vintage sewing pattern or two, please share!!

Speaking of hours and hours and blogs, I've spent hours here, so I think I'll end here, and hopefully you gained a little information, and PLEASE, if I've missed something, let me know... we're all here to learn!

Happy Sewing!


  1. Hi, this seems to me to be a simple question- but one that I haven't found the answer to... though I think I've guessed the answer...Why don't the Pattern Companies offer their older patterns as downloads on the Web... I realize that they may not have them all- but surely they have some of them...

    thanks for your time

  2. Hi! This is me I belong to a vintage sewing pattern group, I'm going to share your blog :)

  3. Hi all,

    The blue and pink Simplicity Pattern #4768 Very Jackie O in style! is my pattern and be found in my Etsy shop here:


  4. I just discovered your site and am sooo happy I did. I re-sell vintage patterns and since some of the Pattern Companies didn't date their patterns until the 80's I do a lot of guessing. For the most part I am correct but your site covers so much more about dating these special patterns I will use your site from now on...Thank you for all of your hard work on this topic.

  5. Great article, I too resell patterns and this info is very informative. Thank you