RetroGlam Winter Break: How did they create that style back in 1955?

Cover of “True Love Stories” magazine from September, 1955.

I love reading vintage magazines like “True Story”, “True Romance” and “True Love Stories” because they put me in touch with what the common woman back in the 1930s-1960s was wearing and what kind of fiction she was craving to read. The fashion and make-up advertisements in these magazines were influenced by the haute couture creations of the time period. But the styles were simplified so that they could be quickly manufactured, distributed and sold.

Illustration of patterns available through the Pattern Department of “True Love Stories Magazine”. Many magazines and newspapers during the 1930s through late 1960s had their own brand of sewing patterns .

I especially like the simplicity of many vintage garments advertised in these magazines because they were easy to sew then and are easy to analyze. Since I have so many time constraints I need to be very economical in my approach to recreating a design from the past. I take many elements from clothing like the ones in this ad because the style requires only slight modifications to basic pattern pieces. I may not always be able to figure out exactly how to recreate the style as it is illustrated but I’m satisfied if I can come close to the look or even the feeling it evokes for me.

Anyone wanting to draft their own patterns to recreate styles like these should create a scrap book of images obtained online or from photocopies of old magazines at the library. Get acquainted with the simplest styles first and buy a good magnifying glass to use when studying the details. Take note of where darts are placed, the types of collars used on the bodices. For skirts see if there are gores, panels, gathers, tucks or pleats. In time your notes can be filed in a loose leaf binder next to each illustration or photo. This will become a reference library as well as a tool for visual and imaginative stimulation.

An ad from September 1955 “True Love Stories” . Samples of fabric used for dresses like these would be sent to the person responding to the ad. The manufacturer hoped if the reader was interested she would then take orders for such dresses in order to earn extra money or buy some of the dresses herself at a discount.

The next step is to begin studying old pattern instruction sheets. Study what the pattern pieces look like for different sleeves, bodices, skirts, jackets, sleeves and pants. Once the basic shapes become familiar the next step is to try drafting your own patterns and begin using dart manipulation and pa1ttern transformation to get the final pattern pieces needed to recreate the garment.

Here’s an example of how I would go about this process if I wanted to make the green dress in this ad:

1. Sketch some bodices using a fitted bodice shape with a side dart or perhaps a French Dart at the side seam.
2. Sketch different types of full skirts: dirndl, A-Line that has added fullness, flared skirt with added fullness.
3. Decide on a type of short sleeve.
4. Consider a Peter Pan collar.
5. Think about where the garment closure will be.
6. Notions needed.

Then after putting these elements together and playing around with sketching I would draft a pattern and make a muslin.

To create the hot pink dress requires more work and practice with dart manipulation. The side dart is closed and the fullness transferred to the princess seam that runs over the bust.

In the next posting I've provided some pattern transformations and dart manipulations from a vintage sewing guide.