Sunday, 19 November 2017

Hooray for Hollywood

I have finally made a start on Hollywood 1531, the 1938 suit pattern which I bought from the lovely Gina of Beauty for Ashes a year ago.

Hollywood 1531, a 'pattern of youth'

I’m still tracing off pattern pieces, so don’t have much to show yet. So instead I thought I’d write a bit about Hollywood, 1930s patterns, and how all this came together in the form of Hollywood Patterns.

We tend to think of celebrity endorsements as a relatively new thing, but in fact they have been around for over 80 years. In the early 1930s the Modern Merchandising Bureau began promoting fashions based on current films in its Cinema Fashions shops. Initially at least the shops were exclusive and expensive, with dresses costing up to $30. In time they expanded to a chain of almost 2,000 shops, selling clothing and other items endorsed by movie stars. Other companies followed suit, and the Modern Merchandising Bureau also put some older styles, which had already had a run in Cinema Fashions shops, into mass production.

The best known film-based garment of this time was the ‘Letty Lynton dress’, designed by Gilbert Adrian and worn by Joan Crawford in the 1932 film of the same name. Over 50,000 of Macy's department store’s replicas were eventually sold.

Joan Crawford in the 'Letty Lynton dress'

Not surprisingly, the idea of star endorsement spread to pattern companies. In 1933 Butterick launched their ‘Starred’ patterns; based on actual clothes worn in films. This example, clearly influenced by the Letty Lynton dress, was worn by Helen Chandler in the RKO film Christopher Strong.

Organdie dress with big sleeves - looks familiar?

Helen Chandler in 'Christopher Strong', image from IMDB

The ‘Starred’ range only lasted for one year. One obvious problem was that clothes on film were designed to be dramatic, and few of them translated easily into everyday wear. Also the price of 50c put the patterns at the upper end of the average price range for that period (30c-50c).

Well and truly above that average were Vogue Patterns, which cost 40c-$2. According to Joy Spanabel Emery’s History of the Paper Pattern Industry, 1932 was the worst year of the depression for pattern companies. People were making more of their own clothes than ever, but buying fewer patterns. New, cheaper, pattern lines were introduced in response to this, such as Advance (15c, but only 5c in JC Penney stores) and DuBarry (10c, sold in Woolworth’s). Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue Patterns, wanted to compete with these lines, but not at the expense of Vogue’s carefully cultivated image. Instead he brought out a new line, Hollywood Patterns, launched in 1933.

Hollywood got round the problems of the ‘Starred’ patterns (and potential licensing costs) by not linking their clothes to particular films. Instead many of the envelopes featured a head shot of a Hollywood star, while the illustration showed a similar-looking woman; the implication being that this was a garment that the star had worn.

Hollywood 1382,1937 or 38, image from Etsy

In fact, Hollywood Patterns marketed their patterns as "modeled after the clothes of Hollywood movie stars", the idea being that these were the sort of clothes that the stars would wear at home.

Like Advance and DuBarry, Hollywood Patterns sought a tie-in with a major chain store; W.T. Grant. Special versions of the patterns were produced to be sold in the stores.

Two versions of Hollywood 1041, 1935, images from Etsy

The W.T. Grant version of this pattern is one of only a handful that I have only come across which make reference to a particular film. That two 'Gone With the Wind' inspired patterns were released together is testament to just how popular the movie was, while the use of green ties the patterns in with one of the best-known dresses from the film.

Hollywood 1987 and 1988, 1940, images from Etsy

Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'

Hollywood 1531 features Maureen O’Sullivan. Given that she was best known for playing Jane in the ‘Tarzan’ movies, it is probably as well that this is not a pattern based on a film costume! In fact, I did manage to find a photograph of Maureen O’Sullivan wearing a suit, from the same time as the pattern (I'm trying to ignore the state of the hem on Jane Wyman's skirt!).

Jane Wyman (left) and Maureen O'Sullivan, 1938

I’m not entirely sure what qualified a pattern as a ‘Pattern of Youth’, given that this one is for quite a similar suit, but apparently not youthful.

Hollywood 628, 1944, image from Etsy

Despite the name, not all Hollywood Patterns featured film stars. From the company’s beginning in 1933 to its end in 1947, some patterns just had illustrations.

Hollywood 737, 1934, image from Etsy

Hollywood 988, 1942

Hollywood 1820, 1946, image from Etsy

Now that I know that Hollywood Patterns were an offshoot of Vogue, I'll be interested to see how the pattern makes up, as I've had good results from vintage Vogue (as opposed to Vintage Vogue - reissues) patterns in the past. Hopefully I'll have something to report next week!

Eckert, C. (1978). The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window. Reprinted in Gaines, J. & Herzog, C. (Eds.) Fabrications: Costume and the Female Body
Spanabel Emery, J. (2014). A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution
Laboissonniere, W. (1999) Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s


  1. Fabulous post with some really lovely examples. I'm looking forward to seeing your suit! xx

  2. I love Hollywood patterns! They are my favorite of all the vintage pattern brands.

    1. They don't often turn up in the UK, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how this one makes up!