Sunday, 24 February 2019

Older women on older patterns (or not)

As most people everyone who knows me in real life will readily confirm, large chunks of the modern world pass me by. I almost never wear trousers, except for going walking, and I don't possess even a single pair of jeans. Similarly, this blog is pretty much my only excursion into social media. Most bizarre of all, to some of my friends at least, is my determination to avoid getting a smartphone for as long as possible.

One result of this last quirk is that Instagram more or less passes me by. So it was only by chance that I came across the Sew Over 50 Sewing Challenge, and the Instagram account which launched it. The idea of the challenge is to make up a garment from a pattern which features an older (i.e. over 45-50) person modelling it; either on the packaging or in other associated artwork, such as online. As Susan Young, one of the founders of Sew Over 50 explains, the number of patterns which fall into this category is shockingly small.

This prompted me to look through my vintage patterns, and I discovered that this situation is nothing new. Even allowing an elastic definition of 'older', I found very few patterns which might qualify. Vintage patterns tend not to have photographs on the envelope, but even where the artwork features a model with clearly grey hair, the features are youthful. Possibly the idea was to imply that the design would be suitable for an older woman without the inconvenience of actually having to portray one.

DuBarry 5002B, 1941

Here the figure in the yellow dress is greying at the temples, but that is the only suggestion of age.

Economy Design E8, 1950s

The figure at the top left here has slightly grey hair, but I think that it is being used to indicate that this version of the top is a sophisticated 'evening' look, whereas the other three are more casual.

Simplicity 4320, 1953

The grey hair in this artwork meanwhile is fooling no-one.

Vogue 6346, 1964

To me the figure on the right on this Maudella pattern looks slightly older, but still has a youthful, slim figure.

Maudella 5151, 1960s

This Blackmore pattern appears to show an older woman, but this is implied by the figure rather than the face. Blackmore used a different pattern number for each size, and the fact that this pattern is available in bust sizes 40" to 46" (102-117cm) suggests that it is for what would be termed at the time 'matrons'.

Blackmore 8492, 1950s?

Hairstyles seem to have also been used to imply age without having to actually show it, as demonstrated by these two patterns from Woman's Realm (a weekly woman's magazine). The pattern on the left implies looks for older and younger women, whereas the one on the right is far more youthful.

Woman's Realm, styles for different ages

In fact, the only pattern I could find which clearly featured an older woman was this one.

Vogue 8129, 1981

Even here, the accompanying artwork shows a much younger figure. Also, I haven't been able to find any other Vogue patterns from around that time featuring the same model: this appears to have been a one-off.

So there you have it. Of over 500 patterns in my collection, the vast majority of which are for adult women, I can find eight which meet my very generous definition of 'older' women. It's just as well that I make my own decisions about what to make and wear, otherwise my vintage dressmaking days would be over!


  1. You should check out Lynn's blog at American Age Fashion--she specifically writes about the portrayal of older women (particularly with regard to trousers) in both patterns and photos, from the early 20th century onward. I enjoy her writing so much.

    1. Thank you Juliana, I will definitely take a look at this.

  2. Great post as usual! Old knitting books are fond of 'the matron' look. We need some Patterns for all Ages - patterns made by all, with a different look depending on the wearer and the fabric - with illustrations showing the variety!

    1. Thank you Kate. Several of the indie pattern companies listed in Susan Young's Sew Over 50 Challenge posts do something similar: either they use models with a range of ages, or publish pictures sent in by customers who have made the patterns up.

  3. I've just had a look at my more modern collection. I found one Sandra Betzina crossover top that the woman looks like she may be late 40s and a Burda one that might be early 40s, but nothing that I'd say over 50. The male patterns I have are just as bad, 30's would be the oldest and most seem to be about 19!

    1. Thanks Rachelle, I've not tried looking at my modern patterns yet.