Sunday, 14 April 2019

Yet more of the same

By 'the same' I mean two of my recent topics: 1970s fashions, and the (in)visibility of older women on dress patterns.

Yesterday I was looking for an advertisement in some 1970s copies of 'Vogue Patterns'. I didn't find it, but I did find this in the Early Spring 1975 issue:

It's an actual, bona fide, older woman!

There were three more double-page spreads in the feature.

The feature was entitled, "The Clothes You've Always Wanted . . . In Your Size", and its purpose was to highlight Vogue half-size patterns. However, there was no description of what half-size patterns were, and how they differed from other patterns. In fact, bizarrely, the previous four pages were devoted to an explanation of misses petite patterns! Clearly the reader was expected to know about half sizes already.

I'm indebted to Juliana of Urban Simplicity for explaining half-size patterns to me. They were designed for the older figure: shorter, and with a lower bust point and wider waist than standard patterns. And unlike the patterns which Vogue had previously designated as suitable for Mrs Exeter, some of them were now actually being shown on an older figure. Progress!

The way the half-size patterns were marketed was that the same garment was available in two different patterns. For example the checked suit on the left in the picture above was pattern number 9037 in sizes 10-18, and 9038 in sizes 14½-22½. The artwork on the two envelopes was the same (thanks to the ever-wonderful Commercial Patterns Archive website for confirming this), and did not depict an older woman.

The next issue of 'Vogue Patterns' which I have is Autumn 1975 (I really want to get hold of Spring, Summer, and Early Autumn 1975 now, out of curiosity), and it has a feature of the same name. Whereas there had been a lot of beige in the Early Spring pictures, judging from the Autumn feature Vogue Patterns did not endorse the older-women-shouldn't-wear-bright-colours trope.

Winter 1975 sees our older women in party mood, and even (gasp) showing some bare arm.

The Early Spring 1976 issue marked the American Bicentennial, with lots of red, white and blue clothing. I love the byline on the first image: "All the Fashion That's Fit to Print".

The model used is clearly an older woman but blonde rather than grey-haired, a trend which carried on into the Spring 1976 issue. I wonder why: had there been negative feedback about the grey hair?

Spring 1976 was the last "The Clothes You've Always Wanted . . . In Your Size" feature. Early Spring 1977 included a feature with a grey-haired woman; again it concerned half-size patterns.

The Summer 1977 issue carried the news that some Diane von Furstenberg designs were now available in half-sizes. These were however shown on a conventional young, slim model.

I need to check properly, but I suspect that this marked the end of 'Vogue Patterns' featuring older women. Airbrushing and/or the routine use of younger models are so much the norm nowadays that there is something almost shocking about some of these images. I can't think when I last (ever?) saw someone of that age in a modern sewing magazine - it is depressing to think that we have gone so far backwards from that brief period in the 1970s when patterns shaped for older women could actually be shown on older women.


  1. I'm so glad to see that another person is fascinated by half sizes! Vogue was the last of the big pattern companies to introduce them--not until 1960. And it isn't the end of older women in Vogue Patterns. They tried again in the nineties. Take a look: I wish the Vogue Pattern company would put out a collection of the magazine on CD. It's such a wonderful fashion history source.

    1. Thank you Lynn. I was lucky enough to acquire a collection of Vogue Patterns at an auction a few years ago, and I'm trying to fill in the gaps as opportunities and finance allow. They are a wonderful resource.