Sunday, 14 July 2019

The Vogue Woman

I'm slowly filling in the gaps in my collection of Vogue Pattern Books/Vogue Patterns, so when I came across a few copies from the 1990s I snapped them up. This is one of them, from 1993.

Vogue Patterns, March/April 1993

Lynn, who writes the excellent American Age Fashion project, has written about The Vogue Woman patterns - you can read her post here.

'The Vogue Woman' was another attempt by Vogue to appeal to the older sewist, following on from half-size patterns*. It made sense: by the 1990s dressmaking was declining in popularity, so persuading the audience you already have (an audience which is getting older) to buy more patterns may well be a better bet than trying to tempt younger women to take up dressmaking. Indeed the issue's editorial suggested that The Vogue Woman range had been introduced in response to comments from readers who don't want to dress "like a trendy young girl".

The first batch of twelve patterns came in either sizes 6-22 or 8-24, with five of the patterns having a petite option. The designs aimed to be stylish rather than ultra fashionable, and had built-in adjustments such as longer hems and looser sleeves. Elasticated waistbands featured too. Given that in one of the books I've read for my Masters research**, most of the older women interviewed disliked elasticated waists intensely, I did wonder just how popular that feature was.

One thing which probably did find favour was the larger print instructions. I compared a 1993 Vogue Woman pattern to a 1990 Vogue Career one, and the difference was immediately apparent.

Instructions are easier on the eyes

The pattern instructions also contained information on how to pad sloping shoulders, and stop shoulder straps from digging in.

Extra information in the pattern

The print size may have differed, but one thing had not - the measurements. This really surprised me. The 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' at the back of the magazine includes a chart of bust, waist and hip measurements for each size, but the Vogue Woman patterns are labelled "See pattern envelope for measurement information", which to me implies that they differ from the standard measurements. However while half sizes had catered for shorter back lengths and thicker waists, The Vogue Woman clearly had the same measurements as the (presumably younger) users of Vogue Career patterns.

Comparing measurement charts

The editorial and article on the new pattern range featured older models (i.e. 40 to over 60), and named them.

Models for The Vogue Woman range

Clockwise from top left they are Betsy Berry, Lillian Marcuson and Grethe Holby. Betsy Berry was the 40-year-old referred to, while Lillian Marcuson had had a modelling career in the 1950s before retiring to raise a family. Grethe Holby was born in 1948, and was a dancer as well as a model. According to this article Ford Models took five years off her age when she joined, which makes me wonder what age Vogue Patterns thought she was in 1993!

Like Vogue Career patterns, the envelope shows the figure in a setting rather than just a blank background. Unlike a lot of Vogue patterns from the era, the background is in focus, and quite extensive.

One of the first Vogue Woman patterns

The accompanying line drawing of the dress shows a woman with white hair, but noticably younger and thinner, which seems to be the standard pattern art approach to drawing older women. Even on patterns which were specifically aimed at older women, clearly the representation of older women could only go so far.

* - At this time half-sizes still going, just. They were no longer separate patterns, instead they existed as alteration lines on regular patterns. The key in the 'Guide to back views and fabric yardages' includes a symbol which translates as "Half Sizes: Special adjustment lines for Half-Sizes on sizes 14-24". However none of the 45 other patterns for adult women’s clothing featured in the guide appear to include this option, so it's not clear how widely it was in use by 1993.

** - Twigg, J. (2013). Fashion and age. London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic.


  1. Fascinating!
    The 1954 dress reminds me of many my great aunt wore as a teacher and school principal 'back in the day'. Flashback! I inherited her love of sewing.
    I'm wondering what your master's program is in, and if you know what the focus of your thesis will be?
    I'm a new subscriber and loving your posts!

    1. Thank you Lodi! I'm doing a research master's (so essentially a long dissertation) on Gender Studies, and my research topic is vintage home dressmaking. It's due in this autumn, which is why there are very few posts about actual sewing at present!

    2. Such an interesting topic. I would love to read your dissertation!

  2. Thanks so much for the mention! I didn't notice the different type size on the patterns. And isn't it sad that Vogue Patterns thought that gray hair alone was enough to indicate age.

    1. Grey hair seems to be the standard trope for indicating older women on patterns, without having to portray an older woman realistically. I assume that the pattern companies thought that any association with actual age would put off younger would-be purchasers.