Sunday, 4 April 2021

In Vogue, 1940-style

I've had this for a while, but never got round to blogging about it. Having finally done some research, this weekend seemed a good time to write it up – there's a little Easter surprise at the end.

It's a four-page sales leaflet, i.e. one sheet of paper folded in half, for Vogue patterns.

Such a stylish image

Clearly this was a marketing tool regularly issued by Condé Nast, as it is listed as number 183. Although the date on the striking cover illustration (I love how it is achieved with just black and one other colour, and no shading) is 1940, the copyright is 1939.

It is split into three sections: Chic and comfortable, Dinner and daytime designs, and City-bred and country-wise. (Click on any of the images to enlarge them.)

Chic and comfortable

Dinner and daytime designs

City-bred and country-wise

Of the 16 patterns featured, all were available in Misses' sizes of 12 to 20 (30" to 38" bust). All but three were also available in at least one Woman's size: three were available in 40" bust, seven in 40" and 42", and three (all in the 'City-bred and country-wise' section) in 40" to 44".

Designs available in 44" bust, not shown on obviously older women

Curiously, although pattern 8610 is described on the cover as "slimming", and on page three as "Wise lines that give you a slender silhouette", it was not available in the largest size.

Designs in Misses' sizes only

Seven of the patterns are described as "Easy-to-make", although to me they don't look obviously easier than any of the others. Prices ranged from 1s 6d to 2s 6d, with most of the 'easy' patterns at the cheaper end of the range. Two of the cheaper patterns were from 1939, so clearly this was not just a tool for highlighting new patterns.

1939 designs

I'm intrigued by the artwork used in the leaflet. All of the designs are of course hand-drawn, so initially I assumed that they were just taken directly from the pattern envelope art/counter catalogue, to save on expense. However, this wasn't the case.

Some were very similar, although not exactly the same, for example a leg might be drawn differently.

Vogue 8653, catalogue image and leaflet

Some possibly had to be simplified because of limitations in the printing process.

Vogue 8666, catalogue image and leaflet

This one was particularly odd. The two are almost identical, apart from the completely different skirt construction. I wonder, which is the correct one? (My guess is, the one on the leaflet, with the panelled skirt.)

Vogue 8705, with and without skirt seams

This looks like a dress for a grand occasion. However for the version on the leaflet, the fur has been removed - possibly it wasn't appropriate for a 'dinner and daytime' outfit.

Vogue 8632, with and without fur

Although the leaflet was a standard one, produced by Vogue Patterns in Britain, there was a blank space at the bottom on which could be printed the name of the shop which was distributing it.

The bottom of the leaflet's front page

(For non-UK readers, Torquay is a seaside town in Devon, in the south-west of England. Because of its mild climate, its beaches are known as the 'English Riviera'.)

Obviously, the first thing which caught my eye was "Garments cut out free of charge"! Oh, for a service like that nowadays. Then I started wondering if Williams and Cox still exists.

Sadly, it doesn't. It closed in 1981, but there is a wonderful Facebook page devoted to its history, and the following photographs are taken from there

Williams and Cox was a family firm, founded in 1837. Over time, it expanded to fill three adjacent shops on the seafront - numbers 4a, 5 and 6 Strand.

The original frontage, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

In the 1930s it was remodelled to have a unified, and very modern, façade. This is what it would have looked like at the time the leaflet was produced.

The new facade, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Drawing by Gilbert Rumbold from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Clearly it included an extensive fabric and haberdashery department, and sometimes had fabric-related window displays to tempt dressmakers in.

The glory days of proper dress fabric departments, from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Window display for rayon, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Appropriately for this weekend, this display was encouraging customers to make 'Something New for Easter', possibly from a Butterick pattern.

Easter display, 1949, picture from Williams and Cox, Torquay on Facebook

Happy Easter!


  1. The photos of William and Cox reminded me of the glory days when I worked in the fabric department at Macy's. That was fun!

    1. If I worked somewhere like that, my paycheck would be gone before I received it!

  2. Such wonderful details--and the fabric store looks like heaven!

    1. Doesn't it just. I'm lucky to live in a place with a fabric shop, but I still miss the days of department stores with extensive fabric departments.