For their 90th anniversary, Simplicity Pattern Company is really killing it with a plethora of amazing designs being reprinted from past vintage releases. This year’s Winter Holiday collection is no exception from their trend of copious, interesting, and variable decade re-issues. Vogue Patterns has come out with a stellar designer lineup which includes a single, but stunning, vintage “original” design as well. As much as I am so happy to see patterns like these coming out and available to buy, yet at the risk of sounding like a whining, nit-picking critic, I still have some things to mention about the newest patterns.
My disclaimer is that I just purchased these patterns and have not sewn with them yet, so with my critique, I am going by the line drawings and viewing the physical details of looking at the tissue pieces. However, unless the pattern companies want very disgruntled customers, the line drawings should be good enough to go by and match with the actual design of the pieces. As I could find pictures of the old original envelopes for these re-releases, it is comparatively easy to see any changes or differences in line drawings. Here goes!
First, I’ll start with the newest vintage Simplicity patterns – a total of 12 actually, when you count the two that are obviously inspired by the past (the #8513 bodysuits and the #8534 dress from Sew Chic)! That is just about 1/3 of the total 38 patterns this season’s collection. This in itself is making a statement – Simplicity apparently knows their own strong point, listens to feedback, and recognizes a ready and willing market for vintage.
I’ll begin with the 70’s pattern and go backwards. Simplicity’s new #8505 is a 1972 re-issue, originally #5315. This is a wonderful pattern with an appealing cover image and two completely different options to sew. I am so drawn to the solid dress with the exotic, fancy trimming…wouldn’t this be wonderful in a slinky stretch velvet for the main body!!! The long caftan is equally appealing though, and someone’s version of it on the wiki page for the original pattern makes me want to whip one up for myself for summer lounging or dream backyard socials. However, in the old original pattern, the caftan was one large pattern piece with a facing to finish the slit made for the arms.
Now, in the re-issue, the caftan is in two pieces with a seam under the arms at the sides, and simple turned under hem for the sleeve opening (original envelope on left, reprint on right). I prefer the basic simplicity of how the caftan was originally drafted (less sewing of seams the better, right?), and will be adapting it, taping the two pieces into one, to cut and sew it like the 1972 version. Nevertheless, this is a nice change from the rather basic 60’s and 70’s designs that they’ve released as of late.
The 50’s decade is well covered with a variety of garments this time around! First there is the 50’s style “Sew Chic” #8534, which I hope to make into something similar to this vintage original dress so I can use up two smaller cuts of fabric from my stash! There is a striking apron, Simplicity #8533, originally #2750 from year 1958. Look at those handy, generous pockets! However, what is so unusually special here is the way that the bib top can button on or off as desired. This is all too similar to the convertible 1941 pinafore I just posted not that long back!
Simplicity #8509, originally #8449 from year 1951, is yet another to the long list of 50’s swing coats that they’ve released over the years. This one luckily has a longer length version, and is indeed a lovely design with killer model photography. The only change I see between the original and the re-issue is that the new pattern has pre-notched darts at the View C sleeves.
Simplicity #8507 is another pattern originally from year 1951, a “Simple to Make” #3655. This is another unusual offering! Sure, it is another pencil skirt, but the back pleating is stunningly tailored. The stole might not be the most usable or practical item except for certain occasions and weather, but whatever…the way it is mitered with a point down the back and the slanted pockets at the end is such eye candy! The skirt having bands for the stole to go in is an excellent way to keep it in place on the shoulders, I would think. Wearing a belt over the straps when not using them for the stole would probably prevent them from becoming a nuisance, which I can see happening. In my mind, I might make the skirt’s stole straps removable. I find it funny that the re-issue actually adds a pattern piece for the skirt’s stole straps, whereas the old original merely has you cut a tiny strip so long by so wide. Modern reprints seem to take nothing for granted and vintage patterns (to me) seem to trust their users’ capabilities a bit more. Maybe modern patterns are just trying to make things easier and I just don’t see it but I hate keeping track of minutely small pattern pieces…I feel like they want to get lost in or out of the envelope somehow.
Now, for the lone but no less wonderful year 1948 re-issue, Simplicity #8508, originally #2323. As much as I love this pattern, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to come out with this when women’s’ suits seem to be making a comeback, at the same time I am sorely disappointed by the terribly wrong proportions. I’m sorry to sound like a vintage pattern purist, or a snob about images, but what was worn in the past has a reason and story behind it. Fashions of the post WWII times were changing, yes, but the styles of 1948 and 1949 have a very distinctive air of creating the image of long, lean bodies with skinny waists and emphasized hips. Hemlines were also an awkward longer mid-calf length not seen since the early 1930s – about 4 inches above the ankle. Every nuance of most garments from 1948 and 1949 are masterfully crafted to achieve the ideal body image through masterful placement of proportions and garment details. All of this is not Simplicity #8508.
This pattern re-print is not holding true to its heritage and instead appears as if it were an early to mid-1940’s suit with the barely below the knee skirt and higher suit hemline with high, tame hip fullness. If you really look at the original 1948 cover of Simplicity #2323, the bottom button is at the waistline, and the first hip-lapel flap only begins below the button-waist horizontal line. This way the mock pocket lapels are a sort of mock-peplum which compliments a longer skirt and defines the hips, therefore complimenting the waist. At least this is how it should work.
Look at old photos of other similar suit sets I’ve found on Instagram, and they all have the same “mock-pocket flaps below the waistline button”, too. The line drawing of the new re-print stays true to the details of placement on the old original, but the model photo and the actual printed pattern inside the envelope has it wrong. See how the top mock pocket lapel is above the waistline, almost level with the bottom button? Together with the shorter skirt, what had been a 1948 pattern with a special silhouette has lost its identity. What is worse to me is that the line drawing of the modern re-issue doesn’t match up with what the actual pattern will have you end up with. Technically, I have nothing against the fit on the model on the cover of Simplicity #8508, but this design is better suited to different proportional placement, and untruthful examples of what one is buying is never good, leading only to possible confusion and disappointment.
If you like the higher pocket flaps and what you see on the cover of Simplicity #8508, then make this pattern as-is. If you want a finished suit set which turns out both like the old original and the line drawing to Simplicity #8508, you will need to make a small adaptation. From what I see on the pattern, you need to lower the horizontal angled cut which marks the beginning of the top pocket by 3/4 inch, and lower the line for placement of the second lapel flap by the same amount. Please see my picture for guidance – my pencil is pointing to the true waistline. The skirt also could benefit from about 4 more inches in length to truly become a 1948 style…a 27 inch length is a bit too short for that year.
Some of the same problems which apply to the last patterns also apply to Simplicity #8504. This is bittersweet to me because this is one of the most breathtakingly detailed vintage re-issue, especially from the decade of the 1930s which is not seen of as much as other decades’ fashion. Originally this pattern was Simplicity #1140, year 1932, but for some strange reason the web page for the re-printed pattern #8504 wrongly labels it as circa 1930. How do I know? I’m not meaning to brag, but I currently have an extensive stash of old original patterns, with my oldest dating to 1926. With an Excel spreadsheet of pattern info that fills in every year up until the 1980’s, I can now have somewhat of a database that helps me date and identify the original years of patterns. A number Simplicity #1140 is definitely from 1932, not just relying on numbers alone, but also looking at the style…of the original not the modern re-make! Like the 1948 suit above, the proportions of the model dress on #8504 and its actual pattern are so off, it is now more suited to the mid and late 30’s from the waist and below rather than an entire dress from the early to mid-30’s as originally intended.
You see, this general design is technically called a “girdle waist” (so I believe) and is frequently seen in the early to mid-30’s, especially when it comes to a garment that is designed for these shirred cap sleeves. I have “preview posted” (something I’ve not yet blogged) on my Instagram – a circa 1935 dress, made from a vintage New York pattern, which has similar sleeves and waist styling to Simplicity’s new re-print. My dress has its girdle waist added on in the form of a wide waistband, but the sleeves are the same, only my dress has a body fit, two-piece, bias skirt. You kind of more or less need the body of a garment – especially the waist – to be slimming to compliment such overpowering sleeves. The new Simplicity re-print is dramatically different from the original cover and convoluted in such a way that there is bulk and gathers were it should not be, as I mentioned above. “Long and lean” was the early and mid-30’s ideal, and all the girdle waists I see from this time period only have trim darts or tucks at the waistline. Post mid 30’s, after 1937, hemlines were shorter with fuller skirts, with a wider silouette and more of a defined waist – like Simplicity #2527, a later version from ’37. This latter is the style on the new Simplicity re-print and I think it harshly jars with the earlier puffy sleeves, totally wrong in many ways.
This isn’t even taking into account the fact that the arching, curved bodice seam should come down to the waistline at the side seams and it doesn’t in the reprint. By having the bodice seam end at the waist, the skirt would skim out over the hips the way the original intended, but with the seam ending a few inch too high, I guess adding in a harshly obvious waistline with gathers was the “solution”. Nit picking incorrect proportions is needed because small details do make all the difference to end up with a harmonious and complimentary finished garment. This isn’t just my thought – even this dress from autumn of 1993 by the fashion icon Anna Sui has the same proportions and seam lines as the year 1932 original Simplicity #1140 (and it’s oh-so-stunning in velvet, too)! Now this is a modern day reference that shows when things are done right, they never really go out of style.
My suggestion, if you want the pattern Simplicity #8504 to actually look like the original shown, is to slash the dress’ bodice horizontally through the bustline and lower the whole thing enough inches to get the side of the arched panel ending at or just above the natural waistline. Pinch out the gathers of the girdle front waist panel and raise (shorten) the waist line the amount you lowered on the upper bodice.
At least Simplicity reprinted the sleeves the right way! When I made my similar sleeves from that vintage original New York pattern, there was an under sleeve piece which acted as both the guide for the shirring of the upper sleeve as well as the support to sew the shirring down. This modern re-issue is happily the same method. It works out well, I must say, but gathering that many rows of shirring is not without its challenges.
The rest of the 1930s Simplicity patterns are to die for! Finally, one out of the many “sleeves only” patterns which came out in the decade! Look at Simplicity #8506. With the “Year of the Sleeve” wrapping up, a pattern like this just might continue the trend! Statement sleeves really can do wonders to the right pattern – here is one example of how I switched to an interesting sleeve to better match with the rest of the body design. Why, oh why, does Simplicity again list this one as “circa 1930” though when it was originally Simplicity #1794, from year 1935?
Simplicity #8510 is another very welcome, good kind of different offering – vintage lingerie! This set is so lovely and basic enough for sewists of any skill, as well as being something that should assimilate well into modern wear for those who do not want to also wear vintage garments over them. Originally this pattern was Simplicity #2288 from 1937. The only major updating I see made to this reprint is the practical fact they call for wide elastic across the back closure. This makes the bra easier to wear and more understandable to construct. However, my “purist” mind towards vintage pattern releases has me wish they had only shown this as an option because you really don’t need elastic down the back – the original wouldn’t have had it. I tested this out for myself…I’m not just spouting.
Posted here on my blog, I have made myself a similar tap panty and brassiere set from a vintage McCall’s of a few years before, a 1934 #7823 which you can also see on my Instagram. Granted, a non-elastic back requires precise, customized fitting and leaves no room for body variables. But really, ladies – admit with me that elastic is the first thing to go out and show its wear on your underwear and bras. A soft all cotton and satin bra with no elastic is actually very, very comfy, anyway, from my experience with my 1934 set! Making yourself a custom fitting bra is not a bad thing, anyway! My biggest “problem” with a vintage bra is non-adjustable straps, actually, but modern slide buckles never stay in place anyway (at least for me). In the 1930’s, ladies bras would often tie closed at the top of the shoulder, that was how they were adjustable. Single long ties sewn on each side of the front and back would be the old fashioned way of adjustable straps, rather than a one-piece over the shoulder strap. I really wish Simplicity added more historical info to their primer inside so you can get to know your pattern and understand how it was used by real women of the past (which would help real women of today) rather than just opening it and following instructions.
Now the Vintage Vogue release is ah-mazing, and I plan on making my own micro-suede and animal print version in the next few months! I’m talking about the new Vogue #9280, originally a Vogue #491, a “Couturier design” dated to 1948. The week after the pattern came out, McCall’s was really advertising for it on their social accounts, showing how it is a “look-alike” to a Dior design from the year before – in 1947. Dior was ahead of his time, setting the fashion trends others followed so it makes sense that this pattern is from 1948. McCall’s keeps blatantly advertising this #9280 pattern as if it is something it’s not – it might be Dior inspired, but it’s not directly labeled as such and neither is it 1947. Oh well – this is again, me, nit-picking, being the pattern purist. Mislabeling is still confusing mislabeling, though.
Anyway, the design itself is glorious, with many options for Post WWII drama. The actress Vera-Ellen in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” wears a coat which looks strikingly similar to the new Vogue reprint…hers is in a buttery yellow with an animal print scarf (see pics of it here). The only change I see in the reissue is the lack of a lovely little detail – the back neckline collar seam having a triangular point to it. The new pattern has a straight seam back to the collar seam – so boring, plain, and predictable. How many patterns have that section in a geometric interesting point? This little detail Vogue left out is one of the many reasons I like vintage patterns in the first place…but the rest of the dress is enough to excuse this change that I myself will add in on my own. I have the perfect hat to wear with this dress, so stay tuned on my blog!
I hope the Thanksgiving weekend sales have given many of you opportunities to buy some or all of these patterns. I also hope many of you even like these patterns enough to have heard me out on my critiquing. What do you think?
This long winded post brings me to an internal question, “When is a copy no longer a copy?” My studies with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and paleography have made me aware of this viewpoint. What makes a re-issue have the respectability to hold true to its ideal of passing down the details of the original where it came from? Should a reprint or reissue have these qualities or are small details which are left out, adaptations, or personal changes admitted as a given? The more vintage style in the hands of those who sew, the better for it in my humble opinion, but fashion is directly associated with history. Fashion has the power to change behavior and attitudes. Let’s get it right for a greater good.