Sunday, March 26, 2017

Five Easy to Sew Prom and Party Dresses from the 1950s

how to sew 1950s prom dress or party dress or 1940s dress

Here's how to sew five classic prom or party dresses from the very early 1950's (and late 1940's).  By using one of the current sewing patterns here, these styles can be made for today's parties, weddings and proms.  I also included the cute swing coat jacket shown here as a party cover-up.

It's great how many magazine archives are now online.  The Australian Home Journal collection from the late 1940's through early 1950's has monthly fashion features such as the two pages shown here showing spring gowns that could be sewn by most women at home.  These are easy to sew styles that feature simple but effective details.

50s or 1940s prom and party gowns to sew

Illustration above, Spring 1951:
A-ballet length gown with bertha style collar, B-swing coat, 
C-gown with sweetheart neckline, D-Gown with long sleeves

50s or 40s dresses for prom party or wedding to sew

Illustration above, Spring 1949:
E-short sleeves with puffed trim, F-sweetheart neckline with lace trim
G-draped shelf bra bodice with short puffed sleeves

To create your own version of a late 1940's or early 1950's party dress or prom gown, I have found some current patterns that will help you to sew up a vintage party dress of your own.  Select the view above that you like, and you'll find the modern pattern to make it up listed below.

butterick 6022 vogue 8146 mccalls 7281 mccalls 7049 butterick5882

View A- Butterick 6022 has a similar bertha collar that can be sewn in contrast print or lace and made with or without sleeves.

View B- Vogue 8146 includes a short swing coat that could be worn with the collar turned up.

Views C and F- Curved sweetheart necklines are seen in both illustrations. A good pattern for the sweetheart necklines is McCall's 7281, which features a princess seamed bodice for a great fit.  McCalls 7049 has two sweetheart strapless bodices, one that is simple darts, the other with princess seamlines. To get the curved bodice line in B, add a fold of ribbon around the sweetheart neckline.  For F add ruffled lace edging and "pinch" a few gathers into center front bustline. 

View E- Butterick 6022 has a good bodice, low waist and short sleeves for this look.  Also, McCall's 7083 is a basic dress pattern with sleeves and princess seamed bodice that can be used.  If the neckline were lowered and a puffed edge of chiffon trim were added, this same look could be achieved.

View G-The last dress with draped neckline looks almost like a shelf bra and is similar to Butterick 5882, although this pattern does not have sleeves.

1950s or 60s prom or party dress how to sew

I had to include this cute tip for a little puffed sleeve to wear with a strapless bodice.  It's as simple as a tube of fabric with elastic at the top edge.  The dress is similar to View F above, and the illustration here shows how the front has a line of gathers up the center that emphasizes the sweetheart neckline shape.

Fabric suggestions are for soft, not stiff, fabrics that have some weight like satin, taffeta, faille or crepe.  It should also be noted that bodices had few bones to support the styles.  These were often in the side seams only.  Zippers were popular in the left side seam, instead of the back seam.  This was to keep the back view pretty and smooth, without the look of a zipper showing down the back.

Fashion pages from Australian Home Journal, 1949 and 1951

Saturday, February 18, 2017

1940s Fabric: American Fabrics magazine from 1949

Fabric design in the late 1940s showed a strong influence from fine art and artists of that era. Whether the design was created for 40s fashion or home decor, textiles were often patterned in painterly designs.

"American Fabrics" was a textile industry publication that helped the industry to follow current design trends and be well informed about the technical side of fabrics. This issue from early 1949 has examples that showcase what fabric would be popular in the late 40's and early 50's.

The ink washes and line drawings fine artwork can be seen in fabrics of the 1940s:

Eugene Berman

Greek Horses by Jean Pages

Jean De Botton

Romance by Ricardo Magni

Marcel Vertes

The textile designs above are all by fine artists of that time who were encouraged to create surface designs that would translate into home and apparel fabrics.

This project was created by Stephen Lion, a young artists rep who had a wide range of artists in his group.  He worked with and encouraged them to try textiles, a medium seen as inferior to true wall art or decor.  Eventually the designs above were produced, creating an inspiring collect for that year.

Color and textile swatches were included in issues of this magazine. Here are a few color collections that show the trends and color groupings of that time.

Colors influenced by Early American style

Color swatches, 1949

Here Comes the Bride: Celanese acetate of Stehli & Co.
Satin, taffeta, chiffon, net

Dress fabrics were available in a wide range of color, although most illustrations and photos in this publication are in black and white.  The designs show the same artist brush stroke styles, as well as other figurative motifs.  Purely abstract patterns were also available.

silk crepe and shantung by Cohama, spring 1949

top: Cotton, medallion design, second: rayon crepe, hand printed circles, 
third: creped taffeta frog motif of French origin

Actual fashions shown in this issue of "American Fabrics" can be found on my previous blog post, "1940s Fashions: American Fabrics magazine from 1949".  The trends at that time still were featuring many drapy rayons and crepes.  These fabrications would be phased out over the next few years in favor of a crisp hand and firm texture more suitable to the New Look's hourglass silhouette.

all images from: American Fabrics magazine, #9, Reporter Publications Inc., New York

Sunday, February 12, 2017

1940s Fashions: American Fabrics magazine from 1949

This post features fashions from 1949 as seen in "American Fabric" magazine. These 1940s fashions were shown to support the growing textile and fashion industry that followed World War II. Inside this issue are full page advertisements from the 40's of fashions using new textiles that were used to promote textile manufacturers.  Many of these ads were also seen in "Vogue" magazine co-sponsored by the fashion designer or label and the textile brand.

I have a good sized collection of textile magazines, and I want to start sharing them here, so as I get to photographing each, I'll post it here.  If you have any questions about an issue or photo let me know because there may be information on it that are not included in the page photo.

In this issue, following the advertising section are informative editorials exploring topics such as: Color theory, Bridal wear, Camel hair textiles, the History of American textile industry, Roses in textile design, Armour in textile design, Textile artists, and Loom weaving.  This was a very educational magazine, teaching the apparel and textile trade about all aspects of apparel fabric.

Here are most of those advertisements.  I'm starting with photos of live models wearing the latest textile trends for specific manufacturers.  I list that information at the end of this post.

40s womens suit

1940s dress

1940s swing coat

1940s swim suit

1940s sun dress

1940s dress

1940s women's suit

This next group shows fashion illustrations, where the artist has been allowed to create the ideal using individual techniques and media:

40s fashion illustration

It is interesting to see that by 1949 fashion had changed from the war year's restrictions. Garments featured quantities of yardage, natural fibers such as silk, cotton, wool and synthetic fibers such as rayon.  Convenience textiles that were treated to be wrinkle free, washable and had other features are common.  In fashion, the wearing of a longer silhouette was the norm, and that would continue from this point for the next decade.

The remainder of this magazine does showcase textile designs, these can be found in my blog post "1940s Fabric: American Fabrics magazine from 1949".

I want to comment on my cropping of these ads.  This magazine is the typical large size we associate with fashion magazines of that time: 11" x 14 1/2" and I found that trying to include the entire page usually left the type face very small and difficult to read.  I made my focus the fashions themselves.  This issue has 124 pages.  The cover is a heavy cardboard.  I'll include that in the next post on this issue.

Advertisements, in order presented:

(striped suit jacket) 100% Virgin Wool, Forstmann Woolen co, Passaic, NJ

(yellow suit) Unidure, permanent crease-resistant finish, rayon fabrics, the United Piece Dye Works, NY, LA

(gray suit by Monte-Santo)  Juilliard bankers grey worsted suiting, 100% virgin wool, “Fine fabrics are the foundation of fashion”, ADJuilliard & Co. Inc., NY  

(print two-piece dress) Foreman’s famous tubrite, Zodiac print, rayon crepe, Foreman Co, NY

(gray plaid tent shape coat) Hat by John Frederics, Hoffman California Woolens, “California Living Colors” Los Angeles

(maillot swimsuit by Cole of California) Rustler cotton taffeta, Joyce shoes, Wesley Simpson,NY

(one shoulder dress with swatch) Everfast printed cotton damask, wrinkle-resistant, stabilized, washable, soil-resistant, Vogue pattern 4949, "Everglaze products luxury at a low cost"

(brown dress) Jacqueline jacquard faille, Verney Fabrics Corp. NY.  Note: this photo includes early examples of a hairpin leg table invented by Henry P. Glass in 1941, a womb chair designed in 1946 by Eero Saarinen

(sun dress) Fiddlesticks, Totarn yarn, resists wrinkles, washable, 32 colors, American Silk Mills, NY

(Brown outfit and green bathing suit by Carolyn Schnurer) taffy moire cotton, clokay embossed cotton, washable, Ameritex- Division of Merchants and Manufacturers, Inc, NY

(light color suit) Tegra rayon, crisp, crease resistant, dry clean, Labtex Fabrics, NY

(gray dress with white collar) chambray, Picolay white cotton, Vogue pattern 423, extra-wide, Bates Fabric, Inc. NY

Illustrated Advertisements:

(gray dress by Bruno) Hockanum Woolens, MT Stevens & Sons Co., division of JP Stevens & Co, NY

(green dress by Star Maid) illustration by M Bolegard, Lorraine gabardine, Lorraine Worsteds, Lorraine Manufacturing Co., NY

(row of suits) Lankenau faille, “art in fabrics”, Lankenau Co, Inc, NY

(tweed suit) Kanmak “fabrics of thoroughbred quality”, Kanmak Textiles, Inc. NY

from: American Fabrics, #9, 1949, Reporter Publications, Inc., 24 E. 38th Street, NY

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Barbara Hulanicki and Biba

The design impact of the Biba brand by designer Barbara Hulanicki during the late 1960's and early 1970's on the more progressive fashion scene cannot be underestimated. Her 1920's and 1930's Art Deco influences helped to create a whole world of style that is iconic for that era.

Hello Atelier just released a podcast interview with Barbara that includes a page with great links and images. This renewed my interest in her work and I'll share with you here what I found.

Starting at the source, Barbara Hulanicki has a wonderful portfolio website with too many images to share: vintage photos, fabric prints, fashion illustrations and artwork, among other interesting items. It's a great way to see her work and get a better idea of the Biba legend.

She also has a media page on Youtube that brings together the many interviews she has made or been featured in. Watching helps to get a good idea of her history and point of view. There is also an hour long documentary from 2009, "Beyond Biba: a Portrait of Barbara Hulanicki".


After seeing these, I noticed that she designed a series of home sewing patterns for McCall's in 1971 that do not feature her name or the Biba branding, but clearly show her style. These fashions were featured in a magazine article that shows full color photos of the outfits. I was able to locate four sewing patterns from the McCall's set: 2725, 2728, 2746 and 2727.

McCall's 2725

McCall's 2728

McCall's 2746

McCall's 2747

After taking a good look, these designs still seem as fun as they did over 45 years ago.

McCall's 2746: from Pretty Pattern Shop

all others from

Monday, November 21, 2016

Holiday Recipes from the 1950's: Old Favorites!

The 1950's was a boom period for Holiday cooking, with many recipes featured on can and box labels. It was hoped by the manufacturers of convenience foods that these new recipes would establish new holiday traditions that required the use of their product, and they were right.

Follow my article on these familiar holiday dishes: 1950's Holiday Recipes from Box Labels, posted on "Studio, Garden and Bungalow" this week. You're sure to spot a well loved recipe among the many others!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

James Galanos: Documentary Video "Galanos by Galanos"

In 1996, a retrospective exhibition "Galanos" of the life works of James Galanos was shown by the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It featured a wide range of his fashions, from his early career through the later pieces.

As part of the exhibition a half hour documentary, "Galanos by Galanos", was produced that featured an interview with Galanos who shares his design process from concept through final gown.

Watch Documentary:  "Galanos by Galanos" online at Artbabble.

The catalog book for this show is another worthwhile feature produced by this exhibition.  "Galanos" by Barry Bradley, published in 1996 includes the entire show, with a full length photo and closer view of each piece.

Image above: Vogue 2639 sewing pattern from Winter 1971/72 by Galanos

My other posts on Galanos:

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 1

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 2

Thursday, November 17, 2016

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 2

In Part 1, biography of James Galanos, I covered his early life and career.  I look now into his later career and styles.

PART II: James Galanos

Galanos gowns are part of his legend but it was his simple day dresses and suits that were very popular. Galanos is known for the refined women he dressed: Jackie Onassis, Loretta Young, Gloria Vanderbilt, Nancy Reagan, Ann Getty, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli. These customers collected his beaded jackets and wore them for many years. To understand their needs, he made a point of socializing with his customers, maintaining a good grasp of their preferred styles and needs throughout his career. It was the East Coast client, wealthy and socially connected, that helped to build both his reputation and business.

Galanos’s fashion shows were major events, staged at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles and the Plaza Hotel in New York. As early as 1952 he had shown samples to buyers and customers in New York. There would be 150 gowns or more shown at these events. The atmosphere was quiet without music or dramatic scenery. He staged a hostess to call out the number of each gown as it went down the runway. It could last well over an hour for every model to appear on the runway.

The spring and summer 1965 showing lasted over two hours while 250 designs were shown. As he grew older, he eliminated those big fashion shows. During that time his fashions were sold in about 26 stores (and never more than 30). His prime retailer in New York was Martha. This store sold one million dollars worth of his designs during one week in 1985 while Galanos was in town for a trunk show. He also sold through such luxury stores as Neiman Marcus (45 years), Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Galanos licensed perfume and fur labels at one time, but never sold his name in a big way.

He felt he was the classic designer of his time. He knew that beauty is created with luxury fabrics and fine details, without fads or distracting and gimmicky details. His style was very simple, sculptural, and clean. The shaping of form created the garment’s unique character rather than by the use of decorations and trims. In a single collection he would have 200 dresses of different design. Even with the high number of styles in each collection he was able to produce two collections a year while he was at his most prolific.

Galanos was known for the black dresses he designed. They are considered to be perfect in fit and cut. In addition to dresses he always included a cape in every collection. Each cape was carefully engineered to retain the silhouette. His use of fabric was generous, with as much as 50 yards being used to create a swirl of chiffon.

Beading was an important part of his evening wear. Simple gowns with carefully selecting beading applications were created to make the outstanding ensemble. Nancy Reagan’s inaugural gown was one of these simple beaded shafts of fabric. It was the subtle changes in silhouette and style that gave his personal design style a classic feel. He never introduced sudden changes in his collections so they were timeless in design. He explored new silhouettes that evolved from past styles.

This attention to detail and fit made a Galanos gown couture level. Using up to four fabrics in a garment, this expensive process was unique to the American fashion scene, where cost usually dictates the process used to construct a garment. Although a Galanos gown could be bought ready-to-wear, the unique processes he used to create that gown made each piece a collector’s item. The quality of his garments is unmatched in ready-to-wear.

His design room was in west Los Angeles on Sepulveda Blvd. He employed up to 65 technicians and artisans who stayed with him for several decades. This group performed all phases of his garment design and production. Even with the technical support, Galanos was responsible for the design work from concept through final drape or design.

Recognition for Galanos also came in the form of several major honors and museum exhibitions. In 1976 his designs were shown at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s lifetime achievement award was awarded to him in 1985. A retrospective of his career was showcased in Ohio at the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1997, and the following year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). An earlier showing of his work had been exhibited at LACMA in 1974. The 1997 exhibition included a catalog and video that showed Galanos at work along with his own comments on his design philosophy.

In 1988 his prices ranged from $7,500 for a day suit with blouse, to $10,000 to $15,000 for a special gown. His day dresses were about $4,000 each. Although expensive, this was much less than a Parisian counterpart. Even so, it was difficult to get his wealthy customers to pay their bills, and by the end of his career, large debts loomed from unpaid accounts.

At the end of his career he cut his expansive runway shows from his business. Instead, he continued to show the collection to small groups of buyers in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, Dallas, and Houston. These showings were simple, using only two models.

As the designer, he still felt the need to describe each garment as it passed by the audience. The lingering effect of his decades of designing is the timeless quality of his work. Galanos style is fashion that can be worn for years. This balances the cost and sets them apart from other American fashion designs.

Fashion Influence

Galanos was known for his couture techniques and elegant styling. As an influence, he established a level of excellence for quality and couture values that has remained. This elevated California fashion in both scope and value. Where New York might seem to be the location for sophisticated and elegant fashion, Galanos was the “odd ball” by staying with his Los Angeles location throughout his career. This fostered a relationship with Hollywood royalty that New York fashion houses could not match.

His most outstanding pieces each have unique elements of emphasis. Whether it is the twist of a silk chiffon skirt, or heavy beading on an evening jacket, the attention to detail is unmistakable. Fabric roses, heavy beading, soft and silky fabrications all make his designs timeless and unique. His fashions were for the sophisticated adult woman who did not need to expose her body. Even his daring asymmetrical shoulders and bare bodices still carry a sense of elegance and royal bearing.

The black wool jacket shown above is from my shop.  The floral silk two-piece dress is still in my collection.

More on GALANOS:

Documentary Video: Galanos by Galanos

James Galanos: California Couture, Part 1

Articles on Galanos:

FlashBack, 1997: Los Angeles Times, review of Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibit
Glory to Galanos, an American Original, 1987: Los Angeles Times
I'm Not Couture, 1994: Los Angeles Times
Galanos Show Brings Out His Fans, 1986: Los Angeles Times

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Galanos: by Barry Bradley, Western Reserve Historical Society, 1996/1997

Friday, November 11, 2016

James Galanos: California Couture, Part I

James Galanos will be known, not only as a California designer for the stars and first lady, Nancy Reagan, but also as one of the few American couture designers.  In light of Mr. Galanos recent passing, I am sharing this biography that was written as part of my graduate thesis.  I have divided it into two parts, to make this post less lengthy.


James Galanos was the son of an artistic Greek immigrant and although originally from Philadelphia, Galamos grew up in New Jersey. Born in 1924, at a young age he had a passion for fashion design. By the time he was 18, he had enrolled in the Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan (the origin of Fashion Institute of Technology). Within a year he was working for Hattie Carnegie in a position without any artistic challenges.

Galanos had been sketching all of his life so he did not feel the need for more art training and left that job. Working for himself, he started by selling free-lance designs to New York apparel companies. His earliest backer was Lawrence Lesavoy, a Russian textile businessman. He sent Galanos to California to start a new fashion business there, but due to Lesavoy’s divorce, the business venture failed.  Galanos could not design the collection as was planned. Instead he waited in Los Angeles for the divorce to be settled. In his early twenties at the time, he found part-time work as an assistant to the movie costumer, Jean Louis at Columbia Pictures, a relationship that would help to start his career.

Following that first business failure, Lesavoy sent Galanos to Paris in 1948 to study fashion design at the Beaux Arts Academy. While in Paris, he was able to secure an unpaid internship with Robert Piguet, the French couture designer most famous for his designs during the 1920’s. At Piguet he worked with Marc Bohan and other young assistants who would later become well known Parisian designers. This experience would have a profound effect on Galanos aesthetic, which reflected his study of French couture.

The Parisian internship was short lived however and Galanos returned to New York again and looked for work. He was hired by the Davidow suit company, known for soft, unlined, textured wool Chanel-styled suits, however these were not in Galanos’s style.  Galanos decided to return to Los Angeles again in 1951. At the time the luxury business for movie stars was seeing a rise in popularity.

Galanos' leap to fame is recorded as coming from design commissions for Rosalind Russell. She first saw his designs in the studio of the costumer Jean Louis. After working for Russell, Galanos created his first true fashion collection in 1951 at the age of 27, financed by a loan of $200 from Jean Louis.

He took his first sample dresses to New York for market week. There, this collection was a terrific success.  He returned with orders worth $400,000. Following this inspired beginning, Galanos worked for 46 years as the designer for his own company. He would continue to create fashion until 1988 at the age of 73,  At that point, he retired to Palm Springs, where he continued to socialize with his clients and friends.

In the early 1950's, Amelia Gray of Los Angeles was one of the first shops to carry his designs. Her shop's location on Wilshire Blvd. brought in famous Hollywood starlets who bought those early designs and samples. Galanos’ long friendship with young starlet Nancy Reagan began during that time. She actually made the original comment about being able to wear his clothes inside out because they were so perfectly sewn. Her first dress from Galanos cost $125.

Mrs. Reagan’s support for him included wearing his gowns at each of her husband’s inaugurals. She wore two gowns while her husband was the governor of California and then two more when he was president of the United States during the 1980’s. Galanos’ gown for the 1981 inaugural was a one-shoulder sheath with silver-white beading. This was a dramatic departure from the traditional styles worn by previous first ladies and helped to establish Mrs. Reagan’s stature as the First Lady.

By 1954 his reputation as a designer was so well established that he won the Neiman Marcus Award in early fall and the Coty Award later that winter. Only 30 years old, he was the youngest winner of this top honor. By 1959 he would be inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. Although remarkably young, the quality of craftsmanship in his gowns won him the acclaim.

His working process began with a drape of uncut fabric on the fit model. This French drape technique resulted in gowns with careful draping and amazing bias fit. If beading was used, the pattern was drawn directly on to the fabric with chalk; then the beading was applied by hand by former MGM costume makers. His own arrangement of bead texture and color was used. He could spend days perfecting a beaded layout.

During the 1980’s Galanos became known for heavily textured beading and embroidery, often blending the beads into a printed design on the textile. It was only after this process was complete that the gown was then sewn. Using this method, it could take weeks for a garment to be completed. Time consuming techniques such as this launched his reputation as one of the few true American couture designers, even though he was not officially preparing custom made garments for his clients.

end of PART I

The black lace gown shown is from Ricky's Treasured Finds, a vintage couture shop:
photo by Ricky Serbin

Examples of Galanos beaded designs:


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