Alexandra Lange | Essays

A Stitch in Time

1960s McCall's Girls Jumper and Blouse (via Etsy seller ChigalsPatterns)

Now that I have a daughter, and I am continually outraged by the mainstream clothing choices for her (Heart on her butt. Really?), my sewing machine is calling me. I know I should have sewed little overalls and camp shirts for my son, but those seemed so complicated. Buttonholes! And there were always stripes and cargo pants in the boys department, just like I wear. I have nothing against shopping across the aisle for her, but I am also not opposed to more pattern, color and volume than the tomboy uniform. I need more reds and dramatic purples in my life, not more tulle. Or butterflies.

Which is exactly why my mother sewed for me. Marimekko jumpers and overalls, most of which my brother went on to wear. The overalls anyway.

So I started looking for clothing patterns. And I quickly found that my taste in kids' clothes is the same as my taste in furnitutre, art, architecture and tchotchkes. All 1960s, all the time. I love the typography, I love the illustration, and I love the clothes. I've found a new retromaniacal niche to waste time in, one where the pleasures come cheap and on whispery brown paper.

1960s McCall's Mod Dress (via Etsy seller monicacarmel)

Like my borrowed Marimekko wardrobe, these swing shapes make a graphic statement all on their own, and don't traffic in ruffles, puff sleeves or bows. Add glasses and 86 the socks, and that could be me in the red shift. What's old is new again, and red Mary Janes, killer bangs, and dark tights are very this season. I recently tried on a houndstooth cape (a lot like this) in a thrift store. If it had decent pockets, I might have bought it.

1960s Simplicity A-Line Dress (via Etsy seller stumbleupon)

Where once mother-daughter outfits infantilized the mom, if I make one of these dresses, my daughter willl be showing me up, style-wise. The irony is that my dream is to put my daughter back in the dresses and tights my own mother liberated me from. She sewed to give me better unisex options, but those patterns don't thrill me like these do. I don't think dressing more like an old-fashioned girl, as long as it's a mod girl, will get in her way at all. Add sneaker Mary Janes and leggings to the red folkloric number above and she'll be just fine on the playground.

And nobody needs to tell me: she'll rebel by asking for a prairie dress. Here's the pattern, just in case.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [7]

you can try to stop time all you want, but the sad truth is that most of these young girls will want to look like sluts. look at their role models. and you thought disney princesses were bad.

and there's always the good chance your son might be interested in these patterns. sure, why not? put these patterns to good use. welcome to the future.

I won't knock these at all because my mom used to buy these all the time and make outfits for my sister. She didn't really need to do the same for me since boys just wear jeans and shorts and whatever. But what about the little stamp at the top of the first package "Suitable for chubbies?" I guess I just saw that as odd as I started to romanticize these older designs - seeing that was surprising. I wonder if there were people then who saw these very designs as an assault against true tasteful design? Does that make sense?

Bob, I completely missed that stamp, which is rather horrifying. But maybe no more so than other contemporary euphemisms in children's sizing, like "husky." I'm constantly astonished by the range of healthy sizes of babies and little kids, a range that makes it impossible for 3T pants to fit a majority of 3 year olds. I think it would be easier if kids clothes also went by measurements.

I think you are right to wonder if these were also once offensive to taste. When I search for vintage patterns I wade through plenty from the same era with little puff sleeves, full skirts and smocking. Those black or navy tights, on the topmost pattern, look very mod. I suspect the slimmer and more sack-like of these dresses have a style that trickled down from adult fashion that included Courreges, Marimekko, Mary Quant. Little girls didn't need to be liberated from girdles and hose like their mothers but then (as maybe now) they did need to be liberated from scratchy petticoats and full skirts.

And Gary, I do plan to teach both my kids to sew whatever they like.
Alexandra Lange

I love these! If you go to the Vogue pattern website, you'll note that they sell vintage patterns, so there is a market for these.
Economy, downtime, need for different creative outlet: I've started buying patterns and pondering some clothing to sew too.

chubbies: yes...most of the stripes are vertical in the patterns!

I love vintage patters, I have a small collection that I've picked up at flea markets and from family and friends. It is funny to look at old patterns and the sizing and compare it to the "vanity" sizes we have today (not in patterns, but in stores).
Betsy Vardell

The sizing of young children's clothing requires a certain knowledge not easily understood, unless you are well practised.
It is about how informative the information really is.
3T could have several interpretations, including 3 ton.
The use of "chubbies" is more understandable. "healthy" less so?

I have a hard time finding good fabric out here in the suburbs or I would sew more.
jem mix

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