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Big-T & the Bada-Bings

Sewing to the Oldies
by Nori Negron-Casimiro

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You walk into a vintage clothing store looking for a dress to wear on Saturday night. First you sift through all the dresses until you find some that might be your size. Then from those, you weed out all the truly hideous patterns and colors. After that, you discard the ones with large tears and funky smells. What are you left with? One, maybe two dresses that you take with you to the fitting room. Here, the torture continues. The hips might fit right but the waist is too small, or perhaps the sleeves are so tight you feel you’re wearing a blood pressure cuff.

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, your prayers may have just been answered. Vogue Patterns, along with its parent company, Butterick, have dug into their archives to reissue several popular patterns from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. So now you can have a vintage dress that’s brand new!

According to Daryl Brower, Managing Editor of Vogue Patterns magazine, the inspiration for the vintage lines came from a woman seen by many as the ultimate emissary of style: Barbie™. In response to reader requests for retro patterns for their vintage Barbie dolls,Vogue Patterns reduced several older designs to a fraction of their original size and included them in the September/October 1997 issue of the magazine. This sparked a slew of requests for real-size vintage patterns, and the Vintage Vogue line was born.

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The first four Vintage Vogue designs were introduced in the September/October 1998 issue of Vogue Patterns: two suits from the mid-1940s, a dress from 1939, and a dress and jacket set from 1940. The response was tremendous, and Butterick Patterns quickly launched a similar line of archival designs under the name Retro Butterick.The patterns for Vintage Vogue and Retro Butterick are chosen by a committee, which includes the Vice President of Product, the Executive Editor of the magazine, and several Vogue designers. The committee members take into consideration all the reader requests and try to find designs that “people can actually wear,” says Joy McKeon, Editorial Coordinator for Vogue Patterns. “Not costumey, but dresses for every day.” After the designs have been selected, they are resized to fit modern women’s bodies. After all, women no longer wear layers of latex in the shape of corsets and girdles.

One reason the archival designs have been so popular is that many women are dissatisfied with clothes today, says Daryl Brower. “[Women] don’t think clothing is as beautiful now as it was then. They want clothes with dressmaker details,” she notes. The Vintage Vogue line currently features 12 patterns from the 1930s and ’40s, which sell for $25 each. Retro Butterick offers four patterns dating from the 1950s, at a cost of $12.95 a piece. Both pattern-makers are reusing the original artwork on their packaging, and patterns in the Vintage Vogue line include Vogue Vintage Model labels to sew into the finished garments.

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Novice sewers may want to start with a sundress from 1952 offered by Retro Butterick. It was originally dubbed the Walkaway Dress, because it was so easy to make that you could “start it at breakfast…walk away in it for luncheon!” When the design was first introduced, it was so popular that Butterick had to stop production on all other patterns to meet consumer demand. In addition, Lindy Hoppers can look for Retro Butterick patterns considered good for dancing that are labeled “Butterick Swing Time.”

For a sneak preview of the newest styles in the Vintage Vogue and Retro Butterick lines, visit And if you can’t sew, don’t fret. Just call the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers at (541) 772-4119 to find a tailor in your area who can make the dress of your dreams using one of the Vintage Vogue or Retro Butterick patterns. You can also visit the PACC on the Web at What are you waiting for? Your new vintage dress is just a stitch away!

This article first appeared in the Summer 1999 issue of ATOMIC Magazine.


Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Article List
2000 Article List
2001 Article List
2002 Article List
2003 Article List
2004 Article List
SwingTime! Across The USA:
The Jivin' Lindy Hoppers
Breuker Breaks The Rules
Beatin' The Chops:
The Vegas Rockabilly Weekender
Paris (Combo) By Night
Sewing To the Oldies
Royal Crown Revue
Walks On Fire
Ode To An Ape:
The Legacy of King Kong
Karaoke Swings!


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