20th Century

My 1940s patterns: evening wear

Oooh…1940s evening wear.  Yummy!  What I particularly love about the evening-wear of the ’40s is that it goes from the über-sexy femme-fatale look, to the capable, confident career woman, to the super-sweet and innocent girl next door.

Mine are mostly inherited from my grandmother, and mostly fall into the career woman or innocent girl next door varieties.  If her patterns are anything to go by, she clearly wasn’t comfortable with the femme-fatale image!

I also love that some of these patterns were also suitable for wedding dresses.  It’s so lovely to think you could make a wedding dress out of a pattern, and then make the same pattern up as a frock to wear for events later.  And, of course, this being the ’40s, many women were married in suits and daywear.

Speaking of wedding dresses, I think Simplicity 3446 was my grandmothers wedding dress (all together now: Awwwww….).  It’s such a gorgeous example of the transition between ’30s & ’40s style.  I bet it would look good as a shorter dress too.

Simplicity 3446 – early ’40s wedding dress

Simplicity 3446 – early ’40s wedding & bridesmaid dress

On the wedding dress theme, you may remember Simplicity 4215.  I wasn’t happy with my first version of it, but that was due to the fabric, so I really want to make it up again.  I’ll be needing a ’40s dress for this year’s Windy Lindy, and I’m torn between 3446 and 4215.  They are sort of like dress opposites, with the fullness and lines of the design reversed from one to the other.  Thoughts on which I should make?

Simplicity 4215 – 1940s wedding gown & day dress

Simplicity 4215 – 1940s wedding gown & day dress

Moving away from weddings, how about a frock that is just dripping with sweetness (pretty much literally).  The bows on the cover version just kill me.  I wonder if anyone ever made it up with the bows?  I wonder if the pattern gives you the layout for the bows (must check on that).

Hollywood 1059 – 1940s day and evening dresses

Hollywood 1059 – 1940s day and evening dresses

From sweetness to the confident career girl, I just love Butterick 8966, and it kills me that it would be such an unflattering style on me.  There is something so effortlessly elegant about it.  It says “I don’t need to wear a fancy evening dress to look smashing”.  Also, the hat show with the day dress?  I’m certain it is made of hundreds of silk violets, and would be fabulous and ridiculous.

Butterick 8996 – day and evening dresses

Butterick 8996 – day and evening dresses

And that’s it.  Just the four evening wear patterns.  I guess Grandma didn’t have a lot of excuses for evening wear in the 1940s.

What do you think?  Do you have a favourite?  And which of these (or my day-wear patterns) should I make for Windy Lindy 2012?  The theme is Blitz Ball, which is a slight contradiction in terms!

Update: With two pretty new patterns:

I pretty much bought McCall’s 3145 for the jacket.  Those sleeves…swoon!  I bet the swirl on the skirt is amazing too.

McCall’s 3145 – Evening gown with bolero jacket

McCall’s 3145  – Evening gown with bolero jacket

I wish I’d owned HJ 4485 before Windy Lindy!  How amazing would it have been in that fuchsia brocade?

Home Journal 4485 – ’40s evening gown with beaded bodice


  1. Elise says

    Holy heck: 3446 I recognise. My great-aunt, the only member of my mum’s family I keep a relationship with, wore that dress. And I’m pretty sure that my grandmother wore the bridesmaid version.

    Here is the back story: My great-grandmother (long story) found herself in Amarillo TX around 1910, and was determined to bring “culture to the west”. She had two daughters who were never allowed to do anything for fun because she made them practice the piano and sing operas. She starved the family in order to save up the money to send her daughters to New York finishing school. The plan was for them to come back to Texas and bring New York sophistication to the wilds.

    Why is my great-aunt so cool? She REBELLED for the first time in her life and STAYED in New York. She met an Army doctor, and in 1942 they married in New York at The Little Church on the Corner. My great-grandmother refused to go, but my grandmother went.

    Since it was war-time, there was one wedding dress and one bridesmaid dress that was shared by all the girls in Amarillo. My grandmother brought it with her on the train to New York for the wedding. Life magazine was there to photograph it.

    And my grandmother and great-aunt switched dresses for my grandmother’s wedding in 1944. She married a Texan.

    So the dress dates from 1942 at the latest. I also think the shape would look beautiful on you, Dreamstress.

    • Elise says

      Anyhow, I just love the story that every girl in Amarillo TX wore that dress for their weddings.

    • What a fabulous story! Thank you for sharing! I definitely suspected that dress was v. early 1940s, and that my Grandmother was just a bit outdated when she married.

      There must have been a number of wedding dresses that made the rounds in small towns in America (and NZ) during the depression & WWII. Certainly in NZ there were towns that had what was basically a communal sewing machine – you would have it for two weeks, do all your sewing, and then it would go on to the next family.

      • Elise says

        That’s cool. Stories about people sharing are my favorite. I know that my dad’s grandmother had to borrow a sewing machine back in 30s Arizona. I wonder if some of the straight lines of the era came from people having to sew a lot of clothes in only 2 weeks.

  2. youtube.comDefinately 3446. I think if it was shorter that would be great. You could make it look uniform-ish for the blitz theme. White, green and gold. or pretend you made it from parachute silk. 😉

    How about this for inspiration? From the film the skys the limit.

    I’ve never been given a theme for a dance before.

    I like 8996…definately the kinda dress I woould buy. Looking at the back I would just about fit a size ’17’.lol

    • Seems to be an unanimous verdict of 2 for 3446 so far 😉 I don’t really see any possibility of it looking uniform-ish. It’s definitely a dress-up dress, even short!

      Thanks for sharing that clip! I love the idea of the dress in Sky’s the Limit, but definitely don’t have the waist to wear a dark bottom/white top like that. I wonder how many times they filmed that scene before they just gave up and decided they were going to let Leslie’s skirt stay flipped up over her back in the pause at the 3min mark?

      • I know. I thought it was a bit odd for a hollywood dance performance to have an imperfection like that. But obviously it was a rebellious skirt. These days they probably edit it. I do like that its kept in, makes the performance more approachable and endearing.

  3. Caroline says

    I like 3446 the best by far! I’d love to see that made up in a fabulous colored silk.

    • Well, I have a month to consider it before I commit. It won’t be in silk though – I’ll need to be able to dance in it without glowing too fiercely and ruining the fabric, so it will be a cotton or rayon for me. Also, I’m trying to be good and sew from stash, as hard as that may be!

    • Well, I’m really starting to be swayed now.

      I’m familiar with B5209. Unfortunately it has…issues. Mrs C says it fits “no body, ever”. Sigh. Why can’t they just re-issue the old patterns exactly as they were!

      • I keep finding conflicting opinions with that pattern some say its fits perfectly others that its way off.
        I’m making it up next. Although planning on adding sleeves from another pattern and reducing the skirt fullness so it looks a bit ‘earlier’ in date. On the other hand I might chicken out and do exactly as the pattern says…then save the experimenting for next time. Seeing 8996 its giving me ideas with fabrics.

        • I’m about to be bad. (I’ve seen people say that pattern fits perfectly, but it sure doesn’t look it in their photos.) I’ve seen people who HAVE got it to fit right, but only by really playing with the sizing. The sleeve version, in general, seems to fit better than the halter. Good luck with yours – I’ll be interested in how you find it.

          • I’m definitely doing the sleeved version. halternecked tops just…well…attract too much attention. The most fitting I do is making the seams thicker/thinner to get an extra inch or two. Never been taught fitting and have no idea how to start.
            I will blog the dress when I get round to making it.

  4. I’m quite sure someone made it up with the bows. My mother was an absolute slave to patterns. She would change from the colors on the cover but nothing else. Trims would be as close to exactly the same as the view she selected as she could possibly get. I’m sure there’s always got to be a few such people with that particular compulsion running around, making up patterns with bows and suchlike.

  5. Lynne says

    Which bit of Butterick 8996 don’t work for you? If it is the shoulders, the puffs, and the big V, then it best call is probably Simplicity 4215. The shorter version is what you will be looking at for the Lindy, and I would love to see a second take on it in another fabric. I love them all – you just have to pick the one that is going to suit you.

    One day, plan a trip south. I have a long black crepe 40s number that I think will look good on you. It was given to me about twenty years ago after a good friend thought of me when an elderly lady who was heading for a resthome asked her to take some things to the op-shop. Bless her! I have enjoyed it, but it wants a younger woman. Time for another change. Not for the Lindy, though!

    • All bits of Butterick 8996 don’t work for me. I’ve got a decent bust, a crap waist, and great bottom half – and it’s a dress that puts all the emphasis on the waist. I just look 3 sizes bigger than I am in all the sizes.

      My trip down south is becoming more and more urgent by the day! And don’t worry, I never wear vintage to dance in – it’s just for posing prettily!

  6. I love 3446, too. A lot; I guess it’s the traces of 30s that make it so interesting for everyone!
    But then, they’re all lovely, each in their own way, and I totally want to make the Butterick 8996 style work for me! Day dress version. One day…
    I also love 1059. A lot. The short red variant is *yummy*. Sadly, I think the prolonged bodice would not be a good choice for my long torso and short legs… ditto for 4215.

  7. I adore the first and last one – especially the last one — that’s just my style. But for you – I’m with nearly everyone else, 3446! I just really love the unique, but subtle details and I think it would look beautiful on you…and with being your Grandmother’s wedding dress, you should make it at least once!

  8. I have to vote for 4215. I like the neck line and the way the skirt is gathered. I’m intrigued by LadyD’s idea of being “uniformish” . Maybe a tartan fabric and a feminized, but military looking hat?

  9. Ooops… I just figured out the original blog posting was from a while back… but still so much fun to think about excuses to sew one of these in the future. eh?

  10. Claire Payne says

    4485 is the one for me. Hmmmm….a possible contender for the vintage sewing weekend possibly?

    • It is fabulous isn’t it? For my sanity please go with the Excella one though – I haven’t looked at this pattern to see how crazy it is, and I know the Excella’s are brilliant and easy to sew with!

  11. I adore this era of fashion. Hard to choose a favorite. Is it wrong of me to ask where you buy these at a good price? Is that like asking a morel mushroom hunter where they find their mushrooms?

    • Hi Rose,

      I’m afraid there is no big secret! I inherited most of my patterns, was given a few others, occasionally find them at op shops, but most of the ones I buy come from online auctions sites. Sometimes the prices are good, sometimes I really want a pattern and will pay a bit more.

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