Vintage, Schmintage; faking vintage looks with modern patterns

I love vintage sewing. It’s the high-maintenance aspect of using the original patterns that gives me a pain. Fortunately, there are a number of vintage pattern reproductions and homages in current release that can keep you busy without the hassle of working with an old pattern.

Surprisingly, many of my favorite vintage-style patterns are not from the “vintage” or “retro” collections. Those can turn out looking costume-y or kitsch, and I’m just too old to pull it off without looking dotty. And pattern reviewers often find that the fit of these patterns has been modernized and made too roomy.

The patterns I like tend to be from the main collections of Big-4 or small commercial companies, or from indy companies that re-release vintage patterns.

Here’s one example. If I wanted to reproduce a Norman Norell “Mermaid Dress” seen here:

norell-mermaid-sheathNorell Mermaid Dress

I could modify this Vogue Badgley Mischka pattern that’s currently in release.

Mermaid Dress PatternVogue 1374

(First thing I’d do is take up that armscye.) The sequins on the original Norells were each hand-sewn on twice to make them lay flat, so I’m not going to be taking on that project on anytime soon.

With any of these patterns, you need to look beyond the photos and use your imagination to see how they can be modified for a vintage look. For example, View A (right photo) of this typical boho pattern can be easily modified to create this 40s Claire McCardell “Hostess Dress”, made of wool jersey. She basically invented the peasant dress we all wore in the 70s.

New Look 6096McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

New Look 6096McCardell Hostess Dress at FIT

Here are a few pattern suggestions for my favorite bloggers, chosen from patterns that are commercially available now. You can see details on my Pinterest page: Favorite Vintage Re-releases.

Many of these patterns come in a range of sizes, with modern instructions, and can be easier to deal with than actual vintage patterns.

For Carrie from Apricot Adventure blog, who looks like Megan from Mad Men, adjusts the fit on her dresses perfectly, and is a scientist to boot, I’m seeing this Burda repro of a late 60s glam girl dress: Burda Glam Dress. What do you think, Carrie? Maybe for your bachelorette party?

burda pattern

Put some chiffon sleeves on it, and you can do your own version of “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

Megan Zou Bisou Bisou

For Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, who just did a post on Winter Olympic Uniforms through the years, featuring the Unfortunate Christmas Sweater:

Unfortunate Christmas Sweaterand the Awesome Peacoat: Ralph Lauren Peacoat

how about this fab 30s blanket coat from Wearing History?

Blanket Coat blanket coat pattern

For Red Point Taylor, who stitches up lovely jackets (see her beautiful French Jacket here), a cropped jacket for her next Chanel adventure:

Cropped JacketButterick 5859.

I like the 30s-style high-waist pants and “naughty secretary” blouse in the pattern, too.

And for Carmen, of the Carmencitab blog, who whipped up this fab Yves St. Laurent Mondrian Dress from an original 60s Vogue pattern:

mondrian dress

Maybe a Schiaparelli Wrap from Decades of Style for chilly nights in Paris?

5006-web-picHere’s my review of that pattern: Schiaparelli Wrap Review

Then there’s Peter of Male Pattern Boldness, who’s making us all jealous recounting his experiences studying menswear at FIT. He could really get his Gable on with this 40s pattern from Eva Dress:


There’s also a shorter “Smoking Jacket” version in the pattern, to wear when he gets those vintage sewing machines of his smokin’. The shorter jacket won’t get in the way of the knee lift.

For Patricia of Notes from High Road blog, who enjoys projects from Japanese pattern books and international magazines, how about a Vietnamese Ao Dai from Folkwear, a company that carries patterns for traditional ethnic garb from around the world, as well as a number of vintage styles.

Vietnamese drawing

For Lynn of American Age Fashion, a blog that chronicles how older women have dressed throughout the years, and who just wrote this hilarious post about what Coco Chanel wore to a Texas Barbeque:

Coco at a Barbeque

(Fur at a barbeque?), I’m thinking that this vintage pattern repro from Decades of Style would have been a better choice for Coco:

Rodeo shirt pattern

After some pulled pork and a few drinks, who knows? Coco might have gotten up and performed Agnes DeMille’s ballet “Rodeo”. Then she would have gone home with this guy:

Negroni Mr. Negroni from Colette Patterns.

And for the rest of you, how about a 40s film noir nighty?

Film Noir Nighty Film Noir Nighty from Eva Dress

60s Laura Petrie Capris?

Laura Petrie PhotoLaura Petrie CaprisVogue 8886

An “American Hustle” 70s wrap dress?

American Hustle WrapWrap dress70s Wrap Dress Pattern

A 40s sarong?

Dorothy_Lam_3Bombshell SarongBombshell Sarong

I know there are many other favorites I’m missing, particularly from indy pattern companies. If you have suggestions, please jump in!

16 thoughts on “Vintage, Schmintage; faking vintage looks with modern patterns

  1. That’s very true! I am not so sure what’s easier – take a vintage pattern and make a garment out of it or have modern pattern and udapted to look like vintage …
    BTW … I am going to make a pants with high waist based on this Butterick 5859 pattern, Ilove high waists 🙂

    • I know, both methods can be tricky, but part of the fun of sewing vintage is the challenge. I used that Butterick pattern as the bodice for Chanel jacket #3, which I’ll get around to blogging about at some point. It was a jacket I faked using fusible instead of quilting; not quite the same. That pattern has a cute 30s-style skirt as well.

  2. I love love love that dress you picked out for me!! I will totally make a version of this, it’s just my style! Too bad I didn’t see it sooner – Dan has a company holiday party this Saturday at the MFA with a James Bond theme and I would love to have an excuse to make the long version. I’ll have to check my stash and see if I have any appropriate fabric…. 🙂

    • Hi Carrie, I think you can definitely pull off making that dress by Saturday; glad you like it! If you don’t have anything in your stash, you could trot over to Winmil Fabrics (my Boston hangout) and probably find something that works. Also if you nose around “Sewfisticated” in Cambridge, they have good stuff toward the back and their prices are low. It would look great in black crepe.

  3. Great post topic, Julie, the kind that helps us open up our way of thinking about how to use patterns. Your expansive view of what vintage sewing can mean and what shapes it can take is really inspiring. I love your suggestions for everybody. And you’re right about me: I’ve been meaning to explore Folkwear patterns for quite a while, and my stash includes a little collection of silks, old and new, brought back from various places in Southeast Asia.

    • Hi Patricia, Folkwear has a number of Asia and South Asian patterns I’d like to try. I’ve been meaning to make their cheongsam pattern for ages. Better get going on my sewing bucket list!

  4. Julie and Patricia: You both read my mind way over here in Texas! Last night I was thinking (while watching TV with my hubby) about making one of those short oriental jackets like the one that Tziporah Salamon is wearing on the Advanced Style blog. Hers is a yellow and white with colorful embroidery that I am dying to make and the first place I thought about for the pattern was Folkwear! I also have a small stash of silk brocade fabric that I need to use as well. Thank you, thank you…

    • Hi Lamar, thanks for tipping me off about the Advanced Style blog. I had read about it but now I’m going to start following it. Tziporah is extremely cool and definitely braver than I am. What a hat collection! I’m not sure if the jacket you’re referring to has a closure on the shoulder, or if it closes down the front like a jacket, so I’ve put both Folkwear patterns in these styles on my pinterest page: There have been a number of Cheongsam-style jacket patterns released over the years, but Folkwear has really taken pains to make their styles authentic.

  5. Great post! Incredibly, I almost bought that Wearing History coat pattern last week, but then opened the coat closet and realized that I’m over-blessed with coats. Still, I’d love to have that hooded version made from an old Hudson’s Bay blanket.

  6. I’ve been making some skinny pants from a 1963 pattern using Mrs. Petrie as my inspiraton, so I guess that puts me squarely in with “everyone else!” These patterns are fabulous.

    • Hi Allie! I think you can’t go wrong with a pair of skinny ankle pants and a bateau-neck top. In the 90s, I met a former First Lady (and famous style icon) on Martha’s Vineyard and she was wearing just that–and she was barefoot!

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