The New Look and the Older Woman

VPFall47The October/November issue of the Vogue Pattern Book was all about the New Look. The opening article, “The Changing Silhouette,” listed major shifts in styles: more naturally shaped shoulders with less padding; a nipped waistline; and an emphasis on the hips with artificial padding, pleats, peplums and/or pockets.  Skirts shapes would be either wide or narrow.

What did this mean for older women whose figures had changed over time?  The rounded shoulders and larger hips might not have posed much of a problem, since these are common shifts with aging. Achieving a small looking waistline most likely been the biggest challenge.  A wider waist, the “menopot,” occurs for most women by their fifties.

The Vogue Pattern Company was not designing specifically for older women in 1947 and the vast majority of the offerings in the fall magazine came in bust sizes 30 to 38. However, the company did produce a few patterns in larger bust sizes that might have intended for older and wider readers.  I looked for outfits that went up to at least a bust size 44. Then I tried to figure out what these designs had in common.

Conservative Styles

Conservative Styles

Some of the most conservative clothes—those that had changed minimally from earlier styles—came in the largest sizes.  This included a shirtwaist dress, offered in sizes 30-46.  There were several very boxy coats that seemed only a bit longer than earlier styles but otherwise not very “new” to my eye, like this raglan sleeved, double breasted model that came in sizes 30-44.

Slim Suits

Slim Suits

New Look designs had two basic skirt styles, one very full and the other much narrower.  The designs in larger sizes favored slim skirts that had minimal or no extra features at the hips. The belted model 6141 came in sizes 34-46; the notched collar suit in sizes 30-44. Perhaps pattern makers felt that older women on the heavier side had enough curves of their own.

Emphasis on the Face

Emphasis on the Face

The rounder shoulder of the New Look created a dilemma those without small waists.  How was it possible to give the illusion of an hourglass shape without broad shoulders to help out? The clothes in larger sizes had bodice and collar features that drew the eye up to the face, doing some of the same work. Pattern 6196 came in sizes 34-44; 6132 came in sizes 32-46.

Fit for a Queen

Fit for a Queen

But lest you think that the larger woman was disadvantaged by this collection, I thought some of most elegant looks came in larger sizes.  I imagine the designers considering what a wealthy New York society matron might like to wear when coming up with these styles.

This is guess work on my part, but it was interesting to imagine how a style shift not necessarily friendly to the older figure could be made to work.

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2 Responses to The New Look and the Older Woman

  1. That last coat — S 4804 — is a knockout! (And the coat and evening gown have the diagonal lines recommended for mature women in the 1920’s.) I like your conjectures on what made a pattern suitable for an older woman. Those long skirts must have been hard on short and stocky women — trying to find the balance between “slenderizing” and “dowdy.”

  2. Fabrickated says:

    This is a very interesting post and I suspect you maybe right in your assumptions. But not everyone gets larger as they age, especially in previous generations. I think our experience of obesity means we readily assume that everyone gets larger as they age may colour how we see women in the past. In the 1940s my hunch is that older women might have been thinner and smaller than the younger generation, especially if they were poorer. The rationing of the second world war helped ensure a relatively slim population. But it’s just a thought.

    And I agree with FW that the diagonal lined dress and coat are just great.

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