Frumpy by Design—Famous Features Patterns

SueBurnettcompositeWhile most pattern companies try hard to keep up with current fashion, this was not the business model at Famous Feature Patterns. The company existed from the 1930s until the 1990s and sold patterns through newspapers under names like Sue Burnett and Peggy Roberts. This was only one of many companies that distributed low cost patterns through newspapers.

In her interesting book, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry, Joy Emery draws on an interview she had with the last owner of the company in 1996, the year Famous Features closed. “The styles of the patterns were consciously not high-style (even ‘frumpy’), meant for more lasting appeal,” the owner said. (79) Because the company did not care about current trends, their styles could be recycled through the decades. Except for the small changes in the waist treatment, style 8885 from 1945 is almost identical to number 8250 two decades later.

Older women were one of the target audiences for these patterns, which were inexpensive and offered in larger sizes. If someone grew attached to the “Versatile Shirtwaister” when she was in her thirties in 1945, she could make it again twenty years later in a larger size. This might be one solution to mystery of how some women seem to be wearing new clothes that are nonetheless far out of style.

AuntBette71Maybe a Sue Burnett pattern is the source of Aunt Bette’s dress in this 1971 photo.

This entry was posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Frumpy by Design—Famous Features Patterns

  1. Mema says:

    Danke für den interessanten Artikel und den Hinweis auf das Buch von Joy Emery. Das werde ich kaufen, sobald ich wieder da bin. Übrigens, diese Art Hemdblusenkleider sind bei den jungen deutschen Hobbyschneiderinnen im letzten und vorletzten Jahr sehr in Mode gewesen.
    Gruß Mema

  2. What an amazing set of images! Those two patterns plus a photo: testimony to the endurance of the shirtwaist dress. I will add a shirtwaist dress to my mental checklist of “fashions that should be included in every 20th c. costume history book.” (Along with the Chanel suit, the wrap dress, and jeans– anything widely worn for 30 years deserves a place.)

  3. It is amazing how similar the two patterns are, but the line of the shoulder sure does identify the decade of each.

  4. Lynn says:

    “Far out of style” = “not a follower”. 😉

  5. Jen O says:

    Is Aunt Bette holding a McCall’s pattern magazine there? Seeing it just about validates your theory here that sewing allowed women to perpetuate their same wardrobe…for decades!

  6. Sewer says:

    Thank you.

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