At the beginning of the twentieth century, pretty much all American women wore separates. The shirtwaist blouse and skirt combination had a universal appeal, chosen by women of all ages, races, and class.
When the shirtwaist went out of style in the 1910s, separates didn’t return again in a big way until the 1950s. This time, though, they didn’t have the same broad reach. The older set stuck to dresses, while younger women took to the more casual styles of mix and match skirts, blouses, and pants.
In his overview of the American fashion industry at the beginning of the 1960s, The Rag Race, journalist Bernard Roshko cites an industry report noting this age divide. “Nearly all women of fifty or older consider dresses suitable for wear around the house and for recreation, summer or winter. Very few women under thirty consider dresses the suitable thing to wear for either purpose at any time of year.”(267)
You can see this age divide clearly in pattern magazines of the fifties. Mix and match wardrobes were big, with a single pattern offered for coordinating parts. The 1956 Butterick set above, pattern 7686, offered a skirt, blouse, toreador pants, and short sleeved coat. “By linking a matching blouse and skirt you get an all-in-one dress effect…Over any of these toss the slim coat—result, ideal Easter ensemble! For active sports or lounging, ally the print or plain top with the toreador pants.” These patterns came in Junior Miss and Misses sizes 11-18, for bust sizes 31.5 to 36.
What did Butterick offer the more amply endowed woman, one who wore “more-than-misses-sizes”? A dress.
These days, pattern magazine are filled with dresses and I’m wearing only separates. I guess now I’m behind the times.