Dating Patterns

Dating Vintage Sewing Patterns

August 17, 2010

Dear sewists,

I have a question and I think this is one of the best forums to ask it: do you know how to date sewing patterns precisely? I have studied fashion and costume all my life, so can easily place a pattern into a specific era and, with a little research, can limit this to a couple of years. But, do any resources exist to help you identify the exact year patterns were produced by the manufacturers? Please let me know; I’m really interested to find out if such a thing exists!
  1. cemetarian is a great resource!

    I'd take wiki dates with a grain of salt though, they're self-reported and I know I've found more than one that were wrong (because I had the pattern w/ a definite date). I've even seen the wrong decade on patterns there. Most are probably correct but if you need precision, just tread cautiously.

    If you need concrete dates on a LOT of patterns you can't do better than the Commercial Pattern Archive. Even if they don't have the pattern you need, you can usually find the year by slotting in your number. (You do have to be a member to access the database.)

  2. Many vintage Simplicity patterns have the date tucked away on the bottom of the instruction sheet (b-side as opposed to pattern layout side), which is a definite help!

  3. if they are from the 50's onward and from the major pattern companies I look for the copywrite date. Normally this is on the outer envelope sometimes the instruaction sheet – but other times totally absent.

  4. You can find the date on most Simplicity, McCall's, and Vogue patterns. Others you have to go by the hair styles and makeup. I like some of the other sources. I have a few I can't date.

  5. There are a couple of great books that talk about this exact issue–how to specifically date dressmaking patterns. They're called "Blueprints of Fashion" by Wade Laboissonniere and there are editions for the 1940s and 1950s for sure, although I think there might be other decades as well. Great resources as they don't simply tell you which patterns are from what dates but how to figure out when a pattern is from based on information on the envelope, the style of the company logo, the numbers issued, etc.

  6. Some patterns have printed dates, but many do not. If you're lucky, older mail order patterns will have dated postmarks (although. again, most do not). We do a lot of "circa 19-whatever" because, in a lot of cases, there just is no way to tell.

    Old pattern catalogs are a great way to find reliable dates, when you can get ahold of them.

    Here's my collection of catalogs, and links to images of other peoples' catalogs.

    Vintage Pattern Dating Project on Flickr. These are also, in many instances, self-reported, but we try to base them on concrete evidence (dates on patterns, catalogs, postmarks).

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