1940s | Vintage Sewing

Butterick 5209 – Trying to get an authentic 40’s look

July 13, 2012

So I’m needing a 1940’s impression dress but I wanted it to look as authentic as possible. Taking in the considerations of how rationing in the UK would have affected fabric etc.

First problem what type of fabric? I know silk was in short supply so that’s out.



Something else?

And then you can the case of what prints and colours. What dyes were available? Where the prints geometric or floral, or should I be looking at plain fabrics?


I know what suits me is usually small prints and I like sewing with cotton (I have in my stash some cotton in rusty orange floral print and black floral print). But is it authentic?

I’m using butterick 5209. The skirt section should that be changed from gathered to A-line? As would a gathered skirt be quite lush? I know pleats were a no-no as they took up extra fabric.



I noticed the fabric used in this pattern. Browny orange with little flowers. Close?

  1. That fabric is perfect–and so sweet! Cotton and rayon are just fine–or a cotton/ rayon blend, for that matter. As is crepe. If you look around, there are some poly & polyblend crepes that don’t look synthetic, and those would be great.

    The pattern you have is really a late ’40s, ’50s look. Butterick’s B5281: http://butterick.mccall.com/b5281-products-9615.php?page_id=371 would be a more typical mid-’40s look. However, if you still want to use the halter, then yes, convert the skirt to an A-line. 🙂

  2. That fabric would be a great color and print – I think big splashy flowers were not seen much during war time, but dainty calico prints surely were popular. The supply shortages and austerity measures hit every aspect of clothing and sewing – including skirt length/width and the types of closures (no zippers!). Good for you for working with pattern and fabric in your stash, now you won’t need to use your rationing coupons. (Little touch of authenticity there.)
    The 1943 US restriction on the sweep (hem width) of a dress was 72 in/183 cm. Probably the UK restrictions were tighter as they were always in worse straits. B5209 shows a hem width of 99 inches (on average) so you’d need to knock off about 25% of the skirt width to be period-accurate. You could probably leave a few gathers if you want to, or just use an A-line as suggested.
    I get a lot of information from “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford, great book.

  3. I think your fabric choice is perfect. I did a lot of research before I made that same pattern. I ended up using something that was very close to what might have been but not quite authentic. 😉 The pattern is from 1947 so you could check out movies from that year. One of them is A Miracle on 34th Street.
    The skirt is gathered but not too much if you think about the styles in the 50s. I think this would have been the lead in to that.
    Good luck! I can’t wait to see it!

  4. Another book—Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940’s, by Wade Laboissonniere. It has lots of information about wartime restrictions, and pages and pages of pattern illustrations, all with dates. He has a book about the 30’s too. Check Amazon.

  5. The patterns you’re thinking of are fine. If you were going any earlier, you’d be out of place (for example, 30s polka dots were really far spaced and fairly large).

    1. That is spot on the pattern I was actually looking for…or near enough.

      I tend to go for modern repro as I am terrible when it comes to fitting….and I’d rather minimize the changes I need to make.

  6. I love that pattern!
    Crepe was fairly popular in the 40’s.
    I have a black crepe dress from that era that is very similar. It has self covered buttons & loops down the centre front (opens to the waist with addition of a side zip) & aqua glass beaded pattern that runs down the neckline & across the midriff panel. I’m guessing they would have come from someone’s sewing stash as seed beads may have been hard to come buy with rationing. But it really brightens up what would have been a plain dress.
    Navy, olive, musk, french blue, teal, rust & mustard were popular shades in Australia with very few patterns for women. Fabric was very hard to come by being so far away & war ranging in between us, well the rest of the world.
    Often a contrast was used to brighten dresses up without being extravagant, perhaps something from a previous project.

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