We’re starting a fun new project – creating a mini-wardrobe for a woman who is a docent at a local historical site, Hearst Castle.

Myrna Loy in When Ladies Meet - 1934

Myrna Loy in When Ladies Meet – 1934

The docents wear 30s attire and our docent prefers the early to mid period, when the clothing was flowing, elegant and feminine. I like that the period also mixed in harder lines with interesting seams, buttoned bits and unique necklines. Our docent has requested up to four outfits – a day dress or two, an evening dress and pajamas (PJs weren’t just for sleeping – they were for lounging, as they can be today, and beach-wear). We’ve added one very important item – a corset or girdle. More on the specific garments later.

I’ve always loved the elegance of the 30s gowns. The sleek, body hugging lines of a bias cut, the low backs and the glowing fabrics. At the top of my fabulous fashion list are Myrna Loy (If you’ve never seen The Thin Man, I highly recommend it. Myrna was as smart and sassy as she was fashionable. She made the difficult role of straight-man look effortless, including the occasional bit of physical comedy) and Ginger Rogers (who, rather famously, “did everything he [Fred Astaire] could do, but backwards and in heels” – I wish I could remember who said that). Even their day-wear in films was elegant, as the clothing of our docent should be. They are portraying the guests of Mr. Hearst and could be anyone from a starlet to the wife of someone who worked at Mr. Hearst’s magazine.

So where do you go if you want some accurate reproduction 1930s clothing? It turns out that is a very good question.

The Vintage Pattern Lending Library (VPLL) has many great actual patterns for lending or purchase. They give us a lot to look at, but still only a small sampling from the 30s. One thing to keep in mind, however, is at that time patterns generally came with one size per envelope, by bust size. If the garment you fall in love with is the wrong size, be prepared to grade it to your needed size. Patterns had yet to be printed, so before the mid-40s, what you get are pre-cut sheets of tissue with all marks appearing as holes, slits and other cuts to the pattern.

What I don’t find are a lot of modern reproduction patterns. The Big 4 do have their share of retro or vintage patterns (in multi-size packages), but the focus is mostly on the 40s, 50s and gowns, with anything earlier than 20s gowns being consigned to the costume section as modern takes on the period silhouettes. There is nothing wrong with that, but there still aren’t many 30s patterns. So what are my options?

I basically have three choices: 1. make my own patterns using period images and manuals, 2. make my own with modern reproduction books, and 3. hunt for people with similar enthusiasm – independent vintage pattern designers. Here are my favorites so far: Collete Patterns (with a couple 30s flair patterns), New Vintage Lady with her awesome original art and plus size patterns, Decades of Style and Mrs. Depew.

There will be more to come, so stay tuned. First up – the corset / girdle.

a 1930s Gossard girdle

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