I have been reading bits and pieces about Dior’s New Look, over the last few days. Most books talk about how the New Look was openly embraced following World War II, which had been a time of rationing and scarcity. Yet I read the most interesting article written by Sarah Churchhill (yes, her Dad was Winston) in a very rare copy of Screen Fashions with Vogue Patterns (undated but appears to be 1948). Churchill lamented the appearance of the New Look on the scene when it seemed to her that fashion had at last become practical for women. The New Look, was for Churchhill anything but practical and she ridiculed the extreme style that required a woman’s body to fit into a “new shape”. She does note that the style seemed to change and became less extreme… so much so that like everyone else she found herself revelling in the new found appearance of frailty and feminity. She says she also then found herself then “staring into space” trying to figure out how to get the look in the shortest possible time.
Dior’s New Look was a reinvention of past styles and a revival of old dressmaking techniques. In Frances Kennett’s Secrets of the Couturiers (1984) she talks about Dior’s fascination with dresses in the last century that had him looking through the various articles at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Kennett notes he had teams of people who essentially had to relearn dressmaking techniques that had not been used during the war because such skills with fine fabrics and old styles had not been kept alive. The New Look was really about old looks, revamped.
I have a Vogue Pattern Book from Spring 1949 and it is really fascinating to see Dior’s influence on fashions at the time with, of note, pointed peplums. That sphere of influence was absolutely magnified by the ability of the home dressmaker to access couture fashions through such companies as the Vogue Pattern Service… everybody was talking about the radical New Look…
The Spring 1949 Vogue pattern magazine states that there were an estimated 12 million women in the UK who were home seamstresses. By May of 1956, McCalls Pattern Magazine estimates that the number in the US was over thirty five million. That is a fairly big sphere upon which an individual might exert influence and create demand. If you think of sewing patterns as a vehicle or means to access those women at a time when there was no internet and tv had just surfaced, its no wonder Dior was able to make such a mark so quickly and beyond the sphere of the wealthy and the aristocratic who were otherwise able to access couture fashion. Suddenly, there was an awful lot of home couture happening! How wonderful!
There were of course others who produced patterns as part of the Vogue Paris Original Model collection, Schiaparelli, Fath, Paquin, Lanvin and so forth… at $2.50 they were not cheap patterns. But I guess the war was over, times were prosperous!
Churchill’s article was well written, interesting and certainly insightful. I googled her to see what became of her and was a little sad to read about the problems she experienced later in life. The article was like meeting her for the briefest moment of time, as she was, only to discover she is now in fact a ghost.
I have chosen an ADVANCE pattern today for the pattern of the day, Advance 8803- a style of dress for which, embraced wholly at the outset or not, Dior had set the scene.