Yes, I've got a lulu. Why?
October 28, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find reasonably detailed reference images of smart everyday women's clothes from the 1940s, 50s and early 60s?

After bemoaning the state of modern women's workwear for years, I've decided to draw my office wardrobe influences from the past. Specifically, the block of time bordered roughly by His Girl Friday and Mad Men. (Yes, I know.) To do this, I need images from the time to "clip" for reference and inspiration, but I can't figure out where to look -- searching specifically for costume images yields too few results, searching generally for the time periods yields too many.

Where should I look to get a good idea of what the woman in the street wore? I am not looking for haute couture or Hollywood glamour (although I'd welcome recommendations for good frock porn films) -- more along the lines of what a Sartorialist of the time might have photographed. I make clothes and am learning to draft my own patterns, so the more detailed the images the better.
posted by stuck on an island to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has pictures of clothes from the 1940s. I don't know if these qualify as "everyday women's clothes," though. You can also do a search for 1950s and 1960s.
posted by dfriedman at 1:56 PM on October 28, 2009

I would maybe head on over to Casey Brown's blog. From what I have seen, she is an exceptional seamstress herself, and often posts pictures of her projects and images from old sewing pattern packages from the early part of the time interval you're interested in.
posted by hegemone at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2009

You need a copy of Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. Gertie has committed to making each pattern in it.
posted by chez shoes at 2:58 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The library. If you were in the US, I'd suggest you go to your nearest large public library and look through the old copies of Life.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:58 PM on October 28, 2009

Why not try some books? This one is great, with images of everyday dress, broken down by year:

Dover is a great source. They have books by decade. For example, this one on the 50s:

Let me know if these books sound good to you or send me a MeMail. I collect costume history texts, so I may be able to point you to more sources as I reference my own shelf.
posted by fantine at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2009

Check out the links at The Costumer's Manifesto's Costume History pages.
posted by posadnitsa at 3:21 PM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: I'd look for vintage magazines on ebay I think. There are often patterns too, but they're expensive and you probably don't need them if you're confident making or altering your own.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:52 PM on October 28, 2009

Best answer: I'm very fond of these Schiffer books - there are multiple ones for most decades of the 20th century and are wonderful resources for designers.
posted by jvilter at 4:19 PM on October 28, 2009

Dover Books reprints Sears Catalogs. That one is from the 50s, but there are earlier ones too.

Patterns on Ebay are a good idea. They really aren't that expensive. You can find them for less than $5. Check out Sew Retro for inspiration.

Also, you should definitely look at my favorite website ever,! It has historic photos of everyday people in all eras. I love this Pretty Girls gallery.
posted by apricot at 6:32 PM on October 28, 2009

You'll be there all day :) but in particular you might like to note the extensive collection of silhouettes...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:33 PM on October 28, 2009

p.s. I just googled "everyday fashions 1950s" and found this site.
posted by apricot at 6:36 PM on October 28, 2009

Ha! That's what I get for not clicking preview!
posted by apricot at 6:37 PM on October 28, 2009

Also try
The site appears to be down at the moment :/ but I'm pretty sure that's the one. It has stacks of really great old books to flip through. (And they're free too.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:58 PM on October 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, guys! I have already seen a lot of the sewing and costume resources mentioned here, but there have been some valuable tips.

I have been browsing the Library of Congress photo collections on Flickr for pictures of ordinary American women (the "women at war" photos kick all kinds of ass) and would welcome any suggestions for similar photo resources, not necessarily with a costume-specific focus, from the US and especially UK -- I love Blitz fashion!
posted by stuck on an island at 3:46 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: Did you look at Shorpy? I linked to it above but I can't tell by your response if you looked at it. :) They pull from the Library of Congress and other government photo archives, but there are personal photos on there too. It's pretty great. They have photos from the Civil War to the 60s.
posted by apricot at 7:26 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: I also love making my own vintage style clothes and have found the Vintage Sewing Pattern Wiki to be an amazing resource. Most of the patterns are probably not as detailed as you want (just straight-up jpgs of the front of the pattern), but there are over 20k patterns there and you get a real feel for the types of things ladies were making and wearing in ye oldey times.

Also - I can't tell you how many pics I've saved from this site: - TRULY amazing collection of vintage dresses with close up pics of bodices and rear views. If you have a dress form and are good at draping, the photos they supply are enough to get you going. I made a cocktail dress inspired by a dress from this site (that was sadly already sold *and* not my size). It turned out gorgeous and I learned so much!

Good luck!
posted by bienbiensuper at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, apricot, for 3 hours well lost.

Everybody should visit Shorpy. Not just for the dresses.
posted by stuck on an island at 12:31 PM on October 29, 2009

See why I was so insistent? Glad you enjoyed it!
posted by apricot at 9:40 PM on October 29, 2009

I don't know if you're still checking this, but I just discovered these and have to share! The Henry Ford Museum flickr stream and The Library of Congress photo catalog.
posted by apricot at 9:32 PM on November 11, 2009

« Older Back when it was OK to read fantasy novels in...   |   When did people stop being ok with soup just being... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.