A Primer: 1930’s-1950’s Trousers & Pants For Women

One of the most desired, and often most misunderstood, articles in the vintage wardrobe are the trousers.

Today I’m going to delve a little bit into the basics of the transition of trousers from the 1930’s through the 1950s.  It’s a quick overview so I’m not touching on everything, but it will give you a good starting point!

- A Beginning -

Women and trousers.  It’s a love affair in modern times, but was it in the past?  Well, no- actually.  If you remember good ol’ Amelia Bloomer, she caused quite the scandal by sporting bifurcated garments in the Victorian era.  They called it “Dress Reform”.  It was a fad that wasn’t with the majority, but it did continue in some form or another.  Enter the 1890’s, and there’s bicycling bloomers for women.  Some daring women even start wearing trousers for riding. In the American West, and at places where there were adventures seeking new discovery, women wore pants with more frequency.  They even had a short-lived popularity during the Great War, when women helped out at home (much like they would again in WWII), but it was not widely accepted.

Enter the 1920’s and the “flapper”.  Pajamas are all the rage- in the boudoir and by the seaside.  Some daring women even started wearing men’s trousers.  Was it accepted by the majority?   Definitely not.  But they started gaining in popularity thanks to the seaside, the boudoir, and the new collegiate co-eds!

- The 1930’s -

The 1930’s is when we really see women in trousers get their stride. It was still not accepted by the majority in the early part of the 1930’s.  In fact, studios used to try to keep Kate Hepburn from wearing them between sets in Hollywood, because the photographers would snap her over the studio gates and it was still “shocking”.  But, really, the resorts and the young set, the Hollywood sirens, and the wealthy, are what caused the trousers to catch on.

They were not widely worn, but by the mid 1930’s it was acceptable for wear for sportswear.  They’re mostly seen on campus, at the resort, and in other places if you lived in the warmer climates like Southern California or Florida.  Cannes was a big place for wearing trousers.  How daring!


The first half, we see very loosely fitted trousers.  The images above are from 1934.   The “rise” (that is, crotch length), was EXTREMELY low.  Think M.C. Hammer.  Seriously.  Sometimes down to your knees!  Notice here, these are mostly for sporty summer wear.  That is quite common in the 1930s. You don’t often see them “dressed up”, and if you do, it’s usually on the wealthy.

late1930sIn the second half of the 1930’s, trousers really start going crazy.  In 1939 it seemed everyone wanted them, and they were here to stay!  There were lounging ones, playing ones, work ones, beach ones, pajamas… and sometimes even dinner outfits.  The late 1930’s is playful, and trousers fit in perfectly with that ideal.  The image on left is from 1938, and the image on right from 1939.  Still notice, they have the very loose fit.  Trousers were NOT meant to hug your butt.  They really wanted them to fit like a skirt- skimming your hips and rear loosely, then falling to a low crotch, and splitting into a bifurcated garment.


This image is from 1942, and this is what most of us think of when we think of vintage women’s trousers or pants.  They’re still for active wear, primarily.  You don’t often see them dressed up.  In some areas women were shunned if they wore pants.  In other areas (including California), they were more widely accepted and sometimes even worn to church- which shocked quite a few (or, so I read, in a 1939 Vogue magazine).

For your WWII impressions, you’ll want a look like these.  Are they suitable for every occasion?  No, if you want to be accurate. But for war work, home front work, gardening, the beach, or for collegiate looks they fit in great!  I wear them all the time in my day to day vintage inspired looks, because I’m honestly not trying to look like I’m out of a time machine- I just want to wear what I like.  But if accuracy is your thing, take heed and consider where you live and what your activity is if you want to wear vintage trousers for WWII impressions.


The mid-late 1940’s were all about teen culture.  Swing music was here to stay, and fashion followed the teen trends.  Here we’ve got three girls wearing teen styles.  Women’s trousers for other age groups followed similar lines but were a bit more conservative in tone.  Notice we’re getting the narrower legs as we move to the late 1940’s.  I’m 33, and I’d totally wear all of these outfits, unashamedly.

Also, take note- it’s the first time we see jeans as we think of them now!  Previously, women would have slacks in similar lines to the trousers I pictured made in denim (think my Smooth Sailing trousers), but by the mid 1940’s women had their own version of jeans like the men wore.  Previously, most women would wear men’s jeans if they wanted dungarees.  If we can’t have it, we’ll wear our brother’s until you give up our own. Worked with trousers, and it worked with jeans :)


Move into the 1950’s and things get slim.  Some trousers still followed the lines of the late 1940’s one on the far left, that I posted above, but most started getting really narrow legs.  We still don’t have the higher crotch point, like with modern pants (which you’ll notice if you look at the pictures above), but we started moving it a bit upward.   It’s the predecessor of the skinny jean- but mixed with the longer crotch length.  It’s an… interesting… fit ;)

- Let’s Get Technical -

So, what is “Sanforized”?  You may see this on a bunch of old catalog description, and sometimes even printed and woven on old labels.  It is NOT a fabric.  It is NOT a weave.  It’s a PROCESS.  It’s basically pre-shrinking your fabric by treating it.  Sometimes it’s done before sewing, sometimes it’s done after sewing.  This is still a widely used process in the textile industry on natural and cellulose based fibres.

What are “Mannish” or “Man-Tailored” slacks?  These terms were used interchangeably throughout the 1930’s and the 1940’s.  This just means they were a little more tailored- and usually followed the line of men’s trousers of the time.  Women’s trousers, however, almost always fastened up the side instead of the front until you get to the mid 1940s, and even then, it was most common for them to fasten at the side.  You do see them with front fastenings in some snapshots of the 1930’s, but these were usually actual men’s trousers, rather than women’s trousers.  Girls wore them.  Now, boys wear girl’s pants (kidding… kind of).  By the late 1950’s, you see front fastening, back fastening, and side fastening trousers.

What are Dungarees?  Dungarees and Jeans are basically the same thing.  It depends, really, on where you live.  Most people think of Dungarees or Jeans as the casual workwear trousers with topstitching details and pockets- the predecessor of today’s jeans or denim.  Denim is the weave of cotton that jeans or dungarees are made from.  It’s a twill weave and often thicker and sturdier than other twill weaves.  But Dungaree is also a fabric!  The difference between dungaree and denim is when they are dyed.  Dungaree fabric is dyed and then woven, and denim is woven and then dyed.

Now, let’s look at the Rise…

The easiest way to do this is through looking at vintage patterns and their pieces.




Check that out!  See the blue line across the middle?  That shows where all other rises compare with 1930’s rise (crotch length).

Does that explain why your vintage trousers don’t hug your butt the way you expected?

So, long story short- don’t expect to sew from a vintage pattern, or buy original vintage trousers, and have them fit like modern pants.  There’s more to them than the length and leg width!

For a momentary little ad from me… this is why I took SO LONG drafting the Smooth Sailing trousers.  This was originally a pattern and now  can be pre-ordered as ready to wear clothing well.  I was very familiar with the problems of vintage trousers.  They just don’t fit in a way that’s comfortable and flattering to most modern women because of what we’re now accustomed to wearing and seeing.  Because of this, I drafted the Smooth Sailing trousers to be a mid-point between mid-1930’s and modern fit.  They’ve still got a longer crotch line and looser fit from the hip down than modern trousers, but they also don’t ride up your butt like a lot of trousers we see now.  And you can pre-order the Smooth Sailing trousers to help get my clothing line launched!


And remember- all vintage trousers and pants were meant to fit at your natural waist.  For those who don’t know, that’s where the smallest part of your waist is, near your belly button.  When the 60’s came in we started getting low rise, but before that time, things hit higher.  Now, we call them “high waist”, but they really just sit at where your natural waist is.  We’ve just worn low rise pants for so long that most people have forgotten where the waist technically is located. :)

Want more vintage trouser inspiration?  Check out my Pinterest board for 1930s/40s Women in Trousers!

Do you have any questions about vintage trousers or pants? Let me know in the comments!


Dressing Vintage: 10 Simple Tips to Avoid Looking Costumey

Hi there!

I’m very thankful for your comments on my outfit posts.  I was pondering last night, in retrospect of some sweet comments, what sort of things I do in order to avoid looking too costumey when wearing vintage or vintage inspired clothing.


Casey of Casey Maura

There’s a lot of misconception out there on vintage or retro style. Many people think they can’t pull it off.  Others are afraid they’ll look out of place, or draw too much attention to themselves.  And still others are unhappy with their total look because they feel too much like they’re in fancy dress or costume.

We all have those random days when things don’t come together quite as well as we had hoped, but here’s some simple tips from me on how to not look costumey when wearing vintage or vintage inspired clothing.


Me wearing a vintage 1940’s suit

1) Decide if you want to do authentic vintage fashion (a head to toe period look) or vintage inspired fashion (adapting or mixing vintage with everyday clothing).  

For me, those are the top two ways I see vintage fashion worn.  There’s no right or wrong answer here- it’s all up to you and what you want to do with your look.  If you’re going for head to toe period- it’s time to dig into those original period sources.  If you’re going for a vintage inspired look, let overall aesthetic be your guide.


Katherine of The Fashionable Past, Ginger of Scene in the Past, and I at Costume College a few years ago. 

2)  Dress for Your Personality, Not Because You Think It’s “Right”

In the way you’ve dressed previously, what have been your favorite looks?  Chances are, if your past style sense had a general “feel” to it, you can find an equivalent in vintage fashion.  Are you a tomboy?  A girly girl?  Avante Garde artist?  Sensible and practical?  A career woman?  Well, regardless of what your lifestyle is, chances are there’s a vintage equivalent to you.  1920’s girls didn’t all wear fringe, 1930s girls didn’t all wear bias cut gowns, and 1950’s girls didn’t all wear poodle skirts.  So go poke around online (I suggest pinterest), and if one look grabs you instantly as something you would wear in real life, add it to your pin board.  There’s no real “right” or “wrong” way to dress in an era, because there were so many different styles in every single decade.  In fact, old magazines suggested you dress by “type”, just like fashion magazines of today.


Me wearing 1930’s style last summer.

3)  Avoid nude stockings with black seams.

There’s a reason you find these at somewhat racy lingerie stores.  Yes, they did very occasionally wear them, but, if you must wear stockings, search out nude ones with nude seams.  You don’t need to scream to the world “Look!  I’m wearing seamed stockings!” because they’re so contrasted in tone.  There should be a sort of overall aesthetic to your look, and perhaps people won’t even realize you’re wearing seamed stockings if they’re nude on nude, but it will just look *right*.  After all, you want to evoke a look in entirety, not break up the eye to a bunch of randomly “correct” details.  Harmony, simplicity, and natural looks.  Which brings me to…


Casey of Casey Maura- a woman of exceptional style.

4)  Select a statement piece

What’s going to speak the most out of the outfit you’re wearing?  Is it your dress print?  Your crazy novelty pin?  Your bakelite bangles? Your crazy hat?  I’m ALL for crazy, loud, and novelty print.  But the thing that keeps you from looking costumey is picking ONE statement thing.  Maybe two.  But certainly not more than three.  For example- crazy hat, crazy brooch, solid dress- works.  Crazy hat, crazy print dress, crazy brooch- doesn’t work in general (sure, there are the rare exemptions).  If in doubt, keep it simple.  Sometimes red lipstick is enough of a statement in itself.


Me at a living history event in San Diego.  I’m wearing trousers, a comfy blouse, flat shoes, and sunglasses, because I knew I was going to be active that day.

5)  Make it Livable

How do you feel when you’re wearing your outfit?  Do you feel like yourself, or do you feel like you’re charading as someone else?  Are you self conscious, or are you confident?  Our clothes can do amazing things for us.  But they can also make us feel out of sorts.  I think a lot of this comes down to practicality.  For example- I can’t clomp around in 3″ heels.  Ok, so I can for a VERY short time.  But i’m a klutz, and chances are I’ll trip over myself.  I would have to consciously watch my step and make sure I’m not going to trip/fall/make a general spectacle of myself.  If you’re thinking about a single article of your clothing more than you are what you’re doing or enjoying the company you’re with, it’s time to re-think that choice.  Sometimes it’s as simple as adding insoles or heel grips to a shoe, or holding a hat in place with a hat pin, or finding a lipstick that doesn’t go all over the place when you eat (and how do we always get it either on our chin or on our teeth?  Ok, maybe it’s just me).  But your style should appear conscious but effortless, and part of that is finding pieces that fit in with you and your lifestyle.


My friend, Katherine Brookes, always has impeccable vintage style.

6)  Find Flattering Hairstyle

It should be simple in essence, but sometimes it’s not.  One you’ve got one you’ve found that works for you and your face shape, you’re good to go.  It’s ok to do it over and over, or variations on that hairstyle, if it works.  Like clothing, there’s no “right way” to do hair for any given time period.  Check out photos of real people if you’re intimidated by the super polished looks you see other bloggers, or movie stars, wear.  Not everyone needs to have perfectly polished victory rolls to have vintage style.  And if you’ve got a flat spot, just add a hair flower or hair ornament, or hat.  People will think it’s intentional.  Really.  Just keep in mind pointer #3 when you look at the overall look.


My friend, Simone (of The Wardrobe Mistress on Etsy).  Photo by Gordon Ayres

7)  With Makeup- Easy Does It

Some people can pull off the super dramatic makeup or pin-up style. I can’t.  If you also can’t, I’m here to tell you there’s hope for us.  Go by the old standby- pick what’s the focus- lips or eyes.  Red lips, simple eyes.  Bold eyes, simple lips.  You don’t need concealer + foundation + powder, unless that’s what you normally do.  My old standby for makeup is red lips, nude eyes with medium brown crease, and maybe eyeliner if I’m feeling adventurous.  And if you aren’t comfortable with red lips, that’s totally ok!  There were a variety or red, pink, and corals that were worn through many different vintage decade.  I often wear a lip stain instead of a lipstick, even when doing daily vintage inspired looks, and you know what?  It totally works.


Beth of V is for Vintage.  Always expertly fitted, always tasteful in accessories.

8)  Select Clothing That Fits Well

This is probably not something that comes up too often on style tips, but one of the big things that makes something look more costumey than like clothing is the fit.  If you see sets of wrinkles going across any part of your body, it’s probably too tight.  If it doesn’t hug your curves or if it droops, it’s probably too loose.  Find something in the middle and the fit is just right.  There’s not much we can do about too tight, so if you’re faced with the choice ALWAYS get the one that’s a little too big.  You can either take it in yourself, or go to a tailor and get it altered to fit you perfectly.  It is an extra step and sometimes an extra expense, but it’s SO worth it to have clothing that fits you just right.  If you’re not sure where to find a place that does alterations, ask a local dry cleaner or do a search for alterations in your area.  And if it’s vintage, make sure you tell them to not cut out the extra fabric that’s there after the seams or hems are taken in- there may be a time you want to let it out later!


Me, pretending to be fancy.

9)  Embrace Your Good Points

We all have things we don’t like about our appearance or body type, but instead of festering about that, why not turn that around to something positive?  What’s something you LOVE about the way you look?  Do you have a tiny waist?  Emphasize it!  Great décolleté?  Wear more boat necks.  Long legs?  You can look tall and elegant in trousers and knee length skirts.  Pretty hair?  Add ornaments some pretty comb or flowers to your hear, or wear hats that really make everyone look at your hair.  Love the color of your eyes?  Wear colors close to your face that bring out that color.  Underplay the points you don’t like, emphasize the ones you do like.  And if someone pays you a compliment, don’t tell them what you don’t like about yourself or your look- just kindly say “thank you!” and give them a big smile :)


Me at the Huntington Gardens

10)  Be Confident

Once you’ve selected your look for the day, embrace it.  Don’t fuss in every mirror.  Don’t wonder if people are looking at you.  If people compliment you, give them big smile, look them in the eye, and thank them.  If they ask you funny questions “Are you in a play?”,  or ask a question or make a comment on your style, just be kind back and tell them you just like to wear vintage styles.  Most people are just curious, and some may even want to take up the look themselves!  Don’t take every notice as something negative.  Feel good about your choice, and just keep on enjoying your life.  Confidence and happiness are contagious :)


Beth and Chris Grover, modeling for my Kickstarter that’s up right now for my first clothing collection.  Check it out!

Do you have any vintage style tips?  Let me know in the comments!


Finished Project: Irene Castle & Lucile Inspired Gala Dress

Hello!  Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.  Today, I’m finally sharing my 2014 Costume College Gala Dress!

Several of us signed on to do a group project of Robe De Styles for this year’s Costume College.  While most people think of 1920’s gowns with the panniers for Robe De Style (see my Pinterest board here), I wanted to do a bit of a predecessor of the style by doing 19-teens style of a similar silhouette.


Lucile’s “Happiness” dress, in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

One of my favorite extant gowns of the 19-teens is the “Happiness” dress by Lucile from her 1916 Autumn collection.  Lucile was also known as Lady Duff Gordon, who was a survivor of the Titanic disaster.  If you’d like to see more of her work, check out my pinterest board.  Since I’ve been utilizing Pinterest a lot for my projects, you can also see the other looks that I was brainstorming and inspired by for my gala dress, here.


Lucile, 1919.  In the collection of the Met museum.

I loved the fullness of skirt of the “Happiness” dress, but I also loved the draped skirt on some of Lucile’s other work.

IreneCastle1I’ve also long been a fan of Irene Castle’s style.  Vernon & Irene Castle were a world famous husband and wife dancing team of the 19-teens.  Above she wears a Lucile creation.  You can see my Pinterest board of Irene Castle’s style here.

I was procrastinating for a long time on my Gala dress because I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do.  Inspiration overload!  I was also elbow deep in designing and prepping my new clothing line, and time was tight.  Finally, I dug in and went for it.

I started with a base of this pattern from the Vintage Pattern Lending Library for the bodice.  All else was pretty much draped or cobbled together from my knowledge of period construction by studying extant garments.  I was bad and didn’t even try it on, which meant that the torso was much too short for me (and I’m short waisted.  Disclaimer, there, if you want to buy that pattern).


I had seen tucks in several of the research photos I found, so I used a twin needle and started creating tucks to go around the waist.


A little too tuck-crazy, I played with the fabric on the form until I found I really liked the loop of this “seashell” kind of design, created by draping and twisting the fabric.

For fabric, I had a gold tissue lame silk chiffon in my stash which I had planned on using for an Edwardian gown.  I also had a sea green crinkle silk chiffon, and I bought the sea green silk taffeta in Los Angeles a few weeks before Costume College. With these, some belting, some beading, and some silk roses (made during class on Saturday!), I made this dress.


galadress1 galadress3

I am not a dancer, and not graceful, so luckily I had some help with posing from some friends and bystanders so I could attempt at the poses I loved in Irene Castle’s photos.


Here’s a black and white one, just for kicks, because it makes me feel like a time traveller :)


And me looking like an advert for drinking tea at dinner that night :)

Yay!  I love this dress!  I am a little unhappy I was in such a rush that I didn’t get to do the fittings I really needed, so the armholes are a little wonky and the torso is a little too short, but otherwise, I really love the dress and I’ll be looking for an excuse to wear it again.

And, because I was asked at Costume College- I’m sorry, there won’t be a pattern for this.  It was just a personal project, and it’s a bit too complicated to do into pattern form.

If you’re wondering, I get into the dress by opening at the side of the skirt.  The bodice is overlapped it at center front, and it snaps (or, it should snap, but it was really pinned) into place. It’s that crazy Edwardian/1910s puzzle piece of a way to get into garments.  If you’ve seen real ones, you’ll totally get what I’m saying.  They were really creative at fastenings back then.  Today, we have invisible zippers to do this- but they snapped and hooked at all sorts of strange places to make it look like your dress just magically was on your body without any obvious fasteners.  That’s one thing I wish that movies that are set in the 1910’s would do instead of putting a big ol’ zipper up the back.  But I digress… I hope you like the dress :)



Free Victorian Knitting Patterns: 1854 Men’s Traveling Cap + Knitted Flowers



Two posts, two days in a row?  I’m on a roll!

Today I’m sharing a pretty cool couple of pages from an antique Godey’s Ladies’ Book from 1854 that I found in Missouri this summer.  I know I may be a bit crazy, but I LOVE this knitted traveling cap.  How steampunk is this?

As a little bonus, there’s a little over a page of instructions for knitted flowers.  There’s no illustrations, so you’d have to try them out yourself from the old written instructions and see how they turn out.

If you make either of these items, please share with me!


Click on the images below fora  large version that you can read and print.gentcap gentcap2

1916: Uniforms for Women- A Theatrical


I have a funny little theatrical to share today that originally appeared in McCall’s Magazine, October, 1915.

I originally thought that this might have WWI women’s uniforms, but it’s not about that at all!  Very different than what we’d see today, we encounter a sort of history of fashion play- with outraged husbands tired of spending their money and allowances on their wives wardrobes.  Remember to read it with a view of the past- I know the attitudes are different than today.  But I really think those who love fashion history will get a little kick out of the cute, short play.  It might even be kind of fun to re-enact!

Click on each of the images to see the larger version.  I left the ads in, too, so you might get a kick out of seeing those.

ufw01 ufw02 ufw03 ufw04Lots of love,




Costume College Saturday

Finally continuing my Costume College posts-

Saturday I had several classes spread out again, so was not able to socialize too much.  Here’s some of my favorite snapshots from Saturday during the day.  Ginger of Scene in the Past did camera duty for part of the day, as I was in class.

Saturday seemed to be all about the details- which was perfect, because I love nerding out over the little fiddly bits and perfect accessories.


Merja’s beautiful fan (Before the Automobile)katherinetennis

Katherine’s incredible drawn work 1920’s tennis dress. (The Fashionable Past)

Merja’s incredible striped dress.  She’s a costuming rock star.samantha

Samantha’s fun 1820’s dress. (The Couture Courtesan)shoemontage

Shoe love!  From left to right:  Ginger, Samantha, Merja.  Merja made her stockings, too.shoesphoto

Aubry (A Fractured Fairytale) documenting the shoe and stocking love.wig

Merja’s lovely wig, which I heard through the grapevine, was styled by Kendra (Author of the new 18th Century Hair book).  And Ginger in the background.

Next Costume College post will be the Gala!





I’m so excited that we reached half of our initial funding goal this afternoon on Kickstarter!  YEAH!!  I’m blown away by all the support and sharing we’ve gotten in the last couple of days!  THANK YOU!!!

I’ve had some questions about what will happen if/when we meet our initial goal, so I’d like to answer that here!

Here’s the skinny on the details:

  • The  funding  goal is to meet actual production costs of the clothes getting made.   That means we’ll only get the funds to make the clothing if the full $15,000 goal is met.  The initial amount doesn’t include payment for any of my time over the last 6 months, nor does it include any of the funds spent on startup fees, legal fees, sample making, etc.
  • Our Kickstarter runs for 30 days, regardless of when we meet our goal.  If we meet it sooner, we will have more time to go over the initial goal amount!


  • EXPAND OUR SIZING-  If we go $5,000 or more over the initial goal amount, that means I get  a new dress form to expand our sizing.  First would be a larger misses’s form, but the more we raise I’d like to add a plus size form, and a men’s form.  That means I could do a larger size range of the current sizing, and be working toward plus size women’s clothing AND men’s causal vintage wear for the future!  Real fashion dressmaker forms are much more pricey and accurate than “dial” type home sewing forms, so the more money we raise, the more likely that it would be to happen.  I know the #1 complaint I’ve heard is about the limited size range, and I’d like to address that need.  The only way it will happen is if we raise more funds!
  • If we hit DOUBLE THE INITIAL GOAL, that means I can work on the next collection of clothing designs!  I will give you a hint of what I want to do in future collections.  Vintage women’s jeans.  Cut and sewn 30s and 40s sweaters.  Vintage inspired comfy knit tops.  Casual men’s shirts and jeans.  OH MAN.  I WANT TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN!  But it costs a lot up front to develop!


Here’s the link to the Kickstarter campaign!