How to Put Together A Wardrobe- 1938

Do you want to dress vintage daily but have no idea where to start?  Or, perhaps, you are going on a vacation and want your wardrobe to be all of a certain era?  Perhaps it’s a weekend event, or you just really dig classic styles?

Well, as usual, original period sources are the way to go to find out what to wear!

I’ve had this catalog for ages, and until today I never realized just what this page was selling.

This is from National Bella Hess catalog’s “Bargain Parade” from 1938.

Four exciting outfits!

This grouping from National Bella Hess comes with four different pieces for one price.  They were purposefully coordinating so you could get many looks.

Included were a suit and a two-piece dress.  But… all could mix and match!

If you’re not familiar with the term “two piece dress”, that’s a very vintage term for a matching blouse and skirt in coordinating fabrics.  In fact, if you look on the old patterns you’ll often think it’s a suit, but it’s actually a two-piece dress.  Two-piece dresses were made in dress weights, not suit weights. In this example, the dress is a rayon crepe.

The suit in this ensemble would be a slightly heavier garment.  That’s why you’ll see the outfits in the small images being paired with each other, but you’ll never wear a heavier top with a lighter weight skirt.  The skirt should always equally or more substantial than the blouse.

For mix and match-

  • Wear the suit with the blouse of the two-piece dress
  • Wear the blouse and skirt of the two-piece dress
  • Add the jacket from the suit with the blouse of the two-piece dress
  • Wear the blouse of the two-piece dress with the skirt of the suit (without jacket)

    For convenience, here’s a quick visual guide of all the looks you could make other than the two main images.

You’ll also notice this solves the problem I often have of “what jacket can I wear with this spring/summer dress without looking top-heavy?”  The answer is to have a jacket (or suit) of a suitable lighter summer weight.  So often the surviving vintage suits are the winter suits.  We need more summer suits in linens or crepes or rayons!  As usual with the rarer styles, this is where sewing for yourself comes in handy!  The view with the cape is the heavier of the two- it was of a flannel- which is likely a lighter weight than we think of for winter suits.  Rayon sharkskin made up the suit on the right- and if you’ve ever had one, you’ll know it.  Rayon sharkskin was the most delightful fabric- wonderfully cool and crisp.  I’ve only owned one, but it was amazing!  Unfortunately, that fabric is no longer made, though I have a very, VERY short length from an estate sale I’ve been hoarding for the perfect project.  You may want to substitute a linen or linen look (rayon blend) instead.

For colors, the suit on the left came in rose pink, beige, or dawn blue.  the dress was either gray or beige print.  For the outfit on the right, the suit was white.  The dress was either red or “deep Copen”, which was a blue.

And for those who say “I wish I could get this for $6.98 or $5.48,” the price today equates to $124.03 for the ensemble on the left or $97.38 for the ensemble on the right.  Still a deal!


What do you think?  Will you make a wardrobe inspired by this idea?

4 Comments on How to Put Together A Wardrobe- 1938

  1. Stephanie
    June 9, 2018 at 5:57 am (6 years ago)

    This type of thing is exactly why I’m more of a separated person than a dress person. Mixing and matching separates is so much fun. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Black Tulip
    June 9, 2018 at 3:22 pm (6 years ago)

    Ah, I’ve often wondered why so many of my vintage patterns are for a ‘one-piece dress’, when to my mind a dress is obviously one piece. Thank you for the explanation.

  3. Nina
    June 11, 2018 at 1:45 pm (6 years ago)

    Oooh! Stuff like this “vintage capsule wardrobe” stuff is basically better than chocolate to me! Evidence that we’ve always been obsessed with certain concepts!? Sign me up! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Quinn
    June 13, 2018 at 1:52 pm (6 years ago)

    This is lovely. :) I’ve got too many things to do on my sewing list to add this right now, but I’ll certainly keep the idea in mind for the future.


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