Friday, June 5, 2015

Boomer Patterns

Simplicity Sewing Book from PengyPatterns

This article was spurred by a recent email conversation with a lady asking if I would purchase her mother's Simplicity patterns from the late 1960s to mid 1970s.  She seemed to have a difficult time understanding why I declined the offer. As I told her, I have more than enough patterns from that time period. This post in an explanation of the reasons for that situation.  

First and foremost is the fact there are more or less 38 to 40 million baby boomers (world-wide estimate from AARP) who were of high school and/or college age in the years from about 1968 - 1974.  We are the children of the Greatest Generation who survived the Depression and World War II. Our mothers learned to sew at an early age out of necessity.  After the war ended and families begun, these women sewed for their children, especially their daughters.

By the time we reached high school, many of us had a weekly ritual of visiting the fabric store and selecting a pattern and material with which to make it.  Simplicity patterns were our favorite. These patterns were fast and easy for our experienced seamstress mothers to sew and inexpensive to purchase.  Many boomers also sewed and could whip up a dress or outfit in a night or two.  We were well-dressed and possessed large wardrobes, yet we were often heard lamenting "I don't have anything to wear Friday night."

Simplicity ad found on pinterest

The mini-skirt retained its popularity. Look carefully at the collage below and you'll notice that some tops and tunics were not a great deal shorter than our dresses. Bell bottom pants grew even wider and  rode low on the waist.  Vests were popular and the more daring of us wore nothing beneath them when parents were not around. If worn alone, the vest usually closed with a hook and eye.  Swimsuits became skimpy (too skimpy, our mothers scolded). Some swimsuit patterns of this time are becoming more collectible due to scarcity, as mom probably vetoed the purchase. At the time, most of us thought the fashions were a perfect blend of mod and hippie styles. They were fun to make and wear, and unlike the clothes of our parents. 

There was a definite shift in style during the mid-to-late 1970s, coinciding with the years we graduated from high school and college. The second half of the 70s ushered in polyester pants suits, track suits, and jumpsuits for both men and women. Hemlines dropped, in part due to the fact so many of us entered the work force and needed to dress in a more professional and adult manner. Generally, patterns from the latter half of the decade are also abundant.

This brings us to the age-old balancing of supply and demand.  There are millions of female baby boomers who may have an estimated average of fifty to one hundred patterns each. This is based on the number of patterns my friends and I had while in high school and college.   There is far more supply than demand, even with the renewed interest in 1970s fashions.  Many of our mothers have passed away and the patterns sold, sending them to the marketplace. As boomers retire and down-size, even more of these patterns are becoming available.  After cleaning out her sewing room, a dear friend (also a boomer) gave me about 100 patterns which she made while in high school and college. Her kind gesture indicates how many patterns from this time are still available. A search of some of this era's patterns on etsy shows as many as twenty copies of certain patterns. 

This is not to say patterns from this time frame are not collectible or sought after, because they are.  However, the vast majority are not yet to the point where they are considered scarce, rare, or hard to find. 

When contemplating purchasing a pattern from this period, there are some things to keep in mind.  As the patterns were inexpensive, we would pick and choose which item of it we wanted.  For example, the vest from Pattern A, pants from Pattern B and top from Pattern C would comprise an outfit.  This is one reason so many patterns are found with only one article cut out.  There is a downside to this practice, however. Some moms threw away the pieces they didn't use.  Others, recalling the austerity of the Depression years, saved them, thinking perhaps the pieces would be needed someday.  Before buying any vintage pattern, ensuring that all pieces are present is important.

As we completed college and went out into the world, sewing our own clothes became too time consuming for many of us. Eventually, our mothers had grandchildren to sew for and the tradition continued.  Now we are the grandparents and sew for our grandchildren when they agree to it. Store-bought clothing seems to be what they want to wear.  Perhaps someday they will look back on their childhood and recall when grandma made them a special outfit.

by kinseysue on etsy 

AARP website

Below is a sampling of  late 60s - mid 70s patterns available from the Pattern Patter team on etsy. Credits are below the collage.

ROW 1 - Simplicity 8830 from LagunaLane; McCall's 5888 from PeoplePackages; Simplicity 8208 from GreyDogVintage; Simplicity 8413 from sydcam123; Simplicity 8210 from kinseysue

ROW 2 - Simplicity 8779 from SewAsItWasPatterns; Simplicity 9597 from ErikawithaK; McCall's 3683 from PatternMemories; Simplicity 8512 from Clutterina; Simplicity 9574 from PengyPatterns

ROW 3 - Simplicity 6926 from RedcurlzsPatterns; Butterick 6706 from GrandmaMadeWithLove; Simplicity 5644 from sewbettyanddot; Simplicity 9800 from RebeccasVintageSalon; McCall's 4063 from RomasMaison

ROW 4 - Simplicity 9533 from PatternandStitch; Butterick 4821 from JeaniesShop; McCall's 4066 from Fancywork; Simplicity 6034 from PurplePlaidPenguin; Simplicity 9754 from CloesCloset

ROW 5 - McCall's 5453 from VogueVixens; Simplicity 9573 from allthepreciousthings; Simplicity 9630 from BluetreeSewing; Simplicity 6280 from Fragolina; Simplicity 9725 from allsfairyvintage


  1. I can find 1960s quite easily at thrift shops and estate sales. This essay wonderfully explains why this is so.
    I do understand why your friend was perplexed why you didn't jump on her collection of 1960s with great enthusiasm. I do think that many of the '60s patterns are quite fetching but due to limited storage space I usually pass them up. Nevertheless I see positive comments that they are becoming more popular.

  2. Very insightful article Kinseysue, explains why there are so many 1970s patterns.
    Being just past this era myself I can still relate to the part of this one, part of that one.
    Individualism rang loud !
    Keep them coming !

  3. Very interesting subject matter. I think the older patterns (1950s and earlier) are also scarcer because many people considered them worthless and threw them away when cleaning out estates after parents died. I have heard this again and again. Post-eBay, people are more likely to think twice before tossing something out.

  4. Another great read! I love going through 70s patterns - takes me back in time to junior high and high school, when I taught myself to sew...

  5. Great info, and yes, I too try to explain to people why there are so many Simplicity patterns from the 1960s and '70s. They make me nostalgic, too...those afternoons at the fabric store! Doesn't the smell of fabric take you back?

  6. I fell in love with McCall's 70's patterns because of some of the covers, they made you want to sew them and I was just the right age to scarf up as many as I could. I made a ton of them and still have my very favorites in my private collection. Thank for great article!

  7. Love the article. Great information about why they are so readily available.

  8. I love this article. As a teen in the 60-70's I gravitate towards those patterns and am often disappointed in there value. Now I better understand why they are not worth as much. Thank you.

  9. This is a great article and it explains why there are so many patterns from this era and why they are selling so inexpensively.