Hot! Pattern Snobery

I'll freely admit that I am a snob when it comes to 1980s patterns, or rather, the illustrations or photographs on patterns from that decade (don't even get me started about 90s[1] patterns[2]). If the illustration or photo on the envelope is ugly — and they most always are — then I'll pass it right by. 

The thing that makes me a snob is that I'm unable to look past the bad hair and ugly fabric choices and accept that many of the designs could have been easily pulled from earlier — and more fabulous — decades. Take the 1970s, for instance. So much of the 1970s is a repeat of 1940s style. Wide pants, drastic collars, platforms, high waists — these were all trendy long before disco. My friend, Krissy, (who isn't a pattern snob) makes many of her "40s" styled dresses from 1970s patterns. The patterns are cheaper and a lot easier to find.

Take these two patterns, Simplicity 5449 from 1981 and the Simplicity 2018 from 1947. They're practically the same dress, but the 1947 version has the edge over 1981 because it's cute and illustrated and because the waist looks like it's about 20 inches. If I made the 1981 dress and said it was from the 1940s, I think few would doubt me.

 image from  image from

Or these two patterns:

 5959   image from
Oh Simplicity 5959, if only you did your hair a little cuter and had a cute hat, you could be a contender.

And how about these two:

 5644   image from 

The one from 1982 screams Jane Fonda in "9 to 5." Tweak the collar and the bow a little bit and you have this cute little New York pattern from the 40s.

Finally, overalls. They haven't changed much so this one is a bit of a gimme. 

 7006   image from

The point of all this?

I'm so much a pattern snob that even though I see how these 70s and 80s patterns can turn into fabulous frocks from my favorite eras, I just can't get past the ugliness of the envelopes. But that doesn't mean you should be a pattern snob too!

That's why I put these four patterns (plus 32 others!) in one lot for sale on Etsy. But if you're interested, act fast since I'm selling all 36 patterns for $25. SOLD


[1] Oh my. When writing this I, for a good couple seconds, forgot that the 1990s weren't the decade we were currently living in and equated the 1990s with contemporary patterns.

[2] That said, I don't know how Butterick manages to make the photos from their retro patterns look so darn unappealing. It's like they find the ugliest fabrics and consult the handbook of 1990s styling for their models. I've seen better styling on sewing blogs!


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


Comments are closed.

  1. *lol* I´m a pattern snob to!

  2. I think I’ve fallen into the pattern snobbery trap too – I kept looking back and forth between the 40s envelope and the 80s envelope, willing myself to see them as one and the same, but that voice in my head kept saying “yeah, but those 40s illustration girls are just so *cute*!”
    As an aside, I find it really funny that the 1990s was the present for you, for a moment. Those being the years of my pre-teens and teens, I frequently think that anything that happened in the 90s can’t be that long ago– you know, because that’s my youth. I guess it’s branded in me. And we’re now 20 years past the beginning of the 1990s, and that thought still blows my mind. Every time.

  3. I had See & Sew 5148 in at least two different fabrics. My mother made them and mailed them to me at college. One had a fabulous border print. I wore it with a big hat for Easter my freshman year. I made just the skirt from that pattern over spring break that year in a black, royal blue, and white stripe. I think I wore it with a short-sleeved cotton sweater with puffed sleeves. :-)
    We recently found a bunch of patterns from this era, along with the fabrics my mother bought to make them, in her house. I remember that at the time some of the fabric seemed cheaper than I wanted, especially for formalwear (my mom made gorgeous formalwear, like a retro strapless pink satin dress with a boned bodice and two layers of tulle), but 25 years later it feels much nicer than the costume-grade stuff that JoAnn and Hancock’s call “special occasion” fabric. One of the things we found was a Brooke Shields pattern for wide cuffed pants, a slim skirt, and a nipped-in jacket with big shoulders that I remember buying just because the pieces looked like Katharine Hepburn would have worn them in the 40s.

  4. It makes you wonder just how much design work is going on now, or if they’re just fishing around flea markets and antique stores to find stuff to rehash.

  5. I am with you, a total pattern snob! Give me vintage any time.

  6. You might want to write a letter/e-mail to the Big 4 pattern companies… last time I mentioned something about a pattern being harder to understand then the wedding dresses I make…. they wrote back asking me to send any idea’s I might have on how to fix this pattern. Plus on top of that, they asked for my snail mail and sent me a coupon for a free pattern or two. It doesn’t hurt. Besides… they want to keep you as a customer!
    The dress is cute… I really like the one you made for your little one!