Design Inspiration: Vintage Casual Wear

I spent some time the other day doing a little “legwork” before cutting into my pretty selvedge-stretch denim.  I didn’t find much to admire in current RTW (surprise!) but I like these boyfriend jeans from Gap:

Maybe I’m drawn to the red shoes and stripey shirt.  I know, they’re kind of… boring.  Naturally, I turned to Vintage Pattern Wikipedia (click images to visit the page) to see what I could find from decades past.

At first glance, this is a rather ordinary 1940’s working women’s ensemble.  Tough, utilitarian.  I like that about the 40’s.   Look closer at the pocket treatment.  I wonder if that would work for my jeans?  I think I’d use a snap rather than a button…

As I clicked through the wiki, I found myself distracted by ensembles like this 1943 McCall’s.  It’s tempting to think that the 40’s were nothing but drab utiltarian clothes, but then I find lovely bright combinations like this.  I am not the person to pull off a mustard jerkin with purple pants and whatever it is on her head, but I like it.  The red and white playsuit in the back isn’t bad, either.

Another McCall, more interesting combinations.  Part of the charm lies in the style of the illustration, but I don’t mind the colors and patterns.  Again, I can’t wear mustard but I could see myself pairing houndstooth pants with a purple or a blue sweater and red shoes.  I like the aqua and deep red on our other friend, too.

I dug around and found this from 1932- I bet it would be quite airy (raglan sleeves, wide legged pants) on a hot summer day.  It’s nautical without playing you a hornpipe.  I like the colors, too- no sombre blacks, whites or grays.

I skipped ahead to the 50’s, still looking for pants inspiration,  instead finding more ways to have fun with color.  The girl in the two-piece suit must be a “glamour girl”- she’s protecting her complexion with a wide hat, and her perfectly-coiffed hair is safely tied up in a scarf for a day out on the sand and surf.


Check out the single welt and cargo pockets on these ordinary straight pants.  Sure, the waist is a bit high for most tastes, but otherwise this looks like something Mary Nanna (Queen of Antipodean “frumpy”-quirky casual wear) might whip up, perhaps in slubbed silk.

And finally, this.  I don’t know what to say, especially about the pants, but I had to share.  What would run through someone’s mind as they bought this pattern, let alone put in the time and materials to sew it?  Is that why the lady in front is laughing?  Are we funny, are they funny, or is it more of a knowing laugh like “Yes, we’re wearing Bozo’s underpants in the weirdest way imaginable, but it is rather a gas…”??

Where do you turn for design and sewing inspiration?  Is it burda or another excellent fashion-sewing mag?  Other blogs?  Vintage patterns?  Sneaky shopping in retail stores?

Today is the last day of the Pants Block Giveaway, be sure to leave a comment by midnight BNE.  A friend of mine is coming over later this week for me to fit her, and she’s agreed to share the process with all of you- I’m super excited!


  1. The navy pants with the red double breasted blouse screams Steph to me … and you could wear your red shoes! Inspired by something I read on your blog a couple of years ago, I am about to make a high waisted pair of black pants with a back zip, so I am right into this look at the moment. Having said that, though, I am now quite inspired by the 50’s outfit with the slim pants, tunic length top and cute flat sandals. Very appropriate and quite fashionable in 2012, I think. As for where I get my fashion inspiration it is, without a doubt, you and other fellow bloggers who inspire me more than any magazine or designer!

    • Hey, I was thinking that too… I guess that means I have something of a consistent “style” (finally!)…

      Ooooh Black K.Hep pants! Will be looking forward to seeing what you do with them, they’re so so so comfy and I feel like I’m starting to see “chic” people wearing them…

      Aw thanks. :) I would never have found my “style” without looking at other bloggers, too.

  2. That lady in 4583 is wearing a long stocking cap on her head. They were all the rage when I was in elementary school and jr high. I think they got bumped out by toe socks, though.
    I can see any of the first 4 pair on you. The Advance Bozo pants are hilarious, but the dress could be quite cute in the right fabric. That polka dot is NOT the right fabric.

  3. You can buy big polka dot fabric at The Shop Of which We Do Not Speak. I love that suit, it’s so very Austen Powers! Go on, you know that there is a Dr Seuss character lurking beneath the surface wanting to express itself ;-)

  4. I just adore that 1932 outfit, especially the red (orange?) and blue combo. I might have to make room in my budget for the Wearing History Smooth Sailing trouser pattern…

  5. Oh, dear… That last one… You would have to a lot of courage to walk about in THAT! If I ever saw someone wearing it, I think I would double over and die of laughter! It really does only need some giant, obnoxious shoes and a big red nose. I just had to comment.

  6. And you can borrow ideas for alternate closures, too, from vintage casual wear. I inherited from my aunts — yonks ago — a pair of women’s denim jeans from the early 1950s. They closed with a metal zipper, on the side seam, but you could not tell how the jeans fastened when they were zipped up. The seam was finished as if there was no zipper there: it looked like the same flat-felled seams used throughout the rest of the pant. One wag (a very dreamy, very blond soccer player) approached me in the college cafeteria to ask, “We’ve been wondering at our table, how would we get into your pants?” “Flattery,” I answered.

  7. That last pattern is doing serious disservice to polka dots, particularly as pants.

    Usually fabrics really are the starting point for my inspiration. Blogs are influencing my shopping habits more and more. I will see something in store and be reminded of someone doing something with it. Say Sewaholic posting about rayon. However, 6 months later when I’m looking through my fabric and patterns for ideas, I can’t remember what the blog that inspired the purchase made with it.

    I find sewing is often like an itch. I find myself thinking of something for a while, can’t completely shake it, end up doing it. Sometimes there is a lot of pondering between the first thought and completion. I bought the grey corderoy thinking it would be a nice skirt. I didn’t get it put away for a while and everytime I passed it it said skirt to me. After a while, I can’t ignore that.

    • Yes- I’m glad I’m not the only one who operates that way! I also like to leave UFOs I feel guilty about lying around, hung on doors or over a window so I have to think through the problem…

      But really, I find sometimes the BEST ideas are the ones that percolate on the back burner in my mind, and then suddenly -bam- I act on it… Funny though, when it’s forced it isn’t as good.

  8. Hee, I pretty much live in a stripey shirt, red converse and jeans. I like the flat fronts for stretch denim, unless your fabric is drapey? I really want to make a pair of very, very high-waisted jeans. (That will be a fun fitting experiment!)

    • Ooooh– If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, you’re a little afraid I’d go for pleated front jeans? Noooooo…. hehehee. Flat fronts all the way.

      It depends on the jeans design… I have a pair that are super high, I basically built a light mini corset into them… They’re fun to wear but they aren’t my “go-to” jeans.

      Well…I don’t really wear much jeans, but I’m trying to explore jeans a little to see what happens… My “go-to” pants are my schlubby old organic cotton Smooth Sailing trousers…

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