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Sew For Victory – finding authentic 40s inspiration

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spring1941Sears3

spring1941Sears3

(Sears, Roebuck and Co. Spring 1941)

With this sewing challenge there are countless places to pull inspiration from in order to complete your 40’s look. Lately there seems to be a rise in WWII inspired movies and television shows, which I think is awesome (I just started watching Bomb Girls)! Recreating a look from a 40’s themed movie is totally acceptable for this challenge, but if you’re like me, you’re mildly obsessed with recreating authentic 40’s to the best of your ability. One thing I’ve learned from reenacting is the movies don’t always get it right. More importantly I’ve learned researching actual historic records gives you a greater personal connection to vintage sewing. That’s my favorite part!

Of course, not everyone has to take their 40’s sewing to this kind of level, but the history buff in me craves this kind of research! So with that said…

Become friends with your local librarian!
One of the best resources you can reference for authentic 1940’s looks are “real life” items like year books, photographs, department store catalogs, magazines, and newspapers. Most larger/college libraries will have a special section on local history. See if they have any year books from the 40s! Vintage year books will give you a fantastic idea of what kinds of clothing and hairstyles were worn in that day. Check out this photo I found of the University of Vermont’s Women’s Ski Team of 1942!

skiteam1942

Use that free trial membership at Ancestry.com!
Now, if local archives aren’t available to you, there are plenty of authentic references to be found online. The one that was most recently suggested to me is the Sears and Roebuck catalog archives found on Ancestry.com! HUGE thanks to Tasha for recommending this one to me! I’m currently browsing on a free trial membership, but I might just start paying for the service because there are literally THOUSANDS of pages of true authentic 40’s inspiration spanning the entire decade. And look! It’s even useful when cross referencing inspiration! Check out these ski outfits from the Fall catalog of 1940:

1940sSki

And can I just point out some other AMAZING clothing from these Sears catalog archives? I’m especially loving the looks of Spring 1944!

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After seeing so many black and white photos from the era, it’s hard to picture colors and prints like these! Talk about dressing to boost morale! spring1944Sears2

It wasn’t all pleats and pretty dresses though, check out these working girl styles! Yep, they had t-shirts too (rayon jersey was in abundance)!

spring1944Sears3

More color in the Spring 1943 catalog:

spring1943Sears

spring1943Sears2

Check out the Google LIFE archive!
Google Images also has a fantastic archive of photos from the 40’s, especially from LIFE magazine. This is the resource I used to find all my farm fashion inspiration.

googlelife

Library of Congress on Flickr!
Their color photos of the 30s and 40s is especially neat!

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Other Resources:
I also find Glamour Daze to be a great source for WWII related inspiration in regards to how the war impacted fashion in the 40’s.

And, of course, The Bellas Hess catalog that I mentioned last time. The $3.95 it costs to download this reference sounds REALLY appetizing when I saw how much a membership costs at ancestry.com!

In conclusion, the personal connection to vintage sewing is really what interests me in recreating these looks. I love reading about women during the war and how the time period impacted their way of life. When you picture yourself in their shoes, it really makes you take a step back and think about what it means to “Make Do and Mend”. You start to look at your sewing scraps a little differently. You find yourself taking less impulsive trips to the fabric store. You plan your projects better knowing you can’t just buy more supplies when you mess up. Since researching the 40’s, sewing has gotten so much less stressful for me! Just being able to put my serger away and pick up a pair of pinking shears has already made sewing more fun. I’ve learned to appreciate when my garments LOOK handmade on the inside! Imagine how valuable a skill like sewing was back then! That’s a skill I’m proud of today.

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 (Sears, Roebuck and Co. Spring 1941)

I’ll be sharing more specific information on fabrics and fiber content next time!

Stay tuned :)

Feedback

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  • sallieforrer

    It’s so cool to see some of the color advertisements! Those prints!! Wow!
    I also really love your reflections on why researching vintage is of importance to you. The concept of being proud when something looks handmade is a little bit foreign to the modern sewing community – but you’re right – it’s such a source of pride!

    • Rochelle New

      Yeah that strawberry print is blowing my mind! I would have NEVER seen that one coming! So neat. I used to be obsessed with having my handmade clothes look not handmade. But the more I get into this kind of vintage sewing, the more I like when my clothes look professional but juuuuuust hand made enough so people ask me if I made it :) It’s definitely something to be proud of! Especially in this day in age.

  • Tasha @ By gum, by golly!

    Great round-up! I just LOVE those Sears catalog pages, don’t you just want pretty much everything in them? I haven’t ventured into sewing with knits yet but someday I’d like to sew some basic t-shirts like the one you posted. When I first saw that some time back I was thrilled to see a vintage example of them!

    • Rochelle New

      YES!! I’m trying not to look at the 50’s stuff yet because then I’ll really get side tracked! lol I’ve sewn with knits before and it’s honestly not as hard as people are led to believe. I just prefer to work with wovens so I don’t use knits much. But you’re right, that t-shirt and dungarees look is REALLY calling my name!

  • Debi_myhappysewingplace

    Fantastic set of reources! I had known about ancestry.com ever since Mena posted about it on her blog (and luckily I already had a membership)! Isn’t it amazing?? I didn’t know about the Life archives! Super excited to check this out!!

    • Rochelle New

      Yeah there’s some great stuff in the LIFE archives! And yes, ancestry.com is amazing and I’m totally losing hours of my life to the thousands of pages of catalog inspiration haha!

  • Brigid

    How do you find the Sears & Roebucks pages on Ancestry.com? I have a subscription, and I really want to find out how!

    • Rochelle New

      It took me a second to find it myself actually. Go to the home page and at the top “search” navigation, scroll down to “search all records”. Then on the right hand side of that page, where it says special collections/historical records, scroll all the way down towards the bottom where it says Photos&Maps and click Pictures. Then on that page, in the box where it says “more”, search for “Sears”. Then (last step! lol) on the left side, the first link should say “Historic Catalog of Sears…”. That’s the link you want! Sorry, I hope I explained that well enough! Let me know if you’re still having trouble :)

  • Craft Sanctuary

    Wow! Thanks for all the inspirational photos and links. I have a couple of patterns in mind right now, but I’m having trouble figuring out what fabric to use. These will definitely help :)

  • Shelly

    More links, fabulous! I paid the $3.95 for The Bellas Hess catalogue after you recommended it and couldn’t agree more. It’s a fantastic source for inspiration.

  • Jessica Cangiano

    Rochelle, I adore this post and really appreciate the wide array of sources you mentioned. Each one of these has been incredibly helpful to me over the years, and I’m sure will always continue to be, as I’ve studied more about the decades that are nearest and dearest to my heart.

    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* I sooo want that white summer dress with the big red strawberries on the skirt. I have a soft spot for vintage clothes and accessories featuring fruit, especially strawberries.

  • bubiknits

    that’s what I did yesterday night too! I found a photo history archives in Milan that has so many family and life portrait from 1890 to 1950. I browse the Forties era and found lot of ispiration on how womens looks in that era in Italy! (not far from US looks by the way).

    • Rochelle New

      I LOVE that you have a different 40’s perspective than just America. That’s so neat! You should post some of those photos :)

  • Sarah

    Such fabulous photos! I am normally a 50’s girl but am looking forward to sewing some fab 40’s pieces for my wardrobe.

  • Rachel Marie

    Oooh, nice to see some color photos! I could probably live in pinafores, esp. that one on the left :D

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A Blog By Rochelle New

Fabric wizard and wielder of needles with a passion for bygone eras and natural things. Making magic and messes in the backwoods of New York.

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