I don't know what proportion of garments were home-made versus store-bought. This of course varied significantly over time. In looking at historical images, there are a lot of boys wearing clothing that was not sewn to the standards that we expect to find these days. This ws not apparent in paintings wherethe clothes could be improved upon or debot wealthy people who could afford well-tailored clothes. It is apparent in early photograhs. Today people around the world can buy high quality ready-made clothing at very cheap prices, but that wasn't always the case. I get the impression that ready-made clothing was widely available in the United States earlier than in many other countries. This may have been because the United States had a large middle class earlier than some other countries. The middle class wanted more clothing than the homemaker could produce for her family, but couldn't afford to buy their clothing made-to-order as the wealthy could. The mass-market apparel industry filled that need. I think that the change from home-made clothing to ready-made clothing had a significant effect on styles.
I don't know what proportion of garments were home-made versus store-bought. This of course varied significantly over time. The chronological trends were significantly affected by both the inventionm of the sewing machines and the availability of sewer-friendly patterns.
In looking at historical images, there are a lot of boys wearing clothing that was not sewn to the standards that we expect to find these days. This ws not apparent in paintings wherethe clothes could be improved upon or debot wealthy people who could afford well-tailored clothes. It is apparent in early photograhs. Today people around the world can buy high quality ready-made clothing at very cheap prices, but that wasn't always the case.
A HBC reader writes, "I get the impression that ready-made clothing was widely available in the United States earlier than in many other countries. This may have been because the United States had a large middle class earlier than some other countries." HBC is not sure about this, but the develpment of sweing machine in America was an important factor. Perhaps even more important factor was the development of consumer credit. The technology of manufacturing a sewing machine was relatively easy for countries like Britain and Germany to copy or develop. Developing a consumer credit system, especially one for low-income consumers was a greater challenge. This was no small matter. It was a factor in America outpacing European industry in the late-19th and early-20th century. And a sewing machine not only mean that a mother could sew better quality clothes more raspidly, but if she was skilled, she could lsaunch a small business. America in the area of consumer credit outpaced every other country in the wiorld. And it meant that most Americans, even those of very modest incomes could afford a sewing machine. American was also a leader in sewer friendly patterns. The Butterick graded paterns may be a factor here. Armed with a sewing machine and easy to use pattern, there was little a sewer of een modest skills could not achieve. We notice much more elaborate embroidery and decoration in many European countries than was the case of children's clothes made in America. Our information on sewing trends in various countries is still quite limited, but it is an important topic that needes to be developed.
Some inventions have proven so important that we can scaresly imagine what life was like before its appearance. The sewing machine is one of the key inventions that have helped to shape our modern world. Not many inventions have proved as important as the sewing machine. It appears on virtually every list of great inventions and helped freed the homemaker from drudgery faced by 19th century mother. "Next to the plough" wrote Louis Antoine Godey in 1856, "this sewing machine is perhaps humanity's most blessed instrument." The sewing machine appears in the mid-19th century. The sewing machine played a mjor role in home sewing. It gave a woman with limited hand sewing kills the ability to achiebe excellent results. It also was an important labor saving device.
HBC has wanted to begin a section on patterns for some time. Very little information is available at this time. Patterns are, however, an important topic. Many
19th-century fashions were not avialable as ready-made clothes, but rather as patterns. I believe that mass-market patterns were first added to the fashion magazines
that became so popular in the late 19th century. I believe the first magazine to dothis was The Delineator. Soon they were a regular feature of fashion magazines.
Soon the pages were full of illustrations for patterns which could be purchased. I'm not sure just when companies like Buternick began marketing them. Patterns for
boys' clothes were never as common as for girls and women. After the turn of the century ready made clothes became more common then patterns. Many mothers
sewed in the first half of the 20th century, but it was more common to sew for their daughters than sons. Patterns for younger boys were popular, but clothes for
older boys were mostly bought in stores.
We are not yet sure how home sewing was affected by social-class factors. We suspect that in the 19th century even quite affluent mothers bought patterns, such as the ones from The Dlineator. At least the patterns offered in the 19th century seem the sort of clothes middle-class or even upper-class boys might wear. Of course affluent mothers might have the pattern actually sewed in xhops or by servanys.
The middle class wanted more clothing than the homemaker could produce for her family, but couldn't afford to buy their clothing made-to-order as the wealthy could. The mass-market apparel industry filled that need. In the 20th century we suspect that home sewing was mostly done by working-class and lower-middle class mothers, but we are not at all psitive about this. Our information is till very limited.
We suspect that city mothers bought more clothing in stores while rural mothers were more likely to sew the family clothes, or at least part of the family clothes. We are fairly confident that this was generally true, although we have little information to confirm denographic trends at this time.
Gender was surely a factor in home sewing. Basically the skirted garments that women and girls wore were easier to sew thant the jackets, shirts, and trousrs that men and boys wore. In addition, mothers proably got more satisfaction in dmaking clothes for their daughters. They could be creative abd add ribbons, lace, ruffles, and other decorations which their daughers probably loved. Boys would be moke likely to complain if mother attempted such creativity.
A HBC reader writes, "I think that the change from home-made clothing to ready-made clothing had a significant effect on styles. When mom made your clothes, she wanted you to be able to wear an item for several years. She also wasn't necessarily the world's best seamstress. So instead of sewing clothes that fit you precisely, she allowed for some growth. This meant that your pants were likely to fall down if they didn't include an effective suspension system. A belt would do if the trousers were close to
your body size, but suspenders were a better choice for trousers that were mean to fit a growing boy. Another choice dictated by the fact that boys grow is the length of the trousers. If a boy is to wear a pair of trousers for several years, then either they should have cuffs that can be adjusted as the boy grows, or the trousers should be short. Thus suspender shorts were a natural choice for boyswear, as were the deeply-cuffed bib overalls that rural American boys
Now that inexpensive ready-made clothes are globally available, boys are dressed in trousers that are made in sizes that closely match their body size, and those trousers are discarded after a year or two. The assumption that boys must wear shorts has now become a quaint idea, and suspenders have gone the way of the sailor suit.
But what's also been lost is the creativity that mothers used to express in making their families' clothes. If some idea came into her head, she could make an item of clothing that realized that idea. Now the only people who can easily express their fashion ideas are the clothing manufacturers, but they aren't going to stick their necks out on a novel design. The manufacturers don't produce new designs one at a time, but in lots of thousands. If they can't sell something, they lose a ton of money. Thus the new designs that they produce must be very similar to what is already out there, and so the world's fashion industry has become very conservative.
Notions is an American retail term for small items useful to home sewers displayed together in shops. . We are not sure if the term is used in Britain or if there are similar terms in other languages. The most important are probably items like buttons, snaps and zippers also used in comercial garment manufacture. Every store is a little different, but notions might include: baskets, decorative trim, elastic tape, embroidered edging, gadgets, lace, labels, pins, measuring tools, needles, thread, ribbons, scissors, dewing machine accessories, and other cutting tools, and a variety of other items. These are general categories with many specific items included in each category. Shops often had a notions counter. Larger stores might have a larger selection amd display. One reader mentions, for example, button-hole elastic.
There are some references to home sewing in the HBC biography and families pages. We have not yet linked many of the pages in our archive here, but this is one of the many projects we plan. We do note references to a Canadian family in the 1920s. The mother remembers habing to mend under waists.
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