“Brenda Marshall” Hollywood Patterns 715 , The Hollywood Pattern Company, ca.1940s. Image courtesy of private collector.

“Brenda Marshall” Hollywood Patterns 715, The Hollywood Pattern Company, ca.1940s. Image courtesy of private collector.

Hollywood And The Home Sewer

During the Great Depression, Americans looked to Hollywood to help escape the challenges of their daily lives. Moving pictures provided the fantasy world that people craved, while silver screen stars bestowed Hollywood glamour upon the country through their costumes. Butterick, “The World’s First Name in Sewing Patterns,” bridged this gap by offering a dozen paper patterns of costumes worn by some of the period’s most famous actresses. At the time, the company stated that they were the only pattern maker with the rights to produce line- for-line copies of these costumes. However, Hollywood Pattern Company was established one year before Butterick released their Starred Pattern series in 1933. Hollywood Pattern Company also traded on the popularity of screen sirens, but stated that their patterns were “inspired by” what the stars wore, “not copied from them.” Ultimately, Butterick produced Starred Patterns for only one year, while Hollywood Patterns enjoyed a seventeen-year run. Although both companies used Hollywood stars to sell their patterns, only Butterick’s direct pattern reproductions offered the home sewer the ability to recreate genuine movie costumes. These patterns tended to be more intricate and expensive than the simpler, cheaper, and “easier to wear” Hollywood Patterns. The success of Hollywood Pattern Company challenges our notion of the importance of authenticity as a traditional concept. The fates of these two pattern lines were determined by their customers, whose subsequent fabric choices and alterations prove that these women were not completely consumed by the pursuit of a perfect copy.

Exhibition objects

The Butterick Publishing Company (American, founded 1863), Orry-Kelly (Australian, 1897 – 1964), A Bette Davis Frock, Starred Pattern 5212, 1933, Paper envelope and instruction sheet Courtesy of Private Collector

The Butterick Publishing Company (American, founded 1863), Howard Greer (American, 1896 –1974), A Helen Chandler Frock, Starred Pattern 5154, 1933, A Katharine Hepburn Frock, Starred Pattern 5156, 1933, Photographic reproductions Courtesy of the Commercial Pattern Archive, University of Rhode Island (1933.97.URI); Alexandra Reynolds

The Delineator (American, 1873 – 1937), “A Katharine Hepburn Frock, and a Helen Chandler Gown,” May 1933, Photographic reproduction Courtesy of Private Collector

The Hollywood Pattern Company (American, 1932 – 1946), Hollywood Patterns and Hollywood Patterns of Youth, ca. 1940s, Paper envelopes and instruction sheet Courtesy of Natalie Wiener; Private Collector

The Butterick Publishing Company (American, founded 1863), Howard Greer (American, 1896 – 1974), Alexandra Reynolds (American, born 1969), Katharine Hepburn Frock Ensemble from Starred Pattern 5156 (1933), 2007, Wool tweed, wool crepe, and horn Courtesy of Threads Magazine, The Taunton Press