Sewing with vintage patterns is such an interesting activity. Beyond the finesse of the designs, the intricacies of construction, the attention to small details, and the fabulous pattern art lay some sophisticated and mysterious references to the history of fashion sewing.
For example, I am in wishful awe at some of the fabric suggestions on the pattern envelopes: one pattern for a coat and dress with a copyright of 1957 suggests, among other more common fabrics: Barathea, Shantung, Surah, Matelasse. Another coat pattern suggests Camel’s hair and Worsted, while Madras is suggested on two dress patterns. This is just a small sampling, but you can surmise from this that the sewing audience for these patterns knew their fabrics – and the pattern companies expected them to.
But it is in the short descriptive entries on the back of the envelopes where I have come across a mystery of terminology. One of the first vintage patterns I purchased was this coat pattern:
On the back of the envelope, to quote:
9232 Coat “easy to make” Flared back coat in regulation [my emphasis] and shorter length. High front and back belt, optional. Tapering kimono sleeves may be worn pushed up. [Don’t you love that styling advice?]
So, I thought, “What is regulation length?” I could not find a reference to this term anywhere – not in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, not in any of the vintage sewing books I own, nor in any of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines which I have in my collection. I figured I would just keep an eye out for other references to this term, and it did not take long for me to come across another one.
This one was in reference to pants:
Again, to quote:
5234 Coat, blouse, slacks and cummerbund Knee length coat with standing band collar has full length novelty or buttoned closing. Opening in side seams. Below elbow length kimono sleeves. Over-blouse may be worn tucked in. [More of that styling advice!] Below elbow length sleeves and sleeveless. Regulation slacks. [Again, my emphasis] Shirred cummerbund fastens at underarm.
Then my search for other examples went dry – until a couple of months ago when I found this pattern on eBay:
(I have a difficult time resisting Asian-inspired dresses.) When the pattern arrived, I was delighted to read its description:
5571 One piece dress and pants Sheath dress [here’s another mystery – why did they call this a sheath dress and not a cheongsam?] in three lengths, has opening in side seams. Optional waist-line darts. Diagonal right side frog closing below standing band collar. Below elbow length sleeves rolled up for cuffs, short sleeves and sleeveless. Regulation pants. [My emphasis]
With two examples of pants/slacks (notice that one is called pants and one is called slacks, just to compound the confusion), I thought I might be onto something. So back to Fairchild’s I went to look at the entry for pants. I found this excellent diagram about pant lengths, but no reference to “Regulation” length.
Some further sleuthing led me to some of the descriptive terms used for military attire, and yes, there are references to regulation requirements, but nothing that could be transferred to fashion sewing in the early 1960s. I suspect there could be a carry-over from those pants/slacks that women wore in war plants during World War II. But that doesn’t help explain the coat length. And here, look at this pattern from approximately the same time period as the coat at the beginning of this post: it is virtually identical, but there is no reference to “regulation” anywhere.
I am stumped! I am certainly not losing sleep over this (that I save for my sewing projects), but I do find it intriguing. Do any of you, my readers, know why the term “regulation” is used regarding the length of some coats and pants? Has anyone else come across this term? Can you solve this sewing mystery?