Category Archives: Reference

Beauty after 40, circa 1949

The prize of this month’s trip to the Sacramento Antique Faire was a vintage beauty book: Edyth Thornton McLeod’s Beauty After 40, published in 1949. While some of the advice is charmingly out-of-date, the author has a very upbeat and pragmatic attitude about the ‟Fourth Period″ of life.

A few fun passages and photos (click for a closer look):

❦ “The idea of women losing their looks, their sex life, and the ability to lead a full life when they reach the menopause is an old wives’ tale and has no place in modern thinking and achievement.”

❦ “Those of you who have not fully understood the menopause, and have secretly thought that you would have no further interest in sexual relations, must banish this thought at once. During the menopause and after, there is no lessening of your desire to enter into the normal sexual relations which you have always enjoyed — or endured!”

Woman with gardenia

She’s holding up so well, people give her flowers.

❦ “Silver hair is an asset to smartness and to charm.”

❦ “Forty is a state of mind! Dramatize your GRAY HAIR and capitalize on your GRAY MATTER!”

Silver siren

She’s a “silver siren.”

❦ “Don’t, don’t dare go about the house without a corset and a bra — that’s the Road to Ruin!”


Corsets are good for you.

❦ “Plastic surgery is here to stay. I feel that it is a part of the modern approach to beauty or beautification of both face and figure.”

❦ “If you have been married and divorced several times, why should I give you advice? You’ve had variety, and they do say that variety is the spice of life! If it’s spice you want, go ahead and say, ‘I do,’ again and again!”

Weddings after 40

She’s ready to marry again.

❦ “After Forty you can laugh at tragedies because you know that they so often turn out to be comedies.”

That last quote is a serious piece of wisdom, my Friends.

An old friend that happens to be a vintage sewing book

My mother had the Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book, 1970 edition. I LOVED leafing through that book when I was a kid. The techniques were interesting to me even before I learned to sew, but the pages on putting together a wardrobe were absolutely fascinating. Even the “casual” looks were elegant.

Years after I grew up and left home, I spotted that same book, same edition, at an antique fair. I couldn’t snatch it off the table fast enough. I think it was $10, but I would have paid just about anything to have my own copy. Following are my favorite pages:

Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 325

The purple fabric looks fantastic with the leopard accessories.

Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 326

This page makes my heart go pitter-patter. Nothing is classier than a tweed suit.

Better Homes and Garden Sewing Book 1970 edition, Page 327

I have to admit that the hats frighten me a bit, but the bags and shoes are beautiful. And why don’t we wear gloves anymore? They are so much more attractive than a little bottle of hand sanitizer.

When I was in college, I’d sometimes go down to the basement of the school library to look at the Vogue magazines from the 1940s and 1950s. They were right out on the shelves. The women all looked so sophisticated.

I spent several hours at the mall this afternoon, chauffeuring a couple of eighth-grade girls. Although I picked up a camel cardigan and a cream sweater that would both look good with vintage-inspired pieces, the outfits on these pages are far more stylish than anything the mall had to offer.

As I drove out of the massive parking lot, I felt happy not only that I can sew my own clothes, but also that I have vintage sewing books to turn to for inspiration, including one I first read more than 30 years ago.

OK, so I’m not going to be Chanel anytime soon

Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques arrived in the mail today, so I started to skim through it, picking some areas to read thoroughly.

After spending about an hour with it, I can say that I feel completely overwhelmed and unworthy. It made my head hurt! There are serious couture techniques in this book. And I don’t mean what passes for “couture” in this country. I mean the French-certified, hours-of-hand-sewing “Couture” as practiced by the very few designers who have earned the right to that label.

I’m just a humble suburban home sewer!

OK, time to regroup. I think I’ll put this book down for a while and go back to my little 1940s skirt project that’s still in the muslin stage so I can feel good about myself again. When I’m ready to pick this book back up, I’ll look for small bits of couture technique that I can incorporate into my own projects.

But I don’t think hand overcasting seam allowances is going to be one of them.


Classic vintage sewing book lands in my lap

I was beside myself when a friend passed along the following to me recently:

The new jewel of my vintage sewing book collection

It was among some books she acquired from a relative a while ago. My friend is interested in sewing, but is not an avid sewer, so she thought this would have a more appreciative home with me.

This is the real deal from 1952, first printing, with the dust jacket. It promises: “Complete, step-by-step instructions showing you how to make smart additions to your wardrobe. You can become an accomplished dressmaker while making clothes you will want to wear.” It takes you through the construction of 14 garments from patterns widely available from Vogue Patterns at the time the book was published. Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing is based on this book.

Here are a few choice pages:

The late-day, short sheath dress

The slim chemise dress

The fitted, grey flannel suit

I love vintage sewing books and can read them like novels. Alas, my planned rewatching of Downton Abbey will have to wait. I’ll be devouring this for the next few days.

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