The Cat’s Pajamas

I was on vacation last week.  It was invisible to my blog readers because I didn’t make a fuss about it.  I went about life on my terms and at my own sporadic pace.  I did a lot of freelance writing.  I visited friends, I went to the “beauty parlor,” (oh, what a quaint expression, why don’t we use it more?), I sat in a beach chair at Reid State Park, and I organized my “sewing room.”

Someone asked me if I was taking a “staycation” and I found that word offensive in its definition and implications.  Many of Wikipedia’s entries are like that, possessing a thread of truth but not cut from whole cloth.

One of the week’s most enjoyable tasks was sorting and rearranging my box of vintage sewing patterns.  I’ve had them for a long time; I may have bought them all at once in the late 1980’s.  I’ve carried them around from Portland to Hampton and now to this house.  There are about 50 of them, mostly Simplicity patterns from the 1940’s and 1950’s.  There are some outliers, like a few DuBarry’s from the 1930’s and some Hollywood patterns of a similar era.  If you are a collector, you know these two brands had a limited lifespan and are more valuable.  DuBarry were produced from 1931 to 1947, exclusively for sale at Woolworth Company Stores.  Hollywood patterns, created by Conde Nast, ran from 1932 to approximately 1945.  These patterns often featured Hollywood stars.  My “one-piece frock” pattern “starred Columbia actress Grace Moore.

Equally intriguing were a bunch of mail-order patterns address to “Mrs. John Eastman” of Stow, Maine.  Mrs. Eastman’s patterns ranged from embroidery instructions from “The Workbasket,” to Marian Martin patterns for house dresses and aprons.  Newspapers advertised these patterns daily; they were produced by “Reader Mail, Inc.” an umbrella company that marketed patterns under such names as Anne Adams, the aforementioned Marian Martin, Alice Brooks, and Laura Wheeler.  This website featured a detailed history of Reader Mail, Inc.

But who was Mrs. John Eastman?  One early envelope (based on the one cent postage stamp) indicates she may have been “Miss Bessie Barr” of 91 Columbia Road in Portland.  As Mrs. John Eastman, she lived for a time at 8 Notre Dame Street in Fort Edward, New York.  The majority of the envelopes were addressed to “Eastman House” in Stow.  One interesting envelope had a pre-printed return address of Dr. Daniel A. Poling, 27 East 39th Street in New York City.  Dr. Poling was a minister and also the owner and editor of a religious journal from 1939 until 1966.  The envelope contains a pattern cut from the April 2, 1953 Portland Press Herald.  Whether Mrs. Eastman traced it from another pattern or created it herself is unknown.

It looks like an apron to me.

Looking at these old patterns, I found many unfamiliar words.  Selvages, plackets, and tailor’s tacks just to name a few.  Many of Mrs. Eastman’s patterns were just plain pieces of tissue paper; there were no pre-printed instructions or identification on them.  A woman like Mrs. Eastman would need to be vaguely familiar with the shape of a sleeve versus a skirt gore.  Like going to the “beauty parlor,” making things was once a quaint profession for women.

Why, women even made their own pajamas!

Both men and women wear pajamas as “day clothes” now; I like to think of it as “hobo couture.”  But I never see anyone wearing anything quite like these jammies.

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