Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Off-the-Shoulder Tops and Swing Coats: a Selection of Knitting Patterns from 1950-1959

This post is the sixth in my series of posts on 20th century knitting patterns (you can see the rest of the posts in the series here), and offers a selection of patterns dating from 1950 to 1959. I wasn't particularly looking forward to doing this post, because I've never cared for fifties fashions for women. The styles seem too exaggerated, and at the same too staid, to me to be very wearable or aesthetically appealing. The 1950s were a very prosperous yet very conservative time, and instead of using this time of plenty and technological innovation to continue the progressive arc of the last three decades and make more wearable, modern clothes, designers of the 1950s seemed to wish to swamp women in more fabric, and in more restrictive and even more infantile styles than had been seen in thirty years.

But perhaps my opinions on 1950s styles have been coloured by those of my mother. Born in 1938, Mum wore fifties fashions from her adolescence into her early adulthood, and her memories of 1950s styles are, to understate the case, unsentimental and unenthusiastic. I've never heard her speak negatively of any of the other decades of fashion that she's lived through, but she loathed fifties fashions. She hated the voluminous skirts, the exaggerated silhouettes, and the hats, which she thought she didn't have the height or the right kind of face to carry off, and she especially hated the garter belts one wore with stockings back then. As she puts it, "As soon as you sat down, you felt a ping! ping! and then you had to figure out how to get to the bathroom without your stockings falling down around your ankles for everyone to see." And, back then, it was a lot less easy to just eschew a style you didn't like. As my mother says, when she was a young woman, "There was just one look in style at a time, and if you didn't wear it, you were out." She does speak warmly of the girdle's virtues, but that's all.

That said, I do think the fifties weren't devoid of stylish, wearable pieces that look good today, and I had very little trouble finding a selection of eleven 1950s knitting patterns for you, in which not a single poodle skirt is to be the seen. The fair isle twin set above is one of these patterns. The twin set was one of the fifties styles I especially wanted to include in this post, but I didn't want just any twin set, as a lot of them look dowdy and unflattering to modern eyes. I knew this one, with its eye-catching yoke, was the one for this post as soon as I saw it. This pattern appeared in Marriner's pattern booklet no. 162, and is a free pattern available on Subversive Femme.

Here we have an array of snazzy fifties socks and footwear. It was quite the thing in the fifties, as well as in the previous few decades, for men to wear patterned socks. My father still has a pair of argyle socks knitted for him by his grandmother in 1948, and he likes to tell the story of how my aunt knitted a pair of argyle socks for her boyfriend as a teenager, and how her boyfriend was so proud of the socks that he wore them to church and sat with his feet sticking out of the pew and into the aisle so that everyone could see them. The items at the bottom right corner are Norwegian slipper socks. In Richard Yates's novel Revolutionary Road, published in 1961, one character dons a pair of Norwegian slipper socks with the reflection that they are "really the nicest things in the world for knocking about the house". The booklet containing all these patterns and more is Fleisher's Hand Knit Socks for Men, Women and Children, no. 86, and is available for $16.95 from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions.

The off-the-shoulder top was another style I definitely wanted to include in this post. I love this beautiful sequinned one, which is meant to be part of an evening ensemble, but of course the sequins can be left off as the top is so well-shaped that it would be interesting without them. This pattern originally appeared in Woman and Home in January 1950, and is available for free on Vintage Purls.

The reason I included eleven patterns instead of the usual ten in this post was so that I could include this pattern. It is crocheted but was too cute to leave out, so it got added in as a bonus pattern. It's called the Beau Catcher (reminding me of a certain 1950s cake pattern I have that's called Blueberry Boy Bait), it originally appeared in a Women's Day collection of knitting patterns called To Knit and Wear in 1950, and the pattern is now available for free.

This Polka Dot Ascot and Scarf, which looks to me exactly like something that might appear in Knitscene now, originally appeared in a Women's Day collection of knitting patterns called To Knit and Wear in 1950, and the pattern is now available for free.

I can see this Slipover Blouse for Winter looking really sharp on a modern woman. This pattern originally appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly in April of 1951, and is available for free.

Norwegian Mittens were another popular item during the fifties, and this pair is certainly very pretty. This pattern originally appeared in Needlewoman and Needlecraft No. 53, in 1953, and is now available for free.

I'm not a fan of the swing coat, but it was another look I felt I just had to include because it is just so archetypically fifties, and I must admit this Swing Coat is quite stylish, though anyone making it now will want to update the colourway. This pattern originally appeared in Stitchcraft in November 1953, and is a free pattern available from Subversive Femme.

This Angora Collar looks as though it might be an modern and improved variation on the cowl or on the little pullover shoulder cape designs that are appearing so regularly in knitting magazines lately. The angora's softness makes it drape attractively and the little buttons will allow one to take the thing off reasonably gracefully. This pattern originally appeared in Housewife Magazine in 1954 is now available as a free pattern from Sheep and Chick.

This little top is another piece that looks very modern and wearable and flattering for most women. I don't know what to make of the poodle, which appeared as a prop with disturbing regularity in so many of the fifties-era patterns I viewed while researching this post. I also came across patterns for knitted toy poodles which seem to have been popular in the fifties. My mother even has one that she made, in mint green. Notice how I didn't include the pattern in this post. I'm at a loss to explain the fifties-era poodles fetish, and am not even sure I want to know the explanation. This little pullover pattern appeared in Stitchcraft in March of 1955 and is available as a download for $1.25.

I really wanted to include a man's argyle sweater pattern in this post, but was not able to find one, so I had content myself with including some argyle sock patterns and this two-tone men's pullover. If the two tones are too high-contrast for your tastes, the sweater could always be knitted in two more subtly variant colours. This pattern is Bairns-wear no. 763, and is available in the original format for £2.75, as a colour photocopy £1.99, and as a pdf for £1.50 on the Vintage Knitting Lady. This site didn't have individual links for each pattern so you'll have to scroll down the page at the link provided to find the two-tone sweater, but on the upside there are also a number of quite nice 1940s and 1950s men's sweater patterns on the page.

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