For centuries, obtaining fashionable clothing that also fit properly was difficult to do. The wealthy hired tailors or professional dressmakers to sew custom-fit fashions. However, those of lesser means muddled through with old clothes, makeshift fashions that were ill-fitting, or lived with re-made hand-me-downs. The ready-to-wear industry was not in full swing and therefore did not produce affordable women’s dress until about 1880 (some men’s garments were available earlier in the century).
However, by the early nineteenth century, some women’s magazines included pattern pieces for garments such as corsets in order to assist women in obtaining fashionable dress. Since the pieces were simply illustrated on a small magazine page and just a few inches in size, they were not easy to use. By the 1850s, Sarah Josepha Hale’s famous women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book offered full-size patterns, but they were one size only—the reader would have to size it according to individual measurements.
About the time of the Civil War, tailor Ebenezer Butterick developed the mass-produced tissue-paper pattern sized according to a system of proportional grading. These first patterns were cut and folded by members of the Butterick family. The Buttericks established a company in New York City and began mass-producing ladies’ dress patterns by 1866. It is reputed that Butterick alone sold six million clothing pattern by 1871. James McCall, another pattern entre-preneur, produced women’s clothing patterns shortly thereafter as well. At last American women could obtain a well-fitting, rather stylish garment by using a mass-produced clothing pattern. Amazingly after 120 years, both McCall and Butterick remain giants in the pattern industry.
Innovations in the pattern industry since the late nineteenth century include superior marketing through women’s magazines, opening branch offices throughout this country as well as Europe to keep abreast of styles, improvements in instruction sheets, the development of different product style lines, and the addition of designer lines based on the pattern of a couture creation.