For several decades, Hollywood was the unquestioned arbiter of popular American fashion. Millions of women throughout the U.S. (and, to a lesser extent, other countries, particularly Canada and some in Europe) looked to what styles American actresses were wearing, even outfits worn by characters who weren't wealthy (such as Carole Lombard's Regi Allen in "Hands Across The Table," shown above).
There was a cottage industry of replicas of what the stars wore, sold at many department stores across the nation. But the American economy was weak throughout much of the 1930s, and for most, chic clothes were more a luxury than a necessity. And even if you were on your feet financially, if you lived some distance from a large city, chances are you couldn't get such clothes off the rack. What was a woman to do?
The next best thing -- make it herself.
Dress patterns had long been popular, and in 1932 a new company took advantage of the interest in movie-star fashion. The firm was called Hollywood Patterns, and it was created by Conde Nast, publishers of Vanity Fair and other magazines. For the next decade and a half, it sold patterns of outfits top stars wore on screen. Whether you were a housewife or a woman who worked in an office or school, you could emulate your favorite star's style...altering it here and there to make it your own.
Pictures of the stars who'd worn these things were on most of the patterns, including a few featuring Lombard. Two of them are now on auction at eBay. We'll get to them shortly, but first, here's a promotional booklet (with Lombard on the cover) that Hollywood Patterns issued in June 1936 for the now-defunct W.T. Grant chain (I can recall regularly visiting Grant's in downtown Syracuse, N.Y., during the 1960s). Oh, and the "15 cents" is the price of the pattern, not the price of the booklet:
Now to the patterns. The first, #1350, a size 14 (bust 32, waist 26, hips 35) is a "tuck-in blouse with two styles of front and three sleeve versions":
Open up the package, and here's what's inside...complete with instructions and a sizing chart (of course, keep in mind that sizes then and sizes now are often two completely different things!):
The package includes a "jabot," which a check of the dictionary shows to be "an ornamental cascade of ruffles or frills down the front of a shirt, blouse or dress"; think Jerry Seinfeld's fabled "puffy shirt" ("But I don't wanna be a pirate!") -- although it would look far better on Carole than on Jerry.
The seller believes it to be "a 1930s, maybe early 1940s" pattern -- but since Lombard is listed as a Paramount star, it certainly was issued no later than 1938. (The June 1936 patterns have numbers between 1138 and 1148.)
The pattern can be found at http://cgi.ebay.com/HOLLYWOOD-CAROLE-LOMBARD-Blouse-w-Jabot-1350-sz14-32_W0QQitemZ120302393397QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item120302393397&_trkparms=39%3A1%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A1%7C240%3A1318&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14. Bids start at $5 (no bids as of this writing), and the deadline is just after 3 p.m. Friday (Eastern).
Now to the other one, #835, a size 20 frock (bust 38, hips 41):
It's pretty stylish...if you'd like to see more, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/1930s-Hollywood-Star-Carole-Lombard-Frock-Pattern-38B_W0QQitemZ370084699033QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item370084699033&_trkparms=39%3A1%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A1%7C240%3A1318&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14. Bidding goes through just past 6 p.m. Friday (ET). The opening bid is $24.99; as I write this, no bids have been made.
According to an admittedly incomplete listing of Hollywood Pattern envelopes (http://laughingmagpie.livejournal.com/47463.html#cutid1), Lombard appeared on three other patterns -- #978, #1152 and #1189. I was able to track down an image of the last of these:
This would be an intriguing area for further research. Any fashion mavens interested?