Anne Adams Sewing Patterns, Fall 1938

Anne Adams was the name of a sewing pattern company which sold their products through syndicated content in newspapers across America. I have seen Anne Adams patterns from the 1940s through the 1980s, but this catalog of designs is dated 1938. I added it to my archive because it was published by my hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen.

In looking through this catalog, I was struck by the big variety of lifestyles Anne Adams catered to. As you can see on the cover, there were evening gowns for those who had need of them. And while people might not think that women in a small city in the middle of the southern mountains would need a formal gown, there were plenty of events in Asheville that would make such a dress a necessity for many women.

On the other end of the spectrum was the house dress. A woman working at home during the day might not wear the three inch heels shown in the illustration, but I can remember that as late as the 1960s my grandmother and her three sisters always wore dresses similar to the ones pictured while doing their house cleaning, laundry, and cooking. All of them made these dresses out of cheerful prints in easy to clean cotton.

Here is a grouping of day dresses of a different sort. These were not for housework. They were for shopping or lunching, or perhaps for a club meeting.

In 1938, as it is today, the older woman is encouraged to look younger and thinner. Some things seem to never change.

For the truly young, there were campus fashions, starring the original teenage star, Deanna Durban.

The career woman was advised to make and wear separates which she could mix and match. The idea of separates is more associated with the 1950s, but it actually dates back much earlier, to at least the 1890s.

It’s pretty unlikely that in 1938 there was any skiing going on in the Asheville area, but a good, warm coat was needed. Interestingly, with the exception of pajamas, this was the only pair of pants offered for women. That was to change dramatically in just a few years.

And here are the other pants, in the form of pajamas. I can see where the width of the hems is starting to diminish from the extremely wide legs of the mid 1930s.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the chief complaints of the girls in my school was that “fashion” here was two years behind what we saw in the fashion magazines. I’ve come to realize that our own conservatism had more to do with that than what was available to us. Even in 1938, women in the mountains of North Carolina could buy patterns of what was fashionable in other markets.


Filed under North Carolina, Proper Clothing, Viewpoint

6 responses to “Anne Adams Sewing Patterns, Fall 1938

  1. Growing up in the NYC suburbs, I sometimes wished fashion there had moved a little more slowly as I was fashion-conscious, but not [yet] daring (nor was my mother or her wallet). I remember a stylish fifth grade classmate wearing a mini-dress with large-scale “fishnet” hose (actually a square pattern) worn over a different color opaque pair, and feeling both jealous and anxious at the sight of her outfit and clever accessories. I was only 11 and not quite ready for the fashion fray! But here it was already, and I could not ignore it. (Also, I had an older sister so we were in the thick of it at home.). Maybe it’s not so bad you were a little bit behind, if that mean keeping up with styles was a more relaxed pursuit.


  2. I grew up in farm country far from the fickle finger of fashion!
    The big fashion statement when I was in grade four was wearing plants underneath dresses during the winter! And suede Cougar brand shoes were the rage! 😂😂😂😂 To think I dreamt of meeting (and kissing!) David Cassidy dressed like that!ðŸĪŠðŸĪŠðŸ˜‚


  3. jacq staubs

    Always like the art/illustrations.


  4. Barbara J

    I agree that a community’s values can have a bigger impact on what one wears than does fashion. Girls were not allowed to wear pants in high school in my school district until fall of 1969, long after pants were everyday wear for teenagers. I honestly don’t know whether the same restrictions were placed on little girls but it was a very big deal when the dress code changed at the high school level. I was a senior the year it changed and on the drill / flag team. Our teacher told us we could wear pants, but not jeans. How times have changed!


  5. jean f

    When growing up in the 1960’s I would have loved to be able to wear slacks, jeans, etc. to high school, but that was not allowed. Skirts had to touch the floor when we kneeled, or we were sent home. College was a relief for this casual girl, wear what ever you wanted that was decent! I no longer wear skirts nor dresses, but have one dress in reserve just in case, unworn for the last 8 years.


  6. Many women far from wealthy still needed at least one formal gown if they belonged to any of the many “societies” like the Native Daughters, DAR, and Masonic groups like the Eastern Star. My grandmother (widow of a plumber) was active in such societies, and I just learned that Laura Ingalls Wilder, then a farm wife struggling to make ends meet, joined the Eastern Star in the early 1890s, founded the Mansfield, MO, branch in 1897, and was active in it for the next forty years. I’m indebted to “Prairie Fires,” by Caroline Fraser, for pointing out that such groups “organized New Year’s parties, plays, dinners…, and other patriotic and religious events. They also functioned as a safety net in an era before insurance was commonplace, often paying for needy members’ medical care and burial expenses.” (One of my great-great grandmothers was buried in the Oddfellow’s cemetery.) As someone who read and re-read the “Little House” books, (and hated the TV show) I can recommend the new light “Prairie Fires” casts on the Ingalls family history.


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