Tag Archives: Stephen Burrows

1970s Pants Set by Stephen Burrows

A big part of my goal in developing my collection is to show when and how and what types of pants were being worn by women. The pair above shows one of the last hurdles women leaped over in the quest for bifurcation – pants as evening wear. In the 1950s women were wearing at-home evening ensembles, often with a long, open skirt over a pair of slim pants. But even in the late 1960s, the day of the tunic pantsuit, women were often denied entrance to restaurants when wearing pants. There are many stories floating around about women who stepped out of their pants and then were allowed to dine wearing only the tunic.

But just a year or two later, things were changing. Designers and fashion magazines were showing pants specifically designed for a night out.  Pants had clearly crossed the finish line, though there are plenty of instances of women being denied the right to wear pants even today.

The set above is by Stephen Burrows, who gained fame as a designer in 1968 when he was given a boutique space withing Henri Bendel, Stephen Burrows World. In 1973 he went independent with his own business and label. My set dates to that second period.  It was during this period of Burrow’s career that he participated in the famous “Battle of Versailles” in November of 1973.

Even when designing in black, Burrows managed to put in a color accent. He had become known for finishing the edges of his clothes with a zig-zag stitch, and he often did the stitch in red.

Both the tunic and the pants are made of three layers of sheer and floaty chiffon. The sleeves are just one layer, which leaves them sheer, giving a bare, but actually covered up look.

This is a magnified look at the little sparkly dots on the fabric. You can see that they are tiny metal strips that are clamped around the weave of the fabric. I can’t imagine how this was created. By hand? By machine?  A few of them are missing, mainly from the shoulders. That’s understandable.

The pants have been professionally altered to enlarge the waist.  At first this puzzled me, as the back of the elastic casing was overlocked, which made it look original as it continued over the added piece. A closer look revealed that the stitching was a bit uneven, and the Stephen Burrows label had been shortened in the process.

The alteration does not bother me, mainly because it does not affect the way the set displays. I will sometimes remove later alterations to a garment, but I plan to just leave this one as it is. The fabric is delicate, and I could end up doing more harm than good to the piece.

I spent several days engrossed in early 1970s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, hoping to find this set featured. I wasn’t so lucky, but there was an editorial in one 1973 magazine that showed a very similar Burrows top along with a flowy pantsuit by another designer.

I was pretty darn tickled when I spotted this gem when visiting friends at Style and Salvage. I want to thank them for giving me first dibs and for the use of their photo. But most of all thanks for letting me hang out and interrupt your busy day. Vintage friends are the best!







Filed under Collecting, Designers, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

Stephen Burrows, 1970s Innovator

Occasionally I’ll be reading about a designer, and suddenly I’ll think, “Why isn’t he/she more famous?”  Such is the case with Stephen Burrows, who started his career in design in the 1960s, and who is still at it today.  If you were around in the 1970s and were into fashion, then it is likely you remember the colorful knit creations of Mr. Burrows.  For those of you who weren’t around, let me tell you a thing or two about his work.

Burrows’s career started in the late 1960s, designing for a boutique in New York, but it really took off after he was made an in-house designer at Henri Bendel, and given his own boutique within the store, Stephen Burrows World.  These were the days when many young designers were up and coming, designing clothes for the young and for women who wanted to look young.  Trends were all over the place, with everything from the vestiges of Mod to the home-spun granny look to a nostalgic look back at the 1930s and 40s.  It took a strong designer to stand out from all the fashion noise of the day.

Burrows took a color-infused look at sportswear.  He worked in knits, but he mixed colors and patterns.  He took the construction techniques of active sportswear and applied them to streetwear.  Seams were often flat-felled, with the stitching exposed on the outside of the garment, much as you would expect to see on a sweatshirt.  Hems were finished in a zig-zag or an over-casting stitch, like the hem of a knit baseball jersey.

One such novel treatment became a bit of a signature for him – the lettuce finished hem.  The story has it that Diana Vreeland wanted to see a certain garment in “lettuce,” meaning a certain color of green, but in Burrow’s hands, “lettuce” became an overcast hem that was slightly stretched to give a ruffled effect.  It is a common feature in Burrow’s 1970s knits.

Burrows was also an originator of “color-blocking” as you can see in the two garments in the above Coty ad.  All these techniques might seem sort of oh-hum today, but you have to put his work into historic perspective.  In many cases he was the first to use techniques and design features which are today common-place.

(By the way, he did not win the Coty in 1971, but did win it two years later.)

Burrows thrived through the disco years of the late 70s and into the 80s.  His sexy knit dresses were perfect for a night in the clubs.

This beautiful dress is from the late 1970s, and is a great example of the type of work he was doing at the time.  Look at the edges of the bodice to see how he incorporated the zig-zag finish of his sportswear into a dress suitable for a night out on the town.

Photos copyright and courtesy of Blue Velvet Vintage

And here is another prime example.  You can’t escape the fact that Burrows loves color!

Photo copyright and courtesy of Spoonbread VintEdge

As I said earlier, Burrows still designs today.  Last year he did a line for Target, which I felt was in perfect keeping with the pieces from the 1970s.  You can still find the pieces quite cheaply on ebay.  Or just do as I did, find a pattern, and make your own.

Photo copyright Target.com


Filed under Designers

Latest Sewing Project – Stephen Burrows Dress

I’ve had this 1974 pattern by designer Stephen Burrows hanging on my idea board for some time, and last week I finally got around to making it.  Burrows was one of the bright young designers who designed clothes that were perfectly in step with the late 1960s and into the 70s.  I’ll be writing more about him this week, as I feel like he is not as well known as he should be.

I fell in love with this pattern the minute I spotted it.  I did have concerns about the collar, as I usually don’t like anything quite that big.  But it didn’t *scream* 1970s, so I made the decision not to alter it.  I’m glad I did, because it is just right with a scarf tied beneath.

And that, dear friends, is why Burrows is a designer and I am not.  Just because one wears clothes does not mean one can design them.  (Are you listening, celebrity-designer-wannabes?)

I made this from a wonderful double knit cotton jersey I had stashed away.  Don’t hear double knit and think , “Yuck!”   This fabric is a very far cry from the double knit polys of the 1970s, though I’d bet that most incarnations of this pattern were actually made in poly double knit.  Double knit merely means that the fabric is knit with a double stitch that makes the knit the same on both sides.  There honestly is not a wrong side to this fabric.  It was knit as a tube, and is probably the nicest cotton knit I’ve ever sewn.

Note that the pattern cover features this dress in bright colors and in white.  1974 was not a big year for the little black dress, and Stephen Burrows was known for his use of exciting color.

The pattern, McCall’s 4089, was simple to make, and went together in just a few hours time.  I really recommend it if you are in the market for a simple, but not plain, knit dress.


Filed under Sewing