I was wondering what to wear to do some furniture restoration and I thought the vintage 1940s overalls would be perfect for the job. Inspired by these thoughts I went and bought WWII homefront 1940s overalls pdf pattern. These are something the women factory workers wore in Britain and America in the 1940s. The pattern from Wearing History is a genuine vintage (originally mail-order) pattern that has been restored and revived.
I don’t think that the overall fashion came to Finland yet in the 1940s. I tried finding photos but I think that dresses and aprons were still very much what the women wore at that time around here, at least indoors. However I did find women in overalls (in 1939), but these are for outdoors. I think that this photo was taken by my husband’s grandmother Anna who worked in anti-aircraft duty:
However, I also found some older photos from the 1920s and I liked this one too:
It seems that the same Anna (she’s on the right) used to work in a fabric shop as a teenager in 1920s! Although the shop probably sold everything, the photo is just taken at the fabric section. The boxes at the top shelves seem to contain shoes and there are men’s hats and knitted cardigans for display, too.
Pattern sizing and fabrics
Anyway, back to the overalls… This pdf pattern comes in several different size ranges. A: 12 to 16, B: 18 to 22 and C: 42 to 46. This is a bit confusing since the sizes do not correspond to the modern sizes and because the size range C seems to have been numbered differently from A and B. Anyway, the sizes correspond to the bust measurements from 30″ to 46″. My measurements corresponded to the size 16 so I got the size pack A. The instructions warned that the hips of this garment run small, which was a good warning.
The pattern has been designed for woven fabrics such as corduroy, cotton gabardine, denim or linen. It so happened that I had plenty of brown linen in my stash, so I went with the last suggestion.
I did a lot of alterations. The crotch curve was way different from the modern patterns. The front crotch curve was longer and the back crotch curve correspondingly shorter. I thought about trying out the fit using the pattern just like it was but then finally decided to take my trusted trouser sloper which I used to redraw the crotch curves. However, I maintained the dropped crotch of the original pattern by aligning the crotches in the overalls pattern and my sloper. Placing my sloper on top of the pattern also revealed that the hips indeed ran small. Adding 1 cm width to the sides of the back pattern pieces fixed it.
I also modified the bodice part. I felt that the bodice came a bit too high at the back, so I lowered the back pattern piece. This way I also managed to eliminate the darts at the back. (If you do this, remember to lengthen the straps accordingly!) I straightened the upper front edge a bit since I do not really like sweetheart necklines. Furthermore, I sharpened the corners at the patch pockets and at the ends of the the shoulder straps. After I had tried the bodice on I also ended up narrowing the bodice from the sides.
The instructions for the pattern were based heavily on the original 1940s instructions and thus minimal. The pictures really small and I was a bit confused at times. Perhaps the things I was confused about were obvious to the 1940s garment makers but not for me! I did know about bias facing so I knew how to do it. I cut bias strips out of the same linen and used them to finish the pocket edges and the upper edge of the bodice. However, the bias strips were not mentioned in the cutting diagram, so if you are making the same overalls, make sure you have enough fabric for the strips! (Although you could use store-bought bias tape, too.)
The facings really confused me, though. The pattern pieces said to cut two of each but there were no instructions on how to use the other pair. Or at least I did not understand the instructions that way. Using just one layer of fabric as a base for the buttons, however, was out of the question and no interfacing was ever mentioned. Finally I stitched the facing pieces together and sewed them on which worked fine and probably was exactly what was intended.
Otherwise the sewing was quite easy. The only other thing that needed to be changed was that I added a piece of scrap fabric to reinforce the places where I sewed the buttons on the bodice.
I found little brown vintage buttons from my stash to finish up the side opening. Unfortunately I was one buttons short, so I had to put different buttons to fasten the straps. I finished the overalls by adding a little breast pocket, just for fun.
If I remake these overalls, however, I will change some things. I think I might add even more width to the hips to have a looser, more relaxed fit. I would also use interfacing on the facings and line the whole bodice. Then I did not even have to make the bias facings and the bodice would be a bit more sturdy.
The finished overalls
I am happy how these overalls fit me:
The dropped crotch makes bending down and crouching easy and they are comfortable to wear. This is how the look from the back:
I wear the overalls with my Mélilot-Granville shirt that I made of Liberty cotton. The outfit is finished with the vintage shoes I found from the local Recycling center (only 12 €!). I don’t know the decade where they are from, but the style and the colours match enough for me:
I think this is a great vintage pattern. However, if you expect a modern style instructions you will be disappointed. The instructions match the decade from which the pattern is from. I have a few genuine 1940s patterns and they have the same kind of very rudimentary instructions. That being said, this pattern is very easy to sew and it wasn’t too hard figuring out a sensible way to make the garment come together. Also, do compare the size to a well fitting pair of trousers or a pattern that you own so that your overalls will fit you!
I hope you liked this post and thank you for reading! Happy sewing!