This is the second thrilling installment in my "Evolution of Home Sewing" series. Previously, I wondered how publishing a large, photographic book like Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing could have been profitable in 1952. Well, I think I've found some clues!
This excellent article on the history of home sewing patterns explains that the years 1949-1950 were years of great progress in the pattern business, introducing printed patterns and four-color photographic catalogs. The reason for this was that new printing equipment was becoming widely available. The major result was this: companies now had the option to use photographs instead of just illustrations to showcase their designs on their envelopes.
From what I can tell, it seems like VoNBBS itself was an experiment in this new technology, one that was supposed to stimulate the business and bring in more profits.
Most, if not all, of the fourteen VoNBBS patterns were released in 1951. Then, it seems, they were re-released in 1952 to coincide with the publication of VoNBBS. To promote the book, the pattern envelopes were redesigned, featuring photographs (the same ones used in the book), as well as copy advertising the book. See two examples here (notice that the envelopes featured both illustrations and photographs):
As shown in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing." On the back, there's a little tagline reading, "The First Learn-As-You-Sew Book: Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing."
Now, at this point, the Vogue Pattern Service was still owned by Conde Nast, the same company as the legendary Vogue magazine. (The Vogue pattern company was sold to Butterick in 1961.) Can't you just see a bunch of Conde Nast hot shots sitting around a huge conference table, making the decision to do a bunch of fashion shoots and publish a book to sell their patterns? It's like a 1952 version of corporate synergy--the book promotes the patterns, and the patterns promote the book.
However, I wonder if it did not turn out as grandly as Conde Nast might have hoped. Had VoNBBS been a huge success, I imagine it would have been updated and reissued as new patterns came out. Alas, the 1952 publication is the one and only edition of the book. Furthermore, Vogue patterns in the following years of the fifties did not feature photographs; they reverted back to strictly illustrated designs.
Of course, one of the reasons I love vintage pattern envelopes is for the illustrations. Sure, they don't seem at all realistic. The wasp waists are exaggerated beyond what any foundation garment could achieve. But, in my opinion, they're works of art, showing us a vision of what a garment could be.
I've heard the advice (regarding contemporary patterns) to avoid any pattern with no photograph of the garment, because supposedly this means that the garment won't work well on an actual person. What do you make of that?