Dame Fashion: The Queenslander Pattern Service

The Queenslander, 21 May 1936, header

For over a decade, at the height of the Art Deco era, The Queenslander news weekly helped city and country women alike keep up with the latest in modern fashion. The Queenslander Pattern Service, which went through various incarnations between 1928 and 1939, provided up-to-the-minute dress designs women could turn their hands to at home. At a time when sewing skills were ubiquitous and the do-it-yourself mentality abounded, the pattern service met community demand for the latest styles at an attainable cost, representing a democratisation of sorts in the fashion world.

The Queenslander, published by the Brisbane Newspaper Company between 1866 and 1939, was primarily targeted at rural and regional readers looking for a weekly summary of news and articles that appeared in the daily Brisbane Courier. The pattern service was launched on 26 April 1928, as part of the regular “Woman’s Realm” feature. From its earliest iteration it had a distinctly Art Deco flair, with the very first pattern on offer being a drop-waisted coat “for wear over a variety of little frocks”, modelled on a woman sporting a much celebrated symbol of the era – the cloche hat (below left). While the service was typical of the modern shift towards standardisation and mass distribution, which reached new heights in the 1920s, it also retained a bespoke element – readers provided their bust, hip, shoulder, arm and leg measurements and received a pattern cut to order in return. In these early years, orders were addressed to “Fileuse” (translated from French as “Spinner”) in the Women’s Department of The Queenslander, along with a payment of 1 shilling and 9 pence for frocks or 2 shillings for coats.

Almost six years after the pattern service was inaugurated, on 19 April 1934 an “enlarged and improved” incarnation of The Queenslander was launched with a new cover, a regular page on the “talking pictures”, expanded coverage of agricultural production, racing advice for punters and stories for women “to help solve the hundred-and-one problems of the home”. As part of this overhaul, The Queenslander Pattern Service transitioned from a small black-and-white feature offering one weekly design, to a full page of coloured patterns as “decreed by Dame Fashion” – one free (possibly in response to the economic depression) and the others attracting a cost. However, gone were the days of patterns cut to order and in their place were standardised sizes, with the free pattern available in one size only and the paid patterns ordered according to bust measurement (32 to 40 inches).

Illustrated Advertisement from The Queenslander, 31 January 1935, p.37 copy

One wonders if the loss of the “made to measure” was met with some disappointment from Queensland readers, as just two years later it made a return. On 18 June 1936, “The Queenslander’s New Pattern Service” was announced:

The Queenslander’s exclusive patterns are cut by an expert dressmaker and all are cut by hand to individual measurements. Directions for making a Queenslander pattern are so clearly and simply given that even a beginner cannot go wrong. (The Queenslander, 18 June 1936)

Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander June 18 1936 p. 16

Concomitant with this expanded service came some efficiencies. Rather than offering a range of designs, only one pattern was available each week; some attracting a fee, others not. Each design was accompanied by advice about fabric, colour, accessories and occasion, with a particular focus on showcasing the latest materials:

You will find this frock useful when going out and about in the early days of summer. Carried out in the new dull-finished silks, it would be just the frock for any smart festivity. When choosing your material, remember that those with a dull finish are the newest wear, and that contrasting materials, as well as being smart, lend themselves to endless possibilities in the choosing of accessories. Handbags, gloves and jewellery will add the treasured note of distinction. (The Queenslander, 13 August 1936, see image below left)

Filling the remaining column space was a new feature of “How to Sew!” articles by popular American writer of home craft and decorating guides, Ruth Wyeth Spears (1895-1990). The articles carried titles such as “Smart points for your street frock”, “Tasteful additions to a stock plain frock: Puff sleeves and a collar you can make at home” and “Gay flowers in wool for spring frocks and hats”.

The Queenslander, 6 August 1936, p.16

This iteration of the pattern feature was short-lived, however, with yet another “New Pattern Service” announced just two months later, on 27 August 1936. While specific details are not provided, it appears the service shifted towards more of an outsourcing model:

Arrangements have been made with leading fashion designers and paper pattern manufacturers to supply each issue of The Queenslander with up-to-date and useful styles, for which accurate and simple paper patterns may be obtained using the order form below. (The Queenslander, 27 August 1936)

Once more, mass production won out over the bespoke, with a return to standardised sizing. From this point onwards, until The Queenslander finally bowed out of circulation on 22 February 1939, significantly less column space was devoted to the pattern service. The final design offered in the very last issue of the newspaper was for a “Bolero Jacket Suit” that “every smart woman’s wardrobe should include” (below).

The Queenslander, 22 February 1939, p.32

While The Queenslander Pattern Service changed shape and form over time, it was consistent in helping to bring the latest in Art Deco fashions directly into Queensland women’s homes and onto Queensland streets. In this sense it holds an important place in the state’s social history, however many questions remain unanswered. Who worked in The Queenslander Pattern Service? Who was responsible for the designs and illustrations? Who cut the patterns to order? What form did the patterns and instructions take? How popular was the service?

If you know more, please add your comments below so we can keep building the story of Queensland’s Art Deco fashion and design history.


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Image acknowledgements

All images are drawn from The Queenslander articles referenced below, courtesy of Trove or the State Library of Queensland.


“An Easily-made Style for the Slender Figure” and “Smart Points for Your Street Frock.” The Queenslander. 6 August 1936, p.16.

“Approved By All.” The Queenslander. 28 March 1935, p.37.

“Bolero Jacket Suit.” The Queenslander. 22 February 1939, p.32.

“For Afternoon Parties in the Early Days of Summer.” The Queenslander. 13 August 1936, p.16.

“Frocks That Suggest Coolness.” The Queenslander. 31 January 1935, p.37.

“New Feature: Latest Styles.” The Queenslander. 19 April 1934, p.37.

“Spotlight on Fashions.” The Queenslander. 21 May 1936, p.16.

“The Latest Afternoon Wear is the Jumper Suit” and “Tasteful Additions to a Stock Plain Frock.” The Queenslander. 16 July 1936, p.16.

“The Queenslander Commencing With the Issue Date April 19, 1934.” The Queenslander. 12 April 1934, p.3.

“The Queenslander’s New Pattern Service.” The Queenslander. 18 June 1936, p.16.

“The Queenslander’s New Pattern Service.” The Queenslander. 27 August 1936, p.14.

“The Queenslander Pattern Service No. 1.” The Queenslander. 26 April 1928, p.48.

Categories: Fashion

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3 replies

  1. Great post Iona – I love your retrofitting of contemporary concepts, like democratisation. And no doubt the people who worked in the Pattern Service were talented women 🙂


    • Thanks Lone. Yes, that’s what I really want to know – who were these women? I feel like we should know more about them and celebrate their dressmaking skills! I also fantasise about going back to the days when you could order a pattern cut to size and it would arrive at your doorstep 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting to wonder how increasing individualisation has affected our everyday relationship to fashion – paradoxically I suppose! Thanks for an intriguing and fun post! Glad we generally now only have to find one outfit per day…


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