Sewing and Pattern Design

USDA Patterns: Work Clothes for Women

Here are several patterns sold commercially under the Advance and Butterick brands that were designed by the Bureau of Home Economics and the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics. They were also described, illustrated, and photographed in Bureau publications.

The first group of patterns appeared in Work Clothes for Women (1942). Farmers' Bulletin, Number 1905. U.S. Department of Agriculture


"The surplice coverette is suitable for both indoor and outdoor chores - housecleaning, tending chickens, milking, and gardening. It is an outfit easy to get into — just step into it, pull it up, tie the sash ends, and you are ready for work. For gardening or going up and down steps or ladders, fasten the tabs at each side of the leg over the button at the center front.

This protects from soil and danger of tripping.

In the back, shoulder fullness set well over toward the sleeves below a shallow yoke provides plenty of reaching room. The back of the suit is comfortably long for stooping and bending; yet a boxed cut through the crotch keeps the seat neat in appearance. The low V neckline with an almost flat tailored collar doesn't crowd up around the neck.

The bonnet shown with this suit is a modern version of the old slat style. It snaps together at the back so it can be opened out flat for removing the pieces of cardboard and laundering. The slats are placed crosswise so they can be turned forward to shade the face when working in the sun.

Fold back one or two slats when protection of hair is all that is needed.

Good-quality seersucker is the preferred material — it wears well, is cool, is easy to wash, needs little ironing, and does not wrinkle readily. Also it is heavy enough so that it requires few undergarments and thus cuts down on washings and keeps you cooler." p. 14

Advance 2795.jpg

Advance Pattern Number 2795

Image from Vintage Patterns Wiki (


"A coverall apron, cut on princess lines with built-up sides, is designed for wear over a dress or blouse. The full-length, front opening fastens with snaps which are pounded in with a hammer. Tape inside the front facings reinforces the snaps. Handy pockets, placed in the front seams, are cut in one with the apron and fit so closely they will not catch and tear. All edges, including the lower one, are finished with narrow hems twice-stitched to make the apron strong. This saves material.

Heavy work chambray, denim, or similar cottons make durable aprons for indoor work. If made of showerproof cotton and with matching fitted leggings, this is a good outfit for wet outdoor jobs — picking vegetables in a damp garden or washing the car. Instead of soaking into the material, water rolls off, and dirt can be wiped off easily." p. 15

Princess Coverall Apron.jpg

Surplice House Dress.jpg

Women who spend long hours in hot kitchens want cool, pretty dresses that are easy to get into. The surplice dress shown here is collarless and has only a suggestion of sleeves rather than those which might cling to the arms on warm days. No petticoat is needed if the material is percale or a similar material. Two fasteners hold the dress at the waist, and the skirt is fastened to the bend of the hips to keep it from swinging open too far.

Seams and finishes are flat, simple to make, and easy to iron neatly. The sleeve caps and underarm pieces are set into the waist with continuous seams so that they will wear longer and look better. Rickrack binding with one side of the binding cut away makes the attractive finish. It is double-stitched along the edges to make a flat and strong finish, easy to iron.

On the right side of the skirt is a roomy pocket. The top corners are barred with stitching, and a tape stay underneath will protect even more against accidental tears.

Advance 2908.jpg

Advance 2908

Image Courtesy of Little Black Car on Flickr


A divided-skirt dress or culotte is suggested for women who want work clothes that look like a dress, yet have the convenience of trousers. The one-piece culotte shown here is cooler to wear, cheaper to make, and neater looking than the usual two-piece, tuck-in style.

This design has been carefully cut to provide plenty of bending and reaching room. The blouse is loose and easy fitting, both back and front. In the back, fullness is set in below a square yoke which takes the place of a collar.

A slight flare hides the division of the skirt. Slide fasteners at the sides and a belt that fits close to the back and snaps at the front hold up the drop back. Three rows of elastic shirring along the waistline keep the blouse from pulling out at the back.

Seersucker is a good material for a culotte — it is cool, needs little pressing, and is heavy enough so that a slip or petticoat is not needed. Look for these qualities when choosing material for any one-piece work garment.

Divided-Skirt Dress.jpg
Advance 2919.jpg

Advance 2919

Image Courtesy of Little Black Car on Flickr