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Nov 16, 2011

Unisex - The Musical!

Readers, a pre-dawn epiphany:

The loathsome message implicit in every unisex sewing pattern is "we are so into each other, we don't give a damn how we look to the rest of the world."  Am I right? 

The Western shirt pattern below, a late Sixties Butterick, sums up the essential flaw in the unisex concept -- a misbegotten assumption about (heterosexual) intimacy and sartorial similitude -- which proved to be the seed of its destruction. 

Your comments yesterday relating to unisex patterns were telling:



 Who wants to look that bad?! 

Are the pattern companies listening?

Here is the primary problem with unisex:  Latest research shows that while 68% of women polled are willing to wear menswear (think boyfriend jeans), only 4% of men are willing to wear womenswear -- only half of whom are not consciously trying to crossdress.

As a result, unisex -- almost without exception -- has meant that men get to wear what they'd wear anyway, and women get to look like Eighties-era lesbians: an observation, not a judgment, progressive readers!

In the early days of unisex, during the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, there were exceptions to the soon-to-be-dominant women-in-menswear look  -- cringe-worthy exceptions.

Unisex was undoubtedly the reflection of a more idealistic time, when pattern companies naively thought that by dressing men and women alike, the sexes would be more equal.  I think you'll agree that the effort resulted in little more than a series of fashion don'ts.

While unisex lives on today, primarily in polyfleece hoodies, scrubs, and Gitmo detention camp-inspired pajama bottoms, one word you will never, ever hear is the oxymoronic unisexy.

After extensive research, I could come up with only two remotely titillating unisex patterns, both resembling Seventies-era Benson & Hedges ads.

If I had to distill the essence of unisex and turn it into a movie musical, I could do no better than the Burt Bacharach-Hal David 1973 snooze-fest Lost Horizon, produced by Ross Hunter, the man who gave us not only Magnificent Obsession and Madame X, but also Pillow Talk!

Here one finds songs oozing in unisex values, like the rousing "Living Together, Growing Together":

Living together, growing together, just being together
That's how it starts; Three loving hearts 

All pulling together, working together, just building together
That makes you strong
If things go wrong, we'll still get along somehow
Living and growing....together

Watch it (with Portuguese subtitles!) here.

There's also the heartwarming "The World Is a Circle," which is essentially Do Re Mi performed in the Himalayas by caftan-clad children seemingly on loan from Jim Jones' People's Temple cult.

The world is a circle without a beginning,
And nobody knows where it really ends.
Everything depends on where you
Are in the circle that never begins.
Nobody knows where the circle ends.

It's both profound and banal and very, very unisex, if you ask me.  Confession: I have owned the Lost Horizon album for nearly twenty years and can't stop playing it.

Friends and fellow travelers, our unisex journey has come to an end.  Is there anything I've missed?

If you have any closing statements to add to this veritable "Ode to Unisex," please feel free to add them below.  I will do my best to pass them along to the appropriate pattern company executive.


  1. Are unisex patterns for women too cheap to buy separate patterns for themselves and the men in their life? Ghastly!

  2. Suzanne, I think you're missing the essential point of unisex dressing: "Togetherness."

  3. unisex patterns make me want to hurl....i will NEVER sew anything from those patterns

  4. Personally, I'm really into those jeans with the front patch pockets. I like the ones with the back yoke as well, but it's not really surprising that the unisex pattern that WOULD work is for a high-waisted jean.. I want to make them, put them on and run around the desert singing "Heaven on Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar. But I kind of want to do that in any outfit.

  5. This is hysterical!
    I precisely started sewing at age 11-12 BECAUSE One-size-fits-no-one especially unisex. I use to add darts to every pair of pants my Mom bought for me.
    If it didn't fit my 12 year old body, imagine what it would do to my adult one.
    Very funny!

  6. Oh Thank you thank you! I was snickering the whole way through the post. The "creepy togetherness patterns" still lurk at the local JoAnn fabrics and I see them quite often while thrifting. All I can think of when I see a cut pattern at the thrift store is; my God somebody made that and some well meaning (most likely wife)was beaming with pride upon completion. Oh the suffering that ensued while being forced to wear matching outfits.

  7. The other basic problem about unisex patterns is that men and women are generally shaped rather differently. Which means for the same pattern to fit both (even in different sizes) it has to be a) shapeless and b) have lots of ease. Obviously this works better for certain styles (kaftans, hammer pants) than others.

  8. Back during the men's shirt sew-along you hosted I was showing my husband the shirt patterns available and he was quite emphatic that he would NOT wear one made from a unisex pattern -- there was something wrong with them. (By the way, the shirt I did make was such a hit he's asked for another one for Christmas).

  9. This post really made me smile - I've never seen so many hideous patterns together in one place. And you're right about the creepy togetherness aspect too - bleurgh...

  10. Love the jacket back (pink) of Simplicity 7146...unisex or not.

  11. I think I enjoyed that youtube clip a bit too much...not just the song, but the lady's outfit AND the awesome ferris wheel!
    Unisex patterns are definitely bad, although I have one for a pants and backpack set and I have to say the backpack is pretty dang sweet. It's even on my mental to-sew list!
    By the way I discovered ALW's musical "Starlight Express" this morning and am positively faint over the costumes. Have you ever seen it? I wish they would revive it, I think it is the one musical I could get my dad to go to, since he loves trains, haha!

  12. Hmmmm....Why do people do this? His/her matchy-matchy is weird. There was one time my husband walked out the door in the same color polo and jeans, quite by accident, and didn't notice until we arrived at our destination (we're not very observant apparently) and felt like idiots all day. As for the musical--wow, could they amp up the cutesy any more? I do, however, want one of those Ferris wheel swing things--I'm going to show it to my husband and see if he can build one.

  13. I think women have been after the uni-sex look ever since they were forced to ride horses "side-saddle". Ugh.

    That first pic gives me seriously scary flashbacks to '70s fashion and 100% polyester doubleknit.

    Doris W. in TN

  14. Reminds me of the characters Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles. I wonder if it is still as funny as I remember?

    "Howard and Hilda, are a blissfully married couple whose contentment lies in wearing the same clothes, and going through the same twee verbal exchanges every day, when Howard leaves and returns from work. Hilda describes Howard's joke on returning from work "As funny today as it was 23 years ago"."

  15. Thank you for so, so many laughs over the last 2 days. These patterns are horrible! I admit I succumbed to a few myself, back in the 80s, one for workout shorts and one for a Hawaiian shirt. I can't explain myself now. But I do have to bring your attention to this little treasure - S9892 from 1972, which I bought because I have a crush on the hottie on the upper right. see

  16. I haven't noticed if this has changed recently, but the models for unisex sleepwear patterns always (used to) wear wedding rings.

  17. Another 5 star post!!!!!

  18. made me laugh! ...I don't mind unisex patterns, I have the Unisexy Butterick 4344, I haven't made them...YET! but they look comfy.
    I also have some others, but they're not as cute. I like the idea of the unisex values of togetherness, but like a lot of these patterns it just doesn't work out as well in reality, because it lacks the individuality that makes togetherness really work. Great post!

  19. Oh, what spectacularly bad patterns! The MC Hammer pants are so totally awesome 80's! lol

    You're totally right about the togetherness unity thing. Even the uni-sexy ones say "we're so into each other, we can't keep our clothes on". lol

  20. About halfway through I felt the need to gouge out my eyes, but luckily I have resisted. Those floral harem pants... I can't even describe the feelings of pure horror.

  21. Yuck, yuck and YUCK!

    The Simplicity 7999 clown-fest gave me the laugh of the week. I remember seeing people in NYC wear the harem pants from Butterick 4940. They were worn mostly by the creatives – actors, dancers and such. I also knew a couple that made it a point to wear matching t-shirts wherever they went. I guess it was the fad at the time. Personally, I don't need that much freakin' togetherness.

    Oh my, all the patterns DO resemble a Benson & Hedges ad! You really hit the nail on the head.

    Peter, if you do communicate with the pattern powers-that-be, here’s my opinion -- while some folks would wear clothes of the opposite sex, it’s most likely because the clothes are – opposite. If everything looked the same, then why would anyone even bother?

    Lost Horizon! Someone once lent me a tape of that movie and insisted that I had to see it. They must have wanted to get back at me for something. I have to give Bobby Van a lot of credit for making it look like he was thrilled to be there.

  22. Oh my! Forget the knitting sweater curse. If I want to drive my man away I will make matching Hammer pants.

    I loved the unisex pattern with the shear blouses. Those were "classy"!

  23. And not just unisex paatterns, but any time couples wear the same outfits -- hawaiian shirts, etc. I'm so put off, I won't wear a white blouse if I'm going somewhere with my husband (who always wears white t-shirts). I always want to walk up to these couples and ask where their band is playing tonight.

  24. The sheer shirts and the MC Hammer pants...truly horrible!!

  25. I've noticed that trendy men's jeans look more and more like women's jeans lately. When did young men start wanting decorative stitching or pocket flaps on their back pockets? Too weird.

  26. I HAVE that pattern for the MC Hammer pants! Never could bring myself to make them, so far. But now I want to, wouldn't they make great yoga pants?
    I always tell my sewing classes that "unisex" means "men," and leave it at that. We make a Kwik Sew unisex robe and pj pants that work both ways. But the sheer shirts, Yikes! That was so hot in the 70's. I cringe.

  27. And I forgot to mention....7619.....everyone wants matching, fitted, garbage collector coveralls! eeeeeyyyyyeeeeccchhh!

  28. You are so funny, Peter! Great post.

  29. Those Butterick harem pants are particularly ghastly- one of the things I love about your blog is the chance to see the old patterns again- I don't remember the harem pants but I sewed a lot back then and remember finding these patterns or similar in the pattern books

    love your blog
    Sarah C

  30. I'm pretty sure that my mother made those S7146 pants when I was growing up. I'm pretty sure they weren't for my dad, though.

  31. Oh my gawd, girls and boys, those harems (Hammer) pants are ghastly!! Hilarious-thanks MPB.

  32. Yep, agree about the slightly wrong vibe emitted by a unisex and matching couple today , but S9435 brings me out all warm and sentimental. I got married in an electric blue outfit (RTW). He too wore blue( toning not matching) -S9435 in taffeta. Aah, 1972, that was a very good year for long hair, beards and optimism that we could do away with gender boundaries!

  33. Is it wrong that I want that harem pants pattern now? I love the way they are styled in the envelope illustration.

  34. Not at all Amy, who wouldn't want them? ;)

    Finally... Guess that lounging is more a Euro thingy?

  35. Actually, I think it's a Dutch thing. ;)

  36. I am however in favor of unisex shoes because I have big feet and must wear men's shoes, it's my only hope for something that is remotely feminine. It kind of nixes dresses. Ahem.

  37. LOL

    No Peter, I'm sure at least of also Belgium and Germany.

    Berlin that is, Bavaria most likely not - they're more up-tight - need to be, they've got to build the beemers.

  38. Re: 7619 It closely resembles SE Asia "Party Suits" worn mainly by AF aircrew flying out of Thailand during the VN War. Bought by said aircrew from custom tailors who did exemplary work. Bespoke coveralls.

    A link to a pic taken at the National Museum of the USAF:

  39. So what, all? Edgy fashion is ephemeral, a blip forgotten or an enduringly bold statement that may or may not have relevance to us from a different vantage point a couple of generations later. Why were there so many unisex patterns? Did it have something to do with the women's liberation movement, a serious matter, which in its time led to women's pants being accepted workwear? How glad I was to finally have the freedom to choose!

  40. Peter, I've missed you! I'm catching up on several back posts relating to menswear and if I were drinking milk it would be squirting out of my nose right now :).

  41. I think the jumpsuit pattern pretty much sums up how I feel about unisex really did almost make me gag. Except for mechanics, military flight crews, and plumbers no one should be wearing a jump suit...well, except in the privacy of your own home and then I really don't want to know the details. I do, but it wouldn't be proper for me to ask about them. But that's another story since I'm still recovering from the jumpsuit pattern induced nausea. Nothing a nice cup of milk and some Oreos wouldn't cure.

  42. I want the simplicity 7619 coverall pattern. I can convert the collars for home made beekeeping suits. Any idea how to get that one? And even though everyone thinks these are horrid looking - you can't buy a better looking bee suit. :p


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