If you’re writing about at people who lived in America (or at least, a parallel version of the United States with a similar fashion sense), in a generation or region different from your own, you might not have a clear vision of how your characters dressed. Vintage sewing patterns can tell you what the average person was wearing at the time. Different eras relied more or less on home-sewn clothes, but every generation has worn the styles depicted in sewing patterns, whether they bought off the rack or not.
Mass market clothing has always been inspired by the high fashion of a couple years prior, and that filters down into the everyday looks worn “today”. It used to be that finding old patterns meant scouring garage sales, or — if you’re lucky — diving deep into your local library’s collection of ephemera. Thanks to the internet, you can now find a lot of these rare pieces on the Vintage Sewing Pattern Wikia.
Like any other public wiki, this one is updated and maintained by a group of people who may or may not be historians, so double check whatever you glean from their archives, but with sewing patterns, it’s pretty easy to get information about the date and region right there on the package.
This site includes both patterns uploaded individually by folks who owned a copy, and some Vintage Pattern Vendors who allowed their patterns to be used; the site’s About section warns against uploading copyright images.
Click on any of the images to see a larger version. All are currently available on the Vintage Sewing Pattern Wikia.