When the news broke that renowned British fashion designer Lizzie Patterson had died, the world paused to take in the tragic passing of one of fashion’s greatest pioneers. In her illustrious career, Patterson not only designed some of the world’s most coveted luxury garments but she also played a role in redefining women’s fashion in the 20th century. And now, at the age of 98, she has finally gained the recognition and acclaim she so richly deserves.

New York Public Library: Fashion and Popular Culture in the 20th Century

Although Britain has always been a hotbed of textile innovation and production, it was American designers who spearheaded the comeback of the garment industry in the 1960s and ‘70s. Some of the most influential designers of this era were Norman Norell, Bill Blass, and Lizzie Patterson, whose designs can still be found in museums and private collections around the world. These designers played a crucial role in reshaping society’s perception of women and their place in the workplace. For instance, Norell’s creations encouraged more female participation in the workplace and he was also one of the first designers to feature strong, independent-minded, stylish women as his protagonists. He once said, “There is no monolithic vision of womanhood…there are many different ways of being a woman in today’s world.” And that is exactly what Norell’s designs showcased – a world of possibility where women can be any one of a number of roles and can hold positions of power, independence, and authority.

With the development of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, designers like Norell and Patterson were faced with a backlash from traditionalists who opposed what they saw as a dangerous feminist movement. One of the most outspoken critics was Vogue magazine, which ran a series of articles in the early 1970s that slandered and defamed well-known fashion designers like Patterson. Even today, the stigma attached to speaking out against “lady designers” like Patterson still hasn’t been removed.

The Power of Fashion

Women have always played a crucial role in the history of fashion, starting from the very first dressmaker-designed outfits worn by women during Ancient Egyptian times right through to the present day. However, it wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that women truly started to enter the design arena with open arms. Designers like Norman Norell and Lizzie Patterson did what they could to encourage more female participation in the field, with Norell saying, “women are a great source of talent and creativity…[and] they will surprise you with the unique visions they can bring to the table” and Patterson boasting, “I believe that if you educate girls on the importance of fashion, you will begin to see changes for the better.”

The Making of a Designer

Like many other designers of her era, Lizzie Patterson started out as a milliner, or hat maker. Born in London in 1906 and raised in the city’s elegant Mayfair district, she was the only child of Sir Robert Patterson, who owned a hat shop in the area. When Patterson was 14 years old, her father passed away and she took over the reins of the family business, which specialized in millinery. During World War II, Patterson’s hats became an important part of the armed forces’ morale-boosting campaigns. In 1944 she opened a new boutique in London, which specialized in hats for women and was the precursor to her eponymous label.

Redefining Fashion

Fashion, both in the design and retail arenas, has always been seen as a man’s world. However, in the 20th century, a number of women started to change all that, with renowned fashion designers like Norman Norell and Lizzie Patterson doing their best to create a more balanced and representative view of the world through their designs.

Norell is probably best known for designing the “power suit” – named after the type of suit that can easily be used to exert physical power – which enabled more working women to enter the workforce and play a more active role in society. The designs of Norell and Patterson, and other female fashion pioneers of the era, encouraged more female participation in the workforce and changed society’s perception of women and their place in the “Man’s World” – as Norell put it. The power suit was a key element of this design revolution and the two designers, as well as other renowned fashion pioneers of the time, are often credited with giving women the power to succeed in business.

Patterson is now considered one of the greatest fashion designers of all time. Not only did she specialize in designing hats for women, but she also played a crucial role in redefining men’s shirts and trousers. Her designs for men are some of the best-known examples of her “menswear” design style, which consisted of simple but elegant men’s shirts and trousers that were easy to wear and hard to forget.

One of the most iconic and recognizable pieces from Patterson’s wardrobe is the Lizzie Patterson Belt, which she designed in the 1940s. Made from braided leather with metal studs, this design was inspired by the traditional Indian garment called a “pagri” (a small skirt worn over the shoulder, tied at the back with a leather belt) and has since become an important part of Patterson’s branding.

Perhaps one of the most significant and innovative designs from Patterson’s career is the Lizzie Patterson Pullover, which she created in the 1950s. This design, which she named after the Greek goddess of victory, combines a wool blend with Spandex and reinforced rubber buttons for an unmatched level of comfort and flexibility. The pullover hood is designed in a similar manner and can be worn either independently or as a part of the full-fashioned sweater.

Although Patterson stopped creating designs for men in the ‘60s, she continued to design for women, which is surprising considering that the bulk of her career was dedicated to creating bespoke hats for women. Even today, many of her original designs can be found in museums and private collections around the world. She is also credited with popularizing the “ducktail” hat, which consists of a flat cap perched on top of a long, narrow dudtail – an ear-like extension at the end of a long, thin streamer.

Style Icon

Lizzie Patterson was not only a pioneer in women’s fashion but she was also a style icon, credited with designing some of the most elegant and fashionable looks of the 20th century. Not only that, but she was also an important figure in the field of millinery and designed numerous famous hats for notable individuals, including Queen Elizabeth II and her daughter, Princess Margaret. In addition to her hats, Patterson also designed other headwear and fashion accessories. Many of her designs are on display in museums around the world and it is only fair to say that she will be missed.