Ellen Louise Demorest

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Ellen Louise Demorest (née Curtis) (1825–1898) was a US fashion arbiter. She was a successful milliner, widely credited for inventing mass-produced tissue-paper dressmaking patterns. With her husband, William Jennings Demorest, she established a company to sell the patterns, which were adaptations of the latest French fashions, and a magazine to promote them (1860). Her dressmaking patterns made French styles accessible to ordinary women, thus greatly influencing US fashion.

Paper patterns for dresses[edit]

Before embarking into pattern making, Ellen Louise Demorest had been a prosperous hat manufacturer. But, when she saw her maid cutting out a dress from some wrapping paper, she was struck with the idea that she could copy fashionable garments on to paper for the home sewer.

Aided by her sister and husband, Ellen Demorest devised a mathematical system to print patterns in a variety of sizes. In 1860, Madame Demorest's Mirror of Fashions, a pattern catalog, was introduced and by 1865 Demorest was so successful that she had thirty distribution agencies across the nation with over 200 saleswomen. Her success in paper patterns spawned a mail order empire for women eager to acquire the latest fashions and accessories from New York.

In 1876, the year of their height in popularity, she and her husband's company distributed and sold over 3 million patterns.[1]

An ardent abolitionist and women's rights advocate, Ellen Demorest employed both black and white women in her enterprises. Those who objected to her politics were asked to shop elsewhere.

Ironically, the Demorests failed to patent their paper pattern but another inventor, Ebenezer Butterick, did. Initially Butterick confined his patterns to men's and children's wear, but by 1867 he expanded to women's patterns as well. By 1874 his empire extended from Europe to North America with over 100 branch offices. It remains the center of the paper pattern industry today.

Magazines published[edit]

  • Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly and Mirror of Fashions

Family history[edit]

Ellen Louise Demorest (née Curtis) was born November 18, 1825, at old Saratoga, otherwise known as Schuylerville, New York. She was the second of eight children (6 girls 2 boys) born to Henry D. Curtis and Electa Curtis, née Abel. She was known from girlhood as Nell.[2]

One of her father's eighteen siblings — Charity — (1834–1919, married to Jeremiah Shonts) was the maternal grandmother of Charles B.J. Snyder, a renowned American architect who served as Superintendent of School Buildings for the New York City Board of Education from 1891 to 1923.

Ellen became the second wife of William Jennings Demorest, a widower, and a stepmother to the two children born to his first marriage: (i) Vienna Willamina Demorest (1847–1913) — who married Dr. James M. Gano (1842–1895) and Henry Clay Demorest (1850–1928). Two more children were born to Ellen Louise Demorest and W. Jennings Demorest: (iii) William Curtis Demorest (1859–1933) and (iv) Evelyn Celeste Caradora Louise Demorest (1865–1960) — who married Alexander Garretson Rea (d. 1926) of Philadelphia.


  1. ^ Marsha Lynn Tech, nee Hempsted (1951- ), Scene Magazine, Battle Creek | Marshall (Annual Women in Business edition), Antiques Today, Vol. 31, No. 4, pg 24 (Feb 2006), pub. by W. W. Thayne Advertising Consultants, Inc., Battle Creek, MI.
  2. ^ Ishbel Ross (1895-1975), Crusades and Crinolines: The Life and Times of Ellen Curtis Demorest and William Jennings Demorest, Harper & Row, New York (1963).