Fashion Correspondence, 1940s

 

One thing I’m always on the lookout for is old paper that pertains to the textile or fashion industry.  Here in North Carolina, I usually find things about cotton mills or denim manufacturing or hosiery production, but last week I found a nice collection of letters from sportswear and dress makers.  All the letters were to a Mr. William Teague of Greensboro, NC, and all were dated between 1943 and early 1947.

Standing in the flea market, shuffling through the letters, I was amazed at the letterheads, many of them from companies with which I’m familiar.  It was too good a find to pass up, and the seller just seemed pleased that someone actually wanted the things.

Yesterday was cold and rainy, so I got out the box of letters and began reading and sorting.  As it turns out, Teague was working as a sales representative for clothing manufacturers.  He would receive samples which he took to stores, hoping they would place an order with the company.  From the commissions he made his living.

It was a tough time to be in that business.  Many of the letters refer to wartime fabric shortages, and how the makers couldn’t expand into new territory because they simply did not have the goods.    The shortages did not stop with the end of the war.  It took several years for manufacturing to return to normal.

Teague was evidently a real go-getter.  There are dozens of rejection letters, often three or four from the same company written over a period of as many years.  It seemed that he would represent several companies at a time, tailoring his merchandise to the type of store, being careful not to sell the same dress to every store in a small town.

At least once this practice of representing more than one company  got him into trouble.  In 1946 the Debby-Lou Sportswear company of Boston terminated his services because he:

“…violated the terms of your understanding with this company.  As you well know, it is the policy of this company, and you agreed to adhere to this policy, that no other lines were to be carried by you without first obtaining the express consent of this company.”

I’ve got to wonder how they found out, them being in Boston and him in North Carolina.  Could it have been a jealous competitor, or maybe it was a store owner who was unhappy with his style of salesmanship?

The letterheads are quite interesting.  Many of them feature the same logos that were found on their labels.  And there is a lot of information about where companies were located, the official name of the company, and often, the name of the owner.

I was happy to see several letters from Lady Alice since I had written about this company recently.  There were also two promotional posters from Lady Alice.

Some of the letterheads are simply cute.

It’s an interesting look at one  little aspect of how the fashion industry operated in the 1940s.

21 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, World War II

21 responses to “Fashion Correspondence, 1940s

  1. Julia Child said “Save the liver”. I say “Save the Paper”. So glad these wonderful bits of ephemeral history are going into your wonderful archive.
    Cheers,
    Juliet

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  2. SixcatsfunJuliet…I would like to repeat your exact sentament. It is amazing how our Lizzie can make something interesting out of something most people would consider “nothing” of any interest.

    By chance did you find the old letters at the Metrolina Extravaganza this past weekend?

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    • Actually, I found the letters at the Liberty flea market, which is just south of Greensboro.

      And after 28 years of teaching, I’m used to putting a bit of a spin on everything. It was hard keeping the attention of 11 year olds!

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  3. Oh the letterhead art is wonderful! It’s amazing how colorful they could make two-color printing back then.

    I wonder what the “2″ between Dallas and TX means on the B & B Fashions one. I know where Elm Street is but I’ve never seen an address like that today.

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  4. How fascinating! Love that B & B letterhead! You come across some of the most amazing things, Lizzie!

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  5. It amazes me when people just toss old letters away – but that just leaves them for people like us to rescue them! These are great finds, especially the letterheads – and to see a typed letter is like time traveling (not too far back though – I learned to type on one : )).

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  6. Great work Lizzie. These letters are fabulous! A great find. :-)

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  7. Fascinating stuff – thank you for sharing. I find the clothing industry in this period so interesting, so it’s wonderful to be able to see it from a completely different perspective.

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  8. You are a veritable mine of information..this is the sort of thing Anna and I LOVE and hope to emulate in all our branding etc… xxx

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  9. seaside

    Lizzie, What a great find both for their content and the wonderful letterhead designs. These are business letters and yet they seem so personal in comparison with our business correspondence today. I love the typewriter font and the imaginative and colorful designs of the letterheads. What a nice collection you must have. Thank you for posting.

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  10. Andi from Raleigh Vintage

    What a great find! I’m so glad you save this little part of fashion history!

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  11. These are real treasures! It is so hard to find business records, especially from businesses that no longer exist. You are amassing a fascinating archive.

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  12. I love this…I’m fascinated by the correspondence, but I have to say, what’s really getting me are the fonts and artwork on those letterheads. What amazing eye candy!

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  13. What I love about these letters is that the condition is so wonderful! My beau is a paper broker and collector and often things are found in such horrible condition. Great find – I would have bought them hands down – esp. with a Boston reference.

    Recently, I bought a small book from 1942 and the pages had never been turned. They were as white and crisp as snow. It also means it was stored away from heat and sunlight and away from most important of all – dampness. Love these letters – thank you for sharing!

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  14. I love your detective mind. great finds.

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  15. These are fascinating on so many different levels. When friends have told me that they did a house clearing of an elderly relative, I cringe. Recently an aquaintance said she threw out sewing patterns belonging to her 94-year-old mother-in-law because they were ‘used’ and it made me feel ill to think of all the sewers would love vintage patterns.

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