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.