Tag Archives: SC

Between the Springmaid Sheets

The main reason I went to Columbia, SC to the South Carolina State Museum was to see an exhibition on a famous ad campaign of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the clothes that the ads inspired.  I almost forgot about it, and I must thank April for reminding me.  I’ve written about this series of ads, conceived by the owner and president of Springs Mills, Colonel Elliott White Springs, so in order to best enjoy this post, I suggest you read it first.

Colonel Springs was a WWI flying ace and a real character.  It seems as though he didn’t really want to be in the textile business, but what can a man do when he inherits six or so mills?  In Springs’s case, he took over the mills, but in order to satisfy his creative urges he turned ad man as well.  His story is well documented in a book he wrote, Clothes Make the Man, which is a collection of his letters (some of them written to a fictional character, Joe Fisk) with some short stories and company history thrown in.  The book was sold through the ads; you sent him a dollar and he sent you a book.

The ads, which were first used in 1947, used sexual innuendo and double-entrendres along with paintings of girls showing their underwear.  At the time, they were terribly risque, but today would get not a second look.  The ads caused an avalanche of protest among other companies and the public.  There were days when Springs received over a thousand letters, mainly from women, complaining about the campaign.

Many of the letters were printed in the book, and the exhibition had lots of them scattered around to read.  It’s really interesting to read that women were actually complaining about ads that used a woman’s body to sell products.  Could it be that the 1950s housewife was really a feminist?

Colonel Springs operated on the idea that there was no such thing as bad publicity, and he was right.  The ads continued in various forms until he died in 1959.  The company was wildly successful, with the main weaving factory containing 8000 looms.

In 1948 Colonel Springs got the idea to make printed fabrics based on the girls in the ad campaign.  There were several different fabrics developed, and Springs had them made into all kinds of products.

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No photos were allowed in the exhibition, but I did stand outside and take a few shots of the clothes.   One thing that really impressed me was how the Springs family kept everything.  After reading about so many companies who threw all their historical records away, it was a treat to find one that seemed to have an idea of its cultural and historical importance.  All the items on display are from the Springs Close Family Archive.

All the pictures on the walls are the original artwork for the ads.  The second one, the girl with her skirt flying up, was the first ad in the campaign.

The first garment is a sports set of a crop top and a skirt and is made from the original print.  It still has the Cole of California tags attached.  The other two outfits, the little girl’s and the woman’s, are from a print called Persian.  The woman’s dress was by designer Carolyn Schurner.  Note the matching handbag.

This is a a view of Persian from the Spring 1961 issue of American Fabrics.

In the case in the background, you can see a cape.  I thought it was a ladies cape, but they had an ad in which Colonel Springs himself was wearing it.  In later years he assumed a fake persona, Martin McMartin St. Martin,  for some of the ads, and this is the cape he wore in the ads.  The shirt is from a print I’d never seen, and it looks like a Hawaiian shirt with sailboats and a bathing beauty, with the Springs name thrown in.

The plaid coat, which is lined in the Persian print, belonged to Colonel Springs.  His chair in his office was upholstered in the same plaid.  The other jacket is made from the Persian print.

This short video tells more about Colonel Springs and his famous campaign.

Today, we have come to accept the fact that sex sells.  The scandalous Springs ads seem quaint to us.  But there is another side to some of the ads, one that did not cause a bit of a stir at the time.  If you watched the video, you saw an ad featuring an Indian man in a hammock made from a sheet with a beautiful Indian stepping out of the hammock.  The caption reads, “A buck well spent on a Springmaid Sheet.”

The ad was criticized highly for its sexual overtones, but nowhere in the correspondence of Colonel Springs did anyone seem to notice that it was racist.  Today that ad could never be used, not because it insinuates the man and woman were having sex, but because it refers to the man as a buck.  Several years later there were other ads that referred to Black men as bucks as well.  We may have not made progress in the portrayal of women, but it is good to know progress is being made in matters of race.

Several years ago my mother-in-law, who would have been 89 at the time, recalled this ad, and how she and her sister-in-law were snickering at it.  Their mother-in-law wanted to know what was so funny, so they sheepishly showed her the ad.  She read it, and with a very confused look declared that there was nothing at all funny about Indians taking a nap.

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South Carolina State Museum

Click to enlarge.

Last week I drove to Columbia, SC to visit the South Carolina State Museum.  This museum is a multi-purpose institution, with exhibits ranging from art to history to science and technology.   One of the most interesting things about the museum is the 1894 building in which it is housed.  It is a former textile mill, Columbia Mills,which was a large producer of cotton duck.  The building was given to the state in 1981 after the mill closed.

Some of the original textile-making equipment was saved, and is now installed as an exhibit.  Above are spinning machines.  The museum cleverly produced the look of many rows of machines by the use of mirrors.  There are actually only two machines.

This is a dobby loom from around 1940.  It came from a textile factory in Aiken, SC.  The cloth you see on the loom is what was being made when the factory closed in the early 1980s.

The product of the Columbia Mill was cotton duck, which is a heavy canvas used for tents and conveyor belts and such.  This is one of the last bolts produced before the “Duck Plant” closed.

 

A lot of the museum is concerned with cotton mill village and rural life in the past.  There was a great interactive model of a large mill village which showed how the village was pretty much an extension of the factory.  And they had a “country store” set up, with all kinds of products that made me want to go shopping.

It’s my guess that most states have a museum of this sort – a mini Smithsonian that is concerned with the history and industry and natural history of the state.  (Though North Carolina has an art museum, a history museum and a natural history museum.)  All the ones I’ve ever visited are well worth the time if only for the wonderful randomness that is often encountered.

I actually had a reason for my visit.  The museum had a special exhibition of items from Springs Mills in Fort Mill, South Carolina.  The company is best known for their production of Springmaid sheets and fabrics, but beginning in 1948 the company was also known for their racy ad campaigns.   I’ve written about this in the past, and tomorrow I’ll share a few things from the exhibition.

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Pickens Flea Market and Shopping in the SC Upstate

Has there ever been a place or a store nearby that you just kept meaning to visit, but then things always happened or you kept forgetting or whatever?  That’s the way I was for years with the Pickens, South Carolina, Flea Market.   First of all, the thing is held on Wednesday, and second of all it is a bit off the beaten path.  But last week the stars finally aligned and I was off to check out Pickens.

I guess the most important thing to realize about Pickens is that it is a true flea market.  The booths of antiques and old stuff are far out-numbered by booths of new merchandise, fresh produce and this-’n-that.  But this is the type of place where the potential of scoring big is present if one is patient and very lucky. The second most important thing to know is that this place opens early – 4 am – and by 11 am dealers are starting to leave.  I didn’t get there until 9, and that made me very late.

Even though it was a chilly late winter day, the place was quite busy, but I can guess that when the weather improves that there will be even more activity.  As it was, It took me two hours to make my way through it all.  I’ll probably go back before the summer and hot South Carolina temperatures hit.  I can imagine that place is pretty miserable at 90*.

My only purchases were a Lilly Pulitzer dress for my great-niece and a shirt I’ll share later on.  All I’ll say is that it involves the Beatles and embroidery.

I probably would have bought this great old sticker if the dealer had been within sight.  Why have a booth if you are going to wander off instead of tending to your business?

That is pretty much it from the flea market.  I took the long way home, wandering through some of the small towns of the region, hitting an antique mall or two.  The one above is in Easley (where the famous Swirl wrap dress was manufactured).  This is the old Mountain View Hotel, and is worth visiting just to see the structure.  Built in 1872,  the rooms now house the different booths of merchandise.  Note the omnipresent 1980s second marriage dress hanging on the wall.

Here’s one of the guestrooms.  Note the fireplace.

Further on up the road in Walhalla is another mall I’ve visited in the past.  The last time I was there they had an entire room of old clothes to dig through.  It was, unfortunately, no more, but I love an enticing rack of clothes, as you just never know what will be stuck in there.  There was some teenager’s 1966 wardrobe of skirts that you can see there in the middle of the rack.

And then there was this pretty silk 1920s frock.

I probably should have bought this because my mother-in-law had the Monday of this set.

And sometimes I do wonder where my head is.  I passed on this album which held a bunch of 45′s (that’s those little records with the big hole for you young ones).  The writing on the front disturbed me, as did the presence of the 45′s (just a lot more things I did not need…), but now I have non-buyer’s remorse.

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Roadtrip Double-take

I thought I had my entire week planned out, thanks to a letter from the court system inviting me to sit for a week of jury duty.  But as it turned out, I was graciously thanked for showing up, but told my services would not be needed after all.

So what to do?  I settled on a trip to a flea market in South Carolina that I’ve heard so much about, but have never had the chance to visit.  It is held every Wednesday through the year, and it is too cold in winter and much too hot in summer, but as it turned out, yesterday was just right.  I’ll tell more about the market later in the week.

I’m fairly familiar with the northwestern corner of South Carolina, so after the flea market I drove to a few antique and junk shops in the area.  While driving down the road I did a double-take.  High on a hill was a Jantzen sign.

Over the years, there have been many garment and textile companies in the South, but Jantzen was founded in Portland, Oregon.  Founded in 1910, the company originally made knit woolens, and by 1918, they were making wool knit bathing suits.  The famous diving girl logo was added in 1920.

So how was it that I encountered a Jantzen facility in South Carolina?  As it turns out, this is a distribution center.  The Jantzen name and logo are now owned by Perry Ellis, International, and they still make bathing suits (but not in Portland, unfortunately).

The sign has neon lights, and I’d really love to see it at night.  Is there anyone in the Clemson, SC area who can tell us if they light it?

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Cottons for Spring 1952 from South Carolina Mills

I was interested in this little catalog because I’d never heard of the company, South Carolina Mills, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Spartanburg is a quick trip down the mountain, in the SC Upstate, or piedmont.  It was at the beginning of cotton country, and a lot of cotton is still grown in the region today.

Unfortunately the generic name of the company brought up every mill that ever existed in South Carolina in a google search.  But after a careful consideration of the contents of the catalog, I’ve pretty much decided that there was not a “South Carolina Mill,”  but that the company was a sales outlet for many of the region’s textile and garment factories.

In the catalog there is a wide variety of cotton-based products – clothing for the entire family, towels, carpets, blankets, curtains, and fabrics.   All of these are products that were made throughout the Carolinas.

One of the few brand names mentioned in the catalog was Startex.  Startex was located just west of Spartanburg, and made printed cotton towels and tablecloths.   Today the factory is gone, but there is still a village remaining by the name of Startex.

The catalog does not give us the brand name, but these sure look like Beacon blankets to me.  It could be that because that mill is in North Carolina, they did not want to mention it.  Or it could be that they were made by another company.  There were lots of small blanket makers in the area.

There were several pages of fabrics for the home sewer.  A few of them are labeled as being from Springs, which was a large mill in Lancaster, South Carolina.  They are the makers of Springmaid.

The catalog clearly shows the diversity of products that were being produced from cotton.  And here is a look at some of the clothing:

Probably my favorite page from the catalog was this one showing clothes for boys.  Is that argyle shirt nifty or what?

I did a Google maps search for the address given in the catalog of where to send the order.  Today it is an empty lot.

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Protect Yourself – Springmaid

I actually wrote and posted this piece six years ago, back when I had about ten readers and five of those were members of my family.  So I hope the ten of you won’t mind a summer rerun with updated images and a few changes to the text.

This is the middle of Southern textile country.  I live about 30 miles from where Beacon made their famous blankets and robes, 60 miles from the Swirl wrap dress factory, and 100 miles from Springs Mills, which produced mainly fabrics and sheets.  All around me were hundreds of small textile and clothing manufacturers that blanketed the South before they all up and moved to Mexico, Korea or China.

But this is all about Springmaid.  For some time I’ve had a little book called Clothes Make the Man written by Elliott White Springs, who was the president of  Springmaid in the 1930s through 50s.  It’s actually a collection of his letters, many of which discuss a famous ad campaign that Springmaid launched in 1947.  The ads featured pin-ups and risque wording in the ads.  So I was very pleasantly surprised when I turned up a length of  fabric that Springmaid developed as a result of the popular ads..


The pin-up ads actually got their start with an in-house beauty contest, Miss Springmaid, in 1947. The winners were taken to New York where they were sketched by leading illustrators, with the sketches to be used in advertising. By early 1948, Colonel Springs (a real colonel!), had remembered a cover of Esquire magazine which had three ice skaters warming themselves before a performance. Springmaid acquired the rights to that picture to use in advertising a fire-proofed fabric they had developed during the war.

It wasn’t so much the picture that caused all the fuss – it was the ad copy. Written by Colonel Springs, there were phrases such as “the false bottom and bust bucket business” and “be protected by the Springmaid label on the bottom of your trademark.”

Within a few months the furor died down somewhat and the company began to notice copycat ads from other companies. In a September 1, 1948 memo, Col. Springs instructed the ad department to make a montage of the Springmaid girls. It was to be used first for the jacket of the latest edition of Clothes Make the Man, and later to be printed on cloth. According to Colonel Springs, “It will make a terrific bathing suit or beach jacket.”

There were later prints made also, including one called Holiday, which had smaller girls and no stripes, and Harem, which had an Oriental flair. There is also a mention of a Persian print, but it could possibly be the same as Harem.

In June of 1951, the company built a new railroad terminal for  their 28 mile railroad which connected the two main factories in Chester and Lancaster, SC. They got Gypsy Rose Lee to do the official unveiling. Special men’s sports shirts and billed caps were made from the harem print, just for the occasion.

And just a few months later, Springmaid announced that they had contracted with various clothing makers to do a line of women’s sportswear using the prints. Inspired by Gussie Moran, the famous panty-baring tennis star, the company released one of the prints as tennis and swim panties. They were made by Cole of California.  At least one dress and a swimsuit were designed by sportswear designer Carolyn Schnurer using the Harem print.

In 1951, a new Springs Mills office complex was built in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Much of the furniture was fashioned from old mill parts, and the furniture was upholstered in the Springmaid Girl prints.

Like it or loathe it, Colonel Springs was definitely doing something right.  His company has weathered the horrible times in the US textile industry, and is still producing textiles in Fort Mill, SC.  And I’m used to having to really dig for any information concerning most older manufacturing companies, but this was almost too easy, with the book and all.  I’m also happy to report that there is an excellent record of the history of Springs Mills, as the company donated many of their papers to the textile archives at Duke University.

I found this fabric in Charlotte, NC, about ten miles from the Springs Mills factory.  It is the very same print that was used to upholster the company furniture in 1951.

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The Charleston Museum – Charleston Couture

While in Charleston my sister and I were able to pay a visit to the excellent Charleston Museum.  I’ve written about the Charleston Museum before, and to read more about the museum you can visit that earlier entry.  On this visit, there were four exhibitions in the Historic Textiles Gallery.  The museum has a varied collection of textiles, and now that they have a gallery devoted solely to textiles, there is always something of interest to people like me.

This year they have dedicated the first display cases to the four seasons.   For summer, the curator put together a range of swimwear, accompanied by appropriate ephemera and accessories.   The Charleston Museum collection is made up mainly of things that do have a connection to the city and to the surrounding area, and most of their exhibits are historical in nature.  Oftentimes, the items chosen are not only interesting fashion, but they also add to the story of the city.

Such is the case with the blue eyelet swimsuit and cover-up in the top photo.  Vintage fashion people will be interested to know that the set dates to 1959 and is by Rose Marie Reid.  History buffs will be interested to know that the original owner was the daughter of the man who developed the Isle of Palms, and that the owner and her husband developed Kiawah Island.  Today both are famous beach resorts in the Charleston area.

The Charleston Museum has been collecting clothing for a long time the red striped suit was donated to the museum by its original owner, May Snowden, in 1925.

The tan checked suit in this photo belonged to Charles Hume Haig of Charleston, who wore it as a young man in the late 19th century.

Note the Jantzen diving girl on the two piece suit from the 1950s.  The blue knit suit in the top photo is also a Jantzen, and has a Charleston store label.

Much of the Historic Textile Gallery is now housing an exhibit called Charleston Couture.  The exhibit is a chronology of fashionable clothing that was worn by Charlestonians, though not all of it is, strictly speaking, haute couture.   It is a good opportunity if you, like me, need more exposure to items before 1920.

All the 18th and 19th century dresses above came from Charleston estates, but in all cases, it cannot be determined with certainty who the original wearers were.  The museum has good educated guesses for them though, using what they know about the age of the dress, the women in the household and other historical clues.

The Charleston Museum is really good about showing not just dresses, but also menswear and accessories.

The ivory dress is by Charles Frederick Worth and it is a true beauty, but the pink and black dress has the more interesting history.  It was made by Pauline Seba in 1890 for the trousseau of a prominent Charleston woman.  Seba, a Black woman,  was probably born into slavery in 1862, and rose to become one of the few Charleston dressmakers of the late 19th century who labeled their work.  Mme. Seba, Robes, Charleston, SC.

Another piece from Worth, this evening coat is made from black net, covered with glass beads.  The sleeves are cut-work lace, covered with black chiffon.

Mariano Fortuny, of course.   The two Delphos dresses belonged to the same woman who owned the Worth coat.  Can you just imagine what her closet was like?

The black stenciled coat is also by Fortuny, and it belonged to Charleston artist Elizabeth O’ Neill Varner.  Several years ago the coat was in an exhibit at the museum, and due to the lack of space, was shown flat.  What a difference it makes seeing it on a form!

So much prettiness!  The black 1920s was made by Francois Bacus, in Luneville, France.  The firm employed embroiderers in the art of broderie de Luneville.  The pink robe de style was inspired by the work of Jeanne Lanvin.  As for the stunning one shouldered black number with the train, no label was mentioned in the exhibition notes, but it was owned by Gertrude Sanford Legendre, a wealthy South Carolina/New York  socialite and woman after my own heart, so it is possible the label was removed.

The green gown was worn by Eleanor Rutledge Hanson in 1932 for a court visit at Buckingham Palace.  Note the matching jacket.  The little sequined jacket is from Hattie Carnegie, but there were no details given for the black dress with the spectacular sleeves.  Oddly, the coral dress is from Lee Clair, a line of “better” cocktail wear for juniors.

The black and white ensemble is from Bill Blass, and the red dress is by Estevez.

There was also a quilt exhibit, and one on Lowcountry embroidery.  I’ll be showing a spectacular piece from it later on.

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