Sayde Weinberg just may be the most fascinating fashion designer you’ve never heard of. I was introduced to Sayde by a member of her family. After years of searching for information about the Jerry Gilden label, a colleague at the Vintage Fashion Guild turned up an old newspaper article from the 1950s. In it, Sayde Weinberg and her husband, Abe Weinberg were identified as co-owners of the Jerry Gilden line, with Sayde as the designer.
I used this information to write a short blurb for the VFG Label Resource, and then forgot about it until last month when I received an email from Sayde and Abe’s relative. I called this family member, hoping to learn more about the Jerry Gilden company so I could write about it, but in just a few minutes on the phone with him I realized it was actually Sayde’s story that needed telling.
Sayde was born into a large family; she was in the middle of sixteen children. Like many poor children of the early 20th century, she went to work early. At thirteen she became a stock girl at the Blum Store: “Philadelphia’s Finest Apparel Store.” But Sayde had some advantages. Although she had little formal education, she was a naturally gifted artist who had a tremendous sense of color and an eye for design.
Her abilities were recognized as she worked her way up at Blum’s. She eventually became the buyer for Blum’s Fifth Floor – their high fashion floor.
Before one buying trip to New York, her bosses at Blum’s told her to make sure she was clear in making the manufacturers know exactly what she wanted. Sayde took them at their words, getting the clothing makers to make changes in the clothing they were presenting to suit her taste. Over time Sayde became much more than a buyer; she was essentially styling the lines that the manufacturers were making, for not only the Blum store but for all their clients. Her influence on the image of the store was so all-encompassing that she even sketched the store’s print ads during the 1930s.
Besides buying for Blum’s, Sayde became a design consultant – both formally and informally – to other companies. This is a role she continued for many years. During the 1940s, while continuing to work for Blum’s, she also designed for her husband’s companies, first at Reggie Dress, and then at Teen Fashions.
In 1952 another opportunity presented itself in the form of Jerry Gilden Specialties. Sayde and Abe bought into the company with Sayde being the designer, Abe the head of production, and Jerry Gilden the head of sales. The production was so large that the factory, located in Union City, NJ, covered several city blocks. They were a high volume producer, and Sayde designed everything in the several lines the Jerry Gilden produced. She was also in charge of the sample rooms.
Sayde was a perfectionist. She would work with a design until the fit, look and construction were perfect. She had a eye for proportion and detail that made Jerry Gilden a successful business. She would hold up the production of 10,000 dresses if she was not satisfied with the way a dart fell or with the quality of a button.
But the business closed around 1960. Sayde then worked as a designer for several other well-known dressmakers, Lee Richards, and the Carlye division of Leslie Fay among others. When she retired she didn’t completely leave the clothing business, opening stores in the Philadelphia area. Eventually she retired for good and moved to Florida. She eventually moved back to Philadelphia where she died in 2005 at the age of 93.
I think it is remarkable that a woman who designed clothes that were worn by thousands of American women could have been so completely forgotten. It’s a bit ironic that we remember the names of designers who worked to clothe the wealthiest women, but not those who produced beautiful clothing that most women could afford.
So the next time you are lucky enough to find a 1950s Jerry Gilden dress, think of Sayde and how her strong sense of design helped American women look their best.
A little taste of what Sayde did best, all from the mid 1950s:
Thank you so much for shedding some light on this company. I have always admired Jerry Gilden dresses. Knowing the background story about the wonderful lady who had such a keen sense of style makes it all so much more interesting. It’s always nice to know about what goes on behind the scenes. I will appreciate their dresses all the more after reading your blog.
Friday, August 27th 2010 @ 6:54 PM
What an interesting and in depth piece on Jerry Gilden. I especially enjoyed learning about Sayde and her successful rise to the top in her field. And thank you so much for featuring a Gilden dress from the shop. 🙂
Friday, August 27th 2010 @ 7:51 PM
Posted by Pinky-A-GoGo:
Wonderful and interesting piece.
Thank you for sharing her wonderful story with us!
Saturday, August 28th 2010 @ 5:30 AM
Posted by Em:
Saturday, August 28th 2010 @ 5:44 AM
Fantastic article, Lizzie! I am so thrilled to know more of the history of Jerry Gilden, one of my all time favorite lines. Thank you!
Saturday, August 28th 2010 @ 9:09 AM
Posted by Sarah:
“It’s a bit ironic that we remember the names of designers who worked to clothe the wealthiest women, but not those who produced beautiful clothing that most women could afford.”
I couldn’t agree with you more. Excellent piece!
Monday, August 30th 2010 @ 12:34 AM
the historical collocation amazing..with complete information about the dresses and costumes..
Thanks for great posting
Tuesday, August 31st 2010 @ 12:51 AM
Posted by Lin:
chiming in late to say this is a fascinating life story – thanks for publishing it for all to read. And very much in agreement with Sarah and you on who are the most interesting ‘women of fashion’.
Wednesday, September 1st 2010 @ 3:08 AM
Wonderful bio! Interesting that she later worked for Carlye – I’m wondering if some of their early (and incredibly detailed) dresses I’ve seen were designed by Sayde.
Thursday, September 2nd 2010 @ 8:29 AM
Posted by Lizzie:
I’m glad you all liked this piece. It’s just so important to document these 20th century dressmakers while the information is still available!
I actually found a 1950s Jerry Gilden dress this weekend, and I’ll post photos of it later. It’s a very nice frock!
Sunday, September 5th 2010 @ 7:11 AM
Posted by sue:
Oh my goodness the dress with all the roses on it puts me in mind of a dress my mother used to ware that patterned exactly like it. I don’t remember if it had roses but I think it did. All I do remember is it was red and the exact same pattern. Now I wonder if it was a Sayde dress. If can find a picture of my mother in that dress I will e-mail it.
Tuesday, September 14th 2010 @ 7:02 PM
Posted by Lizzie:
Sue, I’d love to see photos if you find them!
Wednesday, September 15th 2010 @ 6:41 PM