Ad Campaign – Swirl Wrap Dress, 1950s

walk into it… button once… wrap and tie…

How could there be a simpler way to get dressed?  Even in the 1950s, women looked for ways to simplify their busy lives, and the Swirl wrap dress people used that as the premise behind their advertising.  Today, the Swirl has a bit of a following, and I’ve seen prices steadily rise over the past ten years.  If you’ll look carefully at the ad, you can see that the price was $9.  That sound pretty cheap until you put it to an inflation calculator, and realize that in today’s dollar that would be $72.

$72 for what was basically a glorified housedress?  Yes.  People expected to pay more for clothing in the 1950s, and they expected it to be well made and expected it to last. And that is why the Swirl dress is relatively common today.  It was made from quality fabric by women who knew how to sew a dress so that it would last.

Several years ago I researched the company that made the Swirl dress,  L. Nachman and Son Company, after I realized that the dresses were made in a small South Carolina town an hour away from me.  Using old newspaper accounts and oral histories, I was able to piece together the story behind the dress.   Below these 1952 ads I’ve added an update on how to date your Swirl dress.

Usually when you see a Swirl dress advertised, it is described as being from the 1950s.  However, the Swirl wrap dress was made starting in 1944, and its manufacture continued at least through the 1960s and possibly even into the 1970s.  So how does one date a style that was made practically unchanged for 30 years?

First of all, look at the label.   There are two labels that were used in the 1940s; “Ty-wrap by Swirl” and “Swirl by neat ‘n tidy.”  But by far, most Swirl dresses are simply labeled, “Swirl.”  It is thought that some of the early 1950s dresses have this label, but with the addition of the word “sanforized.”

The problem with the common Swirl label is that it was used for some time, and even though most people associate that label with the 1950s, it was also used on early and mid 1960s wrap dresses.  To further complicate matters, the Ty-Wrap label is sometimes found on 1960s wrap dresses.  Perhaps a cache of the old labels was found and put to use at that time.  To see photos of the labels, look at the Swirl page at the Vintage Fashion Guild’s Label Resource.

Probably one of the best ways to judge the age of a Swirl is by its length. The later Swirls are considerably shorter in keeping with the shorter dress styles of the mid 1960s.  If you have a Swirl that you think is older, but it is short, examine the hem to see if it was professionally sewn, as it is quite possible it was shortened in the 1960s.  Also, later Swirls are often not as full through the waist as those of the mid 1950s.

Another thing to consider are pockets. Some 1940s Swirl dresses have pockets that are sewn into the side seams.   The early 1950s Swirls had huge patch pockets. Later Swirls often had smaller pockets, one smaller patch pocket, or even no pockets at all.

Another clue might be the type of print and the colors used.   Pink and yellow seem to be popular colors for Swirls, regardless of age, but pay attention to the details.  The ultra feminine fabrics of the 1950s, like the ballerina print in the top ad, gave way to darker colors and more somber prints in the early 1960s.

Have a Swirl dress you’d like to share here at the Vintage Traveler?  Send a photo by email and if we get enough I’ll do a little show and tell.  thevintagetraveler at gmail.com

30 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, Vintage Clothing

30 responses to “Ad Campaign – Swirl Wrap Dress, 1950s

  1. What a fascinating history. Great post!

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  2. Swirl dresses are so interesting and always look so pretty! I especially like the first and third ones in your post.

    I can’t really tell from all the photos of ads I’ve seen how the tie works – is there a hole in one side at the waist for the under-wrap tie to go through?

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  3. Jen

    Interesting info about dating Swirls. The ones with the arrow detail are really darling!

    I have two Swirls, but most of the time when I see them anymore, the price is something I just can’t justify. Honestly, I am really rather surprised that someone hasn’t started making them again.

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  4. Wow! How interesting. Love the history and the dress

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  5. that is the most excellent summer dress ever! I want the pattern!

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    • Susan

      It’s quite similiar to Butterick 4790, also known as the “Walk-away Dress” . You are supposed to be able to make it in an afternoon and ‘Walk away in it’.

      That said, mine took me three months and looked like a hospital gown. Mainly because it was my first ever sewing project and chose poorly with the fabric/ colour combo.

      Other people have had more success with it, according to the blogs though. The Swirl Dress was everything I had hoped for my efforts though!!

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  6. Ruth

    I saw a similar pattern in an old book for a dress pattern from somewhere like Iceland or Scandinavia that was similar to that one. I’ve always wanted a pattern like that too!, It seems like there’s an old Vogue pattern or something like that too.

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  7. ourdailydress

    Thanks so much for this post – I’ve always been interested in Swirls- never seen one in my price range but I own a rip-off Aussie brand style one and it is great!

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  8. So cute. The arrow detail and rainbown zig-zag appliqué are lovely. For those of you who have worn them, do they wrap effectively or is one at risk of them flying open and revealing more than one would like to? (If so, I guess the solution is to always wear them with a pretty petticoat underneath!).

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  9. truly a Swirl Girl! thanks for another fabulous article, Lizzie!! xoxo

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  10. Both Simplicity and McCall’s produced patterns in the Swirl style. One of them, Simplicity, I think, even did the dress for little girls. Those of you who are interested in making your own might try etsy or ebay because both have a great selection of vintage patterns.

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  11. Fabulous information. Thanks so much. I so love these dresses.
    Sandy

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  12. This was really interesting, Lizzie, and those ads just make me want more Swirls! I own only one, and I think it could be 1940s. The label is a “Swirl by neat ‘n tidy Sanforized” one, and it has shoulder pads, and side slash pockets. It appears to be the same ballerina print as the first ad, only it’s on black. And it has a large shawl collar. I’ll send you a pic…I think I have one of me wearing it on my blog. It’s not really a “me” dress entirely–ballerinas aren’t my thing–but it’s so flattering!

    lemur178, I have a horror of wrap skirts flying open, but my Swirl feels very comfortable and secure to wear. I don’t wear anything special under mine, but might wear a half slip if I thought it was particularly windy out!

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  13. Great research! I love seeing the old ads combined with the label. These dresses are super easy to wear and chic!

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  14. Teresa

    I’ve sold a couple of 1950s Swirl dresses in my store and I have a fantastic 1960s one which I purchased from Karen (Small Earth Vintage). Thanks so much for sharing the little differences between them. Like you say, they can be hard to tell!

    The label on my 1960s dress is “Park East” by Swirl and it’s a button front wrap instead of the usual back wrap. Have you come across these?

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  15. Lenarciak

    I have made one for myslef and I want make some for sale. I love the idea – it is just so simple. You can have so many variation. I started to look for such dressess on internet as well, so thank you for more resources.

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  16. Thanks for this valuable research update LIzzie.
    (I read this post while visiting with my elderly mom, who saw the ads, then commented that she and her friends never owned a Swirl because those were just too expensive. She said they had to sew everything for themselves. She can still recite a short list of the few ‘store bought’ items that she owned during that era.)

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  17. More great info on Swirls–hurrah for Lizzie!

    So exciting to see an ad for the ballerina print dress, which I’ve got (and will be sending you a photo of).

    Swirls rule!

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  18. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I have been lucky enough to find 2 beautiful Swirl dresses over the past 4-5 months. One at a yard sale and the other at a thrift store! I’m really in love with both of them. Hopefully, I can get my act together this week to send in some pictures of my two dresses!

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  19. Pingback: Quick catch-up « powderkegcompacts

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  21. This whet my appetite for Sew Retro Rose’s Swirl dress sew-a-long. Thank you for the work you put into this.
    Cheers,

    Lyric

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: Swirl Dress Sew-A-Long | Sew Lyrically Vintage

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