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