I’ve been wanting to write about Tanner of North Carolina for the longest time, but I didn’t have a dress from the company to show off. You would think that I’d be stumbling over them in thrift stores seeing as how I am in North Carolina, but that just is not the case. The company is located in Rutherfordton, which is only about seventy-five miles from me. Actually, I did not find this one. It was sent to me by April of NeatbikVintage, who is in South Carolina.
Tanner has an interesting history. It was started as the Doncaster Collar and Shirt Company in 1931. The founders were Bobo Tanner, and his wife Millie who had visited the town of Doncaster, England on their honeymoon. They must have really liked the place to have named their company after it.
For several years they made shirts at Doncaster, but in 1935 the Junior League of Charlotte went looking for a factory that could make some shirtdresses for them to sell as a fundraiser. This led to a change in product, as there was a good market for the dresses and the Junior League was successful at selling them. Millie then came up with the idea of having women do direct sales, sort of like Avon and Tupperware. Doncaster worked with women who became their Wardrobe Consultants, a business model that continues to this day.
In 1954 Doncaster added another label, Tanner of North Carolina. Tanner was a casual line, made up primarily of cotton and silk prints. Unlike Doncaster, it was sold in department stores and boutiques.
Today you can buy Doncaster clothing through their website, through a Wardrobe Consultant, or at one of the factory outlet stores that are sprinkled around the Southeast. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never been to the big warehouse sale that is in Rutherfordton, but I’ve heard that it is quite an experience.
Unfortunately, the clothing is no longer made in North Carolina. The company moved its factory operation to China in the 1990s. I’ve read that they still maintain their own factory, and that gives them more control over safety and other human rights issues. I hope that is the case. Even with overseas manufacturing, Doncaster still employees about 250 people in Rutherfordton, and there are around 1700 Wardrobe Consultants around the country.
I’m curious if Doncaster items are common in different areas of the country. The thrift stores here have lots of it, but that is because the outlets are here. I also see quite a bit of Tanner and TannerSport labels clothing from the 1980s and 90s.
My dress is pretty typical of what was made under the Tanner label in the 1960s. It’s a cotton novelty print, with accents of the blue. Most of the shift dresses and shirt dresses from the 1960s and 70s had a matching belt. Mine has the belt carriers, but the belt is missing.
Many thanks to April for this lovely gift.