Tanner of North Carolina

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.



Filed under Collecting, Designers, North Carolina, Novelty Prints, Textiles

26 responses to “Tanner of North Carolina

  1. I occasionally come across Doncaster pieces in the KC area. I have one item up for sale in my eBay shop now. I had not known about Tanner…and I admire the elephant dress!


  2. That elephant print is so cute. Interesting that Doncaster dresses were sold at home parties. I have a Tanner shirtdress in a pretty floral print in my Etsy store as well as a knit Doncaster dress. I don’t see these labels that often here in Boston.


  3. Very interesting article, Liz. Danner and Doncaster dresses were news to me…but I will look for them in local thrift shops hereafter. Thanks for the info.


  4. Interesting they visited Doncaster for their honeymoon as it’s an industrial town in South Yorkshire, famous in the past for building steam locomotives such as Mallard and the Flying Scotsman – and also horse racing. They have one of the oldest racecourses in the world. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise what an interesting history it has! It wouldn’t be my first choice for a honeymoon destination but perhaps this young couple had a love of locomotives . . . . . or horse racing??? Or both!


  5. Teresa

    Love the elephant print!
    I’ve come across ‘House of Tanner’ labels in AU vintage… I’m not sure if it’s connected…?


  6. It is interesting that they used the Tupperware sales model. I’ve done some research on Fashion Frocks, which did the same. How many clothing businesses did, I wonder?


  7. What a fun print! I’m not sure if I’ve seen this label–I *feel* like I have–but I’ll be keeping my eyes open for it now.


  8. Leigh Ann

    I hadn’t heard of them before (I’m in West Texas). This is an interesting article, though.


  9. What a great print! And, like Leigh Ann, I had not heard of them either! But thanks for sharing. You are such a wealth of information!


  10. Another interesting post, Lizzie! I had no idea there was a connection between Doncaster and Tanner. I always liked that the Tanner name included “of North Carolina”.


  11. Elephants! Love that print and the colors are wonderful! What a nice gift!

    Thanks for the interesting history lesson! =)


  12. Here is another vintage Tanner of North Carolina to share with your readers. It is featured on my etsy store http://www.etsy.com/shop/RosasVintageFinds. Enjoy!


  13. Pingback: Updates – The Rest of the Story | The Vintage Traveler

  14. I just found a TannerSport blouse, apparently not as old as I had thought. It must be from the early 90’s, but I thought I had remembered the style from the 70’s. It’s in pristine condition, white with a green piped scalloped collar. It has shoulder pads!


  15. Thank you so much for the information. I just bought a Tanner of North Carolina dress here in Massachusetts. The history is amazing!


  16. Just got a beautiful grey wool Tanner of North Carolina button front, Peter Pan collar dress with a drop waist and box pleats — 50s most likely but could be early 60s. Unfortunately it’s riddled with moth holes so I’m selling it with a group of other vintage items that are all great styles and fabrics — but damaged, a little or a lot. Enjoyed reading your history of the company. I’m familiar with Doncaster from volunteering in a local thrift shop. A dynamic woman who founded the area’s largest and most successful real estate company left her vast career wardrobe to the shop. Every piece was either Doncaster or by a Canadian designer (also sold in at parties or in the home) whose name I can no longer remember. Very classic, very well made, somewhat reminiscent of St John Knits but a bit flashier and a bit more stylish. We processed her items for DAYS! Maybe even weeks.


  17. Kathleen

    One of my favorite shirt dress has a Tanner II label. It’s a navy polyester
    Shirt dress with a fun horse print.


  18. Shan

    Is the size 10 a real size 10 or a very small size?


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