Ad Campaign – Forstmann Woolens, 1934

You see above how slim and graceful you will look this Spring in Forstmann Tweeds… miracles of softness and pliability.  The trim tailored suit combines Forstmann’s matched tweeds, with a plain jacket and plaid skirt in a new yellow-beige.  The slender coat is of feather-soft herring-bone tweed in the new Guardsman blue.  Forstmann Tweeds tailor to perfection, are light-weight yet warm.  Stores everywhere are featuring them in all their wealth of lovely colors… in costumes and by the yard.

It’s hard to imagine, but there really was a time when the quality of the fabric was one of the biggest selling points of a garment.  Today, nobody seems to notice that the new tee shirt in the shopping cart is so thin one can see through it.  That new wool coat with a mystery synthetic added to compensate for the poor quality of the wool is also accepted without question.

People used to recognize poor quality fabric, and there was even a name for it – shoddy.  Used as a noun, shoddy was originally a poor quality wool fabric that was made from the waste from the wool manufacturing process.

I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve learned in the past two months while making my “couture” wool jacket.  Probably the most important thing I’ve realized is that quality materials make a tremendous difference in the results of a sewing project.  With all the time and effort that has gone into this jacket, I’m so glad that I splurged and bought the best wool and silk I could find.

It has also made me think that a fabric stash clean out is in order.  I’ve been holding onto lots of odds and ends, thinking that one day I might find them useful, but the truth is that now I’m spoiled for the finer fibers.

I was recently listening to a sewing expert talk about why sewing has gotten to be so popular.  One thing he said was really interesting.  He said that people used to sew to save money, but today most people sew in order to have the nicer things that they could not otherwise afford.  It’s now cheaper to buy most clothes than it is to make them, but in the case of a custom made wool and silk jacket, the only way for the average woman to have one is to make it herself.  I’m so glad that I did.


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21 responses to “Ad Campaign – Forstmann Woolens, 1934

  1. I am wishing I could own the coat that is illustrated on the right in the ad!

    Gosh, you hit the nail right on the head about quality! It is no longer a selling point! And I get so annoyed when I can’t find a fiber content label on a garment, or on a website.

    Regarding finding yourself spoiled by finer fabrics, I thoroughly understand, but on a shoe level. Ever since I went down all leather path, I can’t go back to cheaply made shoes constructed entirely out of man-made materials!


  2. Liz.. when I was 15 I worked in Gimbles yard goods department and sold many a yard of Forstmann, Millikin and other fine woolens by the yard. I know what you mean by the wonderful look and feel of good woolens.

    Did the wool and silk you purchased for your jacket have a familiar mill label on the bolt of fabric? How can a lay person tell if a fabric is quality or not these days…just from the touch or what?

    I do not remember seeing any famous labeling these days. In fact…are Forstman or Millikin woolen mills still in business?

    The shoddy wool you described is probably reprocessed wool and it has a rough “hand”. ….but I believe it must be labeled as reprocessed.

    Would love and appreciate seeing your Channel jacket when finished…How is it coming?


    • The silk Is labeled “Made in Italy” in the selvedge. The wool was identified on the tag as being from France. I have no idea of the makers of either, but the look and feel of both is total luxury.

      As far as I know, Forstmann is still in operation, and is now located in Canada. I don’t know about Millikin. Quilting cottons are identified as to the designer and usually the maker. I think most of them are located in Asia these days. I know that Mary Jo’s (in Gastonia, NC) carries made in Britain woolens, or did the last time I shopped for them there. Part of the trick is finding a fabric store that sells quality goods, and that is not an easy task these days. I’m lucky that Asheville has 2 great stores that sell fashion fabrics, Waechters and House of Fabrics.

      The jacket is almost finished. I’m hoping to show it off tomorrow.


  3. Susan

    I don’t think it would be possible for anyone to look as slim as the lady in the yellow-beige outfit without the help of the fashion illustrator: she is ten heads high!
    And what a drastic change in we see fashion from 1929 to 1934. There these poor women are, in the depths of the Great Depression, and they can’t possibly wear their old clothes without looking ridiculous. A 30s skirt like these could be shortened as the 40s approached, but a 20s dress couldn’t possibly be lengthened this much. Fashion is a mystery….


    • Pattern envelope illustrations from the 1930s (and the 70s as well) are equally elongated.

      And the shape from 1929 to the early 30s changed so much. Even if a 1920s frock could be lengthened, it would still look silly.


  4. I knit and in most cases it’s very very expensive to buy quality yarn for a project. It seems that it’s cheaper to buy sweaters but the quality isn’t there. It doesn’t seem to me that their are clothes for the mid-market anymore: quality but affordable. Sort of like the disappearing middle class.

    I watched a great vintage film the other night, Junior Miss. The teenaged girls sweaters, charm bracelets, coats, were beautiful and the costume designer? Bonnie Cashin!


    • I agree that clothes are on both extremes, with little in the middle that is of quality. I don’t knit, but it is shocking how much quality yarns cost. I’m always looking for good wool yarn at thrifts for my niece who knits. A month age I found 3 skeins of a lovely silk and angora, and a lady tried to steal it from my basket!

      I must see Junior Miss!


  5. I agree with you completely. I think it’s when you start sewing for yourself and handle the finer fabrics that you realize the difference that quality makes in the finished product. There still are fine people creating wonderful fabrics. It does pay to create garments at the high end. If you have the skills, you can aim for Brooks Brothers or Pendleton quality, and it will pay off. You can also make it custom made…. But the end quality is only as good as the quality of materials going in. There’s a saying my husband has shared from his profession as a certified quality engineer that I love: “Cheap, Quick and Good, pick any two.”


  6. Quality materials are so important and so alluring and in many cases dictate the design. I still hold in high regard the plaid taffeta high necked and tapered Christmas shirt I had with pearl buttons to boot. Somehow I never looked tall and slim although the designs I made were always just the same. Tall and slim. Lovely post Liz !


  7. I know what you mean about being spoiled for finer fibres. When I started knitting I’d use all sorts of things, but nowadays I veer towards the luxury end of things just because they feel so much nicer. (The exception is when a synthetic fibre is doing the job only as synthetic can do, such as a novelty finish.)

    It’s going to be great to see the complete jacket!


  8. I love this post, Lizzie. Thank you for the source of the word “shoddy,” and that sharp observation about why people make things now versus why they used to make things. Partly influenced by you, I now agonize over every purchase I make, from shoes to sheets (as you know! and thank you). I have no way of knowing if I am making the right decisions every time, but I do feel good about thinking about what I am buying now, rather than mindlessly choosing the cheapest item.


    • But just think how much better off we would all be if everyone looked for the best product instead of simply the cheapest. The rate of material consumption in our world is just not sustainable.


  9. I sure wish I had used nicer fabric on my Chanel-esque jacket! I had intended mine as a kind of muslin, not realizing how much work was involved. Lucky you that you went for the best. The ad is fabulous, but isn’t that navy coat unusually long?


    • Yes, the coat is really long. Where are her feet?

      I’m just glad that I had read so many accounts of the jacket-making that I knew it was a one time deal, so it was time to go with the best.


  10. It’s the fabric that always gets my attention first and makes me want to touch a garment on the rack. My husband says he knows I like something if I touch it, hehe.

    Now that I work part-time at a high-end apparel fabric store, it’s really hard not to bring home all the really nice stuff! (But at least I get to pet all the fabrics while I’m there!) There’s a new tweed and a 4-ply silk that both came in recently that are really tempting me.


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