Famous Fain Knitted Outerwear, 1921

I love old knitwear catalogs, and for the most part have to be contented with the catalogs because the actual sweaters just have not survived in great numbers.  They rarely come up for sale, and when they do they cost more than my parents paid for my first car.

I had never heard of the famous Fain company, but Google books delivered a lot of information in the form of a 1922 issue of Textile World magazine.  The company was started in Brooklyn in 1912 as a maker of knitted swimsuits.  At first their daily output was two dozen suits a day, which they sold at the mill, directly to consumers.  The next year they added machinery to make sweaters and Fain began to grow, but they maintained their business model of selling directly to consumers.  In 1918 a Fain store was opened in Brooklyn, and by 1922 there were six stores, all in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there was a plan for a new factory and store in the Garment District.  As far as I can tell, Fain sold only through their own stores.  My catalog is not for mail order, but is just a sort of preview of the new styles available in the Fain stores.

Interestingly, the Fain family also started a wholesale division, which was called Navy Knitting Mills.  Between the two parts of the company, the Fains sold $3.5 million in bathing suits, sweaters, hosiery, scarves, caps and various other accessories in 1922.  I’m not sure what went wrong, but Navy Knitting Mills went into bankruptcy in 1923, and Fain went into receivership in 1925.

But in the fall of 1921, things at Fain were looking good.

Fain offered a large range of prices, as you can see above.  Model No. 3008 was made from an “Extra Heavy Weight Zephyr” while No. 3101 was made from a thinner weight.  Still, the detailing on both is very nice, and I’ve made the photos clickable so you can see the details better.  I especially love the way both sweaters slip through a hole and then button to secure.

And for pricing reference, in 1921 $14.95 calculates to $212.07 in 2015 buying power, and $4.95 was worth $70.22.

Fain also made a wide range of wool accessories, like these scarves.  The more expensive one is made of camel’s hair.

Or how about a sport coat and matching tam of brushed alpaca?  Note that one woman is holding ice skates, and the other, a hockey stick.  These were clothes for the sporty set.

I’m not much of a cape person, but I do love these two models, especially the plaid one.

So, what do you think: is this a little girl or a little boy?  Does it matter?  There is a lot of talk today about whether it is right to instill sexual stereotypes in our children by way of dress.  Perhaps we should return to the days when little children were just children.

There were two models in the catalog that if seen out of context, might be misidentified as being from the 1930s.  I’m referring to the red model above and the blue one several photos above.  These are not what one visualizes when thinking 1920s fashion.  To my eye they look like they are ten years too early, but it may be that the company wanted to make a few models for those who were resisting the longer torso of the late Teens and early Twenties.

By looking at model No. 4018 it is easy to see the inspiration for the shawl-collared sweaters that were so popular in the 1970s.  Could there be a more cozy garment on a crisp fall day?  In the early Seventies I had a sewing pattern that included a shawl-collared sweater, and I scoured the local textile mill outlets looking for heavy knit goods with which to sew up my own sweaters.  I wish I’d known about those clever buttoned closures which are so much nicer than the bulky tie belts included with the pattern.

12 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

12 responses to “Famous Fain Knitted Outerwear, 1921

  1. Love that you mentioned that first belt style & make it clickable/enlargeable – thank you! It’s a great idea and should work for any bulky belt, not just sweaters.

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  2. My grandfather used to make the comparison “…and XYZ disappeared about as fast as Famous Fain!” Grandpa was a businessman in Brooklyn in the 1920s so perhaps their strange and sudden demise was a local business catchphrase. I always wondered what he was talking about — now I know!

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  3. Holy moly–talk about eye candy! It’s all so wonderful, I’m not sure I can pick a favorite. But that cover image–that pretty much sums up all my style dreams. There’s even a cute dog!

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  4. Beautiful–and the colors, too! But these were very expensive, right? Maybe they priced themselves out of the market.

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  5. one those names – you know-don’t remember how or when…from a time line fashion point of view- how very sophisticated the designs are ! The ‘overnight” change in silhouette and skirt length…you could actually see a form and body ! I want to know who the designer was!? I still wear my navy knit Ralph Lauren P coat sweater from 1977 – looks new! AS and always Ms. Lizzie fantastic information – must save this .. THANK YOU !

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    • In many of these garment mills the “designer” was the owner’s wife or sister-in-law!

      Your comment about Ralph Lauren reminds me that I have a twenty-year-old shawl sweater from Polo that is still a big favorite of mine. Timeless stuff.

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      • Jessamyn

        There’s an interesting description in Elizabeth Hawes’ _Fashion Is Spinach_ (from the 1930s, for those who aren’t familiar with it) about how when working with a small manufacturer, it almost didn’t matter how you designed, because once the patternmaker got hold of it he would just turn it out as he saw fit and according to his habits of cutting.

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  6. Pingback: 1920s Shawl-Collared Sweaters, Part II | The Vintage Traveler

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