Nan Duskin, 1942

I recently ran across this little booklet from famed Philadelphia clothing store, Nan Duskin.  Duskin started in fashion retail at the Philadelphia branch of Bonwit Teller, and later moved to The Blum Store.  In 1926 she opened her namesake ladies’ store.  She sold the store in 1959, and it eventually closed in 1995.

Nan Duskin ran a very up-scale establishment, more like a salon actually.  There were regular fashion shows with customers picking their choices to have tailored to fit.  After the store was sold in 1959 the new owner changed the format to that of a regular ready-to-wear shop, a move that led Ms. Duskin to regret selling.

But still, it was a store that continued to sell all the best labels.  If you find a dress with a Nan Duskin label, it will probably have another label as well that could range from Chanel to Jean Muir to Oscar de la Renta.

My little booklet dates to 1942, and I greatly suspect it was designed and printed before the USA joined WWII.  There is no mention of the war, which would have been unusual, and the text refers to the Southern season, which would have been January and February.  These were clothes suitable for travel, and also light weight for a visit to Florida.

For a store that became known for selling the latest in designer labels, it seems interesting that not a single designer is mentioned in the booklet.  Of course, by late 1941 the flow of fashion from Paris had slowed to a trickle, and so stores like Nan Duskin had to rely on American manufacturers who even in the early Forties were not always crediting the designer.

Most of the clothes in the booklet were made from Celanese rayon.  It could be possible that this was a joint advertising booklet between Nan Duskin and Celanese.

Even though the war is not mentioned, there is a lot of red, white, and blue in these clothes.  And be sure to take notice of the hats as well.  Although not described in this book, Nan Duskin did sell hats.  And what hats these are! Definitely high fashion.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of Nan Duskin.


Filed under Designers, World War II

19 responses to “Nan Duskin, 1942

  1. Oh, Lizzie, I loved seeing this booklet. My mother-in-law was a devoted Nan Dustin client in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. I still have a number of her Nan Duskin garments from that period of time, and you are correct that most have two labels. The recent exhibition of Philadelphia fashion at the Michener Museum highlighted the Nan Duskin store, among other high end dress shops, even showing bags and boxes from the stores. It was a sad day when Duskin’s closed, but its mystique is still alive.


  2. Lucy

    What a fun read!! This brings back memories of my beautiful, stylish Aunt who always shopped at Nan Duskin. I still have the “peignoir” set she bought for me when I was married in 1978. After it closed in the 1990’s it became a Borders Bookstore and now (not sure) it may be and H&M, Ann Taylor Loft, Zara, or whatever GENERIC chain store.


  3. I remember Nan Duskin mostly because my Aunt/Great Aunt from Philadelphia shopped there. And my friend and a mentor /boss from Garfinckels took over as (I remember) President/& or CEO in order to try saving it in it’s last year. impeccably merchandised -a “specialty store” like very few. Excellent reputation for quality and service .It was a “landmark” in Philadelphia.


  4. Christina

    The women’s fashions do look as if they comply with the US L-85 War Production Board Limitation Order which was introduced in April 1942.


  5. These full color illustrations are gorgeous! Certainly not like the sad brochures printed in one color on cheap paper that would be published during the height of the war.


  6. I’ve never heard the name before but the images are beautiful and it sounds like it was a treat of a store.


  7. Reba Worth

    My mother-in-law grew up in South Philadelphia. I shared your article with her, and I thought you might enjoy her shopping memories:

    “What a wonderful article! Oh yes. I remember Mother mentioning Nan Duskin’s, very well. We were on a tight budget, as were most people;… She liked nice things; but always looked for sales.
    Along with the large department stores on Market St (in order of most upscale first): Wanamaker’s, Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Brothers, etc, she also shopped the sales at the even more upscale stores like *Gueting’s (pronouced, “Gyting”)Shoes and Nan Duskin’s on Chestnut St.
    Mother kept all of her best buys carefully boxed, or hung in bags, in her closet. When the pointy toe shoes came back in the 60s, she already had several pairs, in original boxes, from the 30s! *A Gueting is still prominently in Philadelphia society, and serves as president of the Shoe Association(actual name?).
    When I was told that we were going, “in town” to shop, I braced myself for a long day of comparison shopping–on foot. It was an occasion for wearing our best clothes, usually reserved for church, and included my special socks trimmed in lace, and of course gloves. People were more elegant then, I think. 🙂
    Near Easter, and Christmas, it also included a special luncheon in Wanamaker’s Cranberry Room restaurant on the 6th floor. Crystal chandeliers, male waiters, and wonderful food! How elegant! Mother saved up for these special shopping days that included lunch, and I just loved the whole process.”


    • My grandfathers family were from Philadelphia As a child I spent time with him at Wanamaker’s with him. He was a pipe organ builder and repaired/serviced/may have installed the organ there. “meet me under the clock” was the household expression/invitation ! I later in my fashion career was again involved with the store! They were -as you know- the landmark store. As (I think of NAN DUSKIN as “specialty” boutique. I really loved that store! It was loke Woodward Lothrop in Washington where I worked .Thank you for the memories!


  8. Beth Gersten

    My Aunt, Geraldine Leon worked there.


  9. Pamela Konchinsky

    I am trying to find my mother’s cousin Harvey Katz. He was a shoe salesman at Nan Dustin about 1985. Does anyone know where he is?? He has a sister named Phyllis and his parents are Miriam and Al Katz. Thank you, Pamela Konchinsky, owner The Vintage Clothing Company 317-506-6133


  10. Harriet Cherry Cheney

    I remember it well. I got a gown for my sister’s wedding there. It was simple and elegant.
    I never wore it again; I was a teen heading to art school.


  11. Cheryl A.

    My Mother was the store / in-shop / runway model for Nan Duskin, roughly from 1952-1956. In addition to modelling the high end fashions, she was the stand-in when Princess Grace Kelly would come to Philadelphia on her yearly shopping excursions, Princess Grace was a frequent customer at the store. At the time, Ms. Carol Greeney was the marketing manager and put the store on the international map for high end woman’s fashions. As a child I modelled children’s fashions, that were often scaled down versions of the designs created for “ society” mothers.


  12. Nan Greene

    This is not a fashion comment. I was born in 1946 in Philadelphia. My birth name was rather long Butterworth ! My parents wanted a short name for me. My dad was rather unique and wanted something a little different than Ann. So, that’s how I got my name. As your article explained Nan Duskin was a well known person and store in Philadelphia.


  13. Cheryl Faryon

    I have some photos of my Mother modelling some of the Nan Duskin collection. Not sure how to attach them to this site….


  14. AMG

    I’ve spent many a lunch hr in the 70s to 1994 enjoying this wonderful store. Wonderful & knowledgeable staff. They had some good sales which helped my clothing budget!


  15. Suzanne murphy

    My grandmother designed and made hats in Nan Duskins, I believe in the late 1930’s early 1940’s. Each hat was unique and hand made, she sometimes would send for drawings and patterns from France, where she was from. I think she would hand sew her label in the hats as well. Either madam or mademoiselle Suzanne.


  16. David Pomerantz

    My grandmother, Henrietta Pomerantz, of Bala Cynwyd was a regular client of Nan Duskins .When she got dressed to go on a trip or wedding, she only wore clothes from there. She also loved to wear fancy hats she purchased there. She looked like the queen of England after dressing in the entire ensemble!


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