Currently Reading: The Hidden History of American Fashion

One of the things I love about fashion history studies right now is that historians seem to have moved beyond writing about Chanel and Dior. I said some time ago that I didn’t know what else could be said about the great and familiar names of fashion. It appears that lots of others are in agreement.

The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th Century Women Designers is a book after my own heart. Edited by Nancy Deihl, the lives and careers of sixteen designers are explored. Some, like Tina Leser, are familiar to me, but others, like Pauline Fracchia and Catherine Scott were not. All are important to the story of American fashion.

Each chapter features a different designer, and each is written by a different historian or team of two. I like this type of book because it is easy to pick up and read one chapter when time (or attention) is short. Each chapter is well-documented with the sources given.

One of my favorite chapters is about designer Libby Payne. Payne was one of the hundreds of designers who worked without ever having their names on the label. Though her career spanned from 1937 to 1987, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that her name was on the label of a line she worked on. She designed for some very big names, among them Bobbie Brooks, Jonathan Logan, and Saks fifth Avenue. It’s great that now her name is a part of the historical records of the companies she helped make successful.

I was really surprised and pleased to spot my own name in the bibliography of one of the chapters, that on Fira Benenson. I was familiar with Benenson because I had seen the sewing patterns adapted by the Spadea company. Author Michael Mamp referred to the patterns, and referenced and quoted the article I wrote concerning how Spadea cut their patterns directly from the designers’ garments. This was information I got from Anne Spadea Combs, the daughter of the owners of Spadea Patterns.

I can’t help but think of how the internet has allowed this book to be written. So many of the sources are primary ones that are easily accessible due to back issues of newspapers and trade materials being available online. Material that used to be buried deep in microfilm is now easily found.

It is gratifying to know that even blogs like this one are now contributing to the written record and are useful to others doing research.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

18 responses to “Currently Reading: The Hidden History of American Fashion

  1. Congratulations, Lizzie!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elaine

    Congratulations – well deserved!


  3. So agree with everything you said about the resource availability due to the internet, and congrats on your bibliotag tag.


  4. Somewhere in the NW

    Love this. Going down the rabbit hole with some of these designers, I discover others. Thank you being a source of fascinating information. I look forward to your blogposts.


  5. jacq staubs

    Thank YOU – As you have made us aware – many extremely talented designers names/existence are “buried” and or never mentioned because big business 7th. Ave. houses literally “purchase” them with sensitivity clauses written into their contracts. Thus remain behind the scenes – underpaid for talent. I have known (in my generation) a few-it would shock you who they worked for. This sounds like a “must read”?!


  6. Emily Kitsch

    I’ve got to find a copy of this book, it sounds amazing! And congrats on being included in the bibliography – that is SO awesome! It must have been such an amazing and exciting surprise to see yourself mentioned! Way to go, Lizzie! ❤


  7. I love the book, and the fact that all kinds of women in the fashion industry are featured. And of course, the authors had the wonderful taste and insight to discover one of the great writers on American sportswear, Lizzie Bramlett.


  8. Thank you so much for this. So much history is right in front of us. It is one great thing about the internet that we can communicate directly and quickly if we can get the questions out in front of the people with the answers. And so often, we don’t know that we have the answers to someone else’s questions.


  9. Para

    Congrats and your insight about the internet making this possible is such a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

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