It is with sadness that I must report the recent death of Naomi Jackson, co-founder and owner of The Vested Gentress clothing brand. A friend of Naomi’s got in touch with me four years ago and I was able to interview Naomi and get the story of her company. From all accounts Naomi was a delightful person who will be greatly missed.
To honor her memory, here is my interview.
About a month ago I got an email from John Fibbi in Florida. Seems as if he was sitting with Naomi Jackson, who had been, along with her husband Bud, the owner of The Vested Gentress. They were searching the internet looking for references to her company and came across an old post here at The Vintage Traveler. He got in touch, and she agreed to answer a few questions about the company.
This was very exciting to me because despite the fact that vintage Vested Gentress clothing is pretty common and some pieces are highly collectible, there just wasn’t much about the company to be found. Now, thanks to John and Naomi, and Naomi’s son, Dan Jackson, I can tell the story behind this whimsical label.
1. How did Vested Gentry get started?
Fritz, or “Bud”, Jackson Jr. Naomi’s husband, was good at doodling, and was in advertising for a while and good at casual art. Around 1960 he had two comics or cartoons published; one in Look and a short time later one in Playboy.
The first products Bud created were men’s woolen vests that were also screen printed with cocktail-themed designs and sports cars, thus the name Vested Gentry. Ads were placed in The New Yorker magazine and orders were taken. Bud actually hand screened the first articles at home in the bedroom on a flush door. Orders from individuals and Ambercrombie & Fitch were filled as they were received. They also made some men’s hand screened shirts.
The label for Vested Gentry was a stoic guy, dressed in black, wearing a top hat.
2. Is there a special significance to the name Vested Gentress?
That was the name the Bud created when he began the woman’s line in 1961 and began phasing out the men’s wear.
3. How was the logo of the equestrienne chosen?
This was a creation of Bud’s, who felt that the logo fit the name.
4. What can you tell me about the fabric designs?
In the beginning all of the designs were the personal work of Bud. He really most enjoyed drawing the animals. Most of the floral prints were purchased as Bud did not enjoy drawing the florals.
Did you employ an artist?
In the later days an artist was hired, mostly for the florals.
5. Was the screen printing done in your own factory?
Yes it was done in the factory, in a large room with many screeners. We could handle a ten color process. At the factory there were approximately thirty-five employees: screeners, designers and sample makers.
What about the sewing?
6. I’ve noticed that many of the designs incorporate a big, friendly dog. Was he based on an actual dog? Did he have a name?
The dog logo was based completely on a family pet and member of the family, a 200 pound Newfoundland hound named Briney Bear. He was the chairman of the board and had his own stationery. The hang tag, also designed by Bud was based on a drawing of Briney Bear. The hang tag logo can also be found on Bud’s headstone.
7. Was Vested Gentress marketed as an active sports line? So much of it seems to be appropriate for golf and tennis.
There was a pro line, that was sold exclusively in country club pro shops. This was late in the life of the line.
Vested Gentress had four of their own retail stores, Rehoboth, Delaware, Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and Jupiter and Clearwater, Florida. Florida was the largest sales area.
8. Which of the print motifs were the most popular?
Heads and Tails which is the horse with the bows, and one with a parrot. The parrot was also based on an actual creature. He was positioned outside a barber shop in Florida, and when they went by him the parrot would bother Briney Bear.
9. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad for Vested Gentress in vintage magazines. Did the company advertise on a national level?
Yes, mostly through The New Yorker.
10. How and when did the business close?
Naomi remembers that Lilly Pulitzer folded (1984) prior to her husband’s passing in 1985 and Vested Gentress closed sometime after he died. Dan said that they kept the business going for a while after his father died, but that Vested Gentress was Bud’s passion, and it was too hard to continue without his guiding force.
Naomi stated that they were surprised at Lilly Pulitzer’s closing as they had three items in Town & Country that year.
Vested Gentress was a true family company, with Bud and Naomi running the company and the children working there as well. Dan said that his first job was sweeping the factory floor on Saturdays. He was able to work his way up.
Many thanks to John Fibbi, who found me and who transcribed Naomi’s story. And thanks to Naomi and Dan for answering all my questions. Also thanks to members of the Vintage Fashion Guild for providing so many great illustrations of Bud’s work.
A few words about the label:
Vested Gentress was started in 1961, and in 1966 the equestrienne trademark was registered. The version on the trademark site shows the woman without a riding crop in her hand, and I’ve seen labels that do not have the crop. I assume thay are older than the much more commonly found woman with a crop. The Jacksons had no recollection of the change in the label. If you find a label with no crop and no R (registered) symbol, I think you can safely assume it is from before 1966.
To see even more, here is an old blog post at the Vintage Merchant blog.