Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.

If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.

If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.

Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.

At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards.  And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.

To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.

The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…



beach croquet…

and fishers.

I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.


Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles

5 responses to “Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

  1. Jacq Staubs

    This print is so interesting – as it looks like the registry prints associated with interior fabrics from the previous decade. Often used on upholstery and drapery.Akin to a toile. Fascinating stuff. Thank you / i missed the earlier posting. Must read more about her.


  2. Christine Seid

    What an interesting print – it looks like it has quite a repeat In the pattern- more scenes than you’ve individually posted. That’s the kind of textile I could get lost in. Thanks so much!!


  3. I have a collection of Keefe’s handkerchiefs. This style is so different. It would be interesting to find more examples.


  4. Nann

    How interesting! I’m a Tammis fan, too — I have hankies and dish towels. And I got an interlibrary loan copy of the Chee research paper (and makde a copy for myself). (Did you know her partner was advertising exec Jane Trahey’s? Trahey wrote Life With Mother Superior which became a movie called “The Trouble With Angels” starring Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell.)


  5. One of the saddest parts of reading about older American garments is that they were all made in this country.

    Maybe I’m simplifying but I wonder if our national decline has something to do with the fact that our clothing is not made here. People that used to have useful jobs making things in all cities and towns of the US no longer have that option. No wonder drug abuse and violence take over where useful enterprise leaves.

    How bitterly ironic that vintage American clothes, styles made here, manufactured here, are often sought after in those nations we defeated in WWII.

    Japan has a huge industry of Vintage Americana sellers and wearers who especially respect the high quality of 1950s American clothes.

    I wish our leaders (whatever that abused and hollow word means today) would craft a national policy to rebuild our crafts and factories in every state, even creating protective taxes, to encourage American made clothes again.


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