Category Archives: Advertisements

1940s Fashion Letterheads

Six years ago I ran across the correspondence of a clothing sales representative, most of which was rejection letters from firms with which he was seeking a position. I wrote about the letters at the time, but in looking through them recently I was really struck by several new thoughts.

Many of the letterhead illustrations included facsimiles of the labels the companies used. These could be useful not only in helping to date a garment, but also in identifying the maker of a certain label. In the case above, Miss Modern Playtogs, Ethel Lou Creations, and Nina Lou Frocks were all made by the Alton Garment Company of St. Louis, a fact that would be lost if not for documentation such as the letters.

Another important lesson from these letters is how widespread the manufacturing of clothing was in the United States. Fashion history tends to focus on New York (and no doubt, the fashion industry there was very important), with an occasional nod to the California and Florida sportswear makers, the junior dress industry of St. Louis, and the woolen manufacturers of the North and Northwest.

We are reminded that Dallas was another center for sportswear, and that Cleveland had a large knitwear industry. Not only was Saint Louis a center for junior wear, so was Kansas City. And I couldn’t help but notice how many different clothing manufacturing companies were located in Boston.

It’s interesting how the logos and fonts used by some companies looked old-fashioned for the late 1940s…

while others were definitely looking toward the 1950s.

The California companies were more likely to use “California lifestyle” imagery in their logos.

Companies that made clothing for children and teens were more likely to use images of dresses.

Teen and junior lines were more likely to use quirky fonts and design.

And whatever happened to the word frock?

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Dunlop Beach Sandals, 1939

Some time ago I found a pair of 1930s beach shoes from France, so I guess it was bound to happen that I find a pair from Great Britain as well. I would have been happy with just the shoes, but they came in the original box which was just the best icing imaginable.

I spotted these on Instagram (that great enabler of collectors) in the feed of @wideawakevintage. If you are not following her, do please, as she finds the most amazing stuff. After nearly breaking my neck to get to her etay store, I found the shoes were still there and so I purchased them. It was not until the package arrived that I found the box was included.

There’s a real plus to buying from sellers who are obsessed with the history of things. They are on the lookout for ads and such to help with the dating of the things they find. And Michelle of Wide Awake really went above and beyond the duty of a vintage seller, as she not only found an advertisement with my new shoes…

she also found this photo for sale on Etsy with a woman wearing the shoes! I love how she has paired them with ankle socks and a dress, proving that beach sandals are not just for the beach.

Okay, these are not one hundred percent exactly like mine, but they are pretty darned close.

It’s always great to see something I have in my collection in the actual context of it being worn. Ads are great, but it takes a real woman to put these shoes in a real situation.

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The Fall Hat Box, 1911, Muhlfelder’s of Albany and Troy, New York

After buying the little purse catalog that was shaped like a purse, how could I resist a hat catalog shaped like a hat box? And even better, this little booklet proves to be a memento of an important event in a woman’s life – that of her wedding.

The owner of the booklet recorded the date of the wedding…

along with her new name and address.

This is a very good clue that Mrs. Klee’s first name was Rose, and the 1930 census provided a record of George and Rose Klee living in Troy. The 1940s census has George and Rose still living at 2231 Burdett Avenue in Troy with their son, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.

On another page is the name Rose Ney. And yes, this is the same Rose, as Ancestry.com has her as Rose Ney Klee, born in 1890. There is even a photograph of Rose.  Rose lived to be 96 years of age.

Rose got married in the era of the huge hat. Think Titanic or My Fair Lady. I hope she had a suitably large hat for her wedding.

Muhlfelder’s was established by Jonas Muhlfelder, a German-Jewish immigrant. He worked in the wholesale millinery business in Albany before setting up his own stores for ladies around the turn of the twentieth century. The Albany Institute of History and Art has a fantastic photo of the millinery department of the Albany store.

Veils were for mourning, and also for motoring.

Most of these hats required not only a big pile of hair, but also a very long hat pin. Still, looking at photos of women in hats of this era makes me wonder how they balanced it all. It must have been a big relief to pull out the pin and place the hat on its stand.

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Filed under Advertisements, Proper Clothing

Harford Frocks Sales Cards, 1940s

I think most of us would be familiar with at least one company that marketed direct to consumers in their homes. Examples are Avon cosmetics, Longaberger baskets, and Fuller brushes.  In most cases the salespersons were (are, as some of these are still in business) not employees of the company, but were private contractors who took orders for a commission. There were also several companies that sold clothing. One was Doncaster, who first used members of the Junior League as their “fashion consultants”. Doncaster recently closed after eighty-seven years.

Another fashion company that used direst sales was Harford Frocks of Cincinnati. Consultants were usually women, especially homemakers who wanted to make a little extra money. Each consultant had a sales kit that included cards showing all the available styles. The best part was the attached fabric swatch on each card, allowing the customer to actually feel the fabric.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the company so I can’t give a complete history of the company. The president was Clarence Israel, who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. His papers are held by the American Jewish Archives, but there is probably not much about his time at Harford. His more important work was as a social activist, and he worked to benefit the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

There are several interesting tidbits I want to share, however. I couldn’t find any firm dates for when Harford was in business, but the best source for trying to figure it out was Pinterest. Lots of cards are on view there, with the earliest ones dating to the mid 1920s, and the latest to the mid 1960s.

The company advertised in cheap magazines and comics, and according to the ads, the consultant got a free dress for every three she sold. I also found ads in the want ads section of Popular Mechanics.

The company was located in what is today the American Sign Museum. In 1937 the Ohio flooded, and the building was damaged. They sued their insurance company because it would not pay for damages. The insurance company won the case.

I have thirty-seven cards, but they are double-sided. They are not dated, but the designs look to be 1946 ish to me.  There are all kinds of garments, including  socks for men and “Curve Curbers” (aka girdles). There are suits for women and a few designs for little girls. But by far the best represented garment is the frock.

Each design has a fabric swatch or two, and included are the sizes available. They had three size ranges, what we would today call juniors, misses and half sizes. Some of the designs went up to a 44 inch bust.

The designs marketed to the teen market often had novelty features, like the pockets above.

This two piece dress looks like it has Schiaparelli-inspired buttons, but look closer and you’ll see that the buttons are round, and the top of the notes are embroidered onto the jacket.

Noticeably absent are pants. These shorts were the only pants in the entire set, though I have no way of knowing if some cards, which may include pants suits, are missing.

There were several sundresses with jackets. The horse fabric is a printed pique.

This is a versatile set, but it would be even more so if a pair of shorts were included.

One of the best things about post-World War Two fashion was the return of lots of color. Note that even the shoes are a bright, cherry color.

Like so much of the clothing advertising in the first six decades of the twentieth century, the fabric was up front and featured. Bates was a well-known brand of textiles, and Harford was quick to point out the connection.

Pleated to capacity!

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Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, manufacturing, Proper Clothing

McEwens of Perth, Scotland Wools, 1961

Today I wore a skirt I made from Pendleton Black Watch plaid, and that reminded me that I had not talked about a group of brochures I have that advertise Scottish plaids and woolen knits.  McEwens was actually a department store which operated for nearly 150 years before closing in 2016. McEwens had a feature that people today would consider to be a real luxury, but which was fairly common in nicer departments stores in 1961. That feature was a department that made clothing to order.

My brochures are advertising skirts made from wool. There were sixteen skirt styles from which to choose, and sixteen different tartans. A buyer would fill out the order form which asked for the correct measurements. She would then order either a waistband or a petersham waist. She could order pockets for an additional charge. The item was truly made to order.

All the style names start with “glen”. The prices quoted beneath each style was just for the sewing charge. The fabric had to be bought for an additional charge.

If you wanted a truly coordinated ensemble, you could buy your sweater from McEwens using this handy chart that told which sweaters would match. I really love the Black Watch skirt above with that deep green twin set. You probably gathered that because I have it pictured three times.

The custom department at McEwens also made other garments, like these coats and jackets. Note how much more it cost to make a jacket than a skirt.

For home sewers, McEwens sold the fabric by the yard.

This catalog showed some of the made-to-order items along with what might be considered the types of items tourists visiting Scotland were looking to buy. Things like kilt pins, tartan neckties, and tartan scarves.

A shopper could not only choose the style of handbag, but also the tartan used and the color of leather trim. I can’t imagine what this would cost today, but the best that I can figure, these cost approximately $120 in current dollars.

I find so many vintage tartan scarves that I think every visitor to Scotland must buy at least one. It has to be a rule, right?

I think I need a pair of New Caledonian dancing sandals.

 

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Most Wanted: WWII Era Block Printed Swimsuit

I’m starting a new feature just to show how I can get something on my mind and just keep thinking about it until I either drive myself crazy, or I find an example. Lately, I’ve been all about swimsuits like the one on the right.  These were a wartime innovation, probably in response to the scarcity of dyes and fabrics.

All the ads I’ve found date from 1943 through 1949. Even though there were two piece swimsuits before WWII, they became more prevalent during the war. Because the pieces of fabric used to construct the tops and bottoms are smaller than would be in a one piece, the cutter of the fabric could be more creative in the placement of the pieces, and could work out ways in which to save fabric.

Dyes were made of chemicals used in the war effort, so fabrics were limited to fewer colors. The block printing of the design added color to the white fabric while saving on dye.

All of the examples I’ve seen were made by Catalina Knitting Mills of California, and I’ve seen the idea attributed to their designer, Mary Ann DeWeese (Remember these lobster suits by DeWeese?). I imagine there were companies that copied the idea.

I’ve seen this outrigger canoe design in shades of blue. It’s pretty impressive!

See the difference a few fish (whales?) make?

I’m not sure if this one is actually printed, or if  it is cut and pieced. I’m glad I picked this one out to enlarge because the shoes on the woman on the right are very similar to a pair I have. Otherwise I would never have noticed them.

And here’s another view of the same suit.

These do come on the market quite often, but the prices are always pretty insane. I can see why they are so desirable, so I’ll just wait until I find one in a dusty corner of an estate sale. It could happen, right?

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Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Most Wanted, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Photographs

Late 1940s Alice Stuart Travel Blouse

One thing that really determines whether or not I add an object to my collection is the condition, especially if it is a fairly common garment.  But sometimes a piece that is damaged crosses my path and I have to decide if the garment is special enough to disregard the damage.

Such was the case of this rayon blouse from the late 1940s or early 50s.  I loved the print, which is made up of ocean liner stickers.  I loved the blue, black, and lime green color scheme.  I loved the style.  But it had numerous problems.  The price was reasonable, so I bought it anyway.

Look carefully at the two photos above to spot the differences.  The bottom photo is before a few temporary repairs.  There were a series of darts that released into fullness above the waist.  This was a design trick that helped a tucked in blouse look neater because it reduced the bulk around the waist.  A previous owner had taken out all the darts, and then she hemmed the blouse about an inch and a half.

Here you can see the stitch marks that had been removed, and the fold line where the blouse had been hemmed.  Note that the stitch lines of the darts had been strained, which probably explains that they had been removed following a weight gain.  The shorter length could possibly have occurred late in the 1950s when over-blouses became popular.

Because the seamlines were somewhat compromised, I decided not to restitch the darts permanently.  Instead, I lightly basted them in place so that when displayed they had the shape of the original design, but with less stress on the dart seams.  The seams around the bottom of both sleeves had been repaired, with much of the underarm seams being broken.  Again, I used basting as these seams were also in fragile condition.

After the repairs, the blouse is still fragile, but is strong enough for display.  It has the look of its original self.

The ad above is from September, 1951, around the time my blouse was made.  One thing I love about researching old brands it that it allows a few guilt-free hours looking through vintage fashion magazines.  I did not expect to find an ad for my blouse, as I would have remembered this print from previous browsings.  But I felt confident that I would find ads for Alice Stuart.

Blouses were a very big deal in the 1940s and 50s, with there being dozens of companies that made blouses exclusively.  Every issue of magazines targeted toward the career girl, like Glamour and Mademoiselle, had plenty of blouse advertisements including those for Alice Stuart.

From the ad above you can see that the blouses were made by Alice Stuart, Inc.  By 1956 the label had become part of the Jonathan Logan dressmaking empire.  In that year Jonathan Logan registered the trademark, which the application claims that the label was first used in 1942.  That sounds about right, though sometimes the information contained in trademark applications involved a bit of guesswork by the applicant.

I have no idea when the label was discontinued, but a search on ebay produced styles from the 1980s.

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Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing