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!