Category Archives: Vintage Clothing

Dating the Swirl Wrap Dress

Longer length plus pocket, so probably 1950s

Usually when you see a Swirl dress advertised, it is described as being from the 1950s.  However, the Swirl wrap dress was made starting in 1944, and its manufacture continued at least through the 1960s and possibly even into the 1970s.  So how does one date a style that was made practically unchanged for thirty years?
First of all, look at the label.   There are two labels that were used in the 1940s; “Ty-wrap by Swirl” and “Swirl by neat ‘n tidy.”  But by far, most Swirl dresses are simply labeled, “Swirl.”  It is thought that some of the early 1950s dresses have this label, but with the addition of the word “sanforized.”

To further complicate matters, the Ty-Wrap label is sometimes found on 1960s wrap dresses.  Perhaps a cache of the old labels was found and put to use at that time.

This Swirl is probably mid 1960s, judging by the length of the skirt.

Probably one of the best ways to judge the age of a Swirl is by its length. The later Swirls are considerably shorter in keeping with the shorter dress styles of the mid 1960s. If you have a short Swirl that you think might be from the 1950s, check the hem to be sure it has not been shortened.  Also, later Swirls are often not as full through the waist as those of the mid 1950s.
Another thing to consider are pockets. Vintage-voyager’s 1940s Swirl has pockets that are sewn into the side seams. The early 1950s Swirls had huge patch pockets. Later Swirls often had smaller pockets, one smaller patch pocket, or even no pockets at all.

Another clue might be the type of print and the colors used. Pink and yellow seem to be popular colors for Swirls, regardless of age, but pay attention to the details. The ultra feminine fabrics of the 1950s gave way to darker colors and more somber prints in the early 1960s.

A later Swirl with shorter length and no pockets

Last of all, there are some dresses from the mid 1960s that are not wrap dresses at all. They sometimes zip up the front, and have a separate tie belt, and they do have the familiar Swirl label. The length, style and colors point toward the mid 1960s for these dresses, and it’s my guess that the Park East and Swirl Girl labels soon followed these styles.

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The Swirl Wrap Dress

Today I have another of the articles I wrote several years ago for my website.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Swirl wrap dress story starts in Philadelphia with the L. Nachman and Son Company, which was located at 10th and Berks Streets. This company had produced clothing since the early days of the 20th century.  By 1940 they were making a product called the Neat ‘N Tidy, which was a pinafore apron.  In 1944 the Swirl dress and label were born.  Actually, the Swirl was originally conceived as an apron. When Lawrence Nachman registered the Swirl name with the US Patent and Trade mark office, the product was listed as “WOMEN’S AND GIRLS’ WRAP-AROUND APRONS”.  The wrap around apron was a common garment of the day.

How the concept of an apron evolved into a dress is not known (by me, at any rate!) but at some point, the Swirl became a dress – not really a housedress, but one step above.  It was a quick and easy way for a busy housewife to get dressed in a hurry for a trip to the market, or for a casual supper on the patio.  As their slogan at the time put it, Swirl was…”YOUR WRAP “N” TIE FASHION”.

This 1940s Swirl is in the vintage-voyager.com collection.

According to the 1951 ad below, the Swirl pictured came in three patterns and cost about $9.  Vivian Vance’s character on the TV classic, I Love Lucy, Ethel Mertz, frequently wore this style Swirl in the early days of the program.

By 1953, Jack Nachman, president of the company, was looking to relocate the Swirl operation to the South.  First, they would to be closer to where the cotton fabrics they were using were being produced. This would save transportation costs.  Secondly, it’s very likely that they wanted a cheaper source of labor, which was easily found in the non-unionized South.

So Mr. Nachman went south, to Greenville, South Carolina. Through business contacts there he settled on the little town of Easley, about fifteen miles from Greenville. The location was ideal. The town was in the middle of the cotton belt – the area where cotton was grown and then made into cloth.  The textile industry was booming.  In fact, there were sixty-seven factories producing cotton fabric in the Greenville area, factories eager to supply their product to a new clothing production plant.

Photo courtesy of Cur.io Vintage, dress is now in my collection.

And labor costs were very cheap. Most of the people eventually employed at Swirl were women, and that combined with the absence of unions worked to keep wages low.

The Nachman Company started construction on the Easley Textile Company (as the new subsidiary was known) in October, 1953, and in January 1954 the new plant opened. The plant was state of the art, with all new machines from Singer. This is interesting, because when a plant relocated in this fashion, it was usual for all the old machinery and equipment to be moved to the new location.

By 1955, the company was known as Swirl, Inc., with the corporate headquarters in Easley. According to the local Chamber of Commerce, the money generated by the plant (along with that from another new factory in town) enriched the town coffers to the point where a long-delayed hospital project was finally finished. Soon, a second Swirl factory was built in nearby Ware Place, South Carolina.

At the same time, the product line was expanded widely. A wide variety of cotton print fabrics were readily available, and Swirl took full advantage of this. Swirls were made in hundreds of different fabrics, and were decorated with embroidery, applique, lace, piping, rick-rack, and a wide variety of trims. The basic shape of the dress was always the same, with a bodice and sleeves cut in one piece and a full, usually gathered, skirt. They used a signature “Swirl” button at the back of the neck.

A Park East by Swirl dress

This one dress, the wrap model, was the sole product of the plant until 1962.  At that time a second product, the Models Coat, was trademarked and produced by Swirl.  The Models Coat, which sounds glamorous, was just a straight cotton robe that snapped up the front.

The Swirl wrap dresses were also made, but they were getting shorter, as the age of the miniskirt was looming.  By 1964, the company could see that fashions were changing radically, and their product was quickly becoming out-moded.  Plans were made to update the image of the company.

A Swirl Girl Wrap dress

As lifestyles changed, so did Swirl.  In the 1960s Swirl began making women’s loungewear and developed different lines for a more diverse consumer base. The first addition was the Park East label in 1964.  Park East was used mainly on shift dresses, sort of in the Lilly Pulitzer mode.  In 1965 came Swirl Girl, a younger, trendier line of casual dresses and loungewear.

I’m not really sure when the last Swirl wrap dress was made, but I’ve seen them that were knee length and had care labels, so it is my guess that the wrap Swirl was still being made in the early 1970s. They also started making them floor length, as the fashion for floor lenght dresses re-emerged in the 1960s.

Swirl with Maxime Caftan

By the end of the 1980s, the main product at Swirl was the Models Coat.  In 1990, the first real signs of trouble for the company came when sewers were laid off and production curtailed.  The decline of the company occurred slowly through the 1990s, and in 1998, Swirl announced that it would be closing its main facility.  The remaining jobs were phased out, and the company closed the Easley factory for good in 1999.

They did continue operations in Ware Place, South Carolina, making the Models Coat. Today, that house coat, or duster, as my grandmother called it, is still being made in New York by Swirl II Ltd, using mainly imported fabrics. The factory is located in Brooklyn, New York.

Geoffrey Beene for Swirl dress

Next: Some hints on dating Swirl dresses.

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Enid Collins of Texas Handbags

Several years ago I had the privilege to talk with Jeep Collins, the son of handbags designer and maker, Enid Collins.  The interview is in the archive here at The Vintage Traveler, but I also had written a short article about Collins and hints on how to place a date on the bags she made.  So, you may have already read this post, as I’ve taken it from my website, fuzzylizzie.com.  More about that at the bottom of the post.

To many American women and girls from the 1950s through the early 1970s, the Enid Collins bag was a “must have” fashion accessory.  These bags were fun fashion, and were the perfect handbag for a casual ensemble.  And the very features that made the bags so popular then, look just right with today’s eclectic approach to dressing.

“Port of Call” bag, courtesy of Maggie Wilds

Enid Collins was a Texas rancher’s wife, and she started making canvas and leather bags in the late 1940s in order to help her family make ends meet. At first her bags were sold in the gift shops of nearby dude ranches, but when Dallas department store Neiman Marcus placed an order, the Collins family found themselves in the handbag business.

Enid and her husband Frederic opened a factory in their town of Medina, Texas to produce their canvas totes. By 1958, they had eighty employees and had opened a retail outlet in Medina.  They also started a plant to construct the wooden boxes for their latest product, the box bag.  In 1966 another factory was opened in Puerto Rico. Wooden box bags decorated with papier-mâché were made in that factory. This operation was closed in 1968.

In 1970, Enid Collins sold her business with the copyrights to her designs to the Tandy Corporation.  She continued worked for Tandy for about a year before leaving the company.  Tandy continued to make Enid Collins designs through the early 1970s.  They eventually sold the company.  Enid Collins died in 1990.

Hints for Identifying and Dating Collins Bags

Outside ec signature on 1960s bag

Inside signature on 1960s box bag

Because the Enid Collins bags were so popular, there were many imitators. Bags produced during the time Enid and her family owned the company are marked ec on the outside of the bag. You will also find the name of the bag printed on the outside. The interior is usually marked “Enid Collins Original” and “Collins of Texas”, and often there is the galloping horse logo.

From a 1960s box bag

From a 1960s box bag

There are other ways that the bags were sometimes marked. There was a sun logo, and sometimes, the bags were marked on the bottom of the outside, instead of the inside.

Boxes were sometimes dated, and if you are really lucky, you’ll find one that has a handwritten signature by Ms. Collins, as she did frequent promotional signings. In order for your bag to be from the 1950s or 1960s, you should find Enid Collins’s name or initials, or both, somewhere printed on the bag.

Interior of a 1970s box bag

Bags that were made after the Collins family sold the business in 1970 have the design name on the exterior. The Collins name and horse logo will be found either on the exterior or on the inside, but Enid’s name will not be on the bag.

1970s Flutterbye Box. Notice, there is no ec signature.

There are many different bag designs, and often several variations on the theme. Popular designs such as the Glitterbugs and Flutterbye were updated and changed with the different seasons. Popular trends affected the designs, such as the mid 1960s Love bags, and various Flower Power themed bags which were made to appeal to younger buyers. Today, some of the most popular designs are the ones based on animals, such as Sophistikit and Wise Guy.

 

Over the past few years I’ve been moving all the articles from my old Fuzzylizzie.com website to this blog.  Does anyone even make static websites any more?

At any rate, I’ve been wanting to change the focus of the website for some time now, and I have settled on an idea that I hope will turn out to make a site that is useful to the fashion history community.  Called The Vintage Traveler Antique and Vintage Photo Archive, it will be a site where my entire collection of photographs will be posted as a resource for others studying sports and travel in women’s dress of the twentieth century.

It will take time to get it all posted, and so will be a work in progress over the next year or two.  I’ll be posting links as soon as the first photos go online.

 

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Mohair Sweater, Circa 1960

My first fashion history teacher was my mother.  In telling me about the clothes she wore as a young woman in the 1940s, I became fascinated with how clothing styles changed and how they reflected the times in which the wearers lived.  I’ve always loved stories about women and the clothes that have been important to them.

While I was young, I witnessed two major changes in the the way women dressed – the switch from the conservative styles of the early 1960s to the Mod styles of the mid 60s, and then from the Mod styles to the 1970s which brought about a greater acceptance of women wearing pants and a more eclectic way of dressing overall.

Growing up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, I was made aware at an early age that fashion as seen in magazines and on television was not always what was being worn in my community.  The girls I knew always complained that we were at least two years behind the rest of the country, but looking back I realize that it wasn’t just this area that suffered a fashion lag.  What woman or girl in the 1960s could afford to replace all her clothing every season?  And so wardrobes were made more stylish as clothing was replaced or altered.

One garment I recall from my childhood was the bulky mohair sweater.  Whenever I come across one of these sweaters, I’m instantly reminded of my older cousin Nancy and the other high school girls who rode my school bus.  All these teens were wearing mohair sweaters in the early 60s, but by the time I would have wanted one, they were no longer the style.  I estimate that the girls I knew were wearing them in the early 1960s, and my search for images confirms that this was the era in which they were popular.  The latest image I found was in a 1965 Montgomery Ward catalog.

Like most of these sweaters that I’ve seen, the catalog states that this one was made in Italy of a blend of mohair, wool, and nylon.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of wearing mohair.  Please tell me how itchy it was so I can get over this sense of loss at never getting to wear it as a child.

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Ad Campaign – Jantzen, 1944

I got the above ad from Pam at glamoursurf.com after she posted it during a VFG Sportswear workshop.  Not only is it a great ad, it was important to me because I have the shorts in the illustration.  It’s always great to get a date verification for things in my collection, especially in the form of an ad or magazine copy.

The ad comes from 1944 – note the reference to War Bonds and the pun of a headline.  Even though clothes were rationed and fabric was in short supply, the American sportswear makers still managed to come up with some wonderful sportswear.  This pleated (front only, to save fabric) short style is one of the most flattering shorts ever made, and they look just as fresh in 2016 as they did in 1944.

I originally posted this in 2008, but the shorts in Sunday’s post reminded me so much of these that I thought a repost was in order.

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1920s: The Long Tubular Look

Even people who know nothing at all about fashion history have a mental image of how women dressed in the 1920s.  Actually, they can picture how women sort of dressed in 1926-27, with an image of what can be called the flapper with her knee length dresses and long strings of pearls.

But of course history is not as simple as that stereotype.  Before 1925 skirt lengths wavered between eight and twelve inches from the floor, with a big shift toward shorter skirts developing in 1925.

One thing that most 1920s dresses do have in common is a dropped waistline.  It was really more of a hip line than a waistline.  While most dresses did sport this long waist, some dresses were tubular, with no waistline at all.

The tubular dress seems to be most popular in 1924, though it is seen and mentioned earlier in fashion magazines.  In December, 1922, Vogue advised, “Those who do not care for the unbelted waist-line may wear a narrow grosgrain ribbon ties at the side in long ends…”  The accompanying drawing showed these ribbon ties at the hip.

Also in 1920 there was a vogue for bordered fabrics.  Susan at Witness2Fashion did a fabulous post about the fashions of 1924, and if you look at it you will see how these borders were incorporated into the styles of that year.  Note too, how many of them are tubular.

I found and bought the dress above last week, and I feel pretty confident that it does date to 1924.  All of the design is machine embroidered, with the neck section being engineered as a curve in the embroidering of the fabric.  The sleeve caps, however, are cut and sewn to the sleeves.

There are only two pieces to this dress, the front and the back, with the sleeves being cut as part of them.  Note the covered buttons, and see that there are also rows of them on the sides, from the hip to the hem.

Here you can see how the sleeve trim is sewn on top of the little sleeve.

The dress is beautifully made, with all seams being enclosed.  It’s as neat and tidy on the inside as on the outside.

 

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Couture Sewing: The Couture Skirt by Claire Shaeffer

Claire Shaeffer’s method of making a couture skirt is one of those projects that has you wondering what you got yourself into, and then it all comes together and all is right in the world. I don’t mind spending a lot on time on one project, as I have enough clothes to do me for a while, and I sew to try and do something useful with all the piles of fabric around here.  In this case I saw an opportunity to use two pieces of great material – a silk and cashmere blend plaid, and a silk print in a similar colorway.

All of the books in Claire’s couture series come with a dvd that shows the how-to step by step.  I’m a very visual learner, and so the dvds are essential for me.  It helps actually seeing her work through the steps.

She suggests that the maker of this skirt start with any straight skirt pattern.  I actually had a vintage pattern that has a front wrap.  She gives the directions on how to add the wrap, but this saved me a step.  In this skirt, there are no side seams, so I had to place the front and back pieces together at the side to make one large combination piece.  The only two actual seams in the skirt are the center back and the waist band.

Straight skirts have  darts at the waist to allow for the proper fit, but in this skirt the fullness is steamed out rather than darted.  I did have to end up doing a dart at each side as there was just too much fullness to steam out.

Here you can see where I eased in the fullness at the waist.  The diagonal basting is to secure where the quilting lines went.  Yes, the lining and the fabric are quilted, just as in a Chanel jacket.  You can’t tell in my photograph, but I had to overcast the edges to cut down on fraying.

Because of the easing, the plaid lines don’t match up on the waistband.  I’m not so picky that this bothers me, and I don’t like tops to be tucked into a waistband, so it will never show.

The waistband is interfaced with petersham.  After sewing the band to the skirt, it is lined with the silk.

Here you can see the inside of the waistband.  You can also see the top of the zipper closure.  The zipper is put in by hand, and then the lining is slip-stitched to the zipper tape.  The band closes with two hook and eyes.  Even though this looks like a wrap skirt, it is actually a faux wrap, with the overlapping fronts both being attached to the same section of waistband.

To reduce bulk over the stomach, the wool plaid is actually cut away on the under-wrap.  To me, this was the hardest thing, because I was terrified I’d cut too much.  But it is an excellent technique, and really does remove fabric where most women don’t want that extra layer.  I finished the edges where the plaid was cut using a blanket stitch.

You also get a good look at the quilting which is seen on the lining, but is masked by the lines of the plaid of the fashion fabric.

This is the lower edge of the skirt, showing the wrap at the hem.  All the edges of the skirt were slip-stitched.  It you do not like hand stitching, this is not the project for you.

And finally, after more than a month of slip-stitching, the skirt was completed.  I’m sorry that the model is missing her head, but that is the fault of the photographer.

 

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