Tag Archives: 1940s

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

Late 1940s Photographic Prints on Fabric

Late in 1947 the big news on the textiles front was the development of a process that allowed photographs to be printed on fabric. It was so big that Life magazine reported on the new printing processes in December of 1947. Today, photos printed on fabrics are everywhere, and one can even do it at home on their own computer. And when I think of vintage photo prints, I tend to think of those from the 1970s that were printed on polyester knits.

Occasionally a photo printed piece from the 1940s surfaces on the market. Most of the ones I have seen are multiple photos of a place. I have seen prints of San Francisco and of Seattle. I have also seen a fabric that had a variety of travel destinations. And at the present time there are Florida and Hawaii themed photo print garments for sale on eBay.

I had been wanting to add one of these unusual prints to my collection, but had been holding out for a woman’s garment in a travel print. As luck would have it, I stumbled on a sports themed print on a scarf instead.

This scarf is from the late 1940s or early 50s, and seems to be printed on parachute silk. I say seems to be because there is not enough available random fiber to do a burn test. The other alternative is that this is a thin and crisp acetate.

I especially love that most of the sports people are women, and that they are dressed in practical clothing for active sports.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities

1940s Vitality Open Road Shoes

I recently found this pair of wedge heeled shoes on eBay, and was really delighted when they arrived in my mailbox. I don’t buy a lot of shoes for my collection for various reasons, and I’m quite cautious when I find a pair I might want to add to my collection. These more than met my strict criteria.

Condition is a big problem with vintage sporty shoes. It’s fairly easy to find superb examples of evening shoes that date back to the early days of the twentieth century, but comfortable day shoes were often worn until they were done for.  This pair looks like they just came out of the shoe box, circa 1947.

How did I arrive at that date? First, I could be off a year or so in either direction. I have spent considerable time engaged in research involving 1940s and early 1950s fashion magazines. To me it’s really interesting to follow a trend from its first appearances in advertisements, to the days, often years later, when the trend becomes a has-been.

Wedge heels first appeared in 1936 in Italy with designer Salvatore Ferragamo, though they didn’t really catch on until WWII made practical heels more necessary. They continued after the war ended, into the early 1950s.

In trying to date my shoes I looked for two things: ads from the Vitality Shoe Company, and wedges that have a curved, rather than a flat sole. From 1945 through 1954, I found only one ad from Vitality.

This ad is from 1949 and it features three styles of wedge heels. Note that the pair on the bottom left has a slimmer and higher wedge. I noticed this happening around 1947, and by 1954 the old thick clunky-look wedge was gone.  Note also that Vitality calls these walking shoes the Wanderlust line. My thinking is that this line replaced the Open Road line. The last ad I found on-line for Open Road was 1946.

Vitality was part of the International Shoe Company of Saint Louis. At one time it was recognized to be the largest maker of shoes in the world. They made average price range shoes, so it is interesting to see how very well-made my shoes are.

I love the way there is a woven label inserted under the insole. That feature pretty much ended with the 1940s.

During WWII, shoe colors were strictly limited because the dyes used for leather contained ingredients needed for the war effort. I have read there were six colors allowed, but a Smithsonian article says there were only four: black, white, brown, and russet.

At any rate, these shoes could not have been made during the war years with the beautiful red and blue, and the trim of even more colors.  In my research, I noted that by the beginning of 1946, American consumers were once again able to buy colorful shoes.

After the war ended there was an increasing interest in style from the American West. Many service men and women and defense workers had enjoyed the “California lifestyle” during the war, and the Westernwear of Hollywood actors must have also played a part.

I can’t help but think that in today’s world, a cry of “cultural appropriation” might be raised against my moccasin/wedgie hybrids.  With their colorful but vaguely Native or Southwestern vibe, I can see how they could have been just the shoes for women who were ready to wear color again.

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Filed under Collecting, Shoes, World War II

Empire Sporting Goods, Spring & Summer 1942 Catalog.

I added this 1942 Empire catalog to my collection for several reasons. First, I have an Empire piece in my collection, and I wanted documentation for it. But I was also interested to see how women’s sports clothing, especially softball uniforms were marketed in the very earliest days of WWII. This was a full year before the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that we all know of from the movie A League of Their Own.

http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/catalog/empire42/empire42a.jpg

Click to enlarge.

Before 1943, women were expected to play softball rather than baseball (something that for the most part is true today). As you can see from this page, the softball uniforms were very much like traditional baseball uniforms worn by boys and men. If you have seen A League of Their Own, you know that the women in that league did not wear traditional baseball uniforms. The Smithsonian has one of the women’s baseball uniforms that belonged to  Betsy Jochum, a player for the South Bend Blue Sox. I want, no I need, one of these uniforms in my life.

Looking through this catalog, it’s interesting to see how subtly fashion appears in the clothing. Often sports clothing is not thought of as being fashionable at all, but fashion is reflected in even an object as mundane as basketball shorts. Remember the good old days when Tom Selleck wore his shorts very short on Magnum, P.I.? It was the same on basketball courts across the country. When shorts lengthened and became baggy in the 1990s, the change was also seen in basketball uniforms.

In addition to the active sportswear, Empire also offered school jackets for both men and women. By the 1940s the standard raglan sleeve “letter jacket” was already available for men, but they also had more stylish offerings for both men and women.

And because this catalog must have gone to press just as the USA was entering WWII, there were all sorts of military logoed items available. I’ve got to wonder if these were actually ordered by the military, or if they were available to just anyone.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, World War II

1940s SS Neptune Linen Top

It seems like I’ve been on a real nautical kick lately, as the last three items I’ve added to my collection were inspired by the sea. It’s not surprising, really, as sportswear has from its very early days been influenced by clothing traditionally worn at and on the ocean. Garments like the middy blouse were based on the sailor’s middy, and nautical motifs are really common in sports clothing.

Today’s nautical garment is a top from the post-war 1940s. The fabric is linen, and is nice and crisp.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this top, and its original purpose. At first I thought it might be a beach cover-up, but the length seems a little short for that use. The presence of the pockets, and the fact that there are only three buttons keeps this from being a blouse that would tuck into pants or shorts. So I’m going with jacket. I can see this paired with a pair of white slacks, with maybe a tee shirt or halter top beneath.

I love the colors, which are not the standard nautical red, white, and navy. The rope around the life preserver is the very same color as a sash on a late 40s pants set I have. Color is fascinating, because you really can use it to help with the dating of garments.

At first I could not decide if the buttons were the originals, but a very close inspection of the thread used in the making of the buttonholes, and the thread used to sew on the buttons seems to be a match. So I’m pretty sure they are the originals.  And you can tell by the handmade button holes that the jacket was made by a home sewer, rather than manufactured commercially.

The sewer knew her (or his, possibly…) fabrics and took no chances with the linen. To eliminate raveling, the armscye was bound in bias tape, and the seams were flat felled. There are no exposed edges anywhere on the garment.

I looked to see if there was any special SS Neptune, and found a lot of photos of a sailing ship caught in the arctic ice. There have been lots of ships named Neptune, for obvious reasons, and I guess this print was named not for a real ship, but for an imaginary Neptune.

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

One Woman’s Clothing

An owner of a vintage clothing store once told me that the best part of running the store was all the great stuff that people brought to her. She never had to go in search of stock. Writing a blog about clothing history is a bit that way, as I’m always hearing from people who have great stories to tell, but also I hear from those who have a few questions about what they have.

Not too long ago Julia of Carolina Thrift Chick emailed me about a playsuit set she got from an estate. In emailing back and forth I found that from the same estate she had gotten some nice 1940s pants sets. I was lucky to not only get these sets, but I also learned a bit about the original owner, Mary Jane Hefner of Hickory, NC.

Jane was born in 1931 and attended Lenoir Rhyme College. It’s very likely that these garments were part of her college wardrobe.  They date to the second half of the 1940s, and she would have probably started college in 1948. In the original collection, Julia also found a lot of 1950s skirt suits, which Jane would have worn in her first job of teaching.

Jane seems to have been very fond of the warm peachy colors found in these suits. She also liked browns and dark blues. She was one of those dream women that vintage clothing sellers love to find, as she evidently kept everything, and stored things properly. Both suits still have the tags in them where they were dry cleaned before they were stored. Her cousin who is managing the estate said that she wanted to make sure Jane’s clothing went to a good home where it will be cherished. I think my home fits that bill.

Mary Jane Hefner eventually left teaching to care for her aging parents and an aunt. Throughout her life she kept and loved animals of all sorts, from guinea hens to goats. And she was a very stylish dresser.

Both of the pants sets are made from rayon that have a lovely drape. At first I thought that the one above was missing its belt, but then it dawned on me that the tie belt I photographed with the cream colored suit matched the buttons and trim on the peach colored one. The tie was hanging with the cream suit in storage, so maybe Mary Jane wore it with both suits.

The cream suit does not have a label, but the peach one was made by Kabro, a company based in Houston, Texas. I don’t know why that photo makes the fabric look off white. It is peach.

Here’s the back. That deep inverted pleat and the two pleats on the side must have made this very comfortable.

The playsuit is also in a peachy color. It is made from cotton, and has the best series of buttons. It completely buttons from one side of the shorts, across the waistband, and up to the neck.

And here it is with the matching skirt. It looks rather long for the day, but Jane was tall. Her pants measure 44 inches long.

The pretty neckline makes this playsuit look a little less like a gymsuit than many of the 1940s playsuits I’ve seen.

Interestingly, this set also has a Texas label – Nardis of Dallas. Both Nardis and Kabro were distributed nationally. Nardis was the official supplier of clothing to the Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1960s, so you might have seen some of their clothes on Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie.  As far as I can tell, Nardis was opened in the 1930s and it survived until 1980.

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Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

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