A few weeks ago I got an email from a new reader here, Diana. After exchanging a few back and forth she mentioned that she had worked for Bates Fabrics in the late 1940s . She had trained for a career in radio, and after college she worked doing women’s programs for a station in Maine.
Bates, which was at the time most famous for their bedspreads and home fashions fabrics, hired Diana as part of an effort to expand more into fashion fabrics. Bates had famous designers do clothes using their fabrics, and Diana’s job was to travel around the northeastern US summer resort hotels presenting fashion shows utilizing these clothes. She got some of her friends to model the fashions while she did commentary.
Here you see Diana at the microphone, describing a gown made of Bates fabric. The model is Hazel, Diana’s sister-in-law.
Another photo from one of the fashion shows. Isn’t it interesting how the audience sat around under the sun umbrellas?
Diana pointed out that while the young women had a wonderful time, she’s not sure that the campaign was very successful. I do know that at least some of the clothes were produced for the market, including the Louella Ballerino for Jantzen swim suits in the 1946 ad at the top. I thought it was really interesting that one of the women involved, Diana’s friend Cricket, sent her the same ad as an example of the clothes included in this campaign. Below is another example.
Blueprint for tomorrow by Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck, star of “Double Indemnity”, a Paramount Picture, plans to commute by helicopter from Hollywood to her home – after the war! You will be able to travel by air too, and perhaps have your own plane if you buy enough War Bonds now! Those who want a touch of tomorrow in their homes today are selecting Bates bedspreads, designed to provide warmth as well as beauty… and they see in Bates spreads with matching draperies tomorrow’s answer to decoration.
This has got to be one of the oddest star endorsements of all time. Here is the glamorous Barbara Stanwyck in a bedroom decorated with cotton bedspread and curtains that are covered with log cabins and pine trees. I somehow had her pictured as more of the satiny boudoir type.
And then there is all that talk about the future, with good reason. “For the duration” was a common way of referring to wartime life, with the hope of a brighter future being one of the things that got people through all the shortages and sacrifices. Still, it seems to be strange that a fabric covered with log cabins is being touted as the answer to tomorrow’s decorating problems!
Here’s an example of how ads can aid in researching an item. A few years ago a friend of mine was trying to piece together a biography of Louella Ballerino, when I ran across this ad featuring her working in Bates fabrics, making swimwear for Jantzen. Not long after that I found the swimsuit below. While it sports the Jantzen and the Bates labels, there is no reference to Ballerino. I think it is safe to say my suit is part of the same collection, seeing the use of black in conjunction with the distinctive print.
In 1946 the two piece bathing suit was relatively new, having been first shown by Carolyn Schnurer in 1931, but taking almost a decade before gaining popular approval.
Bates gives you the first disciplined fabric – “Made to Behave!”
Those words must have sounded like a dream come true in 1950, when cotton fabrics had to be ironed into submission. The Bates Manufacturing Company first released their “disciplined” fabric in 1950, but the company’s history goes back to the 19th century.
The company was founded in 1850 in Lewiston, Maine by Benjamin Bates of Boston. Due to the waterfalls on the local river, the spinning and weaving machines were run from energy produced by water. Bates prospered, and soon the village of Lewiston boomed into an industrial city. For many years Bates was the largest employer in Maine.
Reading the history of Bates is like reading the story of the US textile industry. They were able to stay in business during the American Civil War because Benjamin Bates had seen the handwriting on the wall and thus had large stockpiles of raw cotton. In the early 1900s the issue of child labor was often focused around the Bates factory, due to some tragic accidents concerning children. And environmentalists often used the Bates Company as one of the worst examples of polluters in the US. Still, the company managed to stay in business until 2001.
Today one of the old mill buildings is home to Maine Heritage Weavers, makers of Bates-style bedspreads.
That’s really appropriate, as Bates was known for its home furnishing textiles, primarily bedspreads. But they made a wide range of textiles, including fabrics for clothing manufacturers and for home sewers. Bates Disciplined was their line of “permanent press” cotton fabrics.
I was lucky enough to find a nice length of Bates Disciplined last week. The olive green and turquoise and black color scheme is one of my all time favorites. No, I’m not musically inclined, but with a print this great who cares.