Tag Archives: dress

The List that Changed My Mind

There are a thousand ways to waste time on the internet, but there can’t be a bigger time suck than “the list.”  You know, those “well-researched” space fillers on free sites that enrich our lives with things like “The 10 best cars for people who like ice cream and believe in astrology,” or “The 15 worst foods for people living in Duluth, Minnesota.”

Until last week I’d never really thought too much about web lists, but two things came to my attention that have made me vow to never read another list.  First, the letter from the publisher in this month’s Harper’s magazine was a well-thought-out defense of the magazine’s continued policy of not giving their content away on the internet.  He makes the point that “good publishing, good editing and good writing cost money.”  He laments the way “content” has replaced prose and poetry.  And one of the biggest offenders is the list that pretends to be an article.

This point was really driven home when I came across an interesting sounding list, “50 Dresses that Changed Fashion.”  It’s not to be confused with a book of a similar name, 50 Dresses that Changed the World, though it does look as if there is quite a bit of over-lap.  Sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to link to the list, but you can google the title and find it, if you must.

There are some dresses on the list that one really can’t quibble with, like Chanel’s Little Black Dress, Diane Von Furstenberg’s jersey wrap dress, and Princess Diana’s wedding dress.  But please, someone explain to me how Lady Gaga’s meat dress changed fashion.  Why is Angelina Jolie’s “leg dress” on this list, and how did that dress change fashion?  Also quite puzzling are a 2006 LED dress by Hussein Chalayan, Rudi Gernreich’s topless dress (yep, I wear them all the time), Victoria Beckham’s first collection of 2008, and Mary Katrantzou’s 2011 ‘Room’ collection.

And it is important to say that there was no mention of Dior and the New Look, Christian LaCroix and his poof skirt, or Poiret’s corsetless silhouette.  Where is Chanel’s suit, and Yves Saint Laurent’s safari dress?

But lesson learned.  I’ll no longer listen to any lists.  The next time I’m tempted by “10 foods that will help you live to be 150,” I’ll go get myself a cookie instead of reading.

Edited because I forgot to insert my image, which, by the way, has little to do with the list in question, but it does point out how dumb lists can be.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Viewpoint

“They Took Off Like Zingo”

Photo copyright Lilly Pulitzer, Howell Conant

I’m not sure what “zingo” is, but that is how Lilly Pulitzer described the wild success of her tropical print dresses.  As you have probably already heard, Pulitzer died yesterday at the age of 81.

In 1957, Lilly Pulitzer was a rich but bored housewife.  A breakdown of sorts led her to New York, fleeing her life in Palm Beach, Florida.  Her doctor suggested she find something to do, and that she did.  She returned to Florida, and a couple of years later she and a friend started a fruit juice stand.

She and her dressmaker designed the original little cotton print shift dress to hide the stains the women acquired working in the fruit juice stand. Before long, people were asking about the dress, so Pulitzer began selling the dresses at the stand.  At first there were two designs – the basic sleeveless  shift, and the shift with short sleeves.

Pulitzer got a tremendous boost when first lady Jackie Kennedy was pictured in Life magazine wearing a Lilly Pulitzer dress.  By 1961 she had a lot more orders for her “Lilly” dresses than for juice, so she closed the stand and opened Lilly Pulitzer, Inc.  Within a few years the company was selling  15 million dollars in dresses a year.

Her dresses were brightly colored and often had whimsical prints that usually incorporated her name, Lilly, somewhere in the design.  She also began using a special hem lace, with the name Lilly  spelled out in it.  Her dresses spread far beyond Palm Beach, and proliferated nationally throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Above is an example of a mid 1960s dress.  The early to mid 1960s dresses are 100% cotton and usually have metal zippers.  Key West Handprinting was used to produce  the fabrics.

The label above is from the 1960s dress.  The early dresses often had the second label that read 100% cotton, and gave the care instructions.    Sometime in the mid to late 1960s Lilly Pulitzer started using a 65% Poly/35% cotton blend.  These later 1960s dresses usually have nylon zippers. Also, in the late 1960s, Lilly Pulitzer started making garments besides dresses, such as shorts, casual tops and slacks.

Lilly Pulitzer did a little girl’s line, named for her daughter, Minnie, and a junior line named for daughter, Liza (seen with her in the 1963 photo above).  Accessories, such as hats made to match the garments were added.  A men’s line was established  in the early 1970s.  The company also began to use other fabrics, such as printed cotton  jersey and polyester knits.

The dress above is from the late 1960s.  It is still made from 100% cotton, but has a nylon zipper.  Note the addition of “Lilly Pulitzer Inc.” on the label.  A little later, the copyright symbol © was added, probably in the early 1970s.

These 1970s shorts are made from a  65% Poly/35% cotton blend fabric.

As a general rule, the earlier Lilly labels have orange print, and the ones after the mid 70s have  green print .  You can see examples at the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource.

Even a mention in the 1980 Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach could not save the company.  Changing fashion styles forced Lilly Pulitzer, Inc. into bankruptcy in 1984.   The business closed, Lilly retired, and unfortunately, the company records and archive were thrown out.  In 1993 the label was revived under new owners, and it quickly regained the success of the label’s early years.  Lilly became a sometime consultant to the company.   Today the emphasis is still on the original bright colors and whimsical prints introduced by Ms. Pulitzer in 1959.

Label introduced in 1993.

It’s really quite amazing to think about just how influential Lilly Pulitzer’s simple tropical prints have been and how they continue to be copied today.  Maybe it is just the idea of buying into the tropical or coastal “lifestyle”.   Today the brand seems to say “Summertime Preppy” even more than it did when it first hit the fashion scene in the early 1960s.  Lilly herself lived that lifestyle – attended private school with Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, married a Pulitzer Publishing heir, and moved to south Florida.  And somewhere along the line she created a line of clothes that seemed to epitomize the lifestyle of the rich and prep school educated.

This post is adapted from a June, 2012 post.

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Filed under Designers

How Fashion Filtered Down, 1961

I thought I was finished with Cassini and Kennedy for a while, but a chance find in an antique store reminded me of this marvelous dress that Oleg designed for Jackie to wear to the Inauguration Gala in 1961.  Focus on the cockade at Jackie’s waist.  According to Hamish Bowles in Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years:

It was an element that pointed to Jacqueline Kennedy’s pride in her French Bouvier ancestry, her profound love of history, and her particular affinity with the eighteenth century.

I’m sure that to most people , it was merely a pretty ornament.  It was very interesting to find a dress that so clearly shows how elements of Mrs. Kennedy’s wardrobe were being adapted for the mass market.

I apologize for the truly terrible photos, but I’m sure you can see what I’m referring to.  Not only does this simple little black dress have the cockade, it is in the very same position as in Mrs. Kennedy’s dress.  But note also the overblouse and the two inverted pleats at the waist.  There were no labels in the dress, but it was commercially made.  One reads all the time about how influential Mrs. Kennedy was in matters of fashion, so it was interesting to see a dress that so clearly shows the influence of one particular dress.

This is the week that I normally post Vintage Miscellany, but due to other, more pressing matters, I’ve not been as much of an internet reader as usual.  Posting here may be a bit sporadic for a  while before I return to my regular schedule.

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Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing

Here’s Summers Well Liked Frock… The American Golfer

This piece of paper is actually an order form for an American Golfer dress,  circa 1934.  The card shows the checks and stripes available, and I hope you can tell that the card is actually embossed to show the texture of the fabric.  You can see it best in the white block.

I’d have called this fabric seersucker, but it was a special type of puckered fabric called Shir-O-Shakker, and was made by textile manufacturer Lorraine.  Sure looks like seersucker…

The back of the card tells what makes this sports dress special.  Many women were becoming serious about their performance on the golf course and other sports venues, and they expected their clothing to be suitable for the task at hand.

I especially love that pleated sleeve.  Women must have loved it at the time because I’ve seen it on non-sports blouses and dresses from the early 1930s.

American Golfer advertised extensively in the top fashion magazines such as Vogue, and I’ve seen ads from the early 1930s through the 1960s.  The company was located in Champaign, Illinois  and was owned by C.C. Willis.  By looking at the US trademark site, it appears that the brand was sold to Straus, Royer & Strass, INC of Baltimore in 1939.  I’d appreciate learning anything you might have found about this line of dresses.

And if the $6.50 price tag sounds attractively cheap, keep in mind that adjusted for inflation, this dress would cost $107.75 today.

I have an American Golfer dress in my collection, but it is from the late 1940s.  It is interesting because it is seersucker and it is striped in a similar design to the fabrics on my order card.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

The Start of an Obsession

Even though I’ve been buying and sort of collecting vintage clothing since the 1970s, it was not until about ten years ago that I really became interested in learning more about the American textile and garment making industries.   The first topic that really captured my imagination was the Swirl wrap dress.  The Swirl dress was not high fashion, but rather, it was a garment that was commonly worn by women at home or for casual occasions.

What piqued my interest was a post on a vintage chat board showing the hang tag on a never worn Swirl.  I was surprised to learn that the factory had been located in the up-state of South Carolina, not far from my home.

Over the years I’d run into my fair share of Swirls, but I had no idea they were a local product.  An online search turned up almost nothing, so I decided to travel to the source in search of information.  The factory had been closed for years, so the first place I went was to the public library in Easley.  There I found the local newspaper on micro-film, and with the help of a worker who remembered a basic timeline of the firm’s operation, was successful in locating articles about how the company moved to Easley in the 1950s.  Unfortunately, I also found articles that detailed the decline and eventual closing of the plant in 1999.

While a Swirl dress is not high fashion, it is fun fashion.  The dresses were made from cheerfully colored cottons and were often appliqued with fun designs.  A good example of a 1960s Swirl is this dress which my friend Monica Murgia has for sale on her site.   It reminded me of that very first hang tag that I saw so many years ago, and how it led me down this path of collecting and blogging.

An important feature of the Swirl dress is the button on the back neck that holds the dress together.  I love how the I is dotted with a button on the Swirl label.

All photos courtesy of and copyright of Monica Murgia.

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Filed under Textiles, Vintage Clothing

1940s Swirl Wrap Dress

Last week when I asked for some photos of Swirl wrap dresses, I knew I’d get some really nice ones.  The one I’m showing today is from Jezebel Amazon, a collector who has ten Swirls in her closet!  I wanted to show it because of the unusual label.

The Swirl 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, a pinafore apron.  In 1944 the Swirl name was added to the label.  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.    Though the Neat ‘n Tidy and the Swirl were  conceived as aprons, the Swirl functioned as a dress.

You can see another Swirl by Neat ‘n Tidy label on the two late 1940s or early 50s dresses I showed last week.  I’m of the opinion that Jezebel’s dress is a little earlier.  The shorter length, the design and colors of the print and the shape of the shoulder and arm opening look 1945-46 to me.  In that case, this just might be the earliest Swirl label that was used by the Nachman Company.

Another thing worth noting is that this dress does not have the swirly button that is associated with the Swirl wrap dress.  I’m beginning to believe that the swirly button came into being about the time the plain “Swirl” label came into being, which, if one can believe the US Patent and Trademark Office records, was in 1951.

All this analyzing of such a common garment label might be a bit of over-kill, not that that would stop me from such a pursuit!

All photos copyright Jezebel Amazon

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Filed under Vintage Clothing

Swirl Ballerina Dress

photo copyright of Cur.io Vintage

The internet never fails to amaze me.   I posted an ad for a Swirl dress that had a distinctive ballerina print, and two days later I have not one, but two photographs of Swirl dresses with the very same print.  The dress above is from Carrie, who owns Cur.io Vintage in Waltham, Mass, and Glad Rags and Curios on Ruby Lane.  The photo is of her shop window, showing the exact same dress as is in the 1951 ad.

There are several interesting things about this dress.  It has the early “neat ‘n tidy” label, and the button is plain.  Most Swirl dresses have a distinctive button with a swirl design, but the button on this dress is a plain pearlized button.  Carrie is quite sure it is original to the dress as the dress is deadstock.

Below is Karen of Small Earth Vintage on etsy.  While the print is the same except on black, her dress is of a different style.  It also has that great “neat ‘n tidy” label that was used in the early days of the dress.  Note the side pockets, which were sometimes found on early Swirl dresses.

photos copyright Small Earth Vintage

And for anyone who missed it, here is the Swirl add, from 1951.

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Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing