Tag Archives: dress

Ad Campaign – Swirl Wrap Dress, 1950s

walk into it… button once… wrap and tie…

How could there be a simpler way to get dressed?  Even in the 1950s, women looked for ways to simplify their busy lives, and the Swirl wrap dress people used that as the premise behind their advertising.  Today, the Swirl has a bit of a following, and I’ve seen prices steadily rise over the past ten years.  If you’ll look carefully at the ad, you can see that the price was $9.  That sound pretty cheap until you put it to an inflation calculator, and realize that in today’s dollar that would be $72.

$72 for what was basically a glorified housedress?  Yes.  People expected to pay more for clothing in the 1950s, and they expected it to be well made and expected it to last. And that is why the Swirl dress is relatively common today.  It was made from quality fabric by women who knew how to sew a dress so that it would last.

Several years ago I researched the company that made the Swirl dress,  L. Nachman and Son Company, after I realized that the dresses were made in a small South Carolina town an hour away from me.  Using old newspaper accounts and oral histories, I was able to piece together the story behind the dress.   Below these 1952 ads I’ve added an update on how to date your Swirl dress.

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 30 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.”

The problem with the common Swirl label is that it was used for some time, and even though most people associate that label with the 1950s, it was also used on early and mid 1960s wrap dresses.  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.  To see photos of the labels, look at the Swirl page at the Vintage Fashion Guild’s Label Resource.

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 Swirl that you think is older, but it is short, examine the hem to see if it was professionally sewn, as it is quite possible it was shortened in the 1960s.  Also, later Swirls are often not as full through the waist as those of the mid 1950s.

Another thing to consider are pockets. Some 1940s Swirl dresses have 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, like the ballerina print in the top ad, gave way to darker colors and more somber prints in the early 1960s.

Have a Swirl dress you’d like to share here at the Vintage Traveler?  Send a photo by email and if we get enough I’ll do a little show and tell.  thevintagetraveler at gmail.com

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Filed under Advertisements, Vintage Clothing

The Good Stuff

This super 1960s beach cover-up was an etsy find some time ago.  Actually, I didn’t find it, Kim at The Girl Can’t Help It did.   She posted about it on her blog, and I couldn’t get to etsy fast enough, hoping to find it still for sale.  It was and I made those magic five clicks that made this great print dress mine!

Seriously, reading blogs is like having personal shoppers.  Find a few that share your sense of style and stalk their finds.  And many bloggers who are also sellers use their journals to give shop previews.  There’s nothing like getting a head start when it comes to finding the good stuff.

And this is an example of the good stuff, not because it is valuable, or not because it was an expensive item when it was new.  No, this was a cheap item, and I’d guess the original owner paid less than $4 for it new.  It’s cheaply made, and the fabric is thin.  No, the value is purely in the print itself, with the colorful umbrellas and the legs and the lifeguard focal point.    It says a lot about the time in which it was made, so reminiscent of that Connie Francis movie, Where the Boys Are, except this has to be Where the Boy Is.

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Skating Attire

I’ve been holding these skating pictures, hoping to show them on an actual snowy day, but here it is the end of February and we’ve only had a couple of dustings.  (Of course that means everyone is walking around proclaiming that “It’s going to catch up with us,” or “We’ll pay for this later,” which means we are destined to suffer through a late snow like we did in March, 1993 when there was close to three feet in my front yard!)

Don’t you just love those high topped skates on the girl above?  The illustration is an advertising card from Star Brand Shoes.

Into the 1920s, women pretty much wore their warmest sporty attire when skating.  They might have a skirt that was shorter than what would have been worn on the street along with a warm sweater and a knit cap.  Most sources credit Olympic skater  Sonja Henie with the development of the short circular skirt for skating.  I found photos of her wearing that style skirt as early as 1928.

It’s interesting to me to see how this basic style is still the standard for competitive skating.  A very short skirt that moves with the action of the skater is what we expect to see a womam skater wearing.  The big difference is that there is no longer any pretense as to the warmness of the materials used.  The heavy materials of the past – wool and velveteen – have given way to chiffon, sequins and fringe.

Two mid century skating garments from my collection:

This folkloric style skirt is wool, made in Minnesota.

Could it be that this velveteen and felt skating dress was inspired by the decorated skirts of Juli Lynne Charlot?

I’m always looking for both skating clothing and photos of skaters.  Both are relatively hard to find compared to, say, ski clothing.  It could be that because skating never became the huge destination-vacation type sport as skiing, that women were just not as willing to invest the money for special clothing.  Any other thoughts?

And I just could not resist sharing this great roller skater:

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Filed under Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

Two Birds with One Stone – Zippers and Tweed

It’s nice knowing that people are thinking about me when they go in search of vintage treasures.  Recently Beth at Retro Roadmap was out thrift shopping when a lovely vintage dress caught her eye.  It was tweed, made in Ireland, but sold through a shop in Vermont.  Then she noticed a detail about the construction – the dress had both a metal zipper in the back and two nylon zippers in the sleeves.

She immediately thought of my recent post on the advent of the nylon zipper, and because she can’t leave a great dress hanging  unloved in a thrift, she took it home with her.  Then, being the generous person that she is, she arranged to send the dress to me.  The dress arrived today, and I’ve been consumed with figuring out the story behind it.

Thanks to a site called iPutney.com I was able to learn the story of Carol Brown.  Born Lucy Caroline Brown in 1889, she became interested in Irish woolens during a bicycle tour of Ireland in 1926.  She became friends of the Wynne sisters of the Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, Ireland.  Carol began importing the woolen yardage which she sold through a shop in Boston.  In 1937 she moved to Putney, Vermont and opened the shop in her home.

There she sold a variety of woolen goods – Irish tweed yard goods, woolen blankets and lap rugs, and handknit scarves, caps and sweaters.  Her interest in natural fibers led her to expand into other fabrics from around the world, such as fine Swiss cottons and Thai silks.  The shop was mentioned in a 1971 newsletter from the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women, in which the lap rugs were highly recommended!

Brown became a community leader and a patron of the arts in her adopted town.  She died in 1990, just shy of her 101th birthday.

The dress dates from the late 1960s or early 70s.  By then the nylon zipper had been around for around ten years, but as you can see, it was not universally used.  It’s possible that the sewer opted for a metal zipper because of the heavy weight of the tweed.  At any rate, it shows nicely how the use of the two types of zippers overlapped.

And what about that tweed?  Isn’t it stunning?

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Filed under Curiosities, Sewing

Di Sant’Angelo

I’ve had this Giorgio di Sant’Angelo dress for ages, but have never shown it off.  Well now I’ve got two good reasons to talk a little about di Sant’Angelo.

Di Sant’Angelo is one of those designers whose reputation has suffered due to the over-licensing of his name in the 1980s and 90s.  Most of the clothing found today with his label is of the dress for success variety – basic work clothing in grey flannel and plaid.  But during the 1960s and early 70s, he was in the business of turning women into gypsies.  He worked as a stylist for Diana Vreeland at Vogue, helping to turn her fantasies into magazine editorials in exotic locales.  And when those clothes could not be purchased by Vogue readers, mainly because so many of them were painted on the model, he began his own label.

For the next few years, he made colorful clothing of the ethnic sort that was so popular during this time.  He also worked with stretch knits with lycra, making bodysuits and fitted dresses.  In 1976, Di Sant’Angelo decided it was time for a change.  He simplified his name, dropping the di, he moved to a plainer apartment and bought modern furniture.  He continued to design, but with a very different aesthetic.  The gypsies were now working women.

But it is the gypsy that should be remembered, as my dress proves.  I’ve always thought it would have been the perfect 1970s wedding dress, so I was pretty amused to see Tori Spelling wearing the very same dress (not the actual dress; I still have the one above).

Photo copyright Life & Style

Here are some more photos of my dress, Enjoy the details.

If you are in the Phoenix area, you are in luck.  Now through February 12, 2012, the Phoenix Art Museum has an exhibition of Giorgio di Sant’Angelo’s work. Here is the exhibition poster.

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Filed under Designers

Latest Sewing Project – Stephen Burrows Dress

I’ve had this 1974 pattern by designer Stephen Burrows hanging on my idea board for some time, and last week I finally got around to making it.  Burrows was one of the bright young designers who designed clothes that were perfectly in step with the late 1960s and into the 70s.  I’ll be writing more about him this week, as I feel like he is not as well known as he should be.

I fell in love with this pattern the minute I spotted it.  I did have concerns about the collar, as I usually don’t like anything quite that big.  But it didn’t *scream* 1970s, so I made the decision not to alter it.  I’m glad I did, because it is just right with a scarf tied beneath.

And that, dear friends, is why Burrows is a designer and I am not.  Just because one wears clothes does not mean one can design them.  (Are you listening, celebrity-designer-wannabes?)

I made this from a wonderful double knit cotton jersey I had stashed away.  Don’t hear double knit and think , “Yuck!”   This fabric is a very far cry from the double knit polys of the 1970s, though I’d bet that most incarnations of this pattern were actually made in poly double knit.  Double knit merely means that the fabric is knit with a double stitch that makes the knit the same on both sides.  There honestly is not a wrong side to this fabric.  It was knit as a tube, and is probably the nicest cotton knit I’ve ever sewn.

Note that the pattern cover features this dress in bright colors and in white.  1974 was not a big year for the little black dress, and Stephen Burrows was known for his use of exciting color.

The pattern, McCall’s 4089, was simple to make, and went together in just a few hours time.  I really recommend it if you are in the market for a simple, but not plain, knit dress.

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The Little Black Dress

I’m out of town, delivering a German Shepherd to rescue, so please enjoy this article from my website.

Jacques Griffe, late 1940s

Black had been worn throughout Victorian times as the color of mourning, but in the 1910s, black made the leap from mourning to fashion.  In 1910, British subjects mourned the death of King Edward VII, and the wearing of black became commonplace.  Soon afterward, World War I began and with it women needed a simpler, more modern dress, unfortunately often in black.

But it was in the 1920s that black gained popularity as a fashion color, especially in dresses.  From the beginning of the decade black dresses were offered, most commonly for evening.  According to many sources, Coco Chanel “invented” the little black dress in 1926, when she introduced a line of black dresses made from wool jersey and silk.  But Chanel had been making similar dresses since 1915, and by 1926 many French couturiers were designing dresses in black.

Claire McCardell, mid to late 1940s

It was Mademoiselle Chanel who coined the phrase “little black dress.”  In a well-known criticism a rival, Schiaparelli or perhaps, Poiret, Chanel quiped, “Scheherazade is easy, the little black dress is difficult.”

Despite prohibition in the US, women were drawn to the little black cocktail dress in the late 1920s and early 30s.  By then the little black dress was firmly established as a sophisticated style that could move easily from afternoon into evening.  This was very much in keeping with the way modern women were living.

Ask any vintage collector or dealer what color was most popular for cocktail or dinner dresses in the 1940s and 50s, and I’m sure the answer will be “black.” Black continued its fashion reign through the beginning of the 1960s, when perhaps the most famous little black dresses of them all appeared – the Givenchy designs worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Frank Starr, early 1960s

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, wild color and the pantsuit seemed to have killed the little black dress, but it burst back onto the fashion scene in the 1980s and has been wildly popular ever since.  Today a black dress is often considered to be a “safe” choice.  At many functions almost every woman will be wearing a black dress.

So why has the little black dress had such staying power?  I could write out an answer, but I’ll let fashion writer Mabel D. Erwin do it for me. Her thoughts, circa 1949:

Black is a good city color. We become less tired of it than any other. It can be worn longer without appearing dated. It shows off a beautiful face…It is the perfect background for jewelry and really nice assessories. It may be a litle too mature for college girls but with right lines and accessories it need not be.


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Filed under Vintage Clothing