I actually wrote and posted this piece six years ago, back when I had about ten readers and five of those were members of my family. So I hope the ten of you won’t mind a summer rerun with updated images and a few changes to the text.
This is the middle of Southern textile country. I live about 30 miles from where Beacon made their famous blankets and robes, 60 miles from the Swirl wrap dress factory, and 100 miles from Springs Mills, which produced mainly fabrics and sheets. All around me were hundreds of small textile and clothing manufacturers that blanketed the South before they all up and moved to Mexico, Korea or China.
But this is all about Springmaid. For some time I’ve had a little book called Clothes Make the Man written by Elliott White Springs, who was the president of Springmaid in the 1930s through 50s. It’s actually a collection of his letters, many of which discuss a famous ad campaign that Springmaid launched in 1947. The ads featured pin-ups and risque wording in the ads. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I turned up a length of fabric that Springmaid developed as a result of the popular ads..
The pin-up ads actually got their start with an in-house beauty contest, Miss Springmaid, in 1947. The winners were taken to New York where they were sketched by leading illustrators, with the sketches to be used in advertising. By early 1948, Colonel Springs (a real colonel!), had remembered a cover of Esquire magazine which had three ice skaters warming themselves before a performance. Springmaid acquired the rights to that picture to use in advertising a fire-proofed fabric they had developed during the war.
It wasn’t so much the picture that caused all the fuss – it was the ad copy. Written by Colonel Springs, there were phrases such as “the false bottom and bust bucket business” and “be protected by the Springmaid label on the bottom of your trademark.”
Within a few months the furor died down somewhat and the company began to notice copycat ads from other companies. In a September 1, 1948 memo, Col. Springs instructed the ad department to make a montage of the Springmaid girls. It was to be used first for the jacket of the latest edition of Clothes Make the Man, and later to be printed on cloth. According to Colonel Springs, “It will make a terrific bathing suit or beach jacket.”
There were later prints made also, including one called Holiday, which had smaller girls and no stripes, and Harem, which had an Oriental flair. There is also a mention of a Persian print, but it could possibly be the same as Harem.
In June of 1951, the company built a new railroad terminal for their 28 mile railroad which connected the two main factories in Chester and Lancaster, SC. They got Gypsy Rose Lee to do the official unveiling. Special men’s sports shirts and billed caps were made from the harem print, just for the occasion.
And just a few months later, Springmaid announced that they had contracted with various clothing makers to do a line of women’s sportswear using the prints. Inspired by Gussie Moran, the famous panty-baring tennis star, the company released one of the prints as tennis and swim panties. They were made by Cole of California. At least one dress and a swimsuit were designed by sportswear designer Carolyn Schnurer using the Harem print.
In 1951, a new Springs Mills office complex was built in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Much of the furniture was fashioned from old mill parts, and the furniture was upholstered in the Springmaid Girl prints.
Like it or loathe it, Colonel Springs was definitely doing something right. His company has weathered the horrible times in the US textile industry, and is still producing textiles in Fort Mill, SC. And I’m used to having to really dig for any information concerning most older manufacturing companies, but this was almost too easy, with the book and all. I’m also happy to report that there is an excellent record of the history of Springs Mills, as the company donated many of their papers to the textile archives at Duke University.
I found this fabric in Charlotte, NC, about ten miles from the Springs Mills factory. It is the very same print that was used to upholster the company furniture in 1951.