Tag Archives: Swirl

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

Making Lemonade

I’d planned not to tell this one, as it makes me sound like I’m really losing it, but since it turned out better than expected, I thought, what the heck.  I bet at least a few of you will be able to relate.

I had big plans for Friday.  It was, as far as I’m concerned, the day that signals the beginning of Flea Market Season – the twice yearly Big Antique Spectacular at the Metrolina in Charlotte.

The only problem was, that the Spectacular is this up-coming week, not this weekend.  I tend to always double-check dates before setting out on a two and a half hour drive, but our internet was down Thursday night and Friday morning, so I just dismissed the thought and hopped in the car anyway.  I was literally at the gate before I realized that I had the wrong date.  I had assumed that because today is the first of the month, that this would count as the first weekend.  Wrong.

I was so irritated with myself that I sat there for a minute, and then called my support system (also known as Tim).  He let me whine a little and then reminded me that at least I had the time and money and health to be able to make the trip and instead of lamenting the day, I should make the best of it.  This was seriously NOT what I wanted to hear.

So I turned the car and headed toward home.  About 20 miles in I happened to think of a store I’d planned to visit after the flea market, and so I though since I was getting off the highway anyway, I ought to revisit an antique mall I knew of in the little town of Belmont.  It was a store I’d not been in for about two years.  It was one of those places that couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be a home decorating store, or an antiques store, and so was not really a favorite.

But I did stop, and I was very pleasantly surprised.  Not only was there less new stuff than I remembered, there were several booths that were made up of the types of things I like best.  You know, shoes and clothes and hats and such…

The rack in the above photo was full of boys’ shoes from the 1920s through the 50s.  I mean, it was brogan heaven!  At first I thought the shoes were mens’, but then I realized that the sizes were smaller – sizes that would fit many women.  I ended up buying only one pair, white bucks that will go great with a borrowed from brother type outfit from the 1920s, but I’ll probably revisit them and see if the shoes are comfortable enough to actually wear.

Some of the shoes were Sky Riders.

This photo of the entire booth is quite busy, but you might be able to pick out all the 1930s womens shoes.  They, like the boy’s shoes, were all deadstock, and in wonderful condition.

Instant picnic – just add food and lemonade!

Here’s my terrible photo of the cutest dress:  Swirl with a hunt scene faux apron.

I carried this around and for some reason did not buy it.  It was probably that pesky voice that reminded me that I already have 5 plaid jackets.  Still, this one IS Black Watch, and IS Pendleton…

One booth had loads of these adorable button cards.

These was no label that I could find on this wool blanket, but I loved it so much.  I mean, it would match almost any decor!

And finally, the interior of a hatbox, and yes, I did buy it. I’ve gotten to be very careful with my purchases, but I’m not crazy!

So where is this little vintage paradise?  It’s Piccolo Antique Mall in downtown Belmont, NC.

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Filed under Shoes, Shopping, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

What famous TV character wore the Swirl Dress?

I bet you said “Ethel Mertz,” right?  Well, that is correct. About a month ago I was watching I Love Lucy on TVLand, when I though Ethel’s dress looked familiar.  When she turned around and I saw the Swirl button and the way it wrapped on the diagonal, I knew.  It was this dress from 1951:

Or actually the striped one.  Since I spotted it, I’ve noticed Ethel wearing other Swirls, including the solid colored one on the left.  Considering how cheap she always claimed Fred was, Ethel sure had a lot of $9 housedresses!

Wouldn’t  it be great to have a list of all the clothing lines that were worn in these vintage TV shows?  Sometimes I’ll see a dress line mentioned in the credits at the end of a show, but usually there is only a reference to the costumer.  And I HATE how TVLand scrunches up the credits so they can sneek in a commercial while they are running.

Comments:

Posted by Bonnie Nyquist:

I was doing a search for the Swirl dresses, my Mom used to wear one every day! ethel wore one in nearly every episode. Cannot find anything on them except your site! Would love to find a pic of mom’s favorite one. What memories! Thank you for loving them too! 

Wednesday, December 26th 2007 @ 7:41 PM

Posted by janavi:

What about Pat Perkins? Was that a line or designer? I think it might have been a line. 

Wednesday, February 11th 2009 @ 10:27 AM

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Filed under Vintage Clothing