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.
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
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.