Celebrity Fashion Brand – Betty Wales

A recent article about celebrity fashion brands brought to mind a number of names from over the past 150 years. However, a few names came to mind that are also not real people – Sara Lee, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima are some of the fictional celebrities used to sell food, but fictional characters have also sold apparel.

Betty Wales was a character from a series of novels written by Edith Kellogg Dunton under the nom de plume Margaret Warde. The novels in which the college-aged Betty Wales appears were published between 1904 and 1917. The books were immensely popular with teens and collegiate aged women.

In 1915 a line of ‘Betty Wales’ dresses were created in conjunction with the Goldman Costume Company of New York and Dunton’s publisher – the purchase of a dress entitled the buyer to a free book from the series. Advertisements for Betty Wales dresses appear frequently in the late 1910s and 1920s when the company grew from its New York origins, where a building was built for Betty Wales in 1922/23 at 242 West 36th street, into the midwest.

The Chicago Tribune reported in their January 21, 1931 edition: “Betty Wales Dress Shops Inc., now at 67 East Madison Street and 4601 Sheridan road, and with a store in New York City, have leased the entire four story building at 172 North Michigan Ave. for twenty years at a net term rental of $400,000 annually. The building formerly was occupied by the National Cash Register Company… A new front will be built throughout the entire building of black and white marble, with all outside metal work satin finish cast aluminum in modern design… Mundie & Jensen, Chicago architects will represent the owner… David Baer, president of the Betty Wales Dress Shops, Inc., states that since the opening of their first store in Chicago in 1919, their business has enjoyed a steady growth until today the quarters at 67 East Madison street – has become entirely too small.”

The company continued on well after the death of Edith Dunton in 1944 when the identity and origin of Betty Wales was all but forgotten. The most recent example of a Betty Wales labelled dress I could find was a little black dress from the mid 1960s.

The character of a Ploshkin (a tiny sea creature) featured in the stories that Betty Wales told a friend. In one of the stories, statues of the creature were sold in a tea room started by Betty Wales. The company also made plaster statues of the Ploshkin, that could be ordered from the company. (Thanks to reader Leslie for this tidbit of info, as well as more info about the dress company that made Betty Wales frocks.)

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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13 Responses to Celebrity Fashion Brand – Betty Wales

  1. Sharon Katz Levy says:

    Growing up, I was always told that my grandfather,
    Bernard Savitch, was the owner and
    manufacturer of the Betty Wales dresses.
    Do you know if this is true? My mother, Blanche
    Savitch, married William Katz.
    Thank you for any information you can give me.
    Sharon Katz Levy

    • Jonathan says:

      That’s interesting. I haven’t found a name associated with the ownership of the company online anywhere. I can’t verify that at the moment, but some day more information will come to light about Betty Wales. I wonder where the company archives got to…

  2. Annette Overstreet says:

    My wedding veil headpiece has a Betty Wales label. It was bought in 1967.

  3. Leslie says:

    The company that produced the Betty Wales dresses was the Goldman Costume Company of New York. There’s an article about it in The American Cloak and Suit Review vol. 12 (July 1916) and on in Business Digest, May 8, 1918 (you can read them on Google Books). They built their own large building, the Betty Wales Building (242 West 36th Street; it’s still there) in 1922-23.

    Their label featured the Ploshkin, a little undersea creature that was featured in stories that the character Betty Wales told to a young friend, and that was turned into a statue that was sold in the tea room that the character opened in one of the books. The dress company also sent out the figurine. They’re cute; I have a couple of them.

  4. Alese Morgan says:

    I’ve been doing research on my great grandmother Lena Mayo Carr Barton and learned that she won the contest for naming the dress line ‘Betty Wales’ In fact, the original name was supposed to be ‘Rahymar’ submitted and prize awarded to a Brooklyn, N Y man. But Lena was a writer for the ‘Women’s Wear’, a New York trade magazine, and personally met and spoke with the president, J. J. Goldman, who told her it was impossible to use ‘Betty Wales’ at the time as they had to secure the privilege and was secured at a later date. My grandmother was also offered to become connected with the Goldman company but I’m not sure if she did.

  5. Regina Kendall says:

    I have a Ploshkin in its original case, just wondering if it’s worth much?

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