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.)