That Time Cher’s Mom was on Lucy…

In the Lucy episode “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown”  the gang is in Paris. Lucy and Ethel are enchanted by the work of French fashion designer Jacques Marcel and Lucy pretends to go on a hunger strike until Ricky buys her a Marcel original. Of course Ricky finds out she is pretending, so he and Fred play a trick on them. They make their own fashionable frocks out of potato sacks that Lucy and Ethel wear with pride until they realize the outfits are not real. The episode ends when the four are sitting in a cafe and see two models wearing Jacques Marcel creations that knock-off the burlap originals Lucy and Ethel wore the previous day. 

One of those models, wearing the Marcel version is Georgia Holt, born Jackie Jean Crouch in 1926, but best known as Cher’s mother!  Holt worked as a model in the 1940s and ’50s and did a few uncredited appearances in movies and TV shows in the 1950s. 

I totally stole this story from METV if you want to check out the original.

The Squaw Dress

The term ‘Squaw dress’ is used to describe a two-piece dress with an aesthetic borrowed from the Southwest Apache, Navajo and Pueblo Native cultures that stretch between Tucson, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Similar styles known as Fiesta dresses borrowed styling from further south, in Mexico. The rickrack trimmed tiered skirt style of a squaw dress was also known as a “broomstick skirt,” because the fabric was wrapped around a broomstick to create creases.

The style was originally a regional style of dress that became defined in the late 1940s, but as they were sold through department stores across the U.S. the style exploded in popularity in the 1950s, only losing popularity when the fashion for full skirts fell from favour in the mid 1960s. Some of the earliest makers of these dresses include Tucson’s Dolores Gonzales, Cele Peterson, George Fine, and Lloyd Kiva New, but it was Albuquerque’s Jeanette Pave that was probably the most prolific manufacturer. Polish born Henry Pave and his wife Jeanette opened a store in Albuquerque in 1945. Between 1950 and 1968 Jeanette manufactured and distributed a line of squaw dresses sold under the label ‘Jeanette’s Originals’.

The term ‘squaw dress’ makes some people shudder at the thought of its political incorrectness, however, there has been no conclusive word from the Native community as to whether the term is considered offensive or not. Historically, the word comes from the Algonquian Native dialect and was used to simply denote female gender, the way the word ‘she’ is used in English. However, because it has also been used derisively, some indigenous women and politically correct watchdogs consider the word disrespectful. However, squaw is an acceptable word to many indigenous women when spoken with respect.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Maginel Wright

Maganela slippes, c. mid 1950s

Maganela slippes, c. mid 1950s, images courtesy of Sarara Brazil

Maginel (a contraction of Maggie and Nell) Wright was more than just the sister of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, she was also an accomplished illustrator of children’s books, Christmas cards, and magazine covers – as well as a shoe stylist. She married twice, first to Walter Enright, during which time she was known for her illustration work as Maginel Wright Enright. After divorcing Enright, she married Hiram Barney, and it was while she was known as Maginel Wright Barney that she turned her hand to fashion.

DSCN4034During the 1940s, Maginal began embellishing felt slippers with glass jewels and gilt-braid inspired by the colours and patterns of Serbian costumes that belonged to her sister-in-law (Frank’s third wife), Olgivanna. Soon Maginel was producing the shoes for resale under the label Maganela using leather soled felt ‘ballet’ shoes made by Capezio. The exact dates of her production are not known, however the shoes were sold through America House – a consignment craft store in New York that sold artisan pottery and rugs etc., which was in business between 1940 and 1971. Maginel passed away in 1966.

French Confections – Early prêt-à-porter

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Green damask dress by Jacques Fath for Les Couturiers Associes., c. 1950-1954

It is often implied that Pierre Cardin was the father of French Confections (the early term for ready-to-wear or prêt-à-porter.) This idea comes from when Cardin was expelled from the Chambre Syndicale in 1959 for launching a prêt-à-porter collection for the Printemps department store in Paris. Although he was reinstated, what Cardin had done was contrary to the rules set by the Chambre Syndicale. However, it was not what he had done but rather how he did it that was the problem.

Since the 1910s fashion designers had been selling their designs to foreign manufacturers for creating ready-to-wear clothes. During the depressed economy of the 1930s, when individual clients were scarce, couture houses relied upon foreign manufacturers licensing designs for making ready-to-wear copies. As long as the couturiers didn’t sully their reputations by making the clothes themselves — It was okay to supply meat to the butcher, but you couldn’t make the sausage.

Jean Desses matchbox suit jacket, c. 1954

While Christian Dior may have been a brilliant designer, he was an even better businessman. He took every opportunity available, while adhering to the rules of the Chambre Syndicale, to directly profit from government subsidies, licensing agreements, accessory and boutique lines, and especially subsidiary ‘semi-couture’ (high end ready-to-wear) collections, like the ‘Christian Dior New York’ line he founded in 1948.

Seeing the success of Dior’s ventures, other designers looked for similar arrangements. Jacques Fath directly entered the American ready-to-wear market in 1948 designing a line for Joseph Halpert, a 7th avenue manufacturer in New York. Jacques Fath was also a member of Les Couturiers Associés, founded in 1950 by Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, Jean-Marc Paquin, Marie-Louise Carven, and Jean Dessès. This association was an attempt at the creation of a prêt-à-porter indusry by leading French designers. A report in Adelaide Australia’s The Mail from April 28, 1951 advertises that 35 models from Fath, Piguet, Paquin, Carven, and Dessès would soon be reproduced in Australia by Myers (An Australian manufacturing company). The association seems to have only survived until 1954, probably due in part to the deaths of Piguet and Fath, as well as the imminent decline of the House of Paquin.

Talking About…

Waist Management Flyer_2Please join me at one or both lectures I am giving in the next couple of weeks. This friday, February 22, at 7:00 p.m. I am talking about the development of foundation garments – the corset, girdle, and bra – at the Guelph Museum where we currently have our exhibition ‘Waist Management’ on display until the middle of April. Come early and join us for refreshments before the lecture, starting at 6 p.m.

smallThen, on Thursday, February 28 at 6:30 p.m. I will be talking at the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington, where we currently have our exhibition ‘Nuclear Fashion’ on display until the end of April. This talk will focus on fashion in the period between 1946 and 1964, and the building of brand name fashions in the post-war era. I will also be selling and signing copies of my latest book ‘1950s American Fashion’ from Shire publications. Feel free to bring your own copies for signing, as I have only a dozen copies available for purchase.

Now all I have to do is dig out the kodak projector – my best images are still on slides…

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Fred Adlmüller

Beaded silk taffeta dress with 'intermission' hemline, c. 1956-58

Beaded silk taffeta dress with ‘intermission’ hemline, c. 1956-58

Born in Bavaria in 1909 Fred Adlmüller left Germany for Austria in the 1930s, taking a job with the Vienna fashion house Stone & Blyth. After Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria, he took over the operation of the shop when the Jewish owners had to leave the country. Adlmüller was made a partner upon the owner’s return at the end of the war, but by 1950 Adlmüller had left Stone & Blyth to start his own salon at the Palais Esterhazy on Kärtnerstrasse – at the heart of where high society Vienna shopped. One of his contemporaries, Gertrud Höchsmann, once said that her clients never  shopped at Adlmüller, and visa versa. Adlmüller was Paris-oriented, specializing in interpretations of Dior and Balmain for his clients.


Adlmüller, c. late 1950s

When not making couture, Adlmüller did costumes for film and theater as well as the Vienna State Opera. He also tailored suits for the Austrian Presidents. His Vienna couture house had branches in Munich and Bad Gastein in the 1950s, but they were closed in 1973. Between 1973 and 1976 Adlmüller taught a fashion master class at the University of Applied Arts. Adlmüller died in 1989 and is buried at the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) of Vienna.

New Book – 1950s American Fashion

Today is launch day for my latest book – 1950s American Fashion, by Shire publications. The 1950s was the first decade when American fashion became truly American. The United States had historically relied upon Europe for its style leads, but during World War II, when necessity became the mother of invention, the country had to find its own way. American designers looked to what American women needed and found new inspirations for American fashion design.

Striped cotton dress by Claire McCardell, 1951

Sportswear became a strength, but not at the expense of elegance. Easy wear materials were borrowed for producing more formal clothes, and versatile separates and adaptable dress and jacket suits became hallmarks of American style. This book follows the American fashion industry, from New York’s 7th Avenue to the beaches of California in search of the clothes that created 1950s American fashion.

The 64 page book, illustrated with period advertisements and photographs of garments by American designers, sells for U.S. $9.95 and appears on book shelves today!

Nuclear Fashion

The Fashion History museum’s exhibition Nuclear Fashion opens Tuesday, October 2 at the Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington, Ontario.

This exhibition includes period store mannequins and over 60 advertisements, dating between 1946 and 1964 aimed at the suburban nuclear family for products ranging from Ked’s shoes to Maidenform bras.

A Working Girl’s Clothing Budget in 1950

Another interesting read from my recent stash of Pageant magazines is an article from January 1951 about how much a young working woman spends on her wardrobe: “How do they do it on their meager salaries?” asked Pageant “To find out, (we) stopped Charlotte Angowitz on a street in Manhattan and asked her. Here’s how she dresses on $30.00 a week.” To put things in perspective $30.00 per week ($1,560.00 per annum) – is the adjusted value equivalent of about $260.00 per week (about $13,500.00 per annum today.)

The article commends Miss Angowitz on her thriftiness, attributing her clever clothes budgeting on several factors: buying separates to alternate with suits, double duty ‘convertible’ garments that can be dressed up for dinner or dressed down for work, keeping an eye out for sales and end of season clear-outs rather than giving into impulse purchases of trendy items, buying three-season clothes to get the most wear from her fashions, and above all, taking care of her wardrobe.

Despite the fact that today’s closets are bursting at the seams with clothes, the average woman actually spends less today than her 1950 counterpart. The U.S. Census bureau calculated that the average woman in 2009 (based on retail reported sales) spent a surprisingly low $14.50 per week (about $750.00 per annum), almost half of what Miss Angowitz spent in 1950! However, a more recent article, based on a survey of women’s actual buying habits rather than reported sales, showed that women spent on average about $40.00 per week (about $2,000 per annum.) The average ranged from women under the age of 25 who spent twice as much as women over the age of 55. Still, with the adjusted dollar value, that is far less than 1950 spending according to our Pageant article. The main reasons for the drop in the cost of clothing over the years is due to the introduction of cheaper synthetic materials, off-shore labour, and casual styles.

Charlotte Angowitz’ working wardrobe for fall 1950, from the January 1951 edition of Pageant magazine.