I went looking for content for Mother Dear Monday and ran across my stack of 1950s salesman sample cards from Fashion Frocks Inc. out of Cincinnati, Ohio. As I recall, these came into the antique store Mother Dear and I used to work at in the 1990s and early 2000s. Always a lover of 1950s fashions, I was immediately taken by the delightful fashion illustrations. As a seamstress, to be able to feel the texture and weight of the fabric swatches let me imagine exactly what these garments were like and better acquaint myself with vintage fabric types. Many of the dresses are half sizes or juniors like these plaid dresses that look much like Mother Dear's 1950s frock. The blue dresses feature a novelty print of hat boxes. Sadly, the swatch presented is from an unprinted portion of the fabric.
Fashion Frocks Inc. was a dress manufacturing company from 1908 through the beginning of the demise of American made ready to wear clothing in the 1970s. You might find recruitment adverts in the back of magazines boasting how one could ear an extra $23.50 a week selling door-to-door or later, in a party environment as made popular by Tupperware.
My collection of over 80 cards includes annotations by the salesperson. Mostly math regarding deposits and shipping or sizing changes. While semi irritating to the collector, I like this as it reveals what garments were popular and/or getting multiple purchases.
Many of these garments are offered in specialty sizes with lots of code. Small sizes with shorter torso lengths for Misses and Juniors. "Half sizes" are often designed for less hourglass shaped figures. As my dear friend's Mother always says; "Back then, you didn't get fat until you were old." And people rarely made direct mention of it as I'm certain it was considered quite rude. Note the grey-ish blue hair on an otherwise wrinkleless face and a body illustration that doesn't particularly differ from the other models. Everything is styled and described very slimmingly.
"A Fashion Must... your most becoming figure ally is this slim line Town casual, with emphasis on the beautifully tucked shoulders and a self belt assuring and unbroken line. A dress that's a real treat to your figure... with it's gored skirt and sleeves just below the elbow. Cool...comfortable...and so flattering. Jeweled buttons latch you in this dress of many wonderful hidden design secrets."
Lynn Mally (UCI Professor Emerita, History) has a fascinating blog that revolves around what older women in America have worn from 1900 to today. It features a post of Fashion Frocks where she further discusses sizing in posts found here and here.
I love sets of things whether it be match-matchy or contrast fabric. I just took some quick snapshots with my phone to share some of these in today's post. All of these cards have been scanned at high resolution and made available in a PDF format that you can instantly download in my Etsy shop. It's certainly an excellent choice of clip art for your many vintage fashion projects. You may enter coupon code 25PERCENTOFF for a 25% discount at checkout.
I love that they have different fonts to match the style of the garment being offered. This Sari inspired gold print dress doesn't seem as "exotic" to me as they were pitching it. I do appreciate the veiling simply tied over her smart coiffure, though.
Though this is clearly how I would have been earning extra pocket money if I had been an adult living in the 1950s, you didn't need to excel at sales. It's clear to me from all the markings and the sheer quantity of cards that the original owner was quite the saleslady, or she had one big party where she sold every woman in 10 square miles dresses for the whole family. It seems like these are multiple seasons of dresses from what I estimate is the mid 50s. 1956-1958 based on the basque waists, willowy torsos and fluid full skirts. The back of many cards have line drawings of the reverse of the garment with a snappy sales pitch and detailed description. Others illustrate the company's integrity. The Good Housekeeping Guarantee seal has been the stamp of approval for good products since 1909. Few people know that it was (and still is) a limited warranty in the form of a refund, repair or replacement if a product carrying the seal is found to be defective within two years of purchase.
The University of California, Irvine has a collection of 124 style cards from the 1952 Spring collection in addition to letters from the company to Fashion Frocks, Inc. representatives, delivery schedules, a stock list, and a broadside detailing bonus gifts for sales representatives with large orders. While I don't have any of those goodies, the back of a few pages had a good deal of information about the company itself.
The details in these cards astound me. Possibly best of all particularly from a consumer standpoint, is that each sheet details whether garments are meant to be Dry Cleaned or if they are Guaranteed Washable. They went to many lengths to test fabrics for strength, colorfastness, shrinkage and washability.
Love! Full skirted, cotton house dresses are my idea of ideal comfort. While I'm always partial to wrap around styles, these zip fronts are inspiring This card of fancy house dresses is also available for purchase on Etsy from another seller, currently offered for $21.
The details in these dresses are quite amazing for what seems like a moderate price. Particularly for not having to go far for purchase if a Fashion Frocks Inc. representative lived in your neighborhood. While many women were home sewers, it must have been nice to have the option of a button front dress with panniers at each hip without having to do all the work yourself.
I also presume many women would buy these garments for their rapidly growing children who needed fancy frocks more frequently than their Mothers. These "Can-Can" cottons are delightfully displayed, while charming fashions for Young Glamour girls are boasted as easy care, washable party dresses. Which I'm certain both young and old could benefit from. The card on the left can be purchased from Burst of Vintage on Etsy for $26.
Very few of these dresses come in loud or novelty prints, the one pictured here being the boldest I found. Many of them are made out of "Miracle Pongee," a fabric you will never forget after handling it's synthetic silky smoothness.
For me, The Sweatered Dress is the most interesting of the whole bunch. It's base of "crisp, tweedy herringbone with a rich look" is actually a seersucker Everglaze cotton with a "throat-hugging knit sweater-yoke." Both are guaranteed washable.
There were several duplicates. Not too many, just enough to make one wonder; "haven't I seen this one already?" while flipping through the 2 inch thick stack. The "Orltop" was my favorite and not just because it's red, white and blue. They have some very subtle differences including a brown swatch and indicating red was no longer an option in the more recent card. There's a dollar increase in the price and I can't says I blame them. Eight button holes and scalloped pockets really add to one's production costs.
There were even a few socks and shirts available for men. Presumably, these were purchased by wives made to feel guilty while shopping, to shop even further. I love how much these reveal about marketing and advertising techniques of the past. There are a few more featured on Darling Betty's blog.
I have four duplicate frock cards (pictured here and directly above) I thought I might be able to part with. Why not have a little contest I thought? Follow me on instagram, Facebook, twitter, pinterest or tumblr* and comment below to let us know you're following along. You'll be entered into a random drawing to win my duplicate Fashion Frocks Cards. If we have enough entries, I will split them into two lots so there will be twice as many winners. Drawing will occur at our Nina Simone listening party, this Friday April 22nd at the Emporium and you need not be present to win. Though you should feel free to stop by between 7-10pm to listen to Nina Simone records and drink whiskey with us.
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