My university library has a set of cards by the Fashion Frocks Company of Cincinnati, which began business in 1908 and shut down in the great decline of the American garment industry in the 1970s. For a fashion historian, these cards are treasures because they not only include a detailed drawing and description of the dress, but also a swatch of the actual fabric.
Initially Fashion Frocks were sold by saleswomen going door to door. Women’s magazines had ads promising “Special Work for Women—An Opportunity to Earn up to $23 Weekly!” (Good Housekeeping, January 1942). By the 1950s, the company switched to a “party plan” system of sales, like Tupperware parties, where the saleswoman would invite potential customers to her home.
This particular dress, in a slimming vertical stripe, was clearly designed for older women. How do we know? First of all, the woman depicted has gray hair, an easy code for age. The “women’s forever young” sizing gives another clue. Sizing in the early fifties was still done by bust measurements—so this dress could fit a matronly bust up to 52 inches. (I’ll write more later on the conflation of size and age.) Finally, the description on the back of the card underscores how this particular dress could flatter someone with a few extra pounds. “Beneath the front bodice yokes are gathers. Simulated leather belts your waistline…trims as it buckles. Six pleats in the skirt are smooth over your hips…give it a grand fullness below.” These are Mrs. Exeter’s recommendations—at the bargain price of $8.98.