Serendipity might be my middle name. I came across this advertisement in Vogue quite by accident. It shows a lineup of American fashion designers from the 1950s endorsing Chrysler’s new line of cars. Isn’t it interesting that you can barely see the car for all the designers in front of it?
Just a quick glance at the women designers is enough to see just how unusual Claire McCardell’s clothes were. She is on the far right in this photo. While all the other women have on calf length dresses in various luxurious and stiff looking fabrics, she wears on a long flowing dress in what appears to be a knit with a soft cowl collar. I think she looks sleek and comfortable compared to the other women in their tight-waisted dresses.
But what really caught my eye here was the rare picture of Nettie Rosenstein, an important name in American design. Her clothes were often on the cover of Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s. Born in Austria 1890, she opened her own fashion business in New York in the 1920s and continued making clothes and jewelry well into the 1970s. She is considered to be the one who brought the French concept of the “little black dress” to the United States, and her New York Times obituary plays tribute to that achievement (“Nettie Rosenstein, a Popularizer of ‘Little Black Dress,’ Dies at 90,” NYT, March 15, 1980). She was Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite designer, and made the dresses for both of her inaugurals balls—the first a famous pink dress and the second in yellow lace (the First Lady picked the colors.)
And what is Rosenstein wearing here? It looks like a little black dress, surely of her own design. In her mid sixties here, she looks elegant in her strapless satin dress. A chiffon shawl covers her arms, a tactic endorsed by Mrs. Exeter for women of Rosenstein’s age. Given the current interest in chic, glamorous older women, like those pictured on the blog Advanced Style, many of us tend to assume that this is a new trend. But Nettie Rosenstein’s stylish look tells us it’s not so new after all.