If you follow the controversy surrounding internet classes at the university level, you might think that distance learning was something new. However, correspondence classes have existed for a long time, as shown by this 1962 advertisement for the National School of Dress Design, “a leading home study fashion school.” After seeing many version of the ad in sewing magazines, I decided to see what I could find out about it.
Founded in Chicago in 1940, the school existed at least into the 1970s. On ebay, I found a packet of information sent out to Mrs. M. C. Kinnard of Cleveland Ohio in 1957 describing the program. Most informative was the pamphlet “Adventures in Dress Design,” a kind of college catalog. It listed the course’s 52 segments, starting with “Introduction to Your Dress Design Training” and ending with “Opening your Own Shop.” The topics were comprehensive: pattern making, draping, fashion history, fashion drawing, sewing techniques, style advice, and business plans. All of the lessons came on loose leaf paper, to be assembled into binders. Someone must think that the information is still valuable since those binders are quite pricey when you find them today.
Along with the pamphlet, Mrs. Kinnard received many fliers extolling the program and a not-too-gentle urging to send in her application. The course was not cheap. In 1957, if you paid all at once it cost $84.00. If you decided on a monthly payment of $5 or $8, it cost $94.00. That’s about $480.00 in today’s prices. After the first payment, students received basic sewing tools. If they completed the whole course successfully, finishing all homework assignments and exams, they got a diploma.
The school was aimed squarely at women who planned to work out of their homes or to start small businesses. “Dress Designing is truly a woman’s vocation,” the pamphlet asserts–this a decade after Dior’s New Look. “The woman who has been qualified by training and experience to create new fashions, new styles and new modes, will usually find a ready market for her services.”(25) Testimonials from successful graduates included costume designers for local theaters, satisfied home seamstresses, and women who had opened dressmaking shops.
Did Mrs. Kinnard sign up? It isn’t clear, but one envelop has “call school” written in pencil across the bottom.