Life Imitates Art—Molly Goldberg Fashions

New York Times, October 1951

Not long ago I wrote about the play Me and Molly, in which the beloved Jewish-American character Molly Goldberg, played by Gertrude Berg, invented the category of half sizes for America’s older and wider women.  Not too long after the play’s success, the Wentworth Manufacturing Company decided to capitalize on the idea. They launched a Molly Goldberg line of half sizes and larger sizes in the early 1950s.  The New York Times ad above was the earliest I found.  It presented Molly Goldberg as a real woman, not a fictional character. Moreover, this fictional woman allegedly did her own designing. “Molly has become an expert on gussets and zippers because she knows what a big woman wants.”

For about two decades, Molly Goldberg clothes sold across the country.  Initially they were low priced cotton housedresses, but Gertrude Berg insisted that they had features that raised them above the ordinary.  “Why, I took the skirt of my Molly Goldberg housedress up to Hattie Carnegie to have them copy it for the rest of my wardrobe. It’s very slenderizing,” she said in a 1959 interview. (New York Times, April 25, 1959)

Delaware County Times, August 1965

During the 1960s, when older women were complaining about short, shapeless, sleeveless shifts, the brand offered conservative looks.  The 1965 dresses above don’t look all that different that fifties fit and flare styles, except for the shorter length and the “Chelsea collar” on the dress on the right.

Women’s Wear Daily, October 1966

Gertrude Berg died in September 1966.  The following month Wentworth placed an ad in Women’s Wear Daily assuring buyers that the brand would continue.  It did, but not for long. The last ad I discovered was from May 1971.  By that time, perhaps Berg’s star appeal was fading.

This entry was posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Life Imitates Art—Molly Goldberg Fashions

  1. Katrina B says:

    I’m sure there must be something politically incorrect about the 1951 ad, but I find it utterly charming. I would love to give a yoo-hoo out the front window in stylish comfort! Wonderful!

  2. JS says:

    “Chelsea collar.” Thanks for the new term.

    The fashions look nice but the models don’t look that big to me. Maybe the idea of what we think of as “big” has changed.

    • Lynn says:

      No, I don’t think the idea of big has changed. The Molly Goldberg ads always had a small image of Gertrude Berg herself, a big busted woman. But unfortunately, the rest of the ad for “big sizes” rarely used big models–just like “anti-aging” ads don’t use old women.

    • Alysa says:

      Half size didn’t necessarily mean “big”. There were half size sewing patterns as small as a 33″ bust.

  3. Lizzie says:

    How interesting! And I am happy to see the hangtag with the representation of the actual label.

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