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A Fashionable Summer ~ SWIRL

Discussion in 'A Fashionable Summer 2005 (Asst. Designers)' started by fuzzylizzie, Aug 23, 2005.

  1. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/pinkswirl4.jpg>

    For this Fashionable Summer Workshop, I'm taking a slightly different approach. Swirl was not so much a company as it was a product, especially in the early days of production. But in order to understand the product, we need to know a little about the company that produced it.

    The story starts in Philadelphia with the L. Nachman and Son Company, which was located at 10th and Berks Streets. This company had produced clothing since the early days of the 20th century. In 1944 the Swirl dress and label were born. Actually, the Swirl was originally conceived as an apron. When Lawrence Nachman registered the Swirl name with the US Patent and Trade mark office, the product was listed as "WOMEN'S AND GIRLS' WRAP-AROUND APRONS". The wrap around apron was a common garment of the day.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirl1.jpg>
    <I>Swirl pictured in 6/51 McCall's. "First thing in the morning I put on my seersucker Swirl. It wraps and ties and doesn't need ironing." about $8. </i>

    How the concept of an apron evolved into a dress is not known (By me, at any rate!) but at some point, the Swirl became a dress - not really a housedress, but one step above. It was a quick and easy way for a busy housewife to get dressed in a hurry for a trip to the market, or for a casual supper on the patio. As their slogan at the time put it, Swirl was..."YOUR WRAP "N" TIE FASHION". According to this ad, the Swirl pictured came in three patterns and cost about $9.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirl2.jpg>
    <I>Swirl ad from 8/51 Mademoiselle</i>
  2. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    By 1953, Jack Nachman, president of the company, was looking to relocate the Swirl operation. I couldn't find a definite reason for this move, but two theories are proposed. First, they needed to be closer to where the cotton fabrics they were using were being produced. This would save transportation costs. Secondly, it's very likely that they wanted a cheaper source of labor, which was easily found in the non-unionized South.

    So Mr. Nachman went south, to Greenville, South Carolina. Through business contacts there he settled on th little town of Easley, about 15 miles from Greenville. The location was ideal. The town was in the middle of the cotton belt - the area where cotton was grown and then made into cloth. The textile industry was booming. In fact, there were 67 factories producing cotton fabric in the Easley-Greenville area - factories eager to supply their product to a new clothing production plant.

    And labor costs were very cheap. Most of the people eventually employeed at Swirl were women, and that combined with the absence of unions worked to keep wages low.

    As an aside - this was a common practice. The textile industry in America began in New England because the source of power (water) was close to the source of labor and to the ports. But after the Civil War ended (1865), and especially after the beginning of the 20th century, more and more textile industries relocated to the South, looking for a cheaper labor force. (Does this sound familiar? Today these same jobs are being lost in the South as the textile companies relocate to other countries where labor costs are cheap.)

    The Nachman Company started construction on the Easley Textile Company (as the new subsiderary was known) in October, 1953, and in January 1954 the new plant opened. It was built in record time on land that had been given to the company by the builder, G. H. Nalley. In return the company rewarded him with a new car! The plant was state of the art, with all new machines from Singer. This is interesting, because when a plant relocated in this fashion, it was usual for all the old machinery and equipment to be moved to the new location. (When the Beacon Blanket plant was moved from Mass. to NC, they even dismantled the brick walls and reconstructed them on the new site!)
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirlplant.jpg>
    <I>Before long, over 200 workers were turning out Swirls.
    . The 1953 Swirl plant, as it looked in 2003.</i>
  3. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Lizzie, I have been really looking forward to this!

    Interesting it started out as aprons...that makes sense. I too can't think of the evolution to dresses. Perhaps it was a desire to cover more of the market with a second product, or perhaps they noticed how much women wore their aprons or wished that dressing for the day was that easy.

    (who knows!)
  4. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    By 1955, the company was known as Swirl, Inc., with the corporate headquarters in Easley. According to the local Cahmber of Commerce, the money generated by the plant (along with that from another new factory in town) enriched the town coffers to the point where a long-delayed hospital project was finally finished. Soon, a second Swirl factory was built in nearby Ware Place, SC.

    At the same time, the product line was expanded widely. A wide variety of cotton print fabrics were readily available, and Swirl took full advantage of this. Swirls were made in hundreds of different fabrics, and were decorated with embroidery, applique, lace, piping, rick-rack, and a wide variety of trims. The basic shape of the dress was always the same, with a bodice and sleeves cut in one piece and a full, usually gathered, skirt. They used a signature "Swirl" button at the back of the neck.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/pinkswirl3.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlhatty.jpg><I>
    This Swirl from Harriet at Hattysattic, is a great example of the Swirl. At the end of the workshop I have a Swirl Gallery, with lots of examples, and a few hints for dating.</i>

    This one dress was the sole product of the plant until 1962. At that time a second product, the Models Coat, was trademarked and produced by Swirl. The Models Coat, which sounds glamourous, was just a straight cotton robe that snapped up the front. The Swirl wrap dresses were also made, but they were getting shorter, as the age of the miniskirt was looming. By 1964, the company could see that fashions were changing radically, and their product was quickly becoming out-moded. Plans were made to update the image of the company.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirlmod.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirlmod2.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/yellowmodelscoat1.jpg>

    <I>Models Coats of the 60s and 70s were decorated in much the same way as the Swirl dresses were. Thanks to Kristine at Elsewhere Vintage, and Maggie at Denisebrain</i>
  5. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    The Bermuda bag 'coat' is great!

    I find the mother/working secretary split of the two 1951 ads quite interesting.

    And to your knowledge, what went first: the cotton-fabric factories, or the dressmakers?

    Er, editing to say, 'went' as in disappeared due to cheaper labour/imports...
  6. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    <I>And to your knowledge, what went first: the cotton-fabric factories, or the dressmakers?</i>

    By "went first", I'm assuming you mean which closed first???

    In that case, it would be the textile, or cotton weaving factories. They began closing in the late 1980s, and on of the main reasons Swirl did not remain in SC was that since all the fabric was coming from Asia, it made no sense for the sewing factory to remain in the "back of beyond" which is exactly where Easley is located!
  7. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    As lifestyles changed, so did Swirl. In the 1960s Swirl began making women's loungewear and developed different lines for a more diverse consumer base. The first addition was the Park East label in 1964. Park East was used mainly on shift dresses, sort of in the Lilly Pulitzer mode. In 1965 came Swirl Girl, a younger line of casual dresses and loungewear. I'm not really sure when the last Swirl wrap dress was made, but I've seen them that were pretty much knee length, so it is my guess that the wrap Swirl was still being made in the mid 60s. They also started making them floor length, as the fashion for floor lenght dresses re-emerged in the late 60s.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlpark.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlgirl.jpg>

    In 1971, the Concept 70s label was born, and along with it plans were made for Concept 80s. Concept 70s garments were often long and flowy, rather caftan-like, and they also made long, flowy jumpsuits. Also, starting in 1975 was Swirl with Maxime. Many of these 70s loungers were decorated in traditional Swirl style, with applique and trim, and usually cotton fabrics were used. But as the decade progressed, Swirl started using polyester and synthetic blends.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlmax.jpg>
    In 1975 lingerie designer Bill Tice was hired as the designer at Swirl, where he had his own label. He remained with the company until 1984, when he left over a dispute with the company.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirltice.jpg><Img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirltice6.jpg>

    During the last part of the 1970s, the fashion world was gripped by a surge of logo-mania. Designer jeans and logoed polo shirts and designers doing lingerie led Swirl to contract with Geoffrey Beene in 1978 to do a line for them. Soon, Oscar de la Renta was signed to do robes and nightgowns.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsbeeneswirl3.jpg><img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlgb.jpg>
    <i>A Geoffrey Beene for Swirl lounging dress</i>

    And one additional label - Ava Bergmann. I could find out nothing about this particular label, but the stylized Swirl Logo on that label was registered in 1982.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/avabergmanswirllabel6xz.jpg>

    The signing of de la Renta, led to a law suit by Tice, who claimed that the company was favoring de la Renta's lougewear over his, and that was a violation of his contract. He eventaully left the company over the dispute.

    By the end of the 1980s, the main product at Swirl was the Models Coat. In 1990, the first real signs of trouble for the company came when sewers were laid off and production curtailed. The reason for the first cut-back was given that they could not keep the workers busy, due to a lack of fabrics. By this time, many of the textile makers were pulling out and moving to Mexico or Asia where labor was cheaper (Sound familiar?). The decline of the company occured slowly through the 90s, and in 1998, Swirl announced that it would be closing its main facility. The remaining jobs were phased out, and the company closed the Easley factory for good in 1999.

    They did continue operations in Ware Place, SC, making the Models Coat. Today, that house coat, or duster, as my grandmother called it, is still being made in New York by Swirl II Ltd, using mainly imported fabrics. The factory is located in Brooklyn, NY.

    Today, the old Easley factory has been turned into an office building. And while I was trying to pin down some of the facts for this workshop, I paid several visits to Easley. It took lots of asking before I could find anyone who could tell me exactly when the plant closed. Lots of people in the town I talked to had never even heard of the company. Finally, I was put in touch with a former employee who remembered the details of the closing because she was lucky enough to be able to retire at that time.
  8. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>the "back of beyond" which is exactly where Easley is located! </i>

    OK, I've got a really nerdy question coming up...

    When looking at Mary Muffet, I noticed that they'd have one or two representatives of the company touring other major cities, no doubt selling the product elsewhere, in the 40s.

    I guess Swirl must have built up their selling base during the 40s, but how did the product get shipped? Did they have a railroad or do you think it was always done by road?

    There, I'm tragic.:BAGUSE:
  9. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>"Swirl II Ltd, using mainly imported fabrics. The factory is located in Brooklyn, NY"</i>

    Wow, almost a full circle.

    Another question: have you ever come across the modern ones - do they try to imitate retro styles at all?
  10. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Actually, it's a very good question. The town is on a rail line, but I suspect most of the fabric was brought in by truck. Some of it only had to travel a mile or so from the weaving plant to the Swirl sewing factory.

    And while Swirl's headquarters were in Easley, Nachman, who was very well connected in the rag trade, was still in Philadelphia, and later in NYC. Swirl was marketed nationally through major department stores. I've seen Saks labels in them.
  11. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    The modern ones are really pretty dreary. I actually thought that Swirl had completely closed until Marie ran across a website that still sells them. They are just ordinary printed cotton/poly snap-up-the-front housedresses.
  12. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    was it the 60s Swirls that had a Saks label most? I've noticed (both with Leser and Pucci stockage) that Saks got very hip to fun leisure-wear right at the end of the 50s and into the 60s...

    If I want to find great lounging stuff, I search Saks.
  13. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    sorry - I forgot to say, thanks for answering all these random queries! Your write- up is so full of detail, it's easy to keep thinking of all sorts of tangental discussions that the subject matter suggests...
  14. This is wonderful, Lizzie. I just bought a Swirl that looks like a dress but it doesn't wrap all the way around. It is more like a pinafore apron, open in the back. I'll try to get pics later.
  15. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    Hmmm... Modern Swirls?

    I think the big difference...and I have not seen the modern ones, is that women are not really wearing "housedresses" anymore. It sort of has a negative connotation of being synonymous with rest homes or being very behind the times. (the word, not how cute Swirls were).

    The whole idea of having lounging outfits that are aprorpriate for receiving guests is just not there anymore. Maybe its because of the casualization of the world (at least most of the US and i am sure canada and parts of europe). Loungewear now is basically pajamas.
  16. bartondoll

    bartondoll Guest

    Several years ago, I had an obsession to add a Swirl to my closet....was so excited when I bid on and won a cute little 50s one off of ebay. Two weeks later, I received an envelope which had been opened somewhere
    along the way, and my Swirl had been (ahem) appropriated by someone else! At the time, I had never found any Swirls in my area of Canada. Since then, I have found several, although none as cute (or stylish) as
    the "one that got away" (the style was similar to the ones in your
    1951 ad above, Lizzie).

    Great info here Lizzie, I really didn't know anything about the company or it's history. Thank you!

  17. Since you were talking about the conception Swirl from the 70s, I will show you one I had once but sold. (I think, lol) New with tag, old stock. Hopefully, you don't have a picture of this one to show later.

    <img src="http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b6/vintageclothesline/swirlorangecolor.jpg" alt="Image hosted by Photobucket.com"><br><br><img src="http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b6/vintageclothesline/swirlorange9.jpg" alt="Image hosted by Photobucket.com"><br><br>
    <img src="http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b6/vintageclothesline/swirlorange7a.jpg" alt="Image hosted by Photobucket.com"><br><br>
    <img src="http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b6/vintageclothesline/swirlorange6a.jpg" alt="Image hosted by Photobucket.com"><br><br>


    I did have a 50s red swirl not too long ago posted here. It had the back "swirl" button.

    Great workshop, Lizzie. So much information!:clapping:
  18. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Secretary

    Lizzie that was fantastic, thank you! I sold my swirl (that sounds kind of funny but you know what I mean!) and am really regretting it as it was one of the comfiest vintage dresses (pre 1960) I've owned. So they really were onto a fantastic idea, and I'm disappointed they don't do a 'retro' line (as I think was queried above) as they would be on to a winner as far as I'm concerned!
    Great job! :headbang:
  19. fuzzylizzie

    fuzzylizzie Alumni

    Thanks for all the discussion. And now to do a little dating...


    The Swirl wrap dress is especially hard to pin a date on because they were made for over 20 years with few changes to the basic design. There were 3 labels that I know of, the first 2 being rarely seen. So the label, is usually not a help.

    First, an example of a dress we know is an older Swirl. This one belongs to Lin, and it has what I assume (but do not know for sure) to be the first Swirl label:

    <img src=http://members.sparedollar.com/fuzzylizzie/swirltywrap.jpg>

    It is in this dress:

    <img src=http://members.sparedollar.com/fuzzylizzie/swirlfull.jpg>

    Notice that this dress does not button in the back, but it buttons at the waist in the front. And, weirdly enough, this one does not tie. Also notice the added emphasis at the shoulders. The more I look at this one, the more I think it is mid 40s, making it a very early Swirl dress.

    I have pictures of 2 Swirls from a 1953 <i>Woman's Day</i> feature.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wd53swirl.jpg>

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirl21.jpg>

    I don't think either of these 2 are what comes to mind as a Swirl dress, so the basic pattern of the dress did not seem to be set until after 1953, and probably occurred with the move to SC in 1954.

    Unfortunately, I don't have an example of the other label that is seen only rarely. The last time I tried to buy one I was sadly outbid.:(

    That leaves this label, the one that seen so often:

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/pinkswirl4.jpg>

    When you find a dress with this label, you know it dates in the 50s or up to about 1965. You have to go by clues such as length and colors used. Even though Swirls were not really "Fashion" items, they did tend to follow the basic trends, and when skirts started to go up in the late 50s, Swirls got shorter.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirljodyyellow.jpg>
    This Swirl of Jody's at CoutureAllure is quite long. I'd date it to the mid 50s.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/pinkswirl.jpg>Getting shorter - late 50s, or early 60s.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirlyellow.jpg>
    This one is much shorter, and a is very late Swirl.

    If you have a print Swirl, then the print and color may be a clue as to the date.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirlgogo.jpg>
    This print from Pinky-a-gogo puts this dress in the early 60s.

    Another hint seems to be the use of pockets. While Lin's early Swirl had pockets in the side seams, all the 50s Swirls seem to have 2 very large patch pockets. Later dresses have smaller pockets, sometimes have only 1 pocket, or none at all.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirljodypink.jpg>
    Jody's 50s dress has the 2 pockets.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirldog.jpg>
    And this 60s dress has no pockets. It does, however, have 3 cute doggies!
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/wsswirldog2.jpg>

    You could get lucky like Cat at Firehawk, and find a Swirl with the original hangtag. This great dress has a hangtag that looks to be late 50s.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirltag1.jpg>
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirltag2.jpg>
    And the dress...

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/fhswirl2.jpg>
    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/fhswirl1.jpg>

    There is another hangtag that dates to the early-mid 60s. It is pink.

    Another hint that a Swirl might be mid 60s is the presence of a separate tie belt and a zipper closing. I've seen several of these, but unfortunately, do not have an example to show you.

    Now, for a couple of oddities:

    A Swirl with set-in sleeves.

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirl.jpg>

    If you sew, you know how much work is involved in putting in a sleeve. Few Swirl dresses had sleeves, and not only was it a harder and more time-consuming construction, but a dress with sleeves is also more expensive as it requires more fabric.

    And this one I love...

    <img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirl11.jpg><img src=http://i41.photobucket.com/albums/e270/fuzzylizzie/swirl5.jpg>

    It was sent to me by Lauren at Retrodress, and when I saw the pictures, I thought that it must be a SwirlGirl. But, no, it has the plain Swirl label. It's the only full length Swirl with that label I've ever seen.

    Well, there you have it - everything I know about Swirl. There are lots of tangents we could take in discussing this one, including social changes that made the company want to abandon a sure-fire moneymaker. Or I'd be glad to discuss the work that was done inside a factory like Swirl, and what that work meant to women in the South in the middle part of the 20th Century. Or we could just talk about cute dresses!

    So, if anyone else has a Swirl to share, please do so!

  20. Patentleathershoes

    Patentleathershoes VFG Veteran VFG Past President

    I remember that dress very well, Linda. I remember thinking "how dare you be orange and not fit me!" LOL

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