The Suit with a Lot to Say

The garments in our collection range from the early 19th up through the 20th century.  The majority of the earlier pieces have no label or any other written information on them.  So, having spent most of my time recently with garments from 1900 or earlier, this 1936 dress and jacket outfit felt downright chatty to me.

2016-06-10 17.11.01

Our records indicated that this was worn as a wedding dress, so it was interesting to discover that this was a “Junior Miss” dress, as opposed to a women’s dress.  Was the woman who wore this particularly young when she got married? Or was she just a very petite woman?  The dress can’t answer that, but it does raise the question.

The other interesting piece of information are the letters “F.O.G.A” prominently displayed on the tag.  This identifies the manufacturer as belonging to the Fashion Originators Guild of America.  Beginning in 1932, the F.O.G.A sought to reduce design piracy in the fashion industry through a series of incresignly strict regulations.  Eventually, the Federal Trade Commission began investigating the guild and, after declaring it to be an illegal monopoly, ordered the F.O.G.A. to cease operations.  The guild finally disbanded in 1941, after the Supreme Court upheld the FTCs decision.[1]

Having spent my undergraduate years studying to be a fashion designer, I have mixed feelings about the F.O.G.A.  On the one hand, design piracy is still a problem today, especially when the designs of a small indie designer are knocked off by a large fast fashion company.  On the other hand, I’m never too keen on anything that limits the free flow of ideas.

What I do know, is that this suit does have at least one really neat features that would have made it a good candidate for design protection.  The use of cufflink style closures on the jacket, as opposed to the more common buttons or snaps, is not something seen very often in any era.

Additionally, as you can see in the gallery above, the outfit on the whole is adorable.  It’s not possible to know from this one piece if design protection helped to foster creativity or squelched it, but that doesn’t make this suit any less delightful.

The last chatty part of this outfit can be found on the strange fabric covered zipper.  It’s difficult to see, but stamped onto the zipper pull is “KOH-I-NOOR KOVER ZIP.”

My reaction to this was pretty much “who/what now?” because it is rare to see an imprint other than Talon or YKK on any zipper pull.  YKK zippers are ubiquitous today (check any garment you have) and Talon zippers were so popular for such a long time that the New York Times estimated that 70% of all zippers in the early 1970s were Talon.[2] 

I found the answer in Robert Friedels book Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty.  Kover zippers were an early attempt to create a zipper that could blend seamlessly into a a garment.  The Czech company Koh-i-Noors ability to break into the American zipper market was attributed to the fact that they were already known as a snap manufacture.  They also were one of the first companies to try and enter the market after importing zippers was made legal in 1934.[3]  When this dress was made in 1936 the Kover Zip would likely have been a rather cool new invention.

Taken all together, the information written onto the tags and zipper of this dress makes it one interesting piece!  Most of the other garments in our collection can also lead to similarly interesting places, but I love this piece because it so clearly demonstrates the value of garments in researching history.

1. Marcketti, S. B., and J. L. Parsons. “Design Piracy and Self-Regulation: The Fashion Originators’ Guild of America, 1932-1941.” Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 24, no. 3 (2006): 214-28. doi:10.1177/0887302×06293071.

2.  “Change of Strategy for Talon Zippers.” New York Times, December 7, 1981. Accessed July 7, 2016.

3. Friedel, Robert D. Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994) 161.



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