Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Search Results

Collections Search Center
6 documents - page 1 of 1

Priscilla of Boston Collection

Creator:
Kidder, Priscilla C. (costume designer)  Search this
Priscilla of Boston.  Search this
Extent:
4 Cubic feet (13 boxes)
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Scrapbooks
Photographs
Clippings
Tear sheets
Correspondence
Sketches
Date:
1940-1996
Summary:
This collection includes letters, sketches, style books, publicity photographs, tearsheets, articles and clippings, scrapbooks, and business documents relating to Priscilla Kidder, the Priscilla of Boston Company, and the American wedding industry. This collection is extraordinarily useful in documenting the development of wedding fashion during the last half of the 20th century. It also illustrates how a small, family-owned, woman-run business grew into a large, nationally known operation.
Scope and Contents:
These records are arranged in ten series: Series 1: LETTERS, 1979-1982; Series 2: ITEMS RELATED TO PRISCILLA KIDDER, 1940-1976; Series 3: SKETCHES, 1959-1990s; Series 4: STYLE BOOKS, 1976-1984; Series 5: PUBLICITY PHOTOGRAPHS, 1952-1990s; Series 6: TEAR SHEETS, 1950-1990s; Series 7: ARTICLES AND CLIPPINGS, 1956-1990; Series 8: SCRAPBOOKS, 1956-1984; Series 9: ASSORTED BUSINESS DOCUMENTS, 1971-1985; and Series 10: MISCELLANY. The primary material in this collection consists of a few letters, mostly relating to fashion shows; photographic portraits of Priscilla Kidder, possibly from her days as a bridal gown model; sketches; and three different types of style books, one for store buyers containing information on ordering and on the various product lines, one for sales associates containing information helpful in selling the gowns and measuring and fitting the client, and one for factory Afloor girls" containing information about the construction of the gowns. Some of the style books were used by the company as "chicken books", i.e., annotated with scratch marks to indicate quantities of orders in each style, which designs were taken off line, etc. They also contain information on type of fabric and ornamentation used, yardage, measurements, available sizes, color, where advertised, and a brief description of each gown. These are arranged by line (i.e., Priscilla, Teeny, Contemporary Romantic) and thereunder by design number. Additionally, the collection contains some assorted internal business documents, but these are merely samplings of different kinds of company records and do not form a cohesive record of the business. The majority of the collection consists of secondary material from the 1950s to the 1990s, including publicity photographs, tear sheets from magazine advertising, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks containing additional tear sheets and clippings and articles.

This collection is extraordinarily useful in documenting the development of wedding fashion during the last half of the 20th century. It also illustrates how a small, family-owned, woman-run business grew into a large, nationally known operation.
Arrangement:
The collection is divided into ten series.

Series 1: Letters

Series 2: Items related to Priscilla Kidder

Series 3: Design sketches

Series 4: Style books

Series 5: Publicity photographs

Series 6: Advertising tear sheets

Series 7: Articles and clippings

Series 8: Scrapbooks

Series 9: Assorted business documents

Series 10: Miscellany
Biographical / Historical:
Priscilla Kidder actively participated in every aspect of the wedding industry for almost fifty years. She was a nationally known figure whom journalists often referred to as the "Dior" of bridal design. Priscilla Comins Kidder was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1918. After finishing high school she opened a small yarn shop in the community. After completing her education in retail design at the New England School of Design, she took a job at R.H. White's department store in Boston, Massachusetts. At R.H. White's she worked her way up from model to sales associate to assistant buyer in the bridal department.

The limited selection of bridal gowns available to women in the early 1940s moved Priscilla Kidder to leave R. H. White in 1945 to start her own bridal salon, which would offer a broader selection of bridal lines to a variety of brides. With the help of her husband, who became the financial consultant, she opened "The Bride's Shop" at 129 Newbury Street. It grossed $10,000 in its first week of business.

Priscilla of Boston Company grew at a rapid pace, and quickly established a national reputation. The company prided itself on innovation, and its designers blended ongoing fashion trends with classic looks to create various dress styles. One difference which distinguished Priscilla of Boston gowns from those of other bridal manufacturers in the 1940s was the decoration on the gowns. Wedding gowns at that time tended to be simple without a substantial amount of ornamentation. Priscilla was the first designer to use large amounts of lace to decorate her gowns.

Over the years Priscilla of Boston has had numerous bridal lines, in addition to the custom work that the company continued to do. In addition to the "Priscilla" line, the company started the "Betsy" line, named for Priscilla Kidder's daughter, which was created in 1960 for the woman who wanted an inexpensive dress. The "Teeny" line, later renamed the "Petite" line, was a more sophisticated title, created for the small woman. The most recent line created, in 1980, was the "Contemporary Romantic" line, a less formal gown for the refined woman. Priscilla of Boston also designed dresses for bridesmaids, mothers of brides, and debutantes.

Priscilla of Boston grew quite large, with stores and factories in Massachusetts and New York. Despite the growth of the business, which at one point manufactured more than two thousand dresses a month, the company always maintained a small, personal atmosphere. The company did not unionize, but instead functioned on a profit-sharing basis. Mrs. Kidder continuously attempted to influence the bridal industry in the United States. She stressed running a business that focused on New England morality and maintaining its family atmosphere. Priscilla Kidder also believed that a bridal showroom should hire a consultant who was near the age of the brides-to-be and was a person whom the customers could relate to.

Priscilla Kidder, along with her sister Natalie, designed the bridal gowns for the company when it first opened in 19434. She soon turned the duty over to a small team of designers. Priscilla Kidder's favorite designer was John Burbidge. His preference for elaborate gowns matched Priscilla Kidder's taste. Although she stopped designing, she stayed involved in the creative process, overseeing each sketch. Priscilla also was directly involved with the stores that marketed her gowns. She traveled throughout the United States to hold fashion shows or visit showrooms. On these trips she advised brides on how to make their weddings the most special day of their lives. She kept a high profile in the media and she created a distinctive image for herself that helped sell her products.

Among Priscilla Kidder's many accomplishments are: being chosen to design Grace Kelly's bridesmaids' gowns for her wedding to Prince Rainier in 1956; having one of her gowns selected by Luci Baines Johnson for her 1966 wedding; and designing Julie Nixon's bridal gown in 1968 and Tricia Nixon's in 1971. Priscilla Kidder credits herself with three innovations within the bridal industry. She was the first to create a petite line for the smaller woman. She also introduced gowns with pale pink coloring beneath the white fabric for a trompe l'oeil effect, and introduced a style with silk shantung. In 1993 Priscilla Kidder sold her family business to Priscilla Kaneb.
Provenance:
Collection donated by Priscilla Kidder, founder of Priscilla of Boston, 12/17/1996.
Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Wedding costume -- 1940-2000  Search this
Women in business -- 1940-2000  Search this
Women costume designers -- 1940-2000  Search this
Fashion design -- 1940-2000  Search this
Costume design -- 1940-2000  Search this
Genre/Form:
Scrapbooks -- 20th century
Photographs -- 20th century
Clippings -- 20th century
Tear sheets -- 1940-2000
Correspondence -- 20th century
Sketches -- 1940-2000
Citation:
Priscilla of Boston Collection, 1940-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0557
See more items in:
Priscilla of Boston Collection
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0557
Additional Online Media:

Dorothy Shaver Papers

Collector:
Costume, Division of (NMAH, SI).  Search this
Costume, Division of (NMAH, SI).  Search this
Creator:
Shaver, Dorothy, 1893-1959  Search this
Donor:
Shaver, Elsie  Search this
Names:
Lord & Taylor  Search this
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962  Search this
Extent:
14 sound recordings
32 cassette tapes
1 electronic discs (cd)
6 Cubic feet (22 boxes)
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Sound recordings
Cassette tapes
Electronic discs (cd)
Clippings
Photographs
Scrapbooks
78 rpm records
Phonograph records
Professional papers
Date:
circa 1920-1959; undated
bulk 1945-1959
Summary:
This collection contains the personal and professional papers of Dorothy Shaver, one of the best-known female executives in the 1950s; Shaver became the first female president of Lord & Taylor in 1945.
Scope and Contents:
This collection documents the personal and professional life of Dorothy Shaver. Types of materials include correspondence, clippings, biographical narratives, interviews, statements to the press, event programs, speeches, certificates, obituaries, awards and honorary degrees, souvenir publications, advertisements, scrapbooks, planning documents, travel itineraries, notes, invitations, seating lists, photographs, and audio recordings. These materials range in date from 1920 to 1959, but the bulk date is from 1945 to 1959. Those interested in the history of women in business, fashion merchandising, the department store Lord & Taylor, the "American Look" as a fashion trend, and the creation of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will find this collection useful. An oral history interview was conducted with Elsie Shaver, sister of Dorothy Shaver, in 1973.
Arrangement:
Series 1: Personal Papers, 1920s-1959; undated

Series 2: Professional Papers, 1927-1959; undated

Series 3: Social and Professional Activities, 1928-1959; undated

Series 4: Photographs, about 1920-1959; undated

Series 5: Audio Recordings, 1946-1948; 1956, 1973
Biographical History:
Dorothy Shaver was born on July 29, 1893, in Center Point, Arkansas to, Sallie Borden and James D. Shaver, a lawyer and judge. After graduating from Mena High School in 1910, Dorothy went on to study at the University of Arkansas and the University of Chicago. She moved to New York City with her sister Elsie, an artist, in the 1920s. Acting as an agent for her sister, Dorothy sold some of Elsie's fashion drawings to the department store Lord & Taylor. Dorothy also promoted Elsie's "Five Little Shaver" dolls, which became a major fad after Lord &Taylor introduced them.

Impressed, Lord & Taylor hired Dorothy Shaver to head its Comparative Shopping Bureau, the main purpose of which was to spy on other department stores. Shaver eventually reorganized this department to create a Bureau of Stylists in an effort to improve Lord & Taylor's merchandising strategy and set the pace for style in New York. Her career with Lord & Taylor skyrocketed from there. In 1927, Shaver became a member of Lord & Taylor's board of directors and in 1931, she was named a vice president. In 1937, she was elevated to first vice president and on December 19, 1945, she was named president of Lord & Taylor, becoming one of the first female executives of a large department store. One year later, she was elected to the board of directors of the Associated Dry Goods Corporation, of which Lord & Taylor was a division.

Under Shaver's direction, Lord & Taylor became one of the first department stores to sell clothing specifically designed for different subsets of their customer base; teenaged girls, young adult women, petite women, and career women. She also introduced a bridal shop and a maternity department. She was known for her unique merchandising techniques, such as spraying perfume from the store's marquee in an effort to sell perfume and attract customers. Six suburban branches were opened under her leadership in Manhasset, New York, 1941; Scarsdale, New York, 1948; Millburn, New Jersey, 1949; West Hartford, Connecticut, 1953; Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, 1954; and Garden City, New York, 1956.

Shaver was also known for her early recognition of American fashion designers. She promoted the "American Look" as a fashion trend, putting American designers on par with French designers. Her efforts fueled the careers of many American designers including Clare Potter, Claire McCardle, and Nettie Rosenstein. In 1937, Shaver established the American Design Awards, an annual event hosted by Lord & Taylor highlighting the achievements of innovators in the fields of design, the arts, housing, education, the sciences, and international relations.

Shaver also helped establish the Museum of Costume Art, which became the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944. She was chairman of the institute's executive committee and was a member of the Museum's board of trustees. In 1942, as a merchandising consultant to the office of Quartermaster General, Shaver supervised the design of new uniforms and accessories for nurses in the military.

Shaver received numerous citations and awards over the course of her life, including honorary degrees from Syracuse University (1947), Bates College (1949), New York University (1950), Russell Sage College (1951), Lafayette College (1957), and Wheaton College (1957).

Shaver suffered a stroke and died soon after on June 28, 1959; she is buried in Texarkana, Arkansas. Her gravestone has the year of her birth as 1897, four years later than her actual birth date. This error apparently was done on the instruction of her sister, Elsie, because the two women enjoyed misrepresenting their ages.
Bibliographic references:
Lord and Taylor advertisement in: Museum of the City of New York, Paris, and New York. Design Fashion Culture 1925-1940 Monacelli Press, 1928, p. 166;
Related Materials:
Materials in the Archives Center

Freda Diamond Collection, circa 1945-1984 (AC0616)

Estelle Ellis Collection, 1944-1994, #423, Brownie Wise Papers, circa 1928-1968 (AC0509) California Shop Records, 1938-1942 (AC0572)

Setting the Precedent: Four Women Who Excelled in Business, featuring Freda Diamond, Estelle Ellis, Dorothy Shaver, and Brownie Wise.
Related Artifacts:
The Division of Home and Community Life holds artifacts related to this collection. Items include: an inkstand, two pencils, a cigarette case, and a charm bracelet owned by Dorothy Shaver.
Provenance:
This collection was donated to the Museum's Division of Home and Community Life by Dorothy Shaver's sister, Elsie Shaver, in 1973.
Restrictions:
The collection is open for research use.

Researchers must use reference copies of audio-visual materials. When no reference copy exists, the Archives Center staff will produce reference copies on an "as needed" basis, as resources allow.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Costume design  Search this
Women in business -- 20th century  Search this
Genre/Form:
Clippings -- 20th century
Photographs -- 20th century
Scrapbooks -- 20th century
78 rpm records
Phonograph records
Professional papers
Citation:
Dorothy Shaver Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0631
See more items in:
Dorothy Shaver Papers
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0631
Additional Online Media:

The California Shop Records

Creator:
California Shop.  Search this
Kemp, Helen Misch, 1894-1948 (store owner/manager)  Search this
Kemp, Barbara  Search this
Extent:
1 Cubic foot
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Scrapbooks
Clippings
Photographs
Place:
California -- Fashion -- 1930-1940
New York (N.Y.) -- Fashion -- 1930-1940
Date:
1938-1942.
Scope and Contents note:
Collection consists of photographs, typed manuscripts and a guest/scrapbook of materials relating to the history and social events of the California Shop located in New York., N.Y.
Arrangement:
Divided into 3 series. Unarranged.
Biographical/Historical note:
add
Provenance:
Barbara Kemp
Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Rights:
Copyright status unknown or uncertain.
Topic:
Women in business -- 1930-1940  Search this
Women -- Employment  Search this
Women -- History -- 1930-1940 -- New York  Search this
advertising -- 1930-1940 -- California  Search this
advertising -- Clothing and dress -- 1930-1940  Search this
advertising -- Clothing trade -- 1930-1940  Search this
advertising -- Fashion -- 1930-1940  Search this
Genre/Form:
Scrapbooks -- 20th century
Clippings -- 1930-1950
Photographs -- Black-and-white photoprints -- Silver gelatin -- 1930-1940
Citation:
The California Shop Records, 1938-1942, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Gift of Barbara Kemp.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0572
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0572
Additional Online Media:

Ming-Ju Sun Garfinckel's Fashion Drawings

Creator:
Sun, Ming-ju  Search this
Donor:
Sun, Ming-ju  Search this
Sun, Ming-ju  Search this
Names:
Garfinckel's (Department store)  Search this
Artist:
Ambrose, Amie  Search this
Extent:
2 Cubic feet (5 boxes)
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Drawings
Catalogs
Advertisements
Tear sheets
Paper dolls
Date:
undated
circa 1972-2002
Summary:
Fashion drawings and the photographic work of Ming-Ju Sun while as an employee of Garfinckel's Department Store and as an independent artist.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of the fashion drawings and photographic work of Ming-Ju Sun as an employee of Garfinckel's Department Store and as an independent artist. The collection includes examples of her original artwork, newspaper advertisement tear sheets, and photographic slides of her work, fashion illustration coloring books, fashion catalogs, and other items that provide information about fashion advertising. The bulk of these materials depict women's fashions and range in date from 1972 to 1983. This collection would be of interest to those researching advertising art in the 20th century, fashion and costume design, and fashion history.
Arrangement:
The collection is arranged in two series.

Series 1: Fashion Drawings, circa 1972-2002, undated

Series 2: Fashion Catalogs, circa 1972-1989
Biographical / Historical:
add
Related Materials:
Other collections in the Archives Center that relate to women's fashion include: Carolyn and Donald Grepke Paper Doll Collection, 1895-1991(# 752), Joseph Magnin Poster Collection, 1963-1968 (#355), Division of Costume Audiovisual Collection, 1928-1989 (# 801), Priscilla of Boston Collection, 1940-1994 (#557) and California Shop Records, 1938-1942 (#572).
Provenance:
Ming-Ju Sun donated the materials in 2005.
Restrictions:
The collection is open for research use. Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use. All duplication requests must by reviewed and approved by Archives Center staff.
Topic:
Fashion merchandising  Search this
advertising -- Clothing and dress -- 1970-2010  Search this
advertising -- Clothing trade -- 1970-2010  Search this
advertising -- Fashion -- 1970-2010  Search this
Women -- Employment  Search this
Women in business -- 1970-2010  Search this
Advertising art -- 20th century  Search this
Costume design  Search this
Fashion  Search this
advertising  Search this
Genre/Form:
Drawings -- 20th century
Catalogs
Advertisements
Tear sheets
Paper dolls
Citation:
Ming-Ju Sun Garfinckel's Fashion Drawings, 1972-1979, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Ming-Ju Sun Garfinckel's Fashion Drawings, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0897
See more items in:
Ming-Ju Sun Garfinckel's Fashion Drawings
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0897

A Look Back at the 1925 Woman’s World Fair

Creator:
Smithsonian Magazine  Search this
Type:
Blog posts
Smithsonian staff publications
Conversations and talks
Blog posts
Published Date:
Tue, 18 Apr 2017 14:58:29 +0000
Topic:
Search this
See more post:
Smithsonian Article Database
Data Source:
Smithsonian Magazine
EDAN-URL:
edanmdm:posts_cfbe3a729c53b46d069fb2f4aa62ddac

American business, 1920-2000 : how it worked / Thomas K. McCraw

Author:
McCraw, Thomas K  Search this
Physical description:
xii, 270 p. : ill ; 21 cm
Type:
Books
Place:
United States
Date:
2000
C2000
20th century
Topic:
Industries--History  Search this
Corporations--History  Search this
Labor--History  Search this
Commerce  Search this
History  Search this
Economic conditions  Search this
Data Source:
Smithsonian Libraries
EDAN-URL:
edanmdm:siris_sil_834626

Modify Your Search






or


Narrow By