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Maidenform Collection

Maidenform, Inc.  Search this
Avedon, Richard  Search this
Coleman, Beatrice  Search this
Coleman, Joseph  Search this
Rosenthal, Ida  Search this
Rosenthal, William  Search this
35 Cubic feet (87 boxes, 1 oversize folder)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Tear sheets
Business records
Scope and Contents:
Patent and trademark documents, advertisements, sales and marketing material, market research, photographs, packaging, company newsletters and magazines, and business records documenting the history of the Maidenform Company from 1922 to1997.
Collection organized into eleven series.

Series 1, Company History, 1922-1990

Series 2, News Articles, 1941-1997

Series 3, Patents, Trademarks, and Registrations, 1871-1979

Series 4, Publications, 1931-1997

Series 5, Sales and Marketing Materials, 1929-1997

Series 6, Advertising, 1929-1997

Series 7, Photographs, 1927-1993

Series 8, Patterns, circa 1950s

Series 9, World War II Activities, 1941-1946

Series 10, Labor Relations, 1937-1990

Series 11, Miscellaneous Unprocessed Materials
Biographical / Historical:
The history of Maidenform, Incorporated began at Enid Frocks, a small dress shop in New York City owned and operated by Enid Bissett. Ida Rosenthal was a Russian Jewish immigrant and seamstress at Enid's shop. In 1922, Ida and Enid decided that the fit and appearance of their custom-made dresses would be enhanced if improvements were made to the bandeaux style bras then in vogue. They gathered the bandeaux in the middle in a design modification that provided more support in a manner they believed enhanced, rather than downplayed, a woman's natural figure. Ida's husband, William, added straps and further refined the style. The called their bras "Maidenform", in counterpoint to the "Boyish Form" brand then in vogue. Initially, the bras were given away with each dress they sold. As the bras gained popularity they began selling them, and eventually the bras became so popular they stopped making dresses altogether and shifted to full-scale brassiere manufacturing. The first Maidenform plant opened in Bayonne, N.J. in 1925. After World War II, the company began marketing heavily in Europe and Latin America. Eventually, Maidenform operated plants in West Virginia, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Documentation for the development and manufacture of a "pigeon vest" is also included in the collection. The pigeon vest allowed troopers to carry homing pigeons with them as they parachuted behind enemy lines. During World War II, Maidenform manufactured these pigeon vests and silk parachutes for the war effort.

Maidenform advertising campaigns were enormously successful, and generated controversy as well as praise. The now famous "I Dreamed" campaign was launched in 1949; this campaign ran for 20 years, making it one of the longest running campaigns in the history of advertising. The advertisements featured models in everyday or fantastic situations, elaborately costumed but wearing only a Maidenform bra above the waist. This campaign was followed by the "Maidenform Woman" campaign which was credited with boosting sales by 200 percent in some stores. The "Dares to Dream" campaign played off the "I Dreamed" tagline in 1984, and in 1987, the "Celebrity" campaign began. The "Celebrity" ads were notable for the absence of women in lingerie; instead, well-known male actors discussed their feelings about women and lingerie in print and commercial advertisements. The tone of the advertising shifted in 1992 with a series of ads called "The Women's Advocacy" campaign.

Maidenform was family owned and operated until 1997. After the death of William Rosenthal in 1958, his wife, Ida, became the president of their company. In 1963, she suffered an incapacitating stroke. At this time, son-in-law Dr. Joseph Coleman became head of the company. Upon his death in 1968, his wife (the only surviving child of Ida and William) Beatrice Rosenthal Coleman, gained complete control over the business until her death in 1990.

The Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation, a philanthropic and charitable institution founded in 1953, is run by granddaughter Catherine Brawer.
Related Materials:
Materials at the National Museum of American History

The Division of Home and Community Life (now Division of Cultural and Community Life) holds Maidenform artifacts including brassieres, girdles, and "long-lines," and two of the costumes used in the "I Dreamed" campaign.

Other Resources

Undergarment ads in the United States, 1947-1970
The collection was donated by Maidenform, Incorporated in May 1997.
The collection is open for research use. Only reference copies of audiovisual materials may be used for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning intellectual property rights. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.

The donor has imposed restrictions on reproduction, broadcast or use of the collection for commercial purposes of any kind by third parties. Reproduction, broadcast or other use of the collection for commercial purposes of any kind by third parties is subject to prior written consent. These permissions will be required until July 2047. Please see the repository for further details.
Advertising campaigns  Search this
Sex in advertising  Search this
advertising -- 20th century  Search this
Women in advertising  Search this
Brassieres -- 20th century  Search this
Parachutes -- 1940-1950  Search this
Symbolism in advertising  Search this
Homing pigeons -- 1940-1950  Search this
World War, 1939-1945  Search this
Newsletters -- 20th century
Tear sheets
Photographs -- 20th century
Business records -- 20th century
Maidenform Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
See more items in:
Maidenform Collection
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Online Media:

Letters to Henry M. Rosenthal from William Mills Ivins, Jr, 1952-1980

Rosenthal, Henry M., 1906-1977  Search this
Ivins, William Mills, 1881-1961  Search this
Ivins, Barbara  Search this
Letters to Henry M. Rosenthal from William Mills Ivins, Jr, 1952-1980. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Lives of artists  Search this
Record number:
Lives of artists
Data Source:
Archives of American Art

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