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Priscilla of Boston Collection

Kidder, Priscilla C. (costume designer)  Search this
Priscilla of Boston.  Search this
4 Cubic feet (14 boxes)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Tear sheets
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:
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.
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.
Collection donated by Priscilla Kidder, founder of Priscilla of Boston, December 17, 1996.
Collection is open for research.
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.
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
Scrapbooks -- 20th century
Photographs -- 20th century
Clippings -- 20th century
Tear sheets -- 1940-2000
Correspondence -- 20th century
Sketches -- 1940-2000
Priscilla of Boston Collection, 1940-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
See more items in:
Priscilla of Boston Collection
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Online Media:

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

McCraw, Thomas K  Search this
Physical description:
xii, 270 p. : ill ; 21 cm
United States
20th century
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

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