A little history of Vintage in California by Naomi Thompson


Naomi Thompson is a vintage expert residing in London. She offers personalised vintage styling advice directly from her boudoir in East London.

Naomi in Emma Domb

As a purveyor of fine vintage I get to see a lot of labels. These little slips of embroidered (better) or printed (so-so) fabric are
your friends. Study them and pay attention to names. 

Over the years I noticed some of my favourite dresses feature the some what exotic ‘so and so of California’ on the label (well exotic if you are in Portsmouth), generally preceded by Edith, Peggy, Fay, Dorothy or whatever girl's name was the fashion du Jour. This encouraged a little research and academia into Californian fashion houses of yonder.

From what I can gather, despite the depression and Wall Street crash, California experienced a fashion boom in the first half of the 20th century. Clothing was becoming more relaxed from the 30's onwards and the entertainment industry dictated many of the trends. 

Howard Greer took the leap from in-house costume at Paramount and started making bespoke dresses for stars such as Rita Hayworth. Galanos was designing for Jean Harlow in Blonde Bombshell (1933), and for Joan Crawford in The Gorgeous Hussy (1936). 

But back to our  Peggy, Sue, Edith and co. In the 40’s and 50’s California saw a surge of fashion houses providing pretty day and evening dresses to the everyday day gal. Here are a few to look out for:


Edith small

Edith Small was well known in her day, receiving East as well as West Coast newspaper coverage for her collections. Although originally from Chicago, she opened her clothing house in Los Angeles, California in 1945. Small was recognized for her always feminine suits and gowns and use of imported fabrics from France and Italy


emma domb 1

Emma Domb was a California dressmaking company that was active from 1939 through the 1970s. Domb Manufacturing Company was owned by Emma Domb and Lorraine Domb Steinberg. They specialized in wedding, party and prom dresses, and were also known for fancy date ensembles. These dresses are definitely worth collecting


Peggy Hunt

Peggy Hunt was a California based designer and manufacturer of dresses starting in the 1930s until the late 1960s.  Hunt  began by designing children's clothes and selling them to a department store called Haggerty's. The first label was called Fairy Frocks, a line for toddlers, which was then later changed to Jean Carol.  Jean was short for Jeanette (her daughter who also went on to become a designer and made her fortune in shoulder pads!), and Carol for herself -  Carolyn Margaret Hunt (Peggy was her nickname). Under the Jean Carol label Hunt made dresses for many Hollywood stars, including, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis,  and Mary Pickford.

Unfortunately many dress houses went bust in the 1960's as demand for trousers grew, and many labels have been confined to fashion history.
Every now and then a label pings back into the fashion sphere so pay attention to those names. Definitely future investment.

Thanks to The VFG label resource
MademoiselleRobot.com - Life and Style through the eyes of a thirty-something Parisian in London

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