Rediscovered American Fashion 

The Henry Ford

Reintroducing five forgotten designers and salons from America’s mid-20th-century fashion scene.

Rediscovered American Fashion
Many talented people contributed to America’s vibrant fashion scene during the 20th century—some whose names have been since forgotten. Fashion historian Edward Maeder rediscovered five of these forgotten designers and fashion salon owners while researching clothing owned by the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. Here, the stories of these contributors are reintroduced, illustrated by garments from the Roddis Collection at The Henry Ford.
David E. Gottlieb, “Gothé” (1897-1966)
David E. Gottlieb emigrated from Poland as a boy and began his career as an assistant in the New York fashion industry. He established his own firm in 1934, with Irene Zerner (Gottlieb’s future wife) as chief designer. Inspired by Parisian fashion, Gothé became synonymous with elegant evening attire in the 1940s and 1950s. Cadillac and Chrysler automobile advertisements featured ladies wearing sumptuous Gothé gowns, and Gothé dressed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for several formal events. 

Gothe' Dress, 1948

David E. Gottlieb and Irene Zerner made semi-annual trips to Paris for inspiration. This Gothé dress, with its fitted bodice and full skirt, was inspired by Parisian designer Christian Dior’s revolutionary “New Look.”

Ruth McCulloch (1900-2007)
Ruth McCulloch opened her first dress store in Evanston, Illinois in 1937. Recently divorced, with experience as a dress buyer, McCulloch would ultimately open two more stores and incorporate her own company in the affluent suburbs north of Chicago. McCulloch’s exclusive salons featured a careful selection of classic and well-made clothing for the American woman in her thirties or over. 

Dress and Jacket by Ruth McCulloch, circa 1959

This wool bouclé and silk dress with matching jacket is typical of the designs offered at Ruth McCulloch’s spacious salons, where a “salesgirl” first seated customers to discuss what they were looking for. Several choices would be brought out and displayed. If one was chosen, it was fitted for the customer and, if possible, altered before her departure.

Samuel Kass (1891-1987)
Samuel Kass, a Polish-Lithuanian immigrant, started his fashion business in 1922 in New York City. Two years later, the 33-year-old designer was commissioned to create the inaugural gown for Texas’ first female governor. Kass became known for his adept use of tucks and folds and distinctive printed fabrics. By the late 1930s, his designs were selling nationwide. In 1945, he created a complete pageant wardrobe for Miss America winner Bess Myerson.

"Tuya" Day Dress by Samuel Kass, 1945

Kass was among the earliest dress designers to collaborate with the prestigious Onondaga Silk Company, which produced this printed rayon-cotton fabric. The fabric and dress were originally designed to promote a new Venezuelan perfume called Tuya. This garment was purchased at Martha Weathered, an exclusive dress store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Tuya translates to “for you alone” in Spanish.

Roy H. Bjorkman (1893-1984)
Roy H. Bjorkman opened his first dress shop in his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1923. The following year, he relocated to Minneapolis. By the 1940s, at the height of his career, Bjorkman was the city’s most prominent source for ladies’ elegant clothes. He offered clients an exclusive selection of dresses, hats, shoes, and furs, making several trips each year to Paris and New York to secure the latest designs. 

Cocktail Dress sold by Roy H. Bjorkman, circa 1953

French influence dominated the higher-end American ready-to-wear market from the 1920s to the 1950s. This rayon taffeta cocktail dress is reminiscent of a 1953 design by Cristobal Balenciaga of Paris. It was purchased from the elegant “le petit salon” rooms within Roy H. Bjorkman’s Minneapolis store.

Gladys Parker (1909-1966)
Better known for her originality as a cartoon artist, Gladys Parker was also a highly regarded young New York fashion designer. Her youthful designs for the “Junior Miss” were carried in 150 exclusive American department stores, and she created inventive fashions for stars of the day, including actresses Barbara Stanwyck and Veronica Lake.

Gladys Parker Silk Taffeta Gown, 1934 (Reproduction)

Gladys Parker had just burst onto the fashion scene in 1934, when she designed a chic striped evening dress similar to those seen in her popular comic strip, “Flapper Fanny.”

The original silk taffeta gown in the Roddis Collection is quite fragile. This exact copy was painstakingly reproduced by Edward Maeder in 2014.

Credits: Story

From The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™. Photographs of 2014.24.52, 2014.24.59, 2014.24.60, and 2014.24.67 by Gillian Bostock Ewing.

Text adapted with permission from American Style and Spirit: Fashions and Lives of the Roddis Family, 1850–1995 by Jane Bradbury and Edward Maeder.

See more from the Roddis Collection at The Henry Ford.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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