Explore the rich sartorial legacy of a city that has played a significant role in the development of American fashion.
This dress was created by George G. Leupold, a Philadelphia Dressmaker located on Chestnut Street. It was designed with two bodices - one for day and one for dinner. Nineteenth century etiquette demanded a change of clothes for every imaginable activity and these interchangeable bodices developed to make this practice slightly less arduous.
Bonwit Teller opened their Philadelphia store at 17th and Chestnut Streets in 1909, where they would remain for more than 80 years. Although the store was not original to Philadelphia, the store was quickly embraced by Philadelphians. Bonwit Teller specialized in high-end women's apparel and was known for their high quality merchandise.
This afternoon dress is the work of an anonymous dressmaker working in Philadelphia. The simple tubular styling of the 1920's allowed for the efficient and relatively inexpensive mass production of ready to wear, which was virtually indistinguishable from custom-made examples. Consequently, traditional custom dressmaking was losing cachet with consumers.
Williamina Meyer de Schauensee, wife of the well-known Philadelphia ornithologist Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee, was known for her model figure and couture wardrobe by designers such as Jeanne Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli. Like many fashionable Philadelphians, she turned to American designers and retailers after the fall of Paris in 1939.
Gilbert Adrian's tailored suits were considered the epitome of wartime chic. The first of several Hollywood names to branch into high fashion. Adrian launched his business with the backing of influential retailers, including Nan Duskin in Philadelphia, who were given the exclusive right to sell Adrian Originals in their city.
Nan Duskin exerted a powerful influence on American designers. A fierce advocate of American fashion, she often commissioned items such as this ensemble which bears the label "Irene for Nan Duskin." This is likely to refer to the unique textile of the coat, woven at the North Philadelphia Mill of textile designer Pola Stout.
Philadelphia-born Grace Kelly remains an icon of all-American beauty and style; "the golden girl in the shirtwaist dress." In 1955, she topped the best-dressed lists for her understated elegance. in the following year, she announced her engagement to Monaco's Prince Ranier wearing a remarkably similar dress to this model by Traina-Norell.
By this time, many of the older family-owned stores had been bought by larger retail conglomerates. Central buying ensured stores across the country carried similar, if not the same, merchandise. This Halston dress, purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue, is identical to others available in other stores through the country
In 1924, John Wanamaker purchased The Tribout Shop, a genuine Parisian store, and imported it in its entirety. For the next fifty years, the shop specialized in expensive and exclusive French imports, but by the 1970's carried the best of international high style such as this silk dress by Oscar de la Renta.
Albert Nipon was a Philadelphia-based manufacturer who dominated the dress market during the early 1980's. Headed by husband and wife Albert and Pearl Nipon, the pair eventually built a $60 million a year fashion empire. Albert cited his wife as the secret to their success - "She has a feel for what young career women would like their clothes to be."
Mary McFadden was known for opulent styles inspired by historic and non-western dress. This gown is an excellent example of her regal glamour and was worn by Bonnie B. Freundlich, wife of Richard L. Freundlich, co-owner of Nan Duskin. As such, she has access to the very best of contemporary fashion.
Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion from the Robert & Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection was a collaborative exhibition mounted by the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection and the James A. Michener Art Museum in March 2016.
Co-curated by Clare Sauro, Curator of Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, Drexel University, Kirsten M. Jensen, Ph.D., Gerry & Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator, and Louise Feder, Assistant Curator
Photography by Michael J. Shepherd