SISTERS WHO SOARED

SISTERS WHO SOARED

Texas, always known for its spirited fashion sense, led the way in how women dressed in another era. In fact, at an important time of their lives, most of those stylish women dressed and looked as if they had walked off a runway just like movie stars. That was thanks to Dallas-based Page Boy Maternity Fashions, founded by three dynamic Frankfurt sisters. Here’s a look at how their entrepreneurial spirit created an entire industry, according to our ardent Texas style chronicler,  Lance Avery Morgan.

 

Photography courtesy of archival collection

DALLAS STYLE STAR

It was a combination of entrepreneurial success and engineering that made Page Boy Maternity Fashions, based in Dallas, a tremendous success. In fact, film stars like Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Loretta Young, Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as future First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy, were just a few of the famous Page Boy clients. They also happened to be public figures who had to carry on with their busy, pre-natal public lives looking gorgeous.

In 1937, when Page Boy Maternity Fashions went into business, the term pregnant was rarely used. Instead, soft idioms like with child, in a family way, or the more exotic, enceinte were often enlisted. Whatever it was called, the previously hidden component was a fact of life before and during the Baby Boom years after the Second World War. Now, fitted mother-to-be clothing is the norm for women, but then a pregnancy was thought to be something to camouflage. It was a different world then…when working women unfortunately often had to quit their jobs in the professional realm once their maternity state started to show.  

 

Enter the Page Boy founders Elsie Frankfurt, Edna Frankfurt, and Louise Frank­furt–three sisters who set out to design and mar­ket their attrac­tive, com­fort­able, and afford­able mater­ni­ty clothes with just a $500 investment (less than $10,000 in 2021 dollars, adjusted for inflation). According to legend, in 1937, Elsie told her sister, a pregnant Dallas secretary Edna Frankfurt Ravkind, that she looked like “a beach ball in an unmade bed.” Elsie had studied accounting and design at Southern Methodist University, so she used her ingenuity to dissect one of Edna’s pre-pregnancy suits and remade it as a maternity ensemble in a more flattering, slimmer silhouette of the day. 

They felt their beau­ti­ful­ly fash­ioned dress­es could enable women to main­tain their pub­lic and pro­fes­sion­al lives, even while preg­nant. They were right. Their initial stroke of genius was opening the first shop on the ground floor of an OB-GYN doctors’ building, so the exposure to the targeted market going in and out of the offices daily was ideal. The youngest of the trio, Louise, was a fashion design major who joined the family firm in 1941. With her, she brought the engineering skills to streamline the Page Boy line. Engineering had plenty to do with the brand’s success. Thanks to sister Elsie’s patented skirt design; it fit snugly around the hips without hiking up in front. The scooped-out window in the front accommodated the expanding abdomen, and a long jacket covered that, so flexibility and comfort could be had at any stage of a pregnancy. 

LADIES FIRST                                                                                                                                                                 

Ads of the era promoted Page Boy’s skirts as “not wrap-around”. Plus, for the first time, maternity clothes resembled current fashion trends. As Elsie Frankfurt was fond of saying: “You can’t hide the fact that you’re expecting a child.” With the catchy name and logo, the Frankfurt sisters were bound for success. According to Kay Goldman’s Dressing Modern Maternity: The Frankfurt Sisters of Dallas and the Page Boy Label (Costume Society of America Series), “The company’s name came from its logo of a page boy blowing a trumpet to announce the birth of an heir to the throne.” Although many of the children who were pre-natal while in a Page Boy outfit would not be born to aristocracy, company’s the customer client base grew to include all women who wanted moderately and well-made clothing.

For five decades, chic design and strong business practices propelled the brand to the top of the heap in the specialty fashion world. The sisters wisely focused on offering maternity clothing incorporating the latest trends in their line rather than setting them. Changing attitudes regarding fashion trends, the rise and fall of hemlines and birth rates, and employment trends for women affected the business venture. Outspoken in terms of women’s rights, Elsie focused on the professional woman and providing clothing for the working woman, the most significant employment trend of the twentieth century. It was a woman they knew well since the Page Boy factory was owned by the three sisters, and a majority of workers were female. The congenial workplace even had an innovative daily factory-wide yoga break.

CHANGING TIMES

Even though the sisters’ individual commitments varied over the course of the business, Elsie was the most dominant sister in the company by actively studying fashion trends and being the company’s public face. Not only was she the president of the company, but she also was the first woman admitted to the Young Presidents’ Organization in 1952. She became a celebrity of sorts appearing in magazines and on television as the primary spokeswoman for Page Boy. Sophisticated as the day was long, and thanks to her trips to the fashion capitals of Europe to keep up with the latest style changes and new fabrics, Elsie provided valuable design insights, which propelled their high style maternity line well into the ’70s.

Like all businesses, Page Boy Maternity Fashions evolved with the times. Within five years after its founding, the company owned shops from coast to coast and was selling in fine clothing stores. During World War II, the company maintained a low profile due to fabric rationing. They managed to continue manufacturing, and by the time the firm was ten years old in 1947, they were a household name and dressing Hollywood stars. It was eventually sold to Mothers Work in 1994, closing the chapter on an everlasting time in history. Looking back at Page Boy Maternity ads and catalogues, the Frankfurt sisters–and the company’s primary goal of making women look and feel beautiful for several generations was accomplished. And it all happened here in Texas as a close-knit family business. 

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CHANNELING CHANEL

CHANNELING CHANEL

Our very own fashionisto Gordan Kendall, considers Chanel’s influences and what she might think of shopping in Texas… for herself, today, fifty years after her death. Her legend lives on, yet does her style translate?

MADEMOISELLE

These days, the lists go on and on about what has gone up, down, came, or went. Whether related to the economy, the recent election, the Pandemic, the price of eggs, there’s always some marker. Of course, fashion can’t miss out on any trend. The year 2021 will be no exception as it will mark the milestone of the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. What more can be said about this icon and her lifetime contributions to fashion? Any follower worth her or, now his, gold buttons and “Boy” bags, knows Chanel’s story.

Convent raised, where she learned to sew, and through skill and all sorts of talents, plus good timing, and even better luck, she established not only what we know as the Chanel brand, but also brought about new ways of thinking about fashion, based on simplicity, ease, and comfort. Her contemporary, Cristbal Balenciaga, noted Chanel had very little taste. Almost all of it good, he exclaimed.

Extravagant simplicity, priced simply extravagantly, came to be le style Chanel. Of course, it was Karl Lagerfeld, of late as well, who masterfully designed Chanel clothing and accessories that kept it consistently current with times and trends. Even so, much has happened since Chanel wafted into fashion’s hereafter that cold January morning in 1971. Given the opportunity to revive her 137-year-old spirit, what might she think of her fashion legacy now? How it has withstood her absence? In the world of fashion fantasy, it’s not too difficult to imagine what it might be like to go shopping today in Texas with Chanel…for Chanel.  

ETERNALLY CHANEL

The lone figure in a beige wool suit stepped tentatively out from the Dallas mall and into The Store, the one that in her day Mr. Stanley had minded and had so feted her in September of 1957 with its very own fashion award. Then, they staged a fanciful show, a defilee of cows done up in fancy hats to the mirth of the fashionable crowd. Today, however, taking her sunglasses off and tucking them into the flap bag hung over her arm, she was here, not to party, but to peruse what had happened in her absence.

“Bon. Bon. Bon.” she exclaimed, seeing the entire wall of fragrances bearing her name. “…and right inside the front door, too. I like that. I’ve always said ‘a women should wear perfume where she wants to be kissed’…because I want to be paid when she wears mine. Oui?”

“Good morning,” cooed the approaching sales associate, “I just love that Chanel suit.”

“Non, non, Cherie, it is my suit.”

“Yes, but it is a Chanel suit, right?”  

“Don’t be ridiculous. It is the Chanel suit. Whose would I wear? That bit of upholstery Dior calls a suit?”   

“Then, perhaps, you should visit our boutique upstairs?”

Maintenant ca je dois voir. Oh, I’m in Texas now. I mean, ‘That I gotta see…Pardner.’”

Going up the escalator, she peered at the people she saw below. Where had most of their clothing gone?   

C’est quoi cette folie. What is this, craziness?” she exclaimed. “They are mostly naked, these young, not so young, people. I said it in 1968, and I must agree with myself, fashion has become nothing but une exhibition de Viande, a show of meat. But still, my sandals do look so well even with these awful blue pants cut so short on the legs with their edges fraying loose.

There was a flurry of excitement as she entered her namesake boutique on the third floor. Associates and other shoppers crowded around; all were holding some kind of metal plates in their hands. Annoying, as they occasionally emitted blinding blinks of light into her eyes. 

“Love the hat,” exclaimed one young man, who then swept it off her head and onto his own. “Post this on Insta, everyone.”  

“You’ve nailed that retro look,” screamed one young lady. “So very vintage.”

“Vintage, you say? Mais, non, this is…was…from my latest collection. No one will buy someone else’s old clothes to wear. Quelle folle. There is no fashion in old clothes, I predict, you’ll see,” she said with a knowing wink of her eye.

Then, all of a sudden, she was whisked into the changing room by the crowd, each holding some kind of garment, at once strange, but also somehow familiar, as each bore her famous “double-C, interlocking logo, the one she knew so well.

“No, go with the leggings under the shorts,” said one.

“But how about this tunic top, instead?” asked another.

“We need to fun-it-up,” declared one holding studded wrap band bracelets and a beret to replace her bowler hat. “Here… Post this on Insta.”  

“Now, I know what it was like in the cabines, my girls being pushed and prodded about,” she sighed.

After a bit of a tussle over whether to ‘just go with the high-tops and definitely not the booties,’ with the tweed-covered sneakers winning the most likes from someone or something they seemed all able to communicate with through those strange metal plates, she emerged from the changing room and stood in front of the boutique mirror.

“Here,” said the young man, still wearing her hat, “You need this,” and with a flourish, he belted a large, long zippered pouch around her middle, her Chanel name, in all caps, boldly displayed across her very own Chanel derriere. “Quick. Post it on Insta.” 

“What’s this? A costume pour le sport?” she asked into the mirror. “Ah, but these what you call ‘sneeek-eures,’ they are comfortable. Massaro’s slingbacks can cut so. Even if I did design them for him.”

BYE, BEIGE

Gone was the beige suit. Instead, she stood in red and black shorts worn over black patterned leggings, surprisingly easy to get used to for someone so used to wearing skirts. So much better able to move about in. A sleek sweater set, one red beneath a red and gold plaid, replaced the blouse and jacket. The enormous black beret sat at a jaunty angle on her head.  

“Totally love the fanny pack,” said one. “It makes it casual…post it on Insta.”

Un ‘fanny-paque’? And what are these dreadful things you keep holding up into my face?” she asked.

“Oh, we’ve so got to get you on Insta, Guurl,” they all said.

“This ‘Insta’ what is it?” Chanel was perplexed; she didn’t like to be perplexed.

“Look,” said one showing her the device, “You can post your picture on it. Get followers, even buy stuff.”

“Indeed” Chanel said, as she turned the metal plate, now alive with images appearing on its surface, in her hand.

“You mean it can really be a phone and a camera at the same time? These ‘followers.’ Why would anyone want to follow me? I can buy things, Non? With this ‘Insta’ character?”   

The crowd gathered around Chanel, each posing with her, moving her this way and that to “get the right look” All around, other shoppers watched the group, taking their own pictures at what must surely be a celerity in the store. The young man handed back her hat and clothes, folded into a glossy black carrier bag for the trip back.

“How would you like to pay for these?” asked the associate.

“Oh, of course, just how you say ‘post it on my ‘Insta’?” Chanel said. She waved a goodbye and headed over in the time she had left to see what that Christian Dior had once again decreed what everyone, except she, should wear.

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OPULENT OFFERINGS

OPULENT OFFERINGS

It seemed like a world far away always landed in the mailbox during the holiday season. That was when catalogues with glamorous merchandise were the norm, providing inspirational ideas, according to our very own cultural ambassador, Gordon Kendall, who fondly recalls them in this exclusive look back.

I WISH I COULD HAVE THAT

The chic world on the coasts would remain a dream until I lived there as a young man and discovered it for myself. Until then, there was the holiday catalogue, which beckoned me from afar to aspire to dream about life beyond my ho-hum eighth-grade existence. To understand the Christmas catalogues I grew up with, you have to know something about the stores offering them. From the smallest hamlet to the vastly populated Manhattan, there were scores of local, regional, and specialty stores. These retailers worked with local groups and held store events where they learned what people would and would not want to wear. Around the house, to school, work, play, and holiday parties, these stores had you covered because they knew you. They had merchandise teams of buyers, not Excel programs, and programmed orders, determine what their shoppers would like, because they knew those shoppers, often personally.

The three-hundred-dollar dress would fly off the racks, but the five-hundred-dollar one wouldn’t because the buyers knew first-hand how to gauge demand. Red would sell better than green, solid ties, not printed cravats. The success of these stores relied on being part and parcel of their respective communities. So, when the stores put out Christmas catalogs, they were putting their best foot forward with the finest, most edited selection of goods they could create. Yes, they were the original influencers.

Some stores really got it right. Their taste caught on. Everywhere. Maybe they had a unique product niche, like New York’s (original) Abercrombie & Fitch with sporting goods, or FAO Schwarz with inimitable toys. Perhaps they had a particular point of view found nowhere else, like San Francisco’s sublime and now-resurrected Gump’s. Texas’ own Neiman-Marcus offered as much humor as high fashion with items like Chinese trunks and designer cocktail dresses. Whatever snobbishness there might have been was tempered by the genuine understanding that people like to have a good laugh. Although, as I think about it, that Lucite “N-bar-M” mouse ranch that Neiman’s touted was even funny to a kid like me. The point is, seeking out these memorable catalogues was part of the fun of holiday shopping. Something about them gave you the confidence to purchases their items…as best you could.

Magazines figured out the cachet of these special catalogues and how to partner with them. Remember those cards at the back of all your favorite, glossy lifestyle and fashion monthlies? Just fill them out, pay the fees, and within a certain timeframe, store catalogues from all over the U.S. would come to you. Thanks to this service, I was able to see what it would be like, and what it would cost to outfit myself in New York’s A. Sulka & Co.’s silk robes or wear the latest in Italian menswear from Wilkes-Bashford in San Francisco. Amen-Wardy in Newport Beach, California, took care of haute couture dressing for the ladies. It was the kind of catalogue where anyone would feel more affluent, just leafing through it.

Additionally, Tiffany & Co.’s iconic little blue catalogue was filled with coveted holiday gifts and included full-color photographs boasting both twenty-carat diamonds and sterling silver centerpiece Christmas trees. It was a far cry from the catalogues most stores distribute currently since those were printed in Switzerland and cost five-dollars. In the 1970s. Talk about luxury. They remain, to this day, collectible glimpses into yesteryear.

 

EXPERIENCE LUXE BY MAIL

Now, though, the stores are long gone or may soon pivot in response to modern shopping habits. Community has become a virtual concept, much less a local reality, and luxury has been redefined to mean experiences-and-friends-you-pay-for, not things you keep because you cherish them. The excitement of waiting for, and receiving, a catalogue from a store as far away as London means much less when that same store pushes its wares all the time, right on your computer. So, being part of some far-flung exercise group that only meets on your phone seems more exciting to some.

Prices of gifts have polarized, too. Expensive means very expensive, and low-cost means cheap in every sense of the word. There is no middle ground when it comes to profit margins, and we, the consumer, have spoken: lower prices unless we’re really going to splash out and, furthermore, who cares about quality when we’re not likely to keep it for very long, anyway? Maybe what has happened is that our dreams have changed?

Now, being well dressed, male or female, seems only a worthy goal for as many likes, followers, and tweets that one can garner from complete strangers. It doesn’t seem to be about how you might feel and how you’d like to define yourself personally. They, the hypesters on social media, who always have something new to be afraid to miss out on (defined as FOMO Syndrome–Fear Of Missing Out), have come to shape our aspirations, not the stores that at least knew us and offered their pride of place in catalogues confirming the acquired knowledge of their customer base. Now, one must wait too long even to receive the catalogues, much less the merchandise. But at least, with them, you made the selection and had the assuredness from the stores to give you confidence that, Hey! You got this!

Rockin’ the Christmas Stockin’ these days is an experience unto itself. I hold out hope that new stores will come on the scene, take hold, and find a way into my heart. These should be venues that come to know us as the people we are, not just the algorithms they are told to buy for. Moreover, they must take modern-day branding’s elusive mantra of authenticity to heart…and revive the glory of the printed and mailed Christmas catalogue that offered one-of-a-kind items you can’t find anywhere else. I’ll be looking for it in my mailbox again, won’t you?

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THE EYES OF ACADEMIA

THE EYES OF ACADEMIA

The University of Texas at Austin, a true academic powerhouse, has over a century of stories that have unfolded on its grounds since it was founded in 1883…according to our classic culture seeker Lori Duran in an exclusive excerpt of her new book, The University of Texas at Austin: The First One-Hundred Years (Arcadia Publishing).

OLD MAIN

This singular edifice was the entire University of Texas when it opened, and it would be the west wing of the Main Building when construction was completed years later. The University of Texas opened in September 1883, but due to financial constraints, there was a construction delay and the building wasn’t ready in time for the students. So, classes were held in the temporary Capitol building that semester.

The Senate Chamber was used for Assembly Hall and the Hall of Representatives was partitioned off for use as lecture rooms. In 1884, the construction finally finished, and the University moved into the Main Building. This building was expanded in the following years and over time it became known as Old Main. (Courtesy of the University of North Texas Portal to History and the Austin History Center C06713.)

TOWER OF POWER

The view looking north at the new Main Building from 19th Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd). Old Main had been demolished and replaced with this new structure during 1934-35. It was financed with a Public Works Administration grant, to house administration and a library. The reading room ceiling timbers had lofty quotes painted on them to inspire and it was intended to be the state’s biggest library. The students requested books from librarians who pulled them from an upper floor and the books were sent down on a dumb waiter.

This building, with its strikingly tall tower, has become the most recognizable symbol of the University. Orange and white lights are used on the tower to illuminate it and communicate school victories and announcements. In 1947, Carl J. Eckhardt Jr. helped create guidelines for using the orange lights.

A number 1 on all sides highlighted by orange lights signaled that the university won a national championship. The full Tower glowing orange alone represented a victory over Texas A&M, commencement, or other occasions the president deemed appropriate. The Tower top bathed in orange symbolized other victories or a conference title in any intercollegiate sport. (Courtesy of the University of North Texas Portal to History and the Austin History Center C03474.)

HIGHER GOALS

Titled As We Turned Them Out, this illustration in the 1896 University of Texas Cactus Yearbook, of a sophisticate, seems ironic since most of the students then were from farms and small towns. This image also invokes the nickname tea-sippers applied to UT students by those of Texas A&M University. Supposedly well-to-do students of UT turned out to be doctors, lawyers and the like. While A&M was then assumed to be a blue-collar school which traditionally taught agriculture and mechanics. (Courtesy of Flower Hill Foundation.)

STUDENT LIFE

Geraldine Hill is pictured here outside of the front of the Tau Deuteron Figi House where she lived as a student in 1919. This house was used for women’s housing during WWI. The Figi house, originally known as the Goldbeck mansion, was built in 1902. The Tau Deuteron chapter purchased it in 1908. (Courtesy of Mary Brady.)

The book is available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Arcadia Publishing.