Today, I have a very special announcement. It’s my very first day working on a fantastic project at the Baum School of Art in Allentown, PA. About a year ago, the school was gifted the custom-made wardrobe of Mrs. Robert Stieg (Jane). The collection spans from 1958 – 1968, and every garment was made especially for her by the Utah Tailoring Mills. My task is to take this collection and catalog it for teaching purposes.
Jane Stieg was a pretty amazing woman. I can tell just by looking at her wardrobe. Twice a year, she would meet with a consultant from the tailoring company to select her new wardrobe. She began by selecting the silhouette first, and then the fabric. The consultant would take her measurements, and then place the order.
Jane Stieg on a cable car in San Francisco, 1967. Image courtesy of the Stieg family.
While America is really recognized for it’s contribution to sportswear and ready-to-wear during and after World War II, there were companies that created custom made garments. According to a thread on The Vintage Fashion Guild, this is the history of the Utah Tailoring Mills:
Utah Tailoring Mills was started in 1934 by Norm Bingham and Clyde Buehler in Ogden, Utah. The company made custom fitted clothing for individual clients. Sales representatives would show samples to their private clients, and each garment was made to order to that client’s measurements. The client’s name was even embroidered onto the dress label. By the 1950s, Utah Tailoring Mills had more than 100 employees in Odgen and 43 sales representatives all over the US. They became known for their use of Hollywood actresses as models in their advertising. In the 1970s, the average price for a Utah Tailoring Mills dress was $400-$500.
In 1977, Buehler sold his interest in the company to Norm’s son, Boyd Bingham. After Norm died in 1979, Boyd became the president. He took the company to an even more exclusive clientelle and raised the average price of a dress to $1500-$2500. During the 1980s and 90s, the company’s clients were mainly ultra-rich women whose identity was kept private.
In December of 1998, a fire in the building adjacent to Utah Tailoring Mills caused extensive damage and the company never recovered from it’s losses. Utah Tailoring Mills went out of business in 2001. (Contributed by Jody of Couture Allure – one of my favorite sites!!)
I will be photographing and writing descriptions of all these amazing garments from the Stieg collection. Over the next few months, I will also be writing and giving talks about the construction techniques, fabrics, and history of these garments. I can hardly believe my eyes, seeing all of these beautiful clothes. And those labels! Even her name is carefully embroidered beneath the company logo.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation. Please like the Baum School of Art on Facebook for additional updates!