August 27, 2011

Rose Marie Reid: Vintage Designer Bios

Rose Marie Reid was likely the most popular swimwear label of the 1950s, and her bathing attire remains just as attractive to the vintage clothing world today. The lady behind the label lived a remarkable life, outfitting the likes of Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe in her heyday.

She was born Rose Marie Yancey in 1906 to a Mormon family in Utah. Her upbringing lent itself to entreprenuerial success, as she worked in the family's grocery enterprise by age 14, and her mother taught her sewing at an expert level.

After marrying Jack Reid and moving to Canada, her bathing suits were borne out of a request by her husband for a pair of swim trunks in the early 1930s. His complaint was that swimsuits of the day were all-wool, and when soaked in water became very heavy and uncomfortable. She created a pair of trunks cut from an old duck-fabric coat, and laced the sides for a close fit. They were so functional that Jack arranged for a local department store to carry the swimwear, much to Rose Marie's reluctance. He'd even claimed they had similar (non-existent) women's suits available! With this, Reid Holiday Togs, Inc was created.

"What you really need is a new suit for sunning, last year's for swimming and an extra one just for fun. A wardrobe of three of four suits isn't at all unusual any more... and some women buy 12 or 13 at a time."

- Rose Marie Reid
(Burr & Petersen, p.95)

In their first year, the Reids showed six styles. In later years over 100 designs were shown in one season, as annual sales soared from $32,000 in 1938 to $834,000 in 1946. The war years stifled Rose Marie's creativity with quotas and fabric restrictions, but she continued to innovate.

Rose Marie began more direct competition with US swimsuit companies in 1946. With financial backing, Rose Marie's business overtook the industry in a few years, and quickly found her competitors copying her designs. Cole even had a suit they audaciously named "Rose Marie" because they'd stolen the design from her (Burr & Petersen, p. 89). By 1958, sales were $14 million as Rose Marie ruled a swimsuit empire.

Rose Marie was the first swimwear designer to come out with more than one line a year, including a late summer line and a resort & cruisewear line. Notable bathing suits included one "of glistening white" with a lobster placed on it, presumably after the surrealist Schiaparelli gown with the same theme (Burr & Petersen, p. 44). There was also a gold metallic suit with a price tag of $90, when most swimwear sold for $6.95 at the time. When Rita Hayworth bought one, Rose Marie enjoyed instant success despite the price. Another gold suit created in 1951 was actually precious metal, in black lace with 24-carat goldplating. This rarity sold for over $100 exclusively at Lord & Taylor.

Rose Marie found herself traveling to Europe for inspiration, and dining with the likes of designer Emilio Pucci and journalist Ann Scott James. Pucci complimented her by taking her swimsuits to his office staff. Even amidst the glamour, her personal style was endearing. At one RMR show, she'd had such a time crunch that the suits weren't priced beforehand. Rose Marie solved the problem by simply asking the models what they'd pay for the suits they wore! Then in 1955, a rose was created in her name, inspired by the colors in that year's swimsuit line. And in '58, she won the American Sportswear and Design Award. By 1959, her factories produced 10,000 suits per day. Rose Marie was on top of the world.

Just a few years later, RMR's swimwear success faltered with the bikini craze of the 1960s, and was accelerated by Rose Marie's emerging health troubles. Other designers were brought in to contribute designs, changing the atmosphere of the company for the worse. For the first time, some suits that had her label were not her designs.

Decorum was on Rose Marie's mind when the bikini binge began. Suddenly the midriff-baring two-piece suits were everywhere. At Saks, women over sixty were buying bikinis, and women sized 20 were requesting them. This change of taste was one Rose Marie tried to overcome by crusading for the modesty of the one-piece suits she made famous. She disavowed ever designing a bikini, but due to the collaborative design effort now present at RMR, bikinis were nonetheless made with the RMR label. She left the company she'd created in 1962, claiming the bikini was ultimately its demise. Rose Marie was not idle, however; she began marketing wigs in 1963.

Munsingwear bought the company, but had ceased operations of RMR swimwear by 1965. The name Rose Marie Reid is still licensed and manufactured today, owned for a time by United Merchants (who purchased Jonathan Logan in 1986), and then by Sirena Apparel Group who bought the name Rose Marie Reid in 1994.

Why was RMR so popular? Rose Marie sparked the very idea of beauty in swimwear, compared to earlier wool suits meant for sport, not style. Yet finding a flattering swimsuit was just as difficult then as today. As the swimsuit queen said herself, "Nothing is so brutally frank as the bare essentials of a bathing suit" (Burr & Petersen, p. 45).

To achieve the goal of flattery on every figure, Rose Marie always designed on the model to ensure a realistic shape even through the severe silhouette of the 1950s. She referred to her customers' various silhouettes as "jewel shapes" - six geometric shapes that were all stunning in their differences. A few of the innovations Rose Marie developed in her suits included:

  • tummy control panels
  • paneling that reproportioned the body
  • a long-line bra with plastic boning that creates a divided natural bustline, for full busts
  • vertical stripes that slimmed in a dress-like design, for full hips
  • "magic length" suits for the long-waisted
  • stay-down legs via an innovative crotch panel
  • brief skirts for full figures
*images from 1950s Rose Marie Reid pamphlet titled 'Which Jewel Shape is She?'

She found that pastels and dark colors seemed best for hiding figure flaws, and that she could manipulate fabrics' grains for rigidity or elasticity, depending on placement (like the bias cuts Vionnet used for dresses decades before). She made certain to include adjustable fittings & closures for a more tailored effect. Details previously used only in lingerie & evening wear, like boned bodices and wired bra cups, were added to achieve a smooth silhouette.

Rose Marie's intuitive genius created swimsuits that wore well, looked flattering and seemed so much more special than the utilitarian looks they originally replaced. From the 1950s to early 60s she ruled the swimsuit market, and she is well-remembered for her ambition and creativity.

Update (12/15/09):

An update on RMR's first-ever women's bathing suit from Colin Stevens of the New Westminster Museum of British Columbia, Canada:

Rose’s husband Jack was the swimming coach for Noel Oxenbury. He formed a swim club called the “”Crystal Club.” Rose Marie’s first 4 swimsuits were two male and two female:

Male - Jack Reid, her husband.
Male - Freddie Rossiter (swimmer)
Female - Noel Oxenbury (swimmer)
Female - Bunty Harrington (diver)

They modelled them for large department stores. The New Westminster Museum has uncovered the swimsuit made for and worn by Noel Oxenbury. It is green with white laces (one on each side.) The typed note that she pinned to the suit reads “The first ladies bathing suit made by “Rose Marie” Reid at the Crystal Pool and modeled by Noel Oxenbury for buyers from Spencers, Woodwards and the Hudson’s Bay era 1936 – 37.” Colin has graciously offered to provide us with a picture of the suit when available.

Reid Burr, Carole and Petersen, Roger K. (1995). Rose Marie Reid: An Extraordinary Life Story
. Utah: Convenant Communications, Inc.

Additional Resources:
The California Swimsuit

August 13, 2011

Halston Biography: Vintage Designer Bios

Amidst the extreme fashions of the 1960s & 70s emerged an unpretentious American designer who left a lasting imprint on the fashion world. Roy Halston, a young milliner-turned-couture king from the mid-West, developed classic collections and classy clientele that has since been unsurpassed. He was known for fluid and draped lines, columnar dresses and minimalist, timeless separates that could be worn with confidence year after year. His customers, who included Liza Minnelli, Barbara Walters, Jackie Onassis and Katharine Graham, were attracted to Halston's cordial and practical service. Many clients appreciated his goal of dressing them according to their own desires, not according to a frivolous high-fashion ideal.

Halston in the 1970s, at the height of his career. Source

Halston first began designing for the elite as a milliner, presenting his designs adjacent to a hair salon in Chicago's Ambassador Hotel in the mid-1950s. He was soon learning on the job under Lilly Dache` and making hats for Oscar de la Renta, who was early in his own career at the time. Until his last collection, Halston might have felt he was a milliner-turned-clothing designer, as he kept two milliners on his staff despite the minimal need for hats into the 1980s.

Examples of Halston garment labels

Halston's own first clothing collection was presented in New York in 1968, in a comfortable bohemian space unlike the purist, overbearing architecture previously common to couture houses. He quickly became a trusted designer and personal friend to the Beautiful People, spending many evenings with them at the famed disco Studio 54. Halston called this "the best show in town", as he could engage in conservation while observing his clients (and potential clients), studying them all through the lens of a designer.

The yuppie look personified in Halston's Ultra suede. Source

His company blossomed in the 1970s with draped and seamless evening wear, Ultrasuede dresses, spiral-seamed gowns, and cashmere tops & tunics. Over time, the various Halston lines were differentiated with Roman numerals (I through VI), and he quickly expanded his range, creating plus-size fashions with Pat Ast as inspiration, and using the Halston name on perfumes and luggage. Though his designs have become classics, Halston's own success diminished rather quickly, ending with his last personally designed collection in 1984.

Reference: Gross, Elaine & Rottman, Fred (1999). Halston: An American Original. New York: Harper Collins.

August 08, 2011

Interview with Karen O'Shea, Model in New York & Europe, 1975-1997

Intelligent, obliging, savvy and entrepreneurial. Not exactly a stereotypical fashion model, right? When I first met Karen and she mentioned she modeled, it was so off-the-cuff I thought she meant a couple department store ads a dozen years ago. I soon learned Karen O'Shea was strutting the runways and posing worldwide from the late 1970s until just recently. This amazing woman has seen more in her fashionable life than we'd ever imagined.

An early head shot by David Kennedy.

Starting Out
It all began when she ran away from home. Karen was an athletic Jersey girl who "started late at 19" in the modeling world. She transplanted her "white-skinned, exotic-featured" self in New York City at that tender age and realized, while she might not be as advanced as other aspiring models, she was an ideal size and could make a good enough living to pay herself to learn.

Her first ads were quintessential hippie, taken in 1975 or '76 for one of those import companies that specialized in bohemian essentials like kaftans & daishikis. Karen pounded the pavement like any good model, spending four years between Paris, New York, London and Milan before discovering a warmhearted agent in Giorgio Piazzi, and nailing a city poster for OMSA pantyhose which still runs to this day. Through her connections in Milan, and later in Germany, she landed on-location shoots by 1978 to exotic locations like Bali and the Canary Islands. Among them was a shoot in 1980 with the renown photographer Art Kane, which entailed forty dives off a 32-foot high dive. "Sure, I can do that", she thought. Ouch! She was black and blue head to toe afterward.

First time in print - Karen's wearing a "Cher crocheted halter dress" at left,
and a "halter and striped drawstring pants" at right, made for importer M. Naqui in the mid-1970s.

She was getting some print work, mostly lingerie, modeling for Roger Prigent and the early Victoria's Secret catalog through the Zoli agency. When she booked a series of days for Montgomery Ward, she was sure her future was set. The catalog published her photos, and she had a wonderful experience shooting for them, but one soon day she received a call from her new contact in Montgomery Ward's casting. The girl who had previously pushed for her thanked her for a job well done, and then delivered the heartbreaking news that Karen would not be hired again.

March 1979 headshot from the Zoli facebook.

Though Karen had worked well, her type was wrong, because she had exotic features but pale white skin. It was a huge blow to Karen that she could not make it in mainstream American catalogs. Zoli abandoned her after it was clear that she'd not bring in the fast, easy print dollars. These were the years of Christie Brinkley, after all, and the look was already defined. Karen just didn't fit it.

Karen went cold-calling to the swimwear showrooms on and off Seventh Avenue and stumbled upon Gaybar where she met the notorious Dorothy Rydell, once a Broadway dance gypsy and then the hottest saleswoman in the swimwear market. She was looking for a more European type to scale up her presentation and found a kindred spirit in dancer Karen. This began seasonal work for Gaybar Swimwear & Lily of France Lingerie for years to come and opened up the world of showrooms on and off Seventh Avenue, where the steady income gave her the opportunity to pursue dancing classes, acting classes and auditions in addition to modeling.

A 1979 contact sheet from Zoli.

In The Presence of Greatness
Tina Leser also gave her an early break in her showroom on Seventh Avenue. This showroom specialized in beaded gowns and throwback dresses for her aging clientele from the 1950s & 60s. Tina Leser is a fashion icon best known for American casual wear, who maintained a loyal audience and decades on Seventh. To Leser, svelte Karen was "the fat girl". Yet Karen remembers Leser as a little chubby herself, with dyed black hair, "a lady from the 40s who kept her look from 1949 and didn't change", wearing gingham tops & capri pants or muu-muus into the 1980s.

Above, a nostalgic look to this logo from an early 80s Victoria's Secret catalog.
Below, a page from the catalog with Karen wearing Lily of France.

One of the most demanding designers Karen worked for was Pauline Trigere, who to Karen had "hair like a wig" and was always wearing a Chanel-type suit. Karen remembers modeling Chanel style coats for her, heavy and woolen in prints with rolled collars and three-quarter sleeves. Trigere ruled her old-school salon as a grande dame, telling Karen "don't insult me with your nerves!" as Karen worked. Trigere was "very little but very tough" and apparently had her own set of nerves to match.

The designer had the mixed fortune of hiring inexperienced Karen for her first "fitting". Fitting was a great way to make money if you could stand very still for hours. In those days, a good fit model could make $250 an hour if she had the perfect measurements and the perfect attitude. Karen was a little fidgety, and scared of the pins. Petite, French and commanding behind thick glasses, Trigere looked up at her and barked, "Stand steel! And doon't be seelly! I have nevair stoock anyvone wis a peen!"

"Of course", recalls Karen, "she immediately stuck me good, right under the underarm here, the most stickable spot! I feel honored to have been stuck with a pin by Pauline Trigere. Unfortunately, she never hired me again!

Karen in Blackglama mink for Givenchy.

Into The 80s
Soon fashion took a turn as the 80s geared up, and Karen was in the thick of it. By then, modeling was her life. Karen worked not only the runways but as a showroom model, where the audience was primarily buyers and the models showed a variety of designers in one room - and in quantity. "You get road rash on your hips by putting so many dresses on so fast." The number of models in a showroom varied; at Gaybar/Gottex she was the only one, while other showrooms had several.

In the 1980s Karen was introduced to Randolph Duke, now a popular couturier for red carpet appearances. They met when Gaybar bought out Gottex and brought in Duke as a hot new designer to revitalize the historical company's dowdy image. A good-looking "golden boy" recently stolen from among Anne Klein's swimwear designers, Duke had worked prior at Halston as well. Gaybar offered him his own atelier and a generous budget to begin his own fashion line while he renewed Gaybar's image.

A polished mid-1980s composite, with all clothes by Randolph Duke.

Duke's ambition was to create his own label, which takes enormous overhead with the cost of fabrics, marketing, workers and three or four shows planned for Europe. His vision gave Karen opportunity. Duke spurred her to go to Europe every season. Karen spent 1986 to 1992 doing the shows and showrooms in Paris where she learned on Duke's behalf but worked primarily for other designers. Duke himself did not show in Paris, beyond a few private appointments for investors which were not successful. Sometimes shows were with Lagerfeld, Rykeil, Balenciaga, Chanel, but more frequently it was for smaller, lesser known designers and countless "tea rooms" for store buyers' appointments.

The work kept her current for Randolph in New York, who as a designer could not transition to Paris as easily as the models. "[The models] would get there a month before season", in March and again in October, "do the cattle calls, book as many shows as possible while enjoying the city from our tiny garret rooms." Her accommodations were often coldwater flats with a shared bathroom, but usually the rooms were clean and charming if spare.

"It was modeling boot camp in the most glamorous, beautiful and often dirty and tough town! You learned the language and the subway system and got yourself to dozens of auditions or bookings all over Paris every day. Sometimes you received no money for weeks. Paris was very expensive and you always had to live very tight, but the shopping was unbelievable, so you gave up eating to buy the great clothes."

An advert for Randolph Duke's Soho showroom.

On & Off The Catwalk
In that first season in Paris, she remembers her first major fashion show for Sonia Rykiel in 1986. "Pink Floyd's The Wall was new, so that will time it exactly. I actually heard that song for the first time on that runway in Paris, I remember the moment, looking up and around, crowded, cameras flashing, the speakers thumping... this older-than-old transformed cathedral with statuary of saints and ladies dark above me, sliced with the stark modern white runway and blinding catwalk lighting."

She worked a few major runways and lots of minor runways around the world, which were still grand for a Jersey girl. But her power was in the showrooms, where the audience were buyers from Saks and Burdines, Bendels and Lord and Taylor, who came to Paris or New York for appointments at the showroom. Here the models showed the collection to each buyer as they belabored each dress or suit purchase to fill their designer departments every season. The models showed hundreds of items each day to a nervous and demanding group.

A 1950s-inspired look by Duke.

And she always worked for Randolph, rushing home from Paris to accommodate his schedule. She fit every outfit in his collection for six years as his top model. From drawing to dress, she stood while fabric was draped, pinned and each creation built on her. "I was his muse and deep friend for six-ish years." His pet fashion statement at the time was 1950s references like sheer polka dot scarves and Donna Reed gloves. "He made me wear white sheer pantyhose in the summer, which was our grandest source of contention. He dressed me up like a Barbie doll for every occasion. Every party, every outing was an opportunity to advance himself. He was not beyond scandalous behavior to accomplish his goals... He was absolutely driven and eventually worked up four complete collections a year. He grew to be enormous and controversial."

A vintage throwback ensemble consisting of tailored suit complete with peplum and ladylike gloves.

The relationship grew more demanding, as Randolph could be "heartbreakingly cruel". He relied on her totally as he grew more famous and his budgets for shows grew larger, but he would not compensate her for the thousands of hours she worked. He was abusive and nervous, hiring and firing a steady stream of couture talent. She remembers preparing for a show once, she'd dress and walk for him, he would critique and rely on her. Then, right before she'd go on the runway, Duke would look Karen up and down, give a big sigh and a disparaging look. Suddenly she was pulled from the show. "He would critique me before the runway to the point that he found better models and could not use me on the runway anymore for his image. But the classiest designers did use their fit girls on the runway, and their imperfections were forgiven, and that was the issue between us."

Though designers were known for their difficulties, to Karen he was the worst. And the not-paying became a real problem after Karen signed with the Ford Agency in 1990. "On the one hand he was hiring Christy Turlington for $10,000 and then he would beg me to bring him my B model friends and not pay us because we should be honored to work for him. Which we were!" she says laughing, but the agency wouldn't allow her to work without compensation.

An Audrey-inspired Karen in print for Michoel Schoeler's spring 1988 collection titled 'Think Pink'.

New Opportunity
Without Duke, Karen had time enough to explore new jobs and soon found print work open to her. In 1990 Claudia Schiffer unwittingly created this opportunity. Before Claudia's rise to superdom in the late 80s, models never successfully worked more than one area. A model was either print or runway, never both. There had been a disdain for girls who could not glide down the runway in the traditional style; those who could not walk could do print. That had been a total delineation.

"I remember the week that it happened," she recounts. "Claudia Schiffer did a show for Guess, and the press went crazy. Claudia could not walk, she was pigeon-toed and knock-kneed, but she was so photogenic that even if she was stumbling, the press got great photos." Suddenly the runway world opened up to the print girls. These girls did not have to walk well, or throw off a jacket like Liz Lee did for Geoffrey Beene for twenty years, or move like Dalma, the ultimate runway diva. The ability to walk the stylized walk actually became a hindrance; designers did not even want the girls to keep in time to the music. Girls with the old style became dinosaurs and were relegated to such clients, as the press transformed what had been a rather private industry into a glitzy parade for the public to ogle and emulate.

A sexy, elegant look wearing a Randolph Duke design.

Yet by 1990 Karen was not so much a part of this group; she was delighted with every print job she landed, but the new generation of models were younger and different. Karen had been a dedicated model but began to branch into acting & dancing roles. Meanwhile in the modeling world, contracts disappeared, decades of loyalty evaporated and model rosters began to change weekly. "There is so much available talent [today]", Karen says. "There are few lasting supermodels now, unless they become celebrities." Designers and models alike quickly learned to exploit celebrity in order to maintain the limelight and the paycheck.

By this time Karen in her late thirties was working not only in print, but also in the entertainment industry, all the while continuing showroom work at the better showrooms in New York. Her favorite was the Louis Feraud showroom where she flourished from the end of the 1980s until about 1996. Feraud was an excellent client for Karen, as they had a fashion show every morning during Fashion Week for about 25 buyers and then work in the afternoon that together created a full-time position. And after Fashion Week, the appointments and showings went on for several weeks afterward. In 1996, working for Feraud was over. "All of a sudden they look at you, and they hate you." And so it goes...

Fulfilling the needs of the fur shows, Karen wears a violet shearling sportcoat by Givenchy.

Landing On Her Feet
Karen's success was due to her persistence. As a self-proclaimed B model, Karen worked her status to her advantage. B models are anonymous relative to the Christie Brinkleys of the world, yet they can have the longevity supermodels lack. They avoid a fickle public by never becoming a specific focus of the media. Karen, on the other hand, was a dedicated workhorse who realized the power of continuing to succeed however quietly as a B model. In poring over the old photographs she spots former "stars of the runway", Appalonia, Pat Cleveland and others who burst brightly on the scene and then fizzled, handicapped by drinking, drugs or simply the inability to hold the public's attention. By the 1990s, fashion was always looking for the next great model discovery. It was really up to each girl to pay attention and continually reinvent herself, as long as she was able.

While modeling, Karen developed another income away from the catwalk as well. She's a terrific character actress who once won herself an upgrade "from lowly extra to guest star on The Cosby Show" in 1997. And she's been a background performer in dozens of films, working with Al Pacino, Bob DeNiro, Brad Pitt, John Cusack, Susan Sarandon and many more. Her most recent speaking role was a part on Law and Order, thanks to the flexibility that steady modeling work provided.

For Givenchy again. The card reads "parquet Russian sable poncho
reversible to cashmere, trimmed with Russian sable tails".

Karen continued to pursue jobs within and without the modeling world over the decades, regardless of the notoriety - or in the case of the major fur shows, in spite of it. "Being controversial [shows], they hired us," referring to the B models on the circuit. The big-time models couldn't risk such work, so working girls like Karen were particularly in demand for major fur lines including Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta and Karl Lagerfeld. The atmosphere was glamorous to the outsider but all-business to pros like Karen.

That glamour, it turns out, was only a veneer and soon a transparent one to Karen. As she matured, she saw differently the harsh personalities and hidden horrors of the business. Once while working at the snooty but impressive gold-leafed Oscar de la Renta showroom, Karen opened the wrong door "and there's this stripped huge factory room filled with fifty Vietnamese with holes in their fingers sewing away". The stark contrast was unforgettable. And in the social scene as well, it was difficult to handle the extremes. Karen watched generations of models come and go. They were often dazzled by the glamour, sex, drugs or rock & roll playing out in front of them. The most beautiful girls with the highest career highs often burned out the fastest.

At a Revlon hair show in 2000.

As many of her beautiful colleagues fizzled out from playing too hard, Karen continued to work hard as a dependable and glamorous unknown well into her forties. After 22 years in the fashion industry, Karen's acting ability took first priority with roles on stage & screen in both New York and Florida where she's been active since the late 90s.

She remembers the business of being a model most, how the girls were commodities, hoping to be "right" for the designers hiring and therefore continuing to work. Competition was understandably fierce. She looks at a long-forgotten and beautiful photo of herself almost in surprise. "We never felt beautiful. You could not enjoy your beauty! There was always someone more beautiful, more look-appropriate, more confident. The whole nature of success is confidence, yet your confidence was shaken every moment." And despite the incongruity, Karen portrayed success itself as a model as she worked the fashion world for decades.

She sums up, "I had a thirty year career in the finest showrooms in the world" due to beauty, brains and incredible persistence. Her most recent endeavor is a resurrection of style and another reinvention of herself. After decades in front of a camera, Karen's most recent project is behind it as a photographer. Karen O'Shea Creative is her new ingenue, a company that photographs models for portfolio work.

---Karen O'Shea & April Ainsworth

Reference: O'Shea, Karen. Personal interview. November 26, 2006.

August 04, 2011

Pick Of The Litter

In our last post, we Vixens shared some care tips for your favorite sweaters. But not all knits are created equal. When choosing which sweater to purchase, or caring for your favorite picks, remember that knitwear fibers have different "personalities":

Acrylic - Durable, inexpensive and very popular fiber for knits. Easy care (machine or hand washable). Likely the fastest fiber to start pilling.

Angora - Luxury fiber, extremely soft. Tends to develop pills under the arms, easily picked off without need for a pill shaver. Fibers from furry angora can tickle the nose. Hand washable in cool to lukewarm water with no agitation.

Cashmere - Classic luxury fiber, very soft. Can pill slightly but does not look offensive. Hand washable in cool to lukewarm water with no agitation.

Cotton/Linen - Easy-care and wrinkles only slightly. Machine washable though it helps to minimize wrinkles with a quick fold while still warm from the dryer. Hand washing will help prevent a soft whitish tint from developing on the fabric surface.

Mohair - Very silky luxury fiber. Begins to mat over time, does not pill easily. Dry cleaning is best because of the matting tendency.

Nylon/Polyester - Synthetic-feeling, inexpensive but usually comfortable to wear. Easy care. Machine washable but for nylon in particular, vintage versions tend to snag so we recommend hand washing.

Wool - Lasts for years with good storage. Tends to soften and fit the wearer better over time. Pills somewhat, but depends on the yarn & pattern. Dry cleaning is easiest, but careful hand washing is possible with cool water and no agitation.

Save Your Sweaters! How to Prevent Pilling & Pulling

There's nothing worse than buying a sweater and then discovering after one wash that its fresh appearance has disappeared! Pilling is the most common reason for that worn look on sweaters. Those little fuzzy balls or bits of fluff that show up on the surface of your knits are due to active use, where the garment's surface is rubbed over time, and also from machine washing. Sweaters and other knits are also subject to stretching and pulling out of shape, so they can require particular handling & storage. Also, knits of animal hair (like wool) should never go in the washing machine, unless you want your sweater shrunken to fit Fido!

To avoid pilling, we recommend hand washing your sweaters, especially those that have looser textures, applied embellishments or openwork patterns. For those that are machine washable, at least turn them inside out before tossing into the washer. If you have a pilling problem already, you can use an electric piller/fabric shaver (found at stores like Target) that runs on batteries or through a wall outlet.

Electric shavers are a great way to take 'five o'clock shadow' off your knits.

Fabric shavers are easy for removing pills on a flat knit, but they should not be used on knits with naps, textures or lofty surfaces. For any snags or loose ends of yarn, you can easily remedy this with a "knit picker". These are hook-like tools with an eye that draws the yarn from the outside of the garment to the inside. They're sold at sewing shops.

A knit picker. This convenient tool is great to keep in your handbag.

To avoid stretching your knits out of shape, it helps to be aware of their stretching limits while you wear them, but the most common over-stretching happens in storage rather than on the body. Because of this, we fold all knits flat for storage rather than hanging them. Hanging a sweater on a hanger can develop stretched-out humps at the shoulders where the knit has pulled down over the hanger's "shoulders" over time. This is most prevalent with heavy sweaters on narrow hangers (wire hangers are a sweater's death sentence), but it can even happen with lightweight sweaters, particularly if stored in more humid climates.

The dreaded 'hanger hump'.

If you need to hang your sweaters, use padded, thick hangers that match the width of the knit's shoulders. For shoulder-less items (like tube tops) and heavier or longer items (like dresses or beaded sweaters), use a hanger with a bottom bar so that the knit can be folded over and hung from the bar. This more evenly distributes the weight of the knit, so it's less likely to stretch out. The savviest clothes-horse will cycle her knits by season, so that any knit in the closet is hung up only while in active use, and then stored folded the rest of the year.

If, despite your best efforts, there's an overstretched knit in your closet, you can always block it. Blocking just means shaping a knit into a certain size. To do this, place the sweater in a barely warm tub of water (use no agitation for animal fibers, especially for woolens), let it soak up the water, and then gently press out the water into a sink (do not wring or twist). For out-of-shape portions of knits, you can dip the overstretched areas in warm to hot water, to encourage shrinkage in the specific spot, but be careful not to over-shrink. Once it's not dripping, place the knit onto a padded towel (two or three layers of towels is fine), and mold the knit with your hands into the shape you want. Once it's in place, use rustproof pins to hold the knit in this shape, pinning knit to towel. Let it dry and the knit will "magically" become the shape you've molded.