Nobody who has been following us for any length of time will be surprised that Betty Rose is one of our favourite period fashion labels. We have long felt that the quality of fabrics, construction and tailoring of their garments far exceeds their historic mid-range price point. So, what is it that makes these pieces so special?
Let’s start by looking into the history of the Betty Rose label to see whether this can give us any clues. Betty Rose Suits & Coats was trademarked by the Stern-Slegman-Prins Company back in 1926. Stern-Slegman-Prins was started by Ferdinand Stern, Saul Slegman and Frank Prins in the late 1920s when they took their jobbing business to the next step and started to manufacture garments in their own factory. They quickly became one of the stalwarts of the Kansas City garment industry, which was a true powerhouse in the 1930s and 1940s, employing 8,000 workers at its peak. Stern-Slegman-Prins Company was the second largest Kansas City manufacturer, after Nelly Don and the first advertisement for the Betty Rose label that we could find dates from 1930. 1
Betty Rose focussed exclusively on coats and suits and quickly built a following amongst discerning fashion purchasers. Stern-Slegman-Prins and the Betty Rose brand prospered during the Great Depression of the 1930s due to the high garment quality they produced at an affordable price point.
3 4 5
And this is one of the key differentiators of Betty Rose garments. The vast majority of clothing in the 1930s and 1940s was produced in New York, where garment manufacture was usually contracted out, resulting in varying degrees of quality and craftsmanship, depending on the contractor used. This led to inconsistencies in quality across the range and even across pieces and sizes. The Kansas City garment industry on the other hand was proud to be manufacturing all of their pieces in house, giving producers full oversight over quality control. This resulted in more consistent output in both quality and sizing across their entire range as the same workers would be producing all garments to the same standards in house.
But how could Stern-Slegman-Prins produce garments using such lovely materials and fine workmanship at their very reasonable price point? Another clue to this lies in history. From family accounts, we know that the roles in the company were split with Mr Stern in charge of finances, Mr Prins running the factory and Mr Slegman in charge of the sales force and design. However, Saul Slegman was not a fashion designer, instead he was adept at spotting a successful design. It was this uncanny ability to spot the pieces that would be best sellers, undoubtedly honed during his jobbing years, that allowed him to take successful designs and reproduce them at a lower retail price. And this explains how the lower pricing was possible, because the cost of design work was eliminated from the production process. When we look at the many Betty Rose garments we have handled over the years, this makes a lot of sense, as it was not the innovativeness but the strength of their designs and the superb workmanship that drew us to their pieces.
Betty Rose continued to prosper and grow as a business throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
6 7 8 9
Sadly, the Betty Rose brand and the Stern-Slegman-Prins Company rapidly declined in the 1970s due a combination of the emergence of cheap, non-unionised labour abroad and the disappearance of the independent department stores that stocked their garments. Their customer base literally halved overnight and within about 6 months, the factory closed.
The Inside Story
Now that we have established that the Betty Rose brand was much more focused on quality than unique design, let’s look at what made these garments such high quality. Thankfully, this was something they were not shy in advertising and they even created several campaigns lasting from the 1930s right through to the 1950s highlighting these key construction differentiators, ingeniously named the “Inside Story”.
10 11 12
The Inside Story highlighted the following key quality indicators, which still to this very day demark a garment of superior construction:
- Fabrics were rigidly inspected under northern light (the purest light) and any fabrics with variance in shade or weave were rejected. The fabric was then pre-shrunk, sponged and finished ready to become a garment.
- Every size conformed to a strict standard with no difference between garments of the same size – whilst this is to be expected nowadays, this was by no means the norm back then
- Coats were cut on a straight grain rather than on the bias to hold their shape and style lines and any unsightly piecing was avoided – in fact many Betty Rose pieces feature wonderful statement seam work
- All points of strain such as necklines, armholes, pockets and fronts were taped to reinforce them making the garments more durable and longer wearing, representing even better value for money
- An extended neck yolk and embroidered shields served to protect the lining fabric and reduce wear and tear
- The fronts of Betty Rose garments were designed to avoid rolling by being blind stitched twice to be held in place with the lining – such clever workmanship to prevent one of the main irritations with period coats
- All Betty Rose clothing included and extra 1 ½ inch hem at the bottom as well as the sleeves to allow taller customers to lengthen the garment as required. This made the line more inclusive and allowed for enough fabric to tailor the ready to wear pieces to the individual customer.
- Extra width was included in the armholes and upper sleeves to cater for customers with larger upper arms – yet again trying to be as inclusive as possible in their design and ensuring the garments wear better, as this is one of the main areas of seam strain.
- Betty Rose coats featured an extra large overlap to prevent them from gaping or flying open
- Linings were cut extra full, often including back pleats with seams double stitched or serged for longevity.
Betty Rose garments often featured distinctive styling but it was these thoughtful construction features that elevated their pieces above the competition and made them such excellent value for money.
Betty Rose used a number of different garment labels over their six decades in existence and these did overlap somewhat in use. We have tried to give a guide below of the different labels used alongside rough dating based on the pieces we have handled and advertisements we have found.
Before 1937, the only advertisements we could find used plain typeface for the Betty Rose name. It is unclear, whether this was also used on the garment tags or whether a different label was used.
From 1937 onward, we started to see the emergence of a label featuring the distinctive rose design, which inspired the labels of the 1940s.
1938 – mid-1940s
Slightly overlapping with the previous label, towards the late 1930s and into the mid 1940s, we see the use of the Betty Rose Reg. US Pat. Off label without a rose design. This may have been used to appear less elaborate during the wartime period.
There was also a sub-label Rosebud by Betty Rose, which presumably was aimed at the more junior client, but maintains the same script as the main label.
Mid/Late 1940s – early/mid 1950s
There were a couple of different labels in use over this period, all of which were inspired by the pre-war rose design and continued to be used into the 1950s.
Betty Rose Coats & Suits
Betty Rose Fashions
There was a brief period in the mid 1950s when the label changed to an Italics font Betty Rose script with the registered trademark ® logo.
Late 1950s onwards
However, in the late 1950s this was replaced with a straight letter script. The trademark registration mark ® continued to be used.
Copyright © Marie-Christin Coomber, July 2022
1 www.kchistory.org MVSC-Garment-Slegman-Bob – The Kansas City Public Library - Garment Industry Oral History Collection - Transcript of an Interview with Bob Slegman, former President of Stern-Slegman-Prins Company, December, 23, 2007
2 Falls City Daily News; Falls City, Nebraska; Wednesday, October 29, 1930
3 The Greeneville Sun; Greeneville, Tenessee; Wednesday, September 22, 1937
4 Lansing State Journal; Lansing, Michigan; Tuesday, October 15, 1935
5 The Kansas City Star; Kansas City, Kansas; Sunday, January 23, 1938
6 The Hobart Democrat-Chief; Hobart, Oklahoma; Thursday, August 3, 1944
7 The Tribune-Sentinel; Grant, Nebraska; Thursday, April 7, 1949
8 The Independent-Record; Helena, Montana; Sunday, February 12, 1950
9 The Daily Sentinel; Grand Junction, Colorado; Sunday, September 17, 1961
10 The Evening Herald; Klamath Falls, Oregon; Thursday, August 26, 1937
11 The Decatur Daily Review; Decatur, Illinois; Friday, September 20, 1935
12 The Pawnee Chief; Pawnee, Oklahoma; Thursday, February 1, 1951
13 Lansing State Journal; Lansing, Michigan; Tuesday, October 15, 1935
14 The Kansas City Star; Kansas City, Kansas; Friday, February 25, 1938
15 The Hobart Democrat-Chief; Hobart, Oklahoma; Thursday, August 3, 1944
16 The Voice of Sharon; Orem, Utah; Thursday, January 18, 1940