Labels & designers

NADA Fashions for Best & Co.

I think I mean to keep up with this blog more often, but turns out when you work full time and do some freelance stuff and are planning a wedding that will happen in three months, plus take care of four dogs and try to keep the house clean, time is kind of tight. And even though I wanted to write about vintage swimsuits next, it didn’t actually end up being hot enough outside to be considered swim weather yet. So instead here is a random good find: a 1930s beach pajamas/jumpsuit/pantsuit/whatever thing that I wore as overalls today because going backless off the beach feels weird.

To be honest, I’m kind of obsessed with beach pajamas (google 30s beach pajamas if you have no idea what I’m talking about). These loose-fitting, open-backed one-piece (or matching two-piece) jumpsuits became fashion-forward evening wear in the late 1920s (thanks in part to Hollywood designer Gilbert Adrian) and omnipresent in the 1930s as resort loungewear.

They’re also very popular right now, and I’ve seen them at vintage shows and online anywhere from $175 to $600. So, when I saw these on ebay with a starting bid of $40, I didn’t really comprehend what I was looking at. The seller had them styled as overalls (like I’m doing here) and put them in the WWII category as a Rosie the Riveter style. It wasn’t until I got them home and looked at the label that I began to realize these were a little older than that.

I haven’t been able to find out a great deal about the NADA Fashions label, but from what I can tell, it was an in-house exclusive label by Best & Co., a children’s and ladieswear brand established in New York in 1879. From 1908 to 1944, their flagship store was on Fifth Avenue at 35th:

Photo Irving Underhill, 1917. Photo Irving Underhill, 1917.

The interesting thing about Best & Co. was that they were possibly the only upscale retailer that specialized in children’s and young women’s clothing. They did also design for misses and ladies’ sportswear, but their main focus was the younger set. One common reference for the NADA label is Claire McCardell’s 1938 Monastic Dress, marketed by Best & Co. as the “NADA Frock.”

I also found these great advertisements for their Spring line in the Vassar school newspaper, from NADA’s 1924 launch:

From these, it’s pretty clear that Bests’ goal for NADA was to appeal to upper-class young women by providing exclusive, on-trend quality sportswear. I love that they had previews/reviews with live models, but I do wish I could find some images from those fashion shows. From other label research it seems like Best shifted from the old English we see here to a more open script in the 1930s, which makes me think that maybe my loungewear here is possibly late 1920s or early 1930s. Aside from a couple split seams and some missing buttons, it’s in great condition. Not bad for $50.

in June 17, 2014

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