From the Archives: Tina Leser skirt

Today's post highlights the value of primary source research. Because of its label, we knew that this was a Tina Leser skirt. Using one of the FIDM Library databases, we found a brief mention of this exact skirt in a New York Times article. Finding this kind of documentation makes always makes us so happy!


Tina Leser (1910-1986) is among the generation of American designers credited with creating and popularizing the "American Look" during and immediately after World War II. Along with designers such as Carolyn Schnurer, Louella Ballerino and Claire McCardell, Leser designed casual ready-to-wear clothing inspired by non-Western garments and textiles. Based in New York, Leser's extensive world travels informed her designs and she often spoke on the subject of interpreting non-Western artistic traditions into contemporary fashions. Though she is less well-known today, when Leser was actively designing she was "noted for her casual clothes defined with an air of elegance"1 and for the overall wearability of her creations.

Leser 1Skirt
Tina Leser Original
c. 1955
Gift of Mrs. Carita Kadison

The Tina Leser skirt seen in these photos is labeled a "Tina Leser Original." During the 1950s, if a designer's name was paired with "original" on the garment label, it designated a ready-to-wear garment produced in extremely limited quantities and available only at select stores. Bridging the gap between custom made haute couture and widely available ready-to-wear, the buyer of an "original" garment was unlikely to encounter another women wearing the same model. This labeling technique was used by numerous American designers, including Adrian.

A brief 1955 New York Times article on this exact skirt stated that the tape lace embellishment at the hips was hand-made by nuns in a Flanders convent. Leser designed a pattern for the lace, which then took 10 days for 3 nuns to complete. The article comments on the exclusivity of the skirt, noting that it had limited availability and would be a suitable "gift to be handed down from mother to daughter."2 The retail price was $195, a definite bargain for the amount of handwork involved!

Leser 2Detail of 2003.792.5

1 "Designer's Pattern" Los Angeles Times 8 Oct. 1950.: C9.
2 "From a Belgian Convent" New York Times 17 Dec. 1955.: 20.


2 responses to “From the Archives: Tina Leser skirt

  1. Esz says:

    Wow this is beautiful! Thank you for telling us the meaning of “Original” in reference to vintage garments. I have a dress that is a “Natlynn Original” from the 50’s. Its a medium blue linen with off-white embroidered grapes all over it, a wide round collar and mother-of-pearl embellishments. I didn’t realise how rare it really was, despite it already being vintage and thus ‘naturally’ rare ๐Ÿ˜‰

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