No tags :(

Share it

Happy New Year! I hope you’re starting the year on top. I am, at least from a sartorial point of view.

Skinny jeans are on their way out. (I could easily have predicted this because I recently bought my first pair. By the time I embrace a trend, it’s always on its way out.) Boot cut jeans and wide leg trousers have always flattered me more, and they’re back.

Bobbed hair is all the rage, and I’ve got that covered too. Yes, I’ve finally accepted longer hair. Mine’s more messy-French bob than sleek-geometric bob because I don’t like to style hair. I like it well enough to say I think I’ll keep it, at least for now.

One of the perks of a post-Instagram world: we’re all free to wear whatever we want. But, hey. Even I like to be “on trend” once in a while.

Vera before Vera

Now for a fashion accessory that’s good in three out of four seasons and is eternally chic: the scarf. I’ve been wearing and collecting scarves since I was in high school, when my mother gave me an apricot floral silk, designed by Vera. 

Not Vera Bradley. That’s a different Vera. For a while, I was completely mad about that brand too. My fervor was once strong enough that I attended the annual Vera Bradley sale in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the company is headquartered.  Thousands of crazed women stand in long lines every spring for a chance to buy a few (or a few dozen) Vera Bradley purses at a deep discount.

No, I’m speaking of the other Vera—Vera Neumann, the scarf designer whose brand was once ubiquitous in department stores and fine boutiques worldwide. And then there were none—all gone. Or so I thought until I began to see them in vintage shops. Recently, I learned more about the woman behind the multi-million dollar fashion empire and how the brand ultimately vanished.

Vera Salaff studied fine art at Cooper Union Art School and graduated in 1928. Afterwards, she continued her education at the Ethel Traphagen School of Fashion Design and began freelancing as a textile artist on Seventh Avenue in New York.

In the 1930s she married George Neumann, a supportive guy who encouraged her artistic pursuits and lent advertising expertise when Vera’s textiles business began to blossom. They formed Printex, Inc. as a maker of table linens in 1945. Vera’s first products—bold, colorful placemats made at home in the couple’s kitchen—were an instant hit. To finance their growth, the Neumann’s and their partner, F. Werner Hamm, were forced to take out a bank loan.

Fabrics for table linens became incredibly expensive after World War II, and the company sought alternatives. They found a surplus of affordable parachute fabric and began making scarves. Lord & Taylor acquired her first scarf design in 1947.

The company prospered during the 1950s and 1960s, adding sportswear and other products, and changing its name to Vera Companies. After a merger with another textile company, it became known as Vera Industries.

Vera had achieved such success by 1972 that The Smithsonian Institute presented Vera: The Renaissance Woman, in recognition of her extraordinary career to that point. She was also celebrated by the Philadelphia Textile Museum and was named twice on the top 10 women executives in Fortune Magazine.

A big corporation subsequently gobbled up Vera Industries, but Vera continued to design scarves until her death in 1993. From 1992 to 1999, a mail order shop, Tog Shop, licensed the Vera name and eventually purchased her collection and rights. One of their former executives, Susan Seid, later acquired the same with the goal of restoring the brand, which had lost traction. As far as I can tell, she did not meet with success. Seid published a book about Vera in 2010.

Among the more interesting Vera lore

• Marilyn Monroe considered Vera her favorite scarf designer. She wore them proudly and was photographed in the nude, covered only by a few Vera scarves for The Last Sitting, a book by Bert Stern. 

• Vera selected the ladybug as her signature symbol, so chosen because it’s considered a universal symbol of happiness. The ladybug appears before or after her name on tags for her mid-century scarves. Some collectors say it continues through the 1980s, although that’s debatable.

• In addition to sportswear, scarves and table linens, Vera also designed sleepwear for Formfit Rogers, a vintage lingerie brand.

• Unlike many designers, there’s no signature Vera look. Vera fabrics are always exquisite and often silk. The designs encompass everything—florals, paisleys, geometrics, animals, bugs, plants and vegetables. (When I inventoried my collection, I discovered that I only had geometrics.)

• Vera also designed many commemorative scarves, including one for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just a few miles from my home. (Notice the ladybug symbol next to her signature.)

If you love accessories, keep your eyes open for Vera scarves in thrift and vintage shops. They’re still out there “in the wild,” as my collector friends like to say.

There may be a few Vera scarves in your mother or grandmother’s drawer. I know there’s at least one in my mother’s collection: the apricot silk I wore to my high school graduation. At some point in life, I returned it to her. After all, she paid for it!

I’ve shown you my Vera. Now, you show me yours.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.