Fashion History with Harry and Bess Truman and The Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum

Sorry for the lag between posts, dear readers. I’ve had some small bumps in my life this past week, including a last-minute loss of a job offer and some mysterious bugs on my ceilings >>shudder!<< that is >hopefully< resolved by my bleaching and hand-wiping the entire ceiling. Ewww. Yuck. But back to our regular programming…I last left you on my Kansas City, Missouri trip.

My first thought in visiting Kansas City, was to visit the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the Truman’s “Summer White House”, the home that Harry and Bess Truman shared from 1945 to 1953. The Truman home is a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. I love visiting National Parks, so I can add a cancellation stamp to my passport. I wish we had these National Park Service Passports when I was a kid. It’s a great momento of where I’ve been.

Harry Truman Presidential Library & Museum

I’ve started to discover the Presidential museums while driving back from Iowa this winter when I visited Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library & Museum and birthplace. Talk about humble beginnings! But this is about Harry in Missouri, not Herbert in Iowa…

Imagine my delight when I visited the Truman Presidential Museum and there was a display of Bess’ inaugural dresses — including swatches! (You can click the images to see a larger version.)

Bess Truman Inaugural Dress Display Bess Truman Inaugural Dress Display Bess Truman Inaugural Dress Display

It was huge deal to keep the secrecy of Mrs. Truman’s inaugural dresses. There were explicit instructions to NOT release any details of the First Lady’s dresses to the presses until a specific time.

Truman & Jacobson Haberdashery label

The Presidential Museum tracks Truman’s early years, as one would expect. But I didn’t expect that Harry had run a habadashery. He opened the store shortly after marrying Bess (their courtship is a lovely story of Harry writing Bess letters for nine years and taking the train every weekend from the farm to visit Bess, despite Bess’ mother’s disapproval of the poor farm boy.)

Link to Truman & Jacobson Haberdashery series of pictures

Click image to view a series of the Truman & Jacobson Haberdashery

Being the shoe-lovin’ girl that I am, I loved seeing Bess’ wedding shoes. Bess Truman's Wedding Shoes at the Truman Presidential MuseumWhite leather with a large matte silver buckle. The style actually is timeless because I think I have a pair that look similar to these. The museum is chock-full of mementos from Harry’s years. And a peaceful garden with Harry’s and Bess’ burial sites.

Afterward, I went to the Truman’s home down the road. Again, it was a testament to Harry’s and Bess’ devotion to each other. Bess left everything the way it was when Harry died. Unfortunately, the park rangers didn’t allow pictures inside the house.

Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum

Kansas City Historic Garment District logoAs I planned out my next day’s adventure’s, I happily found the Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum was nearby. If I hadn’t surfed the Internet looking for the Lewis & Clark Trail monument, I might not have found the garment district. What a wonderful surprise!! According to the museum’s website “After World War I and through the 1940’s the area employed over 4,000 persons and boasted that 1 out of every 7 women in the U.S. purchased a KC made garment.  Manufacturing of garments was the second largest employer of any industry in KC.

Unfortunately, Ms. Brownfield, who normally gives tours of the museum, was out of town and her counterpart had just finished giving a tour to a Girl Scout troupe and was suspected to be pooped out from that, so I missed the opportunity for a guided tour. Luckily, when I arrived at the museum, someone let me in to see the ground floor. And oh what there was to see! Vintage TWA uniforms with the logo as cutwork; a Betty Rose dress from an ASG member’s closet; and vintage look books.

Kansas City Garment District TWA uniform display Kansas Kansas City Garment District TWA uniform display

There were tools and uniforms from Nelly Don, a Kansas City-based manufacturer named after its founder, Ellen Quinlan Donnelly Reed. During World War II Nelly Don made uniforms for women in the military and factories and underwear for men in the military. Nelly Don manufactured 75 million dresses from 1916 to 1978, making it the largest dress manufacturer of the 20th-century. Nelly Don was one of the first companies to apply assembly line techniques to clothing manufacturing. It was reported that she only had to dismiss one employee in the entire history of the company. <Source: Wikipedia>

Nelly Don Uniforms at the Kansas City Garment District Museum

I was only able to see the ground floor, but there was so much to see with just that. There were vintage sewing machines and a cutter made for Nelly Don. There was a brief history of the wholesale industry and production in Kansas City. Based on a few of the items on display, the Kansas City chapter of the American Sewing Guild helped provide several of the museum items. For the full set of pictures, click to my Flickr photostream; there are too many to put into this post, else you’ll be scrolling down forever.

Needle and button sculpture in Kansas City Garment DistrictDown the street from the museum, there is a button and needle sculpture in a pretty little park behind a waterfall from Proctor & Gamble. I love the color of the button…it’s almost the same color as my dress form base! The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of the wholesale textile and garment industry that flourished since 1898. At its peak, the garment business in Kansas City was well-known throughout the fashion industry; and its products were sold in every state in the U.S.

I feel a little foolish for saying that I’m surprised at the history that Kansas City has in the fashion industry because why wouldn’t it? It’s in the heartland of our country and would have had the best way to distribute throughout the country. So, if you’re in Kansas City, be sure to call ahead and arrange a tour at the museum. And leave a donation, please, to support its on-going efforts. It’s a little gem in the middle of the country. I hope to find little gems like this elsewhere.

6 thoughts on “Fashion History with Harry and Bess Truman and The Kansas City Historic Garment District Museum

  1. Thank you for sharing this Tina. I never knew about the role Kansas City played in the fashion industry. The Garment District Museum sounds like a wonderful place to visit. I love the TWA uniform. The wing effect of the lapels and the cutwork with the TWA logo is absolutely brilliant.

  2. Wow. Who knew Kansas City once had a happening garment district? I sensing a road trip in my future. Great information and photos.

  3. Pingback: President’s Day Quiz: Which U.S. President Was A Tailor? « ASG Chicago

  4. Pingback: Betty Rose Fashions – Kauffman’s – Staunton, VA « WoWoMojo

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