Anne Fogarty is best remembered for designing quintessential 1950s fashions for young women that emphasized femininity and for espousing the concept of “wife-dressing,” the title of her 1959 book. Born Anne Whitney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 2 February 1919, Fogarty moved to New York City in her early twenties to pursue acting. While working as a fitting model for the dress manufacturer Harvey Berin, she decided to become a fashion designer. In the late 1940s and 1950s, she designed clothing for the teenage and junior markets, creating her signature “paper doll” dress while working at Youth Guild in 1948, for which she won the Coty award in 1951 and the Neiman-Marcus Award in 1952. In 1954, while working for Margot Dresses, she introduced her “tea cozy” dress, a variation on the paper doll silhouette.
With its tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats, the paper doll dress was a simplified and inexpensive adaptation of Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look.” Its silhouette was nostalgically romantic and playful and reflected Fogarty’s first principle of wife-dressing: “Complete Femininity—the selection of clothes as an adornment, not as a mere covering” (p. 10). In her book, Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife, Fogarty instructed wives to wear their corsets and never to let their husbands see them in pin curls or dungarees. Wife dressing was about dressing to please husbands and aiding their social advancement; for Fogarty, a wife was an appendage and her marital roles were of foremost importance (Fogarty herself was married three times). The book also contains advice for husbands—”If you adore her, adorn her. There lies the essence of a happy marriage” (p. 9) and tips on pruning one’s wardrobe, multipurpose dressing for day and evening, and how to be disciplined and discerning in creating one’s own look—not unlike tips found in the pages of 1950s fashion magazines.
The ideas expressed in Fogarty’s book reflect and reinforce the centrality of women’s domestic lives just after World War II. Women were to be in character and properly outfitted, maintaining the feminine mystique as wife and mother. An emphasis on femininity, exemplified in fashions and accessories that exaggerated the female figure, emerged in the late 1940s and 1950s as many women returned to the home front after having worked during the war. Even successful career women like Fogarty maintained the centrality of home life.
As social norms and fashions changed in the following decades, Fogarty expanded as a designer. By the end of the 1950s, she was the exclusive designer for Saks Fifth Avenue, designing more casual, versatile styles. In 1962 she opened her own business, Anne Fogarty, Inc., which ran successfully for eight years. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s she experimented with different silhouettes (her favorite being the Empire) and targeted a more mature audience. After closing her business in 1970, she did freelance designing until her death on 15 January 1980.
Anne Fogarty was, at least in part, a woman and designer of her time. The fashions for which she is best remembered reflect the prevailing ethos of postwar femininity. Yet she was also part of a generation of American designers who tapped into the burgeoning youth culture of the 1950s and 1960s and whose fashions speak to a versatility and youthfulness that are part of a distinctly American vernacular of fashion.
Fogarty, Anne. Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife. New York: J. Messner, 1959.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989.
Steele, Valerie. Women of Fashion: Twentieth Century Designers. New York: Rizzoli International, 1991.
Williams, Beryl. Young Faces in Fashion. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1956.