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~ Peggy Hunt & Jeannette Alexander ~
 
 

Carolyn Margaret Hunt was born in 1892 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  By the time she was a young teenager, both her parents had died and she went to a convent, where the nuns took her in and reared and educated her.  She met a young man who began calling her "Peg", the nick-name for Margaret.  In 1914 this young man became her husband, and soon after, the two of them moved to California.

Hunt got a job as a secretary at Haggerty's Department Store.  She had also had a baby, a little girl named Jeannette.  In her spare time Peggy loved to design and make dresses for Jeannette - lovely designs that she adapted from French fashions for little girls that she found in magazines.  Jeannette was the perfect model for her mother's creations, and after seeing her in one of the original frocks, Mr. Haggerty asked Peggy to make some to sell in his store.

A Jean Carol dress

Lovely Peggy Hunt Dress

At that time, the early 1920s, very little clothing was being manufactured in California.  Stores had clothing shipped in from New York, and many women either made their own clothes, or hired a professional dressmaker.  Peggy knew nothing about pattern drafting or professional sewing, but that did not stop her.  She bought a few sewing machines, hired a couple of dressmakers, and set up business in her garage.

The line, called Fairy Frocks, was an immediate success, with the dresses selling out as soon as they were delivered to the store.  Before long Hunt added more machines and sewers, and began selling to other area stores.  The garage was outgrown, and so Fairy Frocks moved into a larger space.  And as Jeannette grew up, the clothing expanded into larger girls' sizes.  In the late 1920s, Hunt came up with a line of clothes for girls who weren't little girls, but who were not quite grown up either.  This line was label Collegienne and was an early junior line.

As Peggy Hunt became more expert in draping and pattern cutting, she began experimenting with different designs and ideas.  In addition to the girls and junior dresses she began designing for women under the Jean Carol  label.  Some of her clients were film stars such as Mary Pickford and Marlene Dietrich.

Eventually Hunt became so well known that she dropped the Jean Carol label and began to design women's fine evening and cocktail wear under her own name, Peggy Hunt. She was the innovator of the illusion neckline, although she never called it that. She became adept at creating dresses that managed to be sexy while remaining ladylike at the same time. She would use nude marquisette lace and applique lace to draw attention to a woman's bust line, making it look as if she was revealing more than she really was. She used the finest fabrics in all of her dresses and used so much lace that she was nicknamed the Lady of Lace and sometimes the Queen of Lace.

 

       Design by Peggy Hunt

 

Jeannette Alexander Dress

In the meantime, daughter Jeannette had grown up. During the early 1940s when broad, square shoulders were the fashion, Jeannette began manufacturing shoulder pads.  When the style changed and shoulder pads were no longer used, she took the money she had earned from them and used it to open her own dressmaking business Jeannette Alexander. 

The Jeannette Alexander dress was very different from a Peggy Hunt dress.  Jeannette made more casual clothing, often from cotton or linen, but always having original touches such as cut-out applique and over embroideries.  Her dresses were quite inexpensive, so as not to compete with the pricier Peggy Hunt designs. 

The changing winds of fashion led to the end of both labels.  With more women dressing in jeans and slacks, Peggy Hunt decided to retire in the late 1960s.  Jeannette Alexander remained in business until the 1970s.  Peggy Hunt died in 1991, and Jeannette Alexander in April of 2008.

My thanks to Jacqui Hyland, the daughter of Jeannette Alexander and the granddaughter of Peggy Hunt for supplying both the information and the photos for this article.

Jeannete Alexander design

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Copyright 2007 Jacqui Hyland . All Rights Reserved.
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