Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Squaw Dress, Part 3: Real Life Susie Homemaker

Well this is it...the final of my three part series on Squaw Dresses. I have had so much fun researching this fashion trend of the 1950s...I was actually quite shocked that there was so much information about this dress on the web. I'm wishing now I had planned ahead and ended this series with my own homemade Squaw Dress, but there will be one in my near future! I'm also happy that I've gotten positive feedback from this series and hope that I can do more like this in the future. 

This post is going to cover Mrs. Susie Storm, a real life Suzie Homemaker, who created her own marvelous Squaw dresses and turned it into a full-fledged career. She is in inspiration for each and everyone of us who have talent and are dedicated to our hobbies in hopes that we can turn it into a career. I found every little thing about her fascinating and I hope you do to.

Suzie Homemaker
Susie Storm, housewife, mother, career woman of Hobbs, New Mexico
-The Squaw Dress turned this hobby-seamstress into a successful, creative designer-manufacturer. 
-When Susie started designing and wearing her own fiesta dresses her friends insisted on buying them right off her back.
-She was entirely self-taught, she had never taken a sewing lesson in her life. 
-She began sewing because her daughter was so small that she had to create age appropriate clothes for her over purchased garments.
-When she turned her intrigue to fiesta dresses, she discovered the limitations of the ready made ones; which were made for durabliity rather then beauty and versatility.
-She began designing pieces that could move into the ballroom, as well as daytime sports, spectator sports and playtime.
-Her most successful creation was a silver Japanese silk with a seven tiered skirt trimmed in black ribbon and silver metallic braid. It measured 22 yards around the bottom and used 572 yards of ribbon and braid. She had no intention of selling it but finally parted with it for $200.
-Between 1953 and 1954, in a period of 8 months, she sold 152 dresses between the price of $60-$100 each.
-She had offers from manufacturers to design dresses for them, but she never wanted to go that route because she enjoyed the freedom and creation she had doing her work from home.
-She did design other types of dresses, realizing at some point the fad would wane.
-She never really had to market herself. Between her friends and customers who wore her eye-catching creations orders always flowed in. 
-She was her most successful model. She had a slim, attractive figure and she was always beautifully groomed and would enter a room with a confident poise that would command attention.
-She widened her market beyond New Mexico, by accompanying her husband on business trips wearing her bright, eye catching garments; or when her friends would travel.
-One lesson she learned was thus, "If you live in a small city likes Hobbs, don't allow a local shop to handle your dresses. You are too 'available' to the women who buy your garments. They always are wanting another blouse, an alteration, or this, or that. If you sell your dresses away from home, you can forget about them." 
-Of her work she said, "There is deep satisfaction in creating something lovely. If I had all the money in the world, I'd still get satisfaction from making beautiful dresses." 
-Most importantly, she never allowed her career to rob her family of all her time. 
Susie's Squaw Dress Technique
- She'd use silk, pima cloth, combed lawn, powder puff muslin, cotton prints, velveteen, cotton satin or corduroy.
-She would tear all material for tiered skirts to ensure its the same width all the way around.
-She based the number of tiers and the width on the height and build of the person.
-For skirts with seven tiers she would tear the material lengthwise and used the selvedge for the last tier as the hem. Eleven yards are required for a seven tiered dress, which will measure 22 yards at the bottom.
-Dresses with fewer tiers would be torn crosswise.
-Her pleating was accomplished by using a quarter-inch plywood board that is 30" by 36". A damp skirt would be gathered onto the board and held tight with strips of muslin until thoroughly dried. 
-To figure out her decoration pattern she'd use short lengths of braid, rickrack or ribbon in different combinations until she found a pleasing combination. She'd pin her trial pieces on cardboard which she'd set before her sewing machine.
-All trim was zig-zagged on to prevent rolling. 

My source on Susie Storm came from an article in Profitable Hobbies, titled "Fiesta Dresses that Charm." Profitable Magazine was published from 1945 to 1956 that featured men and women who made money from their hobbies. The subjects ranged from local, part-time hobbyist, to those that started small and became full-time national businesses.
An example of the magazine, I'm unsure of which issue this article came from.

Unfortunately the online article contained only a couple of pictures, and being a visual person, I found a few more images on the web to entice you on the beauty of Squaw Dresses.
A beautiful coral dress for sale on etsy
Trim on a 1950s homemade Squaw dress, for sale on etsy.
Two piece Squaw dress - by Saguaro "Patio Fashions" on ebay
An example of the pleating - Made by Alpha of Tucson, AZ
Fiesta dresses at a shop in Albuquerque, 1951
Two girls wearing Squaw Dresses.
Marian Martin Mail Order Pattern
"In Family: Love's Unbreakable Heaven" by Judith Lowry(1953) - Rendered her Australian mother in Squaw Dress
-The End.


  1. I love that cream and gold one. It's amazing! It makes me want to get my sewing machine out.

  2. Thanks for all the great info on the Squaw Dress! I've loved the style for a long time and am just now finally making one - a custom designed Dia de los Muertos dress for a client, using a vintage pattern for the top and a modern tiered skirt pattern. With the high cost of trims these days, the cost is a big factor in making one of these. I found a great fabric warehouse nearby where I got all my trims (45 yards of rick rack, 8 yards of ball fringe) at about half the price of the big chain stores.

  3. Thanks for this 3 part editorial, it's really been a great read. The timing on this is just perfect for me: I found a gorgeous purple squaw dress just last week that only needs to be cleaned and have the waistline elastic replaced (so excited to find it!).

  4. Thank you for this post! My husband and i are taking a trip to new mexico in 2 weeks with the children and I am going to make the halter top version of this dress for the trip! Perfect timing to find this! I only hope I can do it justice!