Jessie Franklin Turner: American Fashion Designer (1881-1956)

By Molly O’Donnell, MHS Costume Project Intern

Within the Maine Historical Society costume collections live multiple pieces designed by Jessie Franklin Turner dating between 1936 and 1942. Turner was an American fashion designer based out of New York City. She opened her shop in 1923 and retired in 1942. During her time, she was known for her unique and striking clothing. She developed her style by directly draping fabric onto the model, to achieve the elegant draped look that many of her garments captured. She was mostly known for tea gowns and her use of exotic and rare fabrics. Tea gowns were dresses that were inspired from negligee or home wear that were altered to be appropriate to be worn in public. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art houses a few tea gowns of their larger Jessie Franklin Turner collection.

In 1936 Vogue ran an advertisement about her stating that “special fabrics were woven to her specifications” and they were “dyed by her own formula.”  Turner was involved in every step of creating her garments. The ad also stated, “one of [Turner’s] greatest delights is to plan gowns that are a perfect complement to a woman’s own drawing room.” All of Turner’s pieces were characterized by simplicity and elegance. They were not meant to be the star of the show, but rather, to show off the woman wearing them.

Throughout her career, Turner moved her shop locations several times: in 1922 she was on 290 Park Avenue; less than a decade later she moved to 23 East 67th Street; and in 1936 she relocated to 410 Park Avenue. Maine Historical Society houses three garments by this wonderful designer: one long pink robe; one long-sleeved green dress; and a sleeveless green dress.

The pink robe is lined all the way through with magenta satin. It ties at the waist with a pale green tie. A pale green band made of the same material as the tie goes around the inside of the robe. Below the pale green band, the color of the satin changes from magenta to deep red. Another tie on the interior, made of magenta satin, helps hold the robe closed. The pale green and magenta line the sleeve cuffs. Shoulders are slightly padded. A designer dressmaker label on the inside seam below the green band reads: Jessie Franklin Turner, 410 Park Avenue, New York.








We next examine the pale green, full-length long sleeve dress, which has a high, rounded neckline lined with brown trim. A pleat center front emerges from the neckline. There is a small cut out on each of the gently padded shoulders. The front of the dress has darts to make it fitted.

Sleeves are wide and constructed with multiple pieces of fabric with a seam around the elbow area. Four hook and eyes and a zipper are positioned on the proper left side. There is a waistband with two pleats coming from it on either side. The skirt is straight below the waistband. Lined with olive-green fabric, the inside has sweat guards to keep the dress in good condition.







Lastly, the full-length sleeveless dress has frosted glad round beads around the arm holes and hem. The neckline is rounded, and arm holes are large and oval shaped. Shoulders are gathered. Fabric is constructed with a puckered and pleated oval pattern throughout, and the skirt flares with many narrow gores inserted from waist to hem. There is no waistline, but the gores give the dress its shape. The back of the dress is slightly longer than the front.










All three of these garments have the sewn-in designer label Jessie Franklin Turner, 410 Park Avenue, New York. Originally, the pink robe was dated 1925-1935 and the dresses 1930-1940. However, since Turner did not move to 410 Park Avenue until 1936, all garments have to be post-1936, meaning the original dates were inaccurate. From research, we know that she dyed all her fabrics herself. The two green dresses are the same shade of green and the pink robe has a stripe of the green on the interior lining, along with the tie. Therefore, it is likely that all these garments were dyed around the same time and were part of the same collection.

Jessie Franklin Turner was a prevalent and creative designer during her time. As can be seen here, her garments were not only stylish, but they were also exceptionally well-made.

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