Koret of California

Okay, I’m going to fess up-- I’m a complete dork about these vintage clothes.  I don’t know what it is, but I Iove pouring over the history of the garments, the stories behind the labels, trying to dig up old advertisements, whatever!  Apparently it’s not enough for me to own a cool vintage dress, I also have to spend a couple hours reading about the label’s founder and history. And I have one for you this week that’s good.  So good!

I stumbled on a Koret of California set this past weekend.  My favorite local vintage shop (Voula Vintage, for you Northlanders) was playing pop-up at an outdoor event.  I spotted it there on the rack and my eyes lit up. I am a sucker for two piece sets.  It fit, it was fun and cute, but in truth, I vacillated a little bit on it. I am honestly the worst shopper. I vacillate on every purchase, so this is no great surprise.  

(Seriously, side note: Mike and I grocery shopped together on Saturday.  This happens basically twice a year. I say, “Hey, let’s get some sausage for breakfast tomorrow.” He says, “Good idea”, and point-two seconds later, he grabs sausage from the case and throws it in the cart. Guys, there were two giant sections of full of sausage options.  He made that decision in TWO seconds. It blew my mind witnessing how fast he could make a decision like that.   Me, that would have been a five minute ordeal agonizing over which sausage option would best suit our family’s sausage needs.  By the time I leave a grocery store, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted from all the decision-making. Anyway, clearly, I suffer greatly from indecisiveness. If this is you too, I sympathize with you.)

ANYWAY! Sausages aside, I foolishly hesitated on this outfit. 

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  

This outfit, my friends, is clearly a no-brainer.

Koret of California vintage skirt set

Obviously, I came to my senses and brought it home. 

Koret of California vintage skirt set

Both the top and the skirt are in amazing condition.  As in, when I first looked at the tag, I didn’t even believe the set could be from the 50s, the fabric was so crisp and bright.  It’s absolutely perfect. Check out the little Koret of California label. 

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When I started reading more about this history of this company, I loved my new set even more.  It’s a total America Dream story. Koret of California was founded in 1938 by a husband and wife team-- Stephanie and Joe Koret.  Both were immigrants: Joe was born in 1900 and came to the US from Russia as a baby, and Stephanie, born in 1903, came from Romania when she was small.  They married as teens and lived in San Francisco. Joe was a traveling sweater salesman, and Stephanie was a student at a fashion design school. The story goes that she would go with him sometimes to model the sweaters, and when women began to request matching skirts, Koret of California really began.  Stephanie started creating the skirts, Joe was in charge of marketing and sales, and before you know it, they made over a million dollars in the first two years.  

Joe and Stephanie Koret

I don’t know if real life was as sweet as the story sounds, but it truly seems like they were a fantastic team.  Joe focused on sales and marketing. Stephanie focused on HR and design (she also had a stint on costume and wardrobe department of two movies in the mid 1940s).  They never had children, gave their business everything they had, and in the end, were great philanthropists, remembering the poverty they experienced growing up in immigrant families, and wanting to give back.  Joe started Koret Foundation , using the money from Stephanie’s estate when she passed, and the $600 million foundation still exists today, supporting education, the arts, humanitarian work, and Jewish cultural causes.  

As for the Koret of California label, they were especially known for their two piece sets and mix-and-match concept.  I also noticed in the ads that they seemed to use a lot novel names for their products, like the Pleetset, Jumpadress, Slim Hip Slax, Elongated T-Shirt Dress, and most notably, the Trikskirt, which was a skirt that was adjustable, using a drawstring and some special pleats (definitely innovated for the time!). 

Even though they had a good reputation as a clothing label, what really proved to be a successful venture was their development of a permanent press technique. It was a chemical pretreatment process, combined with heat, which made the garment keep its pleats and shape, and made it wrinkle-resistant, which is exactly what companies were looking for at the time.  They patented the process, called it Koratron, and at its height, over 400 companies licensed the process from Koret, which earned them 1% royalties on every product that used it. This revenue from royalties far surpassed that of their clothing sales. (Fun fact: Levi and Strauss was the first company to license the process in 1963, and they would also be the company that bought out Koret in 1979.) 

Reeling on the success of the Koratron royalties, the company went public in 1966, partly because Joe wanted Stephanie to be able to retire, due to her health.  Now called Koracorp, the company made some major investment missteps in terms of acquisitions, and by 1973, Koret was on the brink of bankruptcy. Joe fired his management consultant and turned to board member and real estate consultant, Ted Taube (growing up, Ted’s parents had been friends with the Korets), he helped turn things around. After taking an $11 million loss, Koracorps was able to gradually rebuild over the next few years, so that by the time Stephanie passed away in 1978, they had swung things back around.  In an interview to Forbes in 1975, called “Behind Every Great Man . . .”Joe stated "the worst thing I ever did was let my wife retire. . .She was the restraining spirit. I tended to be too aggressive, too ruthless. My wife was the one who prevented me from going too far."   See what I mean about what a great team they seemed to be?!  

I’m not going to go over the rest of the history (you can read about all the business-y ups and downs in some of the resources below) because really, I just love the original story of the couple who founded it and made it their lives.  BUT! Suffice to say you can still purchase items bearing the Koret name today! 

Annnd, bonus! Check out the ad that I found from the Michigan Daily, February 15, 1957.

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It gets fuzzy when you zoom in, but it reads:

“Designed for the Travel Wise . . . I can skim with the breeze, look as light-hearted, be as care-free in my 100% cotton PLEETSET PRINTS designed by Stephanie Koret. They’re machine washable, machine dryable, have exclusive “Koretized” press-free finish . . . My swishy, permanently pleated mushroom skirt never needs ironing, Pellon linking in the hem keeps it beautifully bouffant . . . and —travel bonus— my Pleetset Print skirt and blouse is really like a lovely 2-piece dress.
Mushroom Pleet Skirt $10.95.
Mandarin Blouse $5.95
Not Illustrated Sleeveless bateau neck Blouse $3.95”

That’s it! That’s exactly my set! The Pleetskirt with the matching Sleeveless Bateau neck blouse that’s mentioned as not illustrated! It’s the best when you can find the ad for your vintage clothes. *sighs in satisfaction* And 62 laters, I can attest, those pleats are indeed, permanently pressed .

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Speaking of that Sleeveless Bateau Top, look how cute it is with jeans!

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So, there you have it!

If you’d like to read more about the company’s ups and downs, check out this or this. To read about more recent legal battles between Ted Taube and Joe Koret’s second wife (named chairwoman for life of the foundation) start here.

I hope you enjoyed the little peek into fashion history. Or if not, at least seeing this gorgeous set!

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What say you, any favorite vintage two piece sets in your closets?

xo
Molly