San Francisco was one of the cities on the crest of the vintage fashion nostalgia wave of the late 1960s. At the time, romantic Edwardian and Victorian fashions were being rediscovered in flea markets by expressive young dressers who were tired of modern "establishment" clothing. Enter Gunne Sax, a small SF dress company founded in 1967 with a flair for the nostalgic.
Jessica McClintock, a teacher, newly divorced and with a young son, invested in the company and became its designer and marketer. In 1969 McClintock became its sole owner. Through the years, Gunne Sax has made an array of nostalgic styles, referencing Renaissance, Empire, Victorian and Edwardian clothing. Very popular were Gunne Sax's prairie girl looks. This was definitely a fanciful 19th-century prairie girl, dressed in cotton calicos, muslin and lace, with ribbons, lacings and flounces. There were lots of Gunne imitators, but the real thing is almost always discernible just by the detail of its embellishments.
These are the Gunne Sax I have sold through the years, roughly in order from the earliest "black label" models of the late 1960s, through the 1980s, when the company had expanded in other vintage-inspired directions.
Speaking from the experience of living through the heyday of Gunne Sax, I can say that these dresses (and separates) were exactly what most girls wanted to wear the most. I had my first, a long, flouncy gown of pink gauze with a lace-up bodice and full, sheer sleeves, in 1975. My mother, who was by then a widow who had to watch what she spent, said I could have the dress, but with its large price tag of $40, I would "wear it for concerts, my prom, my wedding, and I would be buried in it"...stated as a commandment.
Later, with my own hard-earned money I managed to buy a couple more Gunnes.
Here I am in my mother's home in the last of the three Gunne Sax outfits I wore when they were new. This was a prairie girl set of skirt and peplum blouse, c. 1980. Sorry the photo is no better, but it was taken by a boyfriend catching me off guard who said "wow, you look great in that!" to which my mother replied, "you'd even like her in a gunny sack!" We laughed while my mother looked bewildered—she hadn't realized it was a Gunne Sax!
I think it's interesting to see how girls now wear vintage Gunne Sax...these have touched several generations of romantics! Here's a round up of a few found on Chictopia:
This is Rie (@welldressedethcist on Instagram), who is a connoisseur of vintage Gunne Sax, wearing one that she got from me. I love how this new generation of expressive dressers have made Gunnies their own!
Round sunglasses, Converse tennis shoes, lavender hair, plaid coat, prim hat...how do you style your Gunne Sax? Are you new to Gunnies, or did you wear them the first time around?
For some behind-the-scenes information on the founding of Gunne Sax, please see this article from the Vintage Traveler Blog: