Plain Jane Dress Company

Plain Jane Dress Company began in the mid-1960s as an amateur enterprise by friends Susie Tompkins and Jane Tise and met with success right out the gate. Aimed at their peers and with little competition, the mini-dresses designed by Tise and peddled by Tompkins to local shops, filled a growing need for trendy, free-spirited styles, reflecting the youthful counter-culture of San Francisco.

With no business plan or experience, using borrowed money for gas, these unlikely yet energetic, hippie-entrepreneurs managed to get samples made, sold, produced, and shipped, on their way to building a highly successful brand. By 1967, they were making dresses in lots of 100. By 1968 they had filled a $15,000 order from Joseph Magnin. Third partner salesman Alan Schwartz is credited with helping the company’s ascension outside the local market. Plain Jane now had multiple divisions, including the popular Sweet Baby Jane line of retro-inspired separates. In 1970 the company posted sales of nearly $2 million a year.

Susie’s husband Doug – who had some business success of his own with his North Face mountain-climbing gear company – but who knew little of the fashion industry, joined Plain Jane as a partner and began to force his sharply differing vision for the company’s growth and direction on the others.

Waging what many press accounts describe as guerrilla warfare against partners Tise and Schwartz, Doug began side-lining the others in decision-making. As he assumed control, he steered the company in a less bohemian, more contemporary direction. He disliked the name Plain Jane, and changed it to Esprit de Corp – a thoroughly ironic choice, given the acrimony that existed between the partners.

In 1975, the Tompkinses bought out their partners. Inexplicably, Tise stayed on as chief fashion designer until 1979, when she left the company for good.

Written by Ranch Queen Vintage/ranchqueenvintage.etsy.com


from a 1960s jersey dress - Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage
from a 1960s jersey dress
Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage
from a 1970s Esprit cotton dress - Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage
from a 1970s Esprit cotton dress
Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage
from a 1970s Sweet Baby Jane blouse - Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage
from a 1970s Sweet Baby Jane blouse
Courtesy of ranchqueenvintage

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