While is it true during the 1920s and 1930s, that Paris couture was a rich source of design inspiration, the garment industry in the United States—particularly in the realm of manufacturing—was a robust, thriving segment of our nation’s economy. Homegrown designers may not have been the first to garner the adoration and adulation of American fashion journalists, but the very lifeblood of the industry depended on the talented individuals, such as Joseph Whitehead, who toiled in relative obscurity, producing ready-to-wear designs of exceptional quality.
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Whitehead knew from the age of six that a career in fashion design was his destiny. After high school graduation, his original sketches caught the attention of a local, high-end retailer who invited him to be a companion on a buying trip to New York. Whitehead stayed, taking an $8 a week job in the garment factory of Corbeau, Inc. It took three years before young Joseph could convince his bosses to cultivate his design skills and another four years before he would produce his first full collection under the company’s label. Later he would go on to say that the years spent in the factory were invaluable to his understanding of the design process.
In 1933, Whitehead and fellow Corbeau employee, Charles White, joined forces with Joseph Brenner to form their own company Brenner, Joseph & White. Following Brenner’s death, the company was renamed Joseph Whitehead, Inc. in 1938. Focusing on high-end dinner and evening wear, their signature look was one of demure drama, which could “make an entrance or establish a hostess.” Bridalwear was also a mainstay of Whitehead’s work at Corbeau and subsequent companies.
The looks seen in the gallery below date from between 1926 and 1929, which means these were created during Whitehead’s time at Corbeau, Inc. Joseph Whitehead, Inc. closed its doors in 1942, possibly due to United States’ entrance into WWII six months earlier; a Women’s Wear Daily article announcing the dissolution of the company makes note that partner Charles White had plans to enter the armed forces.