The Traphagen School Timeline

1909: The American Design Movement

The Ladies’ Home Journal begins a campaign for “American Fashions for American Women” free from the influence of Parisian couture in a monthly editorial column.

1911: Ethel Begins Teaching

Ethel Traphagen becomes one of the first teachers of fashion design and illustration in New York City.

1912-1913: Ethel Wins First Prize

The Ladies’ Home Journal partners with the New York Times to sponsor a nation-wide fashion design contest. Ethel Traphagen wins first prize in the evening dress category with a design adapted from James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s painting Nocturne: Blue and Gold, Old Battersea Bridge.

Ethel Traphagen’s winning “Whistler Gown”

1916-1920: “Designed in America” Campaign

Textile designer and editor of Women’s Wear Daily, Morris de Camp Crawford, begins the “Designed in America” campaign. Crawford advocated American textile designers to find inspiration in museum collections with a series of classes, lectures, exhibitions, and national design contests.

1918: Costume Design and Illustration

Ethel Traphagen publishes the first edition of Costume Design and Illustration. The book becomes a foundational text in fashion illustration. Revised and reprinted since. As recently as 2010, Costume Design and Illustration was reprinted as the newest second edition reprint.*

* Revised and reprinted since. As recently as 2010, Costume Design and Illustration was reprinted as the newest second edition reprint.

1923: Founding of the Traphagen School of Fashion

Ethel Traphagen founds The Traphagen School of Cooperative Fashion in New York City. The school is renamed The Traphagen School of Fashion shortly after its opening.

1932: “American Fashions for American Women” Campaign

Dorothy Shaver, Vice President of Lord & Taylor, mounts a commercial promotion of American fashion designers to stimulate business at the height of the Great Depression. Her “American Fashions for American Women” campaign featured the names of the American designers over the name of the department store elevating the status of American designers.

1937: The First Issue of Fashion Digest is Published

The first issue of Fashion Digest is published by Ethel Traphagen both to celebrate the success of American Fashion designers and promote her own students and fashion school.

1941: New York City is Declared the “Fashion Center of the World”

Fashion editor of the New York Times Virginia Pope declared New York City as the “Fashion Center of the World.” The Traphagen School’s annual fashion show received national media coverage and was attended by over 7,500 people. Students created one hundred and thirty-one original designs in collaboration with fifty-six American textile manufacturers.

1963: Ethel Passes Away

Ethel Traphagen dies at the age of eighty. While the founder has passed, The Traphagen School remains one of the fashion design and illustration school in New York City. Students come from around the world to study practical application of fashion skills and gain entry into the industry.

Portrait of Ethel Traphagen, photographer unknown, from The Silhouette, The Traphagen School of Fashion, 1933.

1973: The Battle of Versailles

The Battle of Versailles was a charity fashion show that featured five New York ready-to-wear designers competing against five Parisian couturiers. Following the American presentation, guests celebrated by throwing their programs into the air. Their success was a triumph of the American design movements — and Ethel Traphagen’s — efforts to distinguish American ready-to-wear from French fashion.

1991: The Traphagen School of Fashion closes

In 1991 The Traphagen School of Fashion closed its doors. While the school no longer was formally teaching, the lasting legacy of Ethel allowed alumni to connect and use the lessons they learned throughout their careers. As one of the first institutions dedicated to teaching fashion industry skills on design and illustration, New York schools today, such as FIT, keep on the traditions that Traphagen began.