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Guide to the Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations, 1944-1964

Collection Overview

Kellen Design Archives
Nesbitt, Esta
Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations, 1944-1964
23.6 linear ft: 2 boxes, 11 oversize boxes, 4 map case drawers (271 illustrations)
Esta Nesbitt (1918-1975), an instructor at Parsons School of Design from 1964 to 1974, created fashion illustrations for such publications as Harper's Bazaar,  Mademoiselle, and the  New York Times Magazine. Later in her career, Nesbitt employed innovative printing techniques as a children's book illustrator, created performance art pieces, and was one of the earliest to experiment with fine art Xerography. Nesbitt's work in the Kellen Design Archives primarily consists of 271 original fashion illustrations, as well as pre-publication layouts, mechanicals, proofs, and tear sheets.

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item], [date (if known)], Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations, KA.0086, box __, folder __, Kellen Design Archives, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, New York.

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Biographical note

Born in New York, Esta Nesbitt (1918-1975) studied at the Traphagen School of Design, Columbia University, and New York University. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Nesbitt led a successful career as a fashion illustrator for leading magazines and newspapers. Her work was often entered in the annual juried competition of the Society of Illustrators, at least once receiving a Certificate of Merit. She held an especially long and creative association with Mademoiselle magazine.

Around 1960, Nesbitt began taking painting and printmaking courses, and studied brush calligraphy at the China Institute of America, one of a number of styles and techniques she experimented with in a burgeoning new career as a children's book illustrator (another was the sugar-lift aquatint print). In the 1960s Nesbitt also became a pioneer in the use of reprographic technology to make fine art. Xerox Corporation sponsored her experimentation, providing access to the latest-model copiers in their showroom and holding an exhibit of her work, "Xerography--Extensions in Art," at their New York headquarters. In the late 1960s, Nesbitt pursued yet another form of aesthetic expression as a performance and conceptual artist in New York City, sometimes incorporating her reprographic prints into these works. (Kelvin Mason, "CCP Acquisitions: Esta Nesbitt--Xerox Art Pioneer." SubtopiaStudios.com. Accessed 19 Sept. 2011. http://www.subtopiastudios.com/writing). Nesbitt exhibited widely during her lifetime. She died in New York in 1975. Parsons School of Design--where Nesbitt had taught from 1964 to 1975--held an exhibition of her work in October 1977.


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Scope and Contents of Collection

The Esta Nesbitt fashion illustration collection in the Kellen Design Archives represents Nesbitt's work predominantly as a fashion illustrator over the course of two decades. The collection includes original fashion illustrations, pre-publication work, clippings, and tear sheets of illustrations Nesbitt executed for Mademoiselle magazine, the  New York Times Magazine, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Franklin Simon & Co., among others. Nesbitt's original work is rendered in charcoal, ink, pastels, and gouache. Some of the tear sheets (i.e., printed pages of illustrations as they appear in published form) for  Mademoiselle bear the stamp of Fritzie Miller Associates. Miller, an agent for commercial illustrators, presumably represented Nesbitt, and these works may have been used in a promotional portfolio.

Many of Nesbitt's illustrations in this collection provide evidence of the various stages of the publication process, frequently displaying lines to revise the underlying illustration, and extensively annotated with printer's instructions regarding print size, scale and color. Many have tissue or acetate overlays for the purposes of color separation or to present alternate positions and styles. Some layouts have cut-out sections of figures affixed to the illustrations, replacing or correcting gestures, facial expressions, and garment patterns. A number of the works here, such as the mechanicals for Macy's and Bamberger's, display extreme stylistic differences from the bulk of Nesbitt's work, suggesting that they may not have been executed by Nesbitt (they are identified in the inventory below).

A very few of the original works here reflect Nesbitt's work outside of fashion illustration, although it is not known whether they were produced for book projects, as fine art, or for other purposes.

Dates without parentheses following titles pertain to the date of creation; those inside parentheses indicate publication date.


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Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 5 series, arranged alphabetically within series. Titled by commissioning publication and advertising campaign, when identified. Otherwise titled by department store or manufacturer; or by description of garment depicted and/or format.

  1. Unidentified
  2. General
  3. Mademoiselle magazine
  4. New York Times Magazine
  5. Saks Fifth Avenue

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives December 7, 2011

66 5th Ave./
lobby level
New York, NY, 10011

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the Kellen Design Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to Parsons School of Design by Saul Nesbitt, Esta Nesbitt's husand, in 1979; later transferred to the Kellen Design Archives.

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Related Materials

Collections of Esta Nesbitt's papers and/or her work in book illustration and Xerography, and recordings of her performance and conceptual works are found variously in the permanent collections of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; the Smithsonian Archives of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; among others.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects

Corporate Name(s)

  • Macy’s (Firm).
  • Saks Fifth Avenue (New York, N.Y.).


  • Fashion illustrations (layout features).
  • Periodical illustrations.
  • Tear sheets.


  • Fashion illustrators.


  • Advertising layout and typography.
  • Commercial art -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Department stores -- United States -- 20th century.
  • Fashion drawing.
  • Women artists -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Women's clothing -- United States -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.

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Other Finding Aids note

For selected item-level description and images from the Esta Nesbitt fashion illustrations, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/KA0086.

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Unidentified 1940s-1960s 

Includes original work, stats (reproductions), and tear sheets by Nesbitt that bear no indication of the commissioning publication, manufacturer, or department store. Titles are descriptions of garment depicted or format.

Title Box Folder
Original work 
Bathing suit, probably 1950s  OSxxx-1 1
Black dress, probably 1950s  OSxxx-1 2
Blouse and skirt, circa 1960  1 1
Blouse, skirt and coat ensemble, probably designed by James Galanos, 1959  OSx-1 1
Cape and shoes, probably 1960s
OSxx-1 1
Diptych (red), probably 1960s
MC B 1 1
Diptychs (yellow), probably 1960s
MC B 1 2
Evening dress, probably 1950s  OSxxx-1 3
Foot, probably 1950s  1 2
Gown, coat, and suit, probably 1960s
OSxxx-1 4
Gown and pants outfit, probably 1960s
OSxxx-1 5
Gowns, probably 1950s  OSxxx-1 6
Heads and facial elements, circa 1958  OSxxx-2 1
Hosiery, probably 1950s  OSxx-1 2
Nightdress, circa 1955  MC B 1 3
Overlays, undated  MC B 1 4
Paisley outfits, circa 1956  MC B 1 5
Shoe, probably 1950s  OSxxx-2 2
Suit, circa 1960  OSxxx-2 3
Suit, probably 1950s  OSxxx-2 4-5
Title Box Folder
Stats, probably 1950s-1960s  OSx-1 2
Tear sheets, 1940s-1960s  1 3

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Series II. General circa 1941-1962 

Includes work produced by Nesbitt for a range of publications, manufacturers and department stores. The work is arranged alphabetically by publication, when it has been clearly identified; otherwise by department store, or by garment or textile manufacturer or merchandiser.

Title Box Folder
Ameritex Fabrics, 1948  1 4
Title Box Folder
Avisco acetate lingerie, circa 1955 

Advertisement includes the "Avisco Integrity Tag" logo.

OSx-1 3
OSxxx-3 8
Bamberger's New Jersey: Menswear and other layouts, probably 1950s  OSxx-1 3
Bride's Magazine (Spring 1962)  1 5
Title Box Folder
Business Magazine (possibly): Fur coats, 1956-1957  1 6
MC B 1 6
The Celanese Hour (catalog of the Celanese Corporation of America): Knitted lingerie (Fall 1944)  OSx-1 4
Franklin Simon & Co. department store: Dress, bathing suit, junior wear, probably 1950s
OSxxx-3 1

May not be by Nesbitt.

Franklin Simon & Co. department store: Summer outfit, probably 1950s  OSxx-1 4
Humming Bird Hosiery, between 1941 and 1945  1 7

(tear sheets)

"Illustrators '59": Editorial Illustration competition entry  MC B 1 7
"Illustrators 1960": Editorial Illustration competition entry
OSxxx-3 2

Nesbitt won an Award of Merit for this entry into the Society of Illustrators annual competition--the illustration appeared in the publication, "Illustrators 1960."

Jane Engel designs, 1944  1 8
Junior Bazaar magazine (1945 Dec and 1947 May)  OSx-1 5
Kayser designs, 1946  1 9
McCall's Magazine, probably 1949  OSx-1 6
Title Box Folder
Macy's: Menswear, probably 1960s 

May not be by Nesbitt.

OSxx-1 5
OSxxx-3 3
Macy's: Womenswear, probably 1960s  OSxx-1 6
Macy's and Bamberger's: Plaids, probably 1950s  OSxx-1 7

May not be by Nesbitt.

Macy's and Bamberger's: Men's outfit and women's coat, probably 1950s  OSxxx-3 4

May not be by Nesbitt.

S. Naitove & Co.: "Sports-suited" fabrics, probably 1940s
2 20
Simplicity Pattern Company, probably 1957  OSx-1 7
Sunday Bulletin (Philadelphia): "Women Today" (1962 Jul 15)
OSxx-1 8
Talmack Design Room, 1960 Jan 27  MC B 4 4

Sketch depicting the design studio of Matty Talmack, who ran a prominent design business in the 1950s and '60s.

Title Box Folder
Today's Living (the  New York Herald Tribune magazine): "Fashions Revive the '30s" (1957 Jan 6)
MC B 4 5
OSxx-1 9
Vogue magazine: "Something Borrowed...Something Blue...Something New" (1943 Oct 15)  2 21

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Series III. Mademoiselle magazine 1944-circa 1964 

The breadth and variety of work here provides evidence of Nesbitt's long and creative association with Mademoiselle magazine, dating from World War II--when the magazine was printed on "Mlle Victory Paper"--to the early 1960s. Nesbitt's style appears to become increasingly fluid, playful and expressive as time progresses. Many of the tear sheets feature photographs credited to Carmen Schiavone, others to Herman Landshoff. Certain illustrations do not bear clear identification of having been executed for  Mademoiselle , but are included here because strong stylistic similarities or other indicators suggest that they are likely to have been produced for this publication.

Title Box Folder
General, circa 1944  1 10

Some pages printed on "Mlle Victory Paper."

"Bare Shoulders and Stripes," circa 1946  1 11
Bathing suit, April 1959  MC B 2 1

Entered into the Society of Illustrators' "Illustrators '59" competition.

Bathing suit and summer wear, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxxx-3 5
Title Box Folder
"Beautiful Dreamers": Peignoirs and nightgowns, 1962, Feb   (5 pastel and charcoal; tear sheet and stat) 1 12
OSxxx-3 6-7
Title Box Folder
"Bridal suite," 1959 Feb 

Two of these illustrations were entered into the "Illustrators '59" competition.

1 13
MC B 2 2
Coats, circa 1959 (probably Mademoiselle OSxx-1 10
"Color...All the Way": Dresses and lingerie, 1956 Feb  1 14
Title Box Folder
"Covered by Night...the Silk Alpacas": Dresses, between 1961 and 1964  1 15
MC B 2 3
Title Box Folder
"Dancing attendance: the bridesmaids' dresses," circa 1959  1 16
OSxxx-4 1
Dress, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle OSx-1 7
Title Box Folder
Dress designed by Claire McCardell, probably 1940s
1 17
OSxx-1 11
Dresses, probably 1950s (probably Mademoiselle)
MC B 2 4
Dresses, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle OSxxx-4 2
Title Box Folder
"Get into Black": Dresses, 1956  1 18
MC B 2 5
Title Box Folder
"Getaway Clothes," 1961 Jan  1 19
MC B 2 6
OSxxx-4 3
Title Box Folder
"The Gold Rush": Gold outfits, 1958 Dec 

One of these was entered into the "Illustrators" competition in 1958.

1 20
MC B 3 1
Hattie Carnegie perfume, probably 1950s  1 21
Heads and hats, circa 1944 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSx-1 8
Lingerie, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxxx-4 4
Title Box Folder
Lingerie, 1960 Mar  1 22-23
OSx-1 9
OSxx-2 1
Title Box Folder
Lingerie, probably 1961 (probably Mademoiselle 2 1
OSxx-2 2-3
Title Box Folder
"Lingerie harmony: keyed for red," probably late 1940s  2 2
MC B 3 2
Title Box Folder
Make-up and beauty editorial, probably 1958 Jun  OSx-1 10
OSxx-2 4
OSxxx-4 5
Nightdresses, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle OSx-1 11
Nightdresses, 1961 May (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxxx-5 1
"Now and again": Dresses, coats and hats, circa 1950
OSx-1 12
"Nylon's the ticket": Lingerie, 1949  2 3
Pants outfit, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxx-2 5
"Pink champagne for Christmas," between 1954 and 1959  2 4
Title Box Folder
"Questions of Form: 12 Mlle answers": Lingerie, circa 1960  2 5-9
OSx-1 13
OSxx-2 6
Title Box Folder
"Scoops: Playable now": Summer clothes, circa 1960  2 10
OSx-1 14
OSxxx-5 2-6
OSxxx-6 1
"Scoops of the month: Traveling Light": Nightgowns, probably 1946  2 11
"Season's Greetings...Esta": Silk pajamas, probably 1950s
2 12
Title Box Folder
"The Sirens": Dresses, circa 1960  2 13
MC B 3 3
"Skirts go pouf!," probably 1950s  2 14
"South into Summer," probably 1950s  2 15
Suit and dress, circa 1960 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxxx-6 2
Summer dresses, probably 1960 (probably Mademoiselle)
OSxxx-6 3-4
"What Are Your Chances of Marrying?": Bridal wear, circa 1944
OSx-1 15

On "Mlle Victory Paper."

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Series IV. New York Times Magazine 1955-1958 
Title Box Folder
"Campus Cheers" (1955 Jul 31)  2 16
MC B 3 4
Title Box Folder
"Fashions of the Times" special issue: "Evening Sheaths Plus" (1956 Feb 12)  2 17
MC B 3 5
Title Box Folder
"Fashions of the Times" special issue: "Ski Report," (1956 Jan 1)  MC B 3 6
OSxx-2 7
Title Box Folder
"Fashions of the Times" special issue: Mohair outfits, suit and black dress (1958 Aug 24)  2 18
MC B 4 1
Title Box Folder
"Free and Easy Casuals," circa 1955  2 19
MC B 4 2
Travel outfit, probably 1950s (probably New York Times Magazine MC B 4 3

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Series V. Saks Fifth Avenue 
Title Box Folder
Dress, circa 1960  OSxx-2 8
Fur coats, circa 1960  OSxxx-6 5
Givenchy perfumes, probably 1957  OSx-1 16
Title Box Folder
Menswear, circa 1959  OSx-1 17
OSxx-2 9
"New York is a Summer Festival--and so is S.F.A." and "S.F.A.'s Reproductions of Paris-Designed Originals," probably 1950s  OSx-1 18

Two posters illustrated by Nesbitt.

Scenes (possibly for Saks), 1960  OSxxx-7 1
Title Box Folder
Travel, leisure, and beach wear, circa 1960  OSx-1 19-20
OSx-2 1-6
OSxxx-7 2-5
Travel wear, 1962 Jun 1  OSxx-2 10

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Collection guide Last Updated: 09/28/2015

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