Frankie Welch’s Americana: Fashion, Scarves, and Politics

Frankie Welch (1924-2021) was an American designer and entrepreneur best known for producing thousands of custom scarves. Born in Rome, Georgia, she spent most of her career in Alexandria, Virginia, where she established a dress shop—Frankie Welch of Virginia—that was open from 1963 to 1990. She introduced her first scarf design, the Cherokee Alphabet, in 1967, quickly followed by her Discover America scarf for the White House and prominent political designs for the 1968 presidential election. From the early 1970s through the mid-1980s she primarily designed scarves based on an eight-by-eight-inch module, inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Her later scarves, which she designed until the late 1990s, were generally large format silk squares. 

Frequently described as “Americana,” Welch’s designs provide a remarkable chronicle of American life, especially as she and her peers experienced it. The scarves document the causes they supported, the places they banked, where they studied and worked, the politicians they admired, and the businesses they owned. Her scarves constitute a unique body of work in the history of American fashion, standing apart from exclusively design- or art-based scarves because of Welch’s embrace of their commercial and documentary possibilities.

This exhibit presents an overview of her career and highlights her many connections to presidential politics, Georgia, and the University of Georgia. It was made possible with support from the Lucy Hargrett Draper Center and Archives for the Study of the Rights of Women in History and Law.