A Tribute to Carrie Marcus Neiman
In honor of Women’s History Month, Grow Together will introduce our audience to a few iconic women that we believe do not receive the appreciation they deserve. This week, we will introduce you to Carrie Marcus Neiman, co-founder of luxury brand Neiman Marcus and an icon of fashion in the early 20th century.
Born the youngest of 5 in Louisville, Kentucky to German Jewish immigrants in 1883, Neiman’s family moved to Hillsboro, Texas in 1895, and to Dallas in 1899. She took a job at the downtown department store A. Harris and Company in a time when few women worked outside of the home. A diligent worker, Carrie became a top saleswoman at the store and by the age of 21 was one of the highest paid women in Dallas. Her brother, Herbert Marcus, was working as a purchaser for rival store Sanger Brothers. She met coworker Abraham Lincoln “Al” Neiman in 1905 and wedded shortly after.
Her husband convinced Herbert to enter business together to form a marketing business in Atlanta that was a success. In the end, they received two offers: one for $25,000 in cash, and another for stock in the newly introduced Coca-Cola. Believing the new Coke venture to be risky, they took the cash and established a store in Dallas, Neiman-Marcus. Herbert and Al would handle the financial and logistical of the business, while Carrie would be in charge of what they sold. They opened under less-than-ideal circumstances: in an economic recession known then as the Panic of 1907. On top of that, on opening day, both Carrie and Herbert were unable to attend, with Carrie hospitalized for a miscarriage and Herbert ill with typhoid fever.
Neiman-Marcus would focus on high-quality, ready-to-wear clothing for women, a novel proposition for the time. At the turn of the century, ready-to-wear clothes for the masses was still a relatively new idea. The first example of ready-made clothing produced in the United States were military uniforms ordered in 1812 that popularized ready-made clothes for men. Women’s fashion, however, was still too complex for ready-made clothing, and most women with the means went to dressmakers. The wealthiest Texan women travelled to New York or Europe for the latest styles and highest quality materials.
It was up to Carrie to prove to wealthy Texan women that ready-made clothing can be on par with custom-made clothes. In preparation for opening day, she traveled to New York to find the garments to meet her standards of quality, simplicity, and elegance. Together with her colleagues, Moria Cullen and Laura Goldman, they defined a style that would make Neiman Marcus famous. Their selections sold out in the first month and the store an instant success!
In 1928, the Nieman’s would divorce, as Al was not faithful to Carrie and Herbert Marcus bought his share of the business. Carrie continued to be an integral part of the business. In the days that she was not traveling to New York and Paris to stay ahead of the latest trends, it is said she worked in the store, helping to uphold the stores reputation for exceptional service. She started weekly fashion shows, fall exhibitions, and the annual Neiman Marcus Awards to recognize designers for their distinguished service in the field of fashion.
Herbert Marcus died in 1950 and Carrie was elevated to chairwomen of the board of directors. By then, Herbert’s four sons had been involved in the business, with his eldest, Stanly Marcus, becoming CEO. During her time as Chairwomen, she resisted expanding the store outside of the downtown Dallas location, believing its roots to be core to its identity and hoped the store could bring tourism to the city. However, the post-war boom of the suburbs proved too big of an opportunity, and Carrie approved a second store at Preston Center in University Park, which would close 14 years later to relocate to the new NorthPark Center.
Carrie Marcus Neiman died on March 6, 1953 at the age of 58 of complications from pleurisy and is buried in the Temple Emanu-El Cemetery in Dallas. She was a pioneer in women’s ready-to-wear fashion, being declared “the symbol of elegance” by Holiday Magazine. In her memory, her nieces donated 200 items from Carrie’s wardrobe to establish the Texas Fashion Collection of the University of North Texas.
Carrie serves as an inspiration for every young girl and woman looking to build their own business or break down barriers of their own put up by a male dominated society.