Every Christmas millions of Americans find classic slippers under the tree. For many, it’s a pair of Dearfoams. Manufactured by RG Barry Corporation since the late ’40s, the unique properties of these house shoes make them both durable and washable.
Like many post-war products, the foam-soled slipper came to be after a hunt for alternative materials to make an entirely different type of product. Just as interesting as the slipper itself is its inventor…
Born November 6, 1911, Florence Zacks Melton grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. Dropping out of high school to help pay the family’s rent, she went to work at Steketee’s Department Store, where she met Aaron Zacks. They married and moved to Hagerstown, Maryland, and opened a drapery and slipcover store. The business failed, leaving the couple $25,000 in debt. It would take seven years to pay it off.
In 1946, the Zacks moved Columbus, Ohio, where Florence worked as a department store merchandiser. With both eager to give owning their own business another go, Florence came up with a way to simplify the care of post-war fashion wear. Women were still wearing military-style designs, sporting double-breasted suits and heavily padded shoulders. However, cleaning these garments was a chore. The shoulder pads had to be removed then sewn back in place.
In 1947, Florence patented the Shoulda-Sham, a shoulder pad that, using an elastic tab, snapped to a bra strap. Made of cotton batting, it was a time saver for many women of the era. Unfortunately, the pads themselves were not machine washable.
Seeking more innovative materials to improve the Shoulda-Sham’s durability, Florence visited the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron, OH, where she was introduced to foam latex. The material had been developed for use as a helmet liner during WWII, and Firestone was now seeking commercial opportunities for the product.
Florence was intrigued by the latex, but didn’t see it working for shoulder pads. Instead, she found it a dream to walk on, and began development of a slipper.
In 1947, Florence and Aaron partnered with Harry Streim to form RG Barry. The name derived from the first name of the co-founders’ sons (Richard, Gordon and Barry). The first slippers, called Angel Treads, were sold in the notions section of department stores in 1948. They were an instant hit due to their comfort and ease of cleaning.
A notions area commonly featured products that didn’t otherwise fit in other sections of a store. It also housed accessories to other items.
In 1958, the company marketed slippers in hosiery departments under the name Dearfoams, kicking off the “accessory footwear” section that is so common today.
Today, Dearfoams are one of the most popular brand of slippers, and they can be found in many types of stores across the US. Each year the company releases holiday fashions and new designs in the price range of $20 to $40.
Some other interesting tidbits about RG Barry and the inventor of Dearfoams:
- In 1971, RG Barry opened a plant in Mexico, which operated until 2004. As so many materials and craftmanship for other companies moved abroad, so did Dearfoams, though they still run key operations for their brands out of Ohio.
- RG Barry launched Mushroom shoes in 1973, which it sold to US Shoe Corporation in 1982.
- By 1979 the company’s net sales hit $100 million.
- In 1980, Dearfoams Warm-Up Boots became one of the top holiday gifts sold in US department store history. They remain popular holiday gifts today.
- The company’s first licensed character slippers were released in 1982, featuring Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears.
- In 1968, Florence married philanthropist Samuel L. Melton. Together they created the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, a subsidized learning system that became the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world.
- Florence held many other patents, including ones for cushioning devices for exercise machines and physical therapy.