Nancy Talbot in Her Daughters' Words

By Janelle Nanos | Boston Magazine |

NANCY TALBOT CREATED what was, for a time at least, among the most recognizable and respected New England fashion lines. Here, we present extended excerpts about this remarkable woman from interviews with her daughters Jane Winter and Polly Donald, plus a few others, as gathered in the pursuit of this story.

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It was in 1947 when Rudolf and Nancy Talbot, just back from the war (he was an army man, she a Red Cross nurse) decided to open the first Talbots store. “It was in a beautiful old house in Hingham, and it was quite prominent,” remembers their daughter, Jane Winter. “They decided to paint the door red. It was mother’s favorite color and they wanted something dramatic.”

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Nancy and Rudolf traveled extensively, and were both highly visual people. “My father was an artist, he carved and painted, they were both very interested in art,” says their daughter, Polly Donald. “They had a lot of respect for the arts. It informed who they were and how they bought for the store.”

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Frumpy, according to Polly Donald, was never part of Nancy Talbot’s DNA. “She always thought that you don’t have to dress a certain way because you’re aging, that you can wear clean lines that hide the midriff,” she says. “Everyone wants to look good in their clothes. My mother didn’t want you to look like a grandmother before you needed to. In her mind it never needed to happen.”

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Nancy was drawn to bright colors, strong patterns, and could often be found pruning her irises in Ferragamos, even well into her 90s. “She looked like a million bucks when they took her to the morgue,” says Donald.

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Despite her strong opinions on what the store should carry, Nancy was remarkably at ease with her own daughters, allowing them to experiment with fashion. “In the 60s, I was wearing bell bottoms and army jackets from the surplus store,” says Polly Donald. “But she never commented. She let us wear what we wanted to wear. She always bought us great clothes. Everything nice I own she gave it to me. I still wear her clothes."