There are many different sources of information on historical boys' fashions. Two of the major sources of information in the 19th Century are store catalogs and photographs. Each have advantages and drawbacks, but used together along withother available sources, such as paintings and other artwork, published and unpublished articles and letters, and intact old garments allow one to create a reasonably good assessment of 19th Century fashions, especially in the second half of the Century. Earlier periods are more complicated because of the more limited store catalogs and fashion publications and the absence of photography.
HBC has found a good deal of information about retail companies, but we have not yet succeeded in finding much information on wholesalers. One company that we have noted in the American firm Butler Brothers which was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and apparently played a role in the development of several important department stores in various American cities. Of course the catalogs of these wholesalers are another valuable piece of information.
Individual stores have had tremendous influence on clothing and fashion trends. For centuries clothes has been sold in small shops by individual taylors. This changed during the late 19th century with two major developments. One was the rise of the department store, a large retail store handling a wide range of goods, including clothing and other dry goods like fabric. The name evolved from the organization of the stores in several departments specualizing in specific goods or wares. The other major development was the rise in America of the mail order companies brining the selection available in a department store to isolated rural areas. This was all masde possible by mass profuction, in the case of clothes--the rise of low-cost ready-made garments.
Store catalogs give an excellent idea of what boys were wearing at
different ages as they had to appeal to popular tastes. They also provide details on materials used. The photographs are useful to confirm that these fashions were actually worn as well as to indicate what hair styles and accessories such as hats, bows, collars, sashes, stocking and shoes were worn with the suits and other garments advertised. The fact that store catalogs are usually dated is especially helpful in establishing time-lines and fashion trends. Store catalogs have to be carefully evaluated as they were aimed at specific sectors of the population, often affluent families. Also chain stores were not common yet, so the fashions could be regional. Even so an
assessment of individual catalogs provides fascinating insights into boys fashions and trends.
Store windows at one time were a marvelous advertisment for contemporary fashions. These windows would showcase primarily contemporary fashions, but historical fashions often were sometimes displayed. The historical fashions were particularly popular at Christmas. I remember in particular during my boyhood in the 1940s, the wonderful Chrisdtmas windows with displays of clothing and toys.
Sears and Montgomery Ward are the most famous American mail order companies. HBC has, unfortunately, not yet been able to develop information on these companies. One of the many projects to persue. Many other companies printed mail order catalogs and they appeared in many other countries. The drawings and later photogtaphs along with the information provided offer a great deal of useful information.
We do not yet have very much information on companies offering sewing and knoitting patterns. We are not yet sure just where and when companies began selling sewing patterns. A major American company was Buterick. Another important company was Simplicity. We begin noticing Simplicity patterns in the 1930s, but still know little about the company. It is a major distributor of patterns and sewing books in the 2000s. There were of course also companies in sevral other countries, but we have very little information on these companies. A large number of companies have made patterns, but at this time we only have infomation on a small number of the more important companies. We believe that these larger companies have dominated the market. Knitting pattern catalogs appeared later than the sewing patterns.
HBC has not yet qcquired much information on clothing manufacturers This is in part because much of the available information comes from retail catalogs rather than adverisements from manufacturers. We have noted some advertisements by manufacturers, often in women's magazines. There was also some advertising in up-scale magazines like New Yorker. Retailing advertisemrents in newspapers and mail order catalogs, however, were much more common. We woulf like to expand this section, but todate have had litt,e success in obtaining information.
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