The actual garments and fabric samples gave the curators an idea
of fashion history during the period of the shops operation.
Because there were so many, from all the decades the Tirocchis were
in business, they could arrange them in chronological order to see
how fashion developed during these years.
Like other art forms, fashion reflects the culture of its time,
so the curators could see cultural developments reflected in the
cut and style of the clothingtrends like modernism, the freeing
of womens bodies, the new popularity of dances from South
America. Textiles revealed similar messages. Here, especially, the
curators could pick out developments from the world of art as textile
designs echoed the styles of Cubism, Futurism, Abstraction, peasant
art, and the International Style.
Garments and textiles also showed new evidence of new technology:
zippers, new weaving techniques (on and off-loom), new types of
metallic threads, new ways of pressing velvets to give a shiny surface,
machine techniques for beadingthe list is long. In this chronological
layout of clothing and samples, the curators could also discern
a history of the use of color, ornament, and pattern in fashion
design during the early decades of the Twentieth Century.
Some of these garments and samples carried prices or could be associated
with prices in shop records. By making these links, the curators
could better understand the economics of the custom dressmaking
business. Some of the fabric and trim can be dated, too, and this
helps the study of textile design and manufacture.
Many of the surviving fabric swatches are salesmens samples
of about 8" x 8" each, while some are samples of a larger
size, each with the pattern number printed on the edge. These textiles
are probably examples of the samples the salesmen carried as they
traveled their territories, or were sent to clients in book form.
In Annas case, her contact, or "drummer" (who "drummed
up business" for his wholesaler employer), was Mr. J. J. Hannock,
who frequently visited the Tirocchi shop with samples or came to
deliver fabrics by hand from New York City.
A 1925 Bianchini Ferier scrapbook in the collection shows textiles
swatches that have all the variety of Anna Tirocchis tastes:
modernistic Japonist designs, chinoiserie, Cashmere patterns, huge
geometric designs, Cubist patterns, exotic designs reflecting African
or Southeast Asian patterns, and many small-, medium-, and large-scale
modernistic floral patterns.
The Tirocchi collection is also fortunate to contain quite a few
"robes," which are decorated skirt panels, lace flounces,
and pre-embroidered and trimmed lengths of fabric, that were easily
cut and stitched together based on the customers measurements.
These robes simplified the dressmakers task and enabled her
to offer gowns that were beautifully embellished at a lesser price
than if she and her workers had had to do all the handwork themselves.
Examining these surviving "robes," the curators realized
that robes are a previously unwritten part of the history of twentieth
The robes, textile fragments, and notions were part of the shops
inventory at its closing. The sample books, containing samples of
textiles, had been accumulated over the decades and never discarded
even when obsolete.
It is an intriguing mystery, however, to speculate about why the
garments were left unsold in the shop. We do not know exactly why
although we can speculate that the earlier garments were either
unsold or returned, for many of them have minor problems and most
likely do not really represent what Madame Tirocchi actually sold
to her clients. Many clothes, mostly ready-made garments, from the
early 1930s remained in the shop, however, and this was probably
a direct result of the downturn in fortunes in the Depression. We
are nevertheless glad to have these garments, for their presence
in the inventory adds immeasurably to the understanding of the history
of A & L Tirocchi and of custom dressmaking in general.
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