The actual garments and fabric samples gave the curators an idea of fashion history during the period of the shop’s 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 clothing–trends like modernism, the freeing of women’s 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 beading–the 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 salesmen’s 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 Anna’s 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 Tirocchi’s 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 customer’s measurements. These robes simplified the dressmaker’s 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 century dressmaking.

The robes, textile fragments, and notions were part of the shop’s 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.

[ printable version ]


   Sources and Methods
   The People
   The Business
   Custom Dressmaking
      Remaining Garments
      Swatch Books



The Objects Database catalogues all of the items that the Tirocchi researchers found in the house at 514 Broadway.