Model books and swatch books are books provided to dressmakers and retailers like the Tirocchi sisters by manufacturers and vendors. Swatch books contain samples (swatches) of fabric. The fanciest of the books illustrate dresses made from these fabrics to show dressmakers and clients just how these textiles could be used. Often the illustrations sold the fabrics, as clients imagined themselves in the illustrated gowns.

Today the term "model" in a fashion context calls up an image of an attractive young woman who wears a designer’s clothes, in advertisements or fashion shows, in order to sell them. The model books remaining in the Tirocchi shop did not contain photographs of fashion models. Rather, they illustrated models, or examples, of couture designs and ready-made dresses that could be ordered from a particular vendor, such as Harry Angelo or Magginis & Thomas.

A typical page from a model book would show–in illustration, not photographs–a back view and a front view of a particular dress. Sometimes the books were in color, but often they were not. Each page carried a description of the gown, plus the designer’s name, plus an order number.

The name of the designer was a critical piece of information. Women read the latest fashion magazines and often came into the shop asking for a dress by a particular designer–whoever was hot that season. Parisian couture houses sold American manufacturers the right to manufacture and sell a version of a particular dress design as long as the designer’s name was associated with the final product. In this way, their designs reached a larger market in the ready-to-wear trade. American women were thrilled with this arrangement because it meant they could have a Chanel dress without going to Paris and paying couture prices.

Customer orders in the Tirocchi shop often reference the numbers in these model books, along with descriptions of how the model dress was to be altered for a particular client. By comparing orders and books, the curators can trace the popularity of certain designers or styles year by year.

The books themselves are an invaluable record of fashion history and helped the curators unravel the puzzle of what a model gown actually was. In early books, like those from the New York City department store B. Altman, showed that the model gown was a Parisian design that could be made by the dressmaker if she ordered the illustrated materials and notions. Later books indicated that as ready-to-wear "wholesale couture" established itself, model gowns referred to the actual dress, a Paris copy, that could be purchased through the wholesaler.

Beyond this, the model books also illustrate fashion trends; show the availability of Paris designs in America at certain periods; indicate what New York suppliers chose out of Paris collections; and show which fabrics were available in America at the time. The books in the Tirocchi shop sometimes had handwritten notes in them that linked certain model gowns to clients, so that the curators could verify the origin of a certain dress design for a particular client.

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



Ready to Wear fashions became a staple of the Tirocchi shop in the early 1920s.