The shops clients were women who were accustomed to very
personal attention and to deference from those in commercial positions.
This led to complicated relationships with their dressmakers. On
the one hand, they prized Madame Tirocchis advice and talent
and depended on it for their social success; on the other, they
expected the dressmaker to cater to their every mood and wardrobe
A womans relationship with her dressmaker was very personal.
The dressmaker knew her physical measurements, her tastes in clothing,
her social schedule and obligations, her financial circumstances,
a bit about her family, and more besides. Women discussed their
upcoming social calendars as they made decisions about new garments,
eliciting the dressmakers advice about the suitability of
a design or color or fabric for a particular event. They were gleeful
about their own fashion triumphs and mournful about gowns they felt
were less successful. In the process, they commentednot always
charitably--on gowns worn by other women. The gossip flowed one
way, from client to dressmaker. Only a foolish dressmaker would
repeat gossip to her other clients, for she would surely lose customers
by this. Dressmakers learned much of use from their clients
chatty conversations, however.
Both Anna and Laura Tirocchi had contacts with their customers,
but it seems to have been Anna who forged the deeper bonds with
them. Laura had her own family. Anna had her customers and her workers,
but the customers always came first in her life. She was devoted
to them and did everything she could to accomodate them even when
this was a strain on her business and family. They showed her respect
by refering to her as her Madame Tirocchi.
As with any personal relationship, however, the dealings between
Anna and her customers were not always smooth. Surviving letters,
although far from a full record of the shops correspondence,
reveal much about this aspect of her business. They show that the
relationship was fraught with potential for sharp conflict but also
graced in many cases with mutual satisfaction and deep gratification.
In some cases there appears to be genuine friendship between Anna
and a client, as in one letter in which a customer expresses concern
for Annas health and recommends a remedy in great detail,
pleading urgently with Anna to try it. However, the sisters seem
to have been careful not to form social attachments to their clients.
They knew those sorts of connections were unprofessionaland
would be bad for business.
Satisfied customers wrote of the pleasure they took in their clothing.
Some sent gifts, which Anna acknowledged in warm and often flattering
thank-you notes. Even though clients often spoke of the praise their
Tirocchi gowns brought, they rarely credited the skill of the Tirocchis
directly for this success. One good client was unusual in claiming
that such a triumph was "a good compliment to you," but
she undercut the praise when she added that she had told her friends
that "our Anna made it for me." That phrase must have
stung the proud Anna Tirocchi, who was not "our Anna"
to anyone and would not have appreciated being described as one
would a servant.
If the Tirocchi clients unconsciously thought of the sisters in
a subservient role, they nevertheless respected their judgment and
relied on it for their own social and fashion successes. One client
wrote to say she "would be guided by your judgment" and
another wrote that she would "leave it to you to do what you
think will be best and prettiest and most appropriate for me."
When the clients felt that judgment let them down, they were not
shy about letting Anna know. "I am sorry to tell you that I
am not quite satisfied with the front of my new gown," wrote
one. Another customer, clearly distressed, wrote that her new dress
was "impossible for me to wear it as it is" and then criticized
it in great detail.
Even though the sisters and their workers literally worked overtime
to deliver garments as they were needed or desired, and changed
course at a moments notice to accommodate a client, the letters
show that the Tirocchi customers were not always so considerate
of the dressmakers. One customer wrote to demand two fittings in
one day, thinking nothing of requiring the shop to drop other work
in order to turn its primary attention to fitting, sewing, then
fitting her again. This double standard seems to have been common.
On the one hand, customers felt justified in making unreasonable
demands on the shop, while on the other hand insisting that the
Tirocchis respect their social and travel schedules.
The trickiest part of the relationship, of course, involved the
exchange of money. Customers pushed the sisters to quote them fixed
prices, then asked for extras and expected the price to remain the
same. Clients often delayed payment or "forgot" to enclose
checks or wrote to beg Annas indulgence because they had not
received funds they had expected. On one occasion, as the Great
Depression closed in, Anna wrote back that "it is not the time
to joke any longer, as people need their money, and I must have
mine so I can pay my bills." The clients seemed to think that
their "friend" Anna would understand whatever circumstance
delayed their payment. They chose not to understand that she was
in business and relied on their payments.
Friendly relations also lulled some women into thinking that their
abrupt cancellation of orders, or refusal of completed garments,
would be tolerated by the Tirocchis. The cancellations were costly,
the sisters rarely could find another customer for a cancelled gown.
They tolerated these demands in order to keep valued clients. A
customer stuck with her dressmaker because she felt comfortable.
A dressmaker stuck with her client because she had to.
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