Line, Color, Detail, Distinction, Individuality:
A. & L. Tirocchi, Providence Dressmakers


Pamela A. Parmal
Curator, Department of Textile and Fashion Arts
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1906, the Providence City Directory listed 890 dressmakers. By 1920, that number had decreased by half. Among those who continued to stay in business were Anna and Laura Tirocchi. The sisters' struggle to satisfy customers whose lifestyles were changing significantly during the early decades of the twentieth century is documented in the A. & L. Tirocchi Archive. The accelerating pace of life, due to improved transportation (automobiles, airplanes) and communication (telephone and radio); the increasing number of working women in a booming economy; and the growing availability of women's ready-to-wear were crucial factors to be taken into account. By 1911, when Anna and her younger sister Laura established their downtown Providence business [fig. 10], the descending spiral in the number of dressmakers had already begun; however, the sisters' skill, creativity, and adaptability gained them a large, loyal, and wealthy clientele that remained with them throughout the 1910s, 20s, and into the 30s.

When Anna and Laura Tirocchi opened their shop, Providence - and the entire nation - was enjoying a period of great prosperity. The city was still the United States' primary manufacturer of worsted textiles and the secondary maker of woolens,(1) despite the fact that its previous industrial base of cotton manufacturing had already begun to relocate in the South. Fruit of the Loom underwear and J. P. Coat's thread were manufactured in the Providence area, which was also home to Nicholson File Company; Brown &Sharpe Manufacturing Company, tool and die makers; American Screw Company; office suppliers Boston Wire Stitch Company and Loose Leaf Manufacturing Company; Gorham Manufacturing Company, silver makers; and an increasing number of costume jewelry firms and rubber manufacturers. The women who frequented Anna and Laura Tirocchi's business were the wives and daughters of company owners and executives. These women's attire was an indicator of their husbands' economic success.

Custom-made clothing was still the rule for women at a time when the ready-to-wear trade had already become established for men's and children's apparel. The proper fit over a tightly corseted body could only be achieved through the services of a dressmaker; likewise, the complex draping of fabric and the disposition of elaborate trims and ornaments considered necessary for female attire. The custom process also enabled the buyer to enjoy a level of creativity and the ability to express her individuality. Clients chose their own fabrics, trims, and ornaments and worked with their dressmakers to produce the one-of-a-kind garments that suited their tastes, figures, and budgets.

Anna Tirocchi was well trained in custom dressmaking, and, most likely, her sister Laura was also. According to family tradition, they worked in Rome for one of the dressmakers to Queen Margherita of Italy. Although the only evidence for this is oral family history (interviews with Dr. Louis J. Cella, Jr., and Primrose Tirocchi), Anna certainly seems to have been familiar with the demands of a wealthy and discriminating clientele. Upon coming to Providence, both Anna and Laura were employed for a short time in the shop of one of the city's leading seamstresses, Rose Carraer-Eastman.(2) According to niece Primrose Tirocchi, Anna arrived in the United States with the determination to cater to American women of high social standing. The client ledgers show that she achieved just that, although her Providence customers were members of a plutocracy rather than an aristocracy. Anna certainly was the prime mover behind the opening of the sisters' business.



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