American Fashion: The Tirocchi sisters in Context


Manufacturing, clerical, academic, administrative, and management positions blurred and broadened the definition of "middle class." Educational opportunities in women"s colleges and state schools and universities were available to more and more females. College life, clerical jobs, and careers such as teaching and social work required neat, professional clothing that was not necessarily on the cutting edge of fashion. American women were active in a wide variety of social, charitable, and political clubs and organizations. For town-dwellers it was relatively easy to participate in active sports or to attend a variety of public or private entertainments. The availability of alternative jobs made domestic service an increasingly unpopular choice of livelihood. Women with fewer or no servants needed clothing that was easier to wear and maintain. Wages, although usually much lower for women than for men, were generally higher here than in Europe. Single working women typically lived at home and contributed their earnings to the family coffers, but were given back a certain amount for clothing and entertainment.(4) This large population of women of differing economic means, all of whom required clothing suitable for their various activities, had to be addressed. Many writers on fashion from this period agreed with American apparel designer and critic Elizabeth Hawes"s assessment of the growth of ready-to-wear in America, even for women who could afford custom-made clothes: "A lot of women in America are just too busy to come for fittings."(5)

All of these factors contributed to the growth of the ready-to-wear clothing industry in the United States and to the role of fashion in that industry. In turn, the industry utilized mass media to encourage consumers to respond to new fashions. The choices made by consumers eventually led to the development of a recognizably American aesthetic in fashion. The goal of the industry was not merely to make cheap, serviceable clothing to cover the masses, but to make fashionable clothing available to most income levels. Custom dressmakers, like the Tirocchis, had to adapt to the needs and wants of their customers and to the competition offered by mass production, or fail.

In order for consumers to develop a fashion consciousness, there must be effective means of spreading information about fashion. How was word about new styles disseminated throughout the United States? The program of the 1940 Fashion Group Inc. presentation, New York's Fashion Futures, stated: "There's no Main Street anymore...She may come from a small town, but she doesn't look it. No one's a country cousin, a jay, a hick any more." The fashion press had become increasingly important in "educating Americans about style."(6) Women learned about fashion by reading magazines and newspapers, attending motion-picture and live performances, window-shopping in their local stores or on big-city visits, and -as today -in a variety of mundane ways that are difficult to assess.

The 1940 Fashion Group program lists journalistic advertisers and supporters that covered both high and volume fashion, including: Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Mademoiselle, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Day, McCall's, The New Yorker, Town and Country, Good Housekeeping, Bride's, Woman's Home Companion, and Collier's magazines. Several of these titles were descendants of nineteenth-century women's magazines, which had included fashion, etiquette, needlework and other craft patterns and instructions, and home decorating advice among their contents. Access to fashion information was not new in the twentieth century, but the scale of its distribution was.



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