Mail Order Catalogs and Advertisements for Boys Clothings


Figure 1.--Mail order clothing catalogs provide useful information about clothing trends in different countrues over time. This boys overcoat was advertised in a 1965 German mail order catalog. Note the rather formal cap.

Catalogs and advertisements are very importsnt sources of information because they are usually dated. And they ofen have ad copy providing important details that are not available from photographs. Sears and Montgomery Ward are the most famous American mail order companies. HBC has, unfortunately, not yet fully develop information on these companies. Their catlogs alone contain a wealth of information. More full utilizing these catlogs is one of our many projects to pursue. We have some of their pages. Many other companies printed mail order catalogs and they appeared in many other countries. The drawings and later photogtaphs along with the information provided offer a great deal of useful information. We have archived quite a number of catalog pages. And we also have added patterns and periodical zdvertisements. We are this beginning to build a substantial archive for researchers.

History

A history of mail order catalogs is helpful in understanding the time line of tese catalogs and the clothing sold through them. Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs were the great cornucopias of material goods for the early 20th century. All the new things that were changing American life danced across their pages. Through it, huge warehouses offered to modernize the farms and small towns of the Midwest. Montgromery Ward was founded in 1872 as a mail order retailer. It serviced rural America and then suburban American for ove a century. The Sears, Roebuck and Co., huge merchandising firm centered in Chicago was founded by Richard W. Sears (1863-1914) and A.C. Roebuck (1864-1948). Sears had begun a career in mail-order business in Minnesota 1886. In Chicago he and Roebuck joined resources and formed a corporation in 1893 as a mail-order business under title Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1895 Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) bought Roebuck's interest in firm and became president on Sears's retirement 1908. A retail-store system was added 1925. The first foreign store added in Havana, Cuba during 1945 and becane te first expropriated store in 1960.

Countries

Companies in many different countries have issue mail order catalogs. These are excellent sources of information for national clothing trends. They not only provide useful time-line ionformation for different countries, but a lot of useful information in the captions about sizes, material, color, aoptions, featurs, and much more. Nuch of our information is from American mail order catalogs bdecause it was the Americans who invented the mail order business. We do, however, hope to add information from foreign mail order catalogs as well.

Chronology

Most of the images available to HBC are undated photographs. HBC can estimate most photographs with a fair degree of accuarcy, but that is not the same as having a definitive date. Mail order catalogs offer the great advantage in that they are dated and thus definitive evidence of clothing trnds over time. We have initially focussed on building the country pages above for the catalog section. Here we will cross index our catalog pages first by country decade pages. Later we will eventually cross index actual years.

Garments

Mail order catalogs offer a wealth of details about specific garments. This allows these styles to be followed over time as well as the ability to copare trends in different countries. We are adding new catalog and advertisement pages all the time. It will, however, be some time before there are enough pages added to begin cross indexing by garment type.

Usage

The principal use of these publications was to order clothes by mail or stimulate customers to come to the stores to purchase clothing. These publications also, however, helped to spread styles and fashions even when peopke did not actually purchase the clothing. One Australian reader tells is, "I remember black and white drawings of clothing in the newspapers in the early 1960's in the local newspaper. My mum used to sit at the table talking about those fashion from the Port Pirie The Recorder. She would tell me and my younger brother that we were going to look so cute dressed in our new outfits. My dad's older sister was a dress maker and used to collect all the designs cutouts in womans and American homemaker type magazines. I remember getting outfitted in my little shorts suit and hating it immensely. I looked like a toffee nosed 4-year old with the combed up greasy hairdo and I put my fake smile on for mum because she was only trying to keep up with those other mums whose Catholic boys looked rather dapper in their shop bought fashion plate outfits. In the early days me and my brother did look up to date with our much richer peers because of Aunty.

Validity as a Reflection of Popular Styles

HBC has collected information on clothing catalogs primarily as they provide both images and information on clothing that can be specifically dated. A HBC reader, however, points out that these catalogs may not necesarily be good relections of what boys were actually wearing. This is a good point as we have seen items offered in catalogs that definitely were not actually popular at the time. On the whole, however, we believe that catalogs are much better fashion indicators than many other sources such as fashion magazines which often portray fashion ideas, not what people actually wore. The reason we believe that fashion catalogs are very useful indicators of popular fashion is that money is involved. This relates to the standard assessment in many investigative efforts--follow the money. We are not saying that every item in a catalog demostrates that the item was popular or widely worn. We are saying that items that appear year and a year almost certainly were widely worn. In addition, catalog companies which issues catalogs for many years, in some cases decades, more than likely wee successfully offering items desired by clients, suggesting they were in touch with fashion trends. We believe there may have been differences among countries. Mass marketing catalogs first appeared in America. The long experience with catalog purchases sand popularity of catalogs suggest that American catalogs did repflect popular styles--although even in America there are limitations to using catalogs as guides to popular fashions. A British reader tells us that catalogs there even in the 1960s were not a good indicator of popular fashion. A British reader tells us that in the 1960s and 70s, "I'm sure English clothes were mainly bought instore by most people." [HBC note: The big American catalog companies (Pennys, Sears, and Wads) also were the major bricks and mortor retsilers. Thus the fashions shown in the catalogs were also being sold in stores.] We are unsure about France and Germany as well as other countries. Interestingly during the Soviet era in Fusdia, there were no clothing catalogs and fashion magazines advised readers not to disturb the editors with orders or inquiries as to wear rhe fshiobs showed could be purchased. HBC does not maintain that these catalogs are a perfect source of information. We do believe that they are an important source. The more sources the better picture you get. Every source has weakeneses. Films are "costumed" and may not reflect the period. Family photos are taken with children dressed in their best clothes, at least in older times when even taking a photo was an event. In addition mothers in the 19th century were not as constrained by fashion trends as modern mothers.





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Created: April 11, 2000
Last updated: 7:16 PM 1/16/2012