*** American mail order catalogs with boys clothes -- 19th century chronology decade trends

American Mail Order Catalogs with Boys Clothings: Chronology (19th Century)

19th century catalogs
Figure 1.--Here we see a catalog page from the 1884 Strawbridge & Clothier catalog. The company was a mahor Philadelphia Department storr chain which also ;launvched a mail order catalog business. Here is a sample page. The catalog group the boys clothing together, but mix up ages and styles. The illustrations are not particulrly well done, but they do show the garments in some detail with some limited descrptions. Notice how popular likt suits were.

The 19th century is when modern consumerism was born and the publishing industry wa a big part of it. At the end of the century the mail order industry brought fashion to every nook and crasnnybof America. The 19th century fundamentally changed how women viewed themselves, although major changes would cime mostly in the 20th century. This can be seen in the women's magazines of the day--essentially a 19th century creation. We see what one fashion expert calls a new a new populist model to women's publishing. Magazines in the 18th century were for the elites, often unilustrated literary publicastions with limited runs. A range of developments affected publishung, including improived printing machinery, falling newspaper taxes, public education (rising literacy rates), rising income, and dvances in lithograohy mwan more women bought magazinesto more households. Popular interest in fashion began early in the century, af first in Europe, but soon followed in America. By the late-19th century, we see a radically different publication milleu for women. The century began with a small mumber of sparsely illusrated moralistic preaching about home anf and harth. By the end of the century we see a large nomber of sleek, graphics-heavy magazines addressing women's place in the public world. Marrxist prodessors would tell you that the century was one of grinding poverty and explotatiion of weorking peopole. Now there was certainly some of that, but what occurred iverall was the creation of vast wealth as a result of the Industrail Revilution. Never before in World history had so much wealth been put into the hands of ordinary people. And despite the narative Marxist professors want to paint, ordinary people benefitted and benefitted big. And this was not just the upper and middle-class, but workers and farmers as well. And where did European workers move, they headed to America in the millions because this was wear wages were highest. And wages were the highest because American adopted capitlism more enthusiactically than any other country. Department stores appear in all big American cities. Thus workers from all over Europe came to America. They used thse wages to buy consumer goods at unprescedented levels. Major changes were underwear affecting clothing and fashion. Women began to change how they saw their place in society. While there was an interest in fashion, women’s magazines tended to moralize wax elquently about the need for women to embrace the role of homemaker and child care (1850s-60s). This would not change matertially until the 1870s when we begin to see ilustrations and stories about women in public spaces. Fashion and other women's publications. [Breward] At the same time. it was in the 1850s that the indusdtrial expansion of the United States began in a substabtial way. This would lead to more women in the seciond half of the century to have far more finabial resources to engage in fashion far beyond the imagination of most women in the first half. Most Americans still lived in rural areas, so the mail order catalog was especially important. This enabbled rural America to but the same merchandise available in big city stoires, including fashionabler clothing. In a short period the railoroads and the Wells Fargo Wagon had become an American institution brining mail order goods to small communities throughout Ammerica. Mongomery War began its catalog (1872) followed by Sears (1886). Mail order clothing wa not possible much earlier, bcause ir required ready-made clothing, items that could be offeredsnd delivered in large quantities. This was not possible until the Industrial Revolution, especially the sewing machine. Steam-powered sewing machines and other devices appered in factory work-rooms (early- 1850s). This was just in time for the Civil War (1861-65). After the Civil War ready-made clothing rapidly expnded and filled the many catalogs. There were many other important catalogs besides Wards and Sears. And as lithograpy developed we get better and better images of their offerings.

Early 19th Century

Catalogs dated to the 15th century, but were not common even in the 18th century. Benjamin Fraklin appears to have been the first American cataloger wguch involved books (1744). We know if no clohting catalogs before the 19th century or during the early-19th century. Some of the first American catralogs were seed catalogs. Limitations were primitive lithography and undeveloped mail services. These catalogs tended to be very important in the early 19th century. But we have not yet found clothing catalogs. America was still a very rural country wiyh a small urban population. High qualiyu seeds were something essential for farmers.

The 1830s

Godey's Lady's Book with varying titles was an American women's magazine that was published in Philadelphia 1830-78. It was the most widely circulated magazine in the period before the Civil War (861-65). Circulation rose from 70,000 in the 1840s to 150,000 in 1860. They claimed the title the 'queen of monthlies'. Content varies, but included considerable fashion informatuin. Issues before the klate-1850s are rare abd not as well illustrated. The fiocus swas on eomen's dresses, but there was some children's fashion. Here the ficus was on girls abnd younger boys. As far as we know, the first mail order operation was launched by Antonio Fattorini in Bradford, England. He launched a mail order watch club (1833). This would eventually become Empire Stores.

The 1840s

The only imprtant fashion magazine we know of so far is Goodey's but we havev nhot yet found anyb examoles. An important early American catalog was published by Tiffany -- The Blue Book (1845). Tiffany is still publishing its catalog. It was not, however, a mail order catalog.

The 1850s

Fashion magazines by mid-century were becoming important in America. Of course, a fashion magazine is not a catalog. But they were bringing high fashion to every corner of America, at least for accomplished sewers or for those who could afford to buy dresses in a millenary shop or to hire a capable seamstress. By mid-century -- the pages were full of beautiful clothes, helpful advice, and interesting stories. Important publications included Godey's and Harpers. While there was an interest in fashion, women’s magazines tended to moralize wax elquently about the need for women to embrace the role of homemaker and child care (1850s-60s). This would not change matertially until the 1870s when we begin to see ilustrations and stories about women in public spaces. Fashion and other women's publications. [Breward] At the same time. it was in the 1850s that the indusdtrial expansion of the United States began in a substabtial way. This would lead to more women in the seciond half of the century to have far more finabial resources to engage in fashion far beyond the imagination of most women in the first half. These were not mail order catalogs, but they included fashion illustrations and in some cases patterns. Some stores may have had catalogs, but mail order did not yet exisdt to any extent. was not yet common. But a major step toward mail order was completed. That was that the United states by the 1850s had a substanial rail network, at least east of the Mississippli. It did not, however, have any system for getting packages from the rail station to the retail customer. It would be more than half a century before the U.S. Post Office bagan delivering packages (Parcel Post) of any real size as well as Rural Free Delivery. Remember the 'Music Man' song. It was not the U.S. Posdtal Waggon--it was 'The Wells Fargo Waggon'. This would be a problem even when the mail order indstry began to appear (1870s).

The 1860s

Mail order was still not yet common in America. We begin to see mail order catalogs in Europe offering a wide range of products, including clothing. One of the first was Pryce-Jones in England (1861). They began selling by mail order on a large scale. Pryce-Jones was beagn as a shop assistant. He ended up becoming a multi-millionaire with 4,000 workers and 250,000 customers. He even sold Queen Victoria some of her underwear-a woven flannel item. [Pugh] The establishment of the Uniform Penny Post in England (1840), and the extension of the railway network laid the foundation to turn Pryce-Jones small rural concern into a well-known company that Americans would begin emulating in the 1870s. Mail order in America faced problems. First was the huge size if the ciountry. Second, he rail system was still growing. Third, the Post Office did nonot handle packages. Fourth, delivery did nit extend intio the rural asreas where miost people lived. One of the most popular magazines of the 1860s was Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly and Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions and Demorest's Illustrated Monthly. Demorest's calling itself 'The Model Magazine of America' it also stressed its 'Splendid Engravings, Original Music, Mammoth Fashion Plates, Entertaining Poems & Stories, Valuable Recipes, Full Size Fashionable Patterns & Other Valuable Novelties'. Ellen Louise Demorest was an Americam fashion arbiter. She began as a successful milliner, who appears to have invented mass-produced tissue-paper dressmaking patterns. There are no illustrated adverisements for actual clothing whuch coild be ordered during the 1860s. There were fashion magazines illustrating fashion, but they did not offer actual garments for sale. The big mail order houses had not yet opened. There may be some store catalogs, but we have not yet found any. Lithogrphy was still fairly primitive, but improving. There may have been some newspaper ads, but again we have not found any. The primary source for 1860s clothing is fashion magazines. A reader has provided a 1860s illustration for children's drawers, but we do not yet know the source. These are often quite detailed images. These images would be to stell patterns or just the images from which skilled seanstresses could use to create garments. Unfortunately we have some images but are often not sure of the sources which of course are need to fully evaluate the images.

The 1870s

Our information on the 1870s is still quite limited, but there were major developments durung the decade. We do begin to see more adverisements in the 1870s. One notable trend is that we see the tunic suits disppering as a mjor style. We also see more stores offering kneepants, especially for younger boys. Perhaps the major development in the decade was the appearnce of large mail order stores. Montgomery Ward launched America's most famous mail order business in 1872. There may be earlier companies, but Wards was by far the dominate company. These stores will provide us a major source of information about fashion trends over time. There were department store catalogs and fashion magazines. Advertisements in newspapers and magazines become more prevalent and advances are made in lithography so that they can be better illustrated. Photographs could not yet be reproduced. The note one retailer used photographic CDVs to ad avertize his Lorne suit in 1871. We note patterns be advetized in magazines.

The 1880s

B. Altman offered a wide selection of clothing. HBC has some early Altman pages. As we can not date them, we have at this time loaded them in the mail order catalog garment section. Sears Roebuck launched their mail order business in 1886 and became along with Wards the two principal American mail order companies. These catalohgs thus become an invaluable source of information. Other companies advertized in magazines. American boys in the 1880s begin to commonly wear kneepants, although older boys still mostly wear long pants. Boys commonly wore kneepants suits with long stockings. Only the very youngest boys wear short socks. Thus we begin to see garments to hold up the stockings. We notice an L. Stein ad for stocking supporters (1885). We also notice the Double Ve Waist (1886).

The 1890s

Mail order catalogs offered a variety of clothes for boys in the 1890s, including dresses, kilt suits, Fauntleroy suits and blouses, sailor suits, and knee pants and long pants suits as well as a wide range of accessories. Fan\cy Fauntleroy blouses and suits were very popular. We see boys with huge floppy bows. Most children wore long stockings and thus tocking supporters were needed. During the decaded, dresses began to decline in popularity for younger boys. At the end of the decade, tunic suits necame very popular. Advanced in lithography meant that hih-quality illustrations could be placed with the ad copy in catalogs, newspapers, and magazines.


Breward, Christopher. Journal of Design History (1994).

Pugh, David.


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Created: 1:35 PM 11/2/2021
Last updated: 12:56 PM 12/13/2022