*** clothing retailers and stores Besse System

Retail Stores Handling Boys' Clothing: Besse System (United States)

Besse System
Figure 1.--This appears to be a page from a Besse catalog showcasing boys' suits. It is undated, but the fashions and age conventions suggest the turn-of-the 20th century. We would guess the early-1900s. As the boys are wearing knee pants (except for the boy wearing a tunic suit), it would have been published some time before 1908. We would guess 1900-05.

The Besse System was a group of 20 some clothing stores inthe Northeast. We note advertisements for these stores during the 1900s and 10s. The stores were founded by Lyman Waterman Besse (1854- ). Besse was not born wealthy. He made his way by clerking in several dufferent stores, learning the retail business. He finally opned his first clothing store in Bridgepoer, Massachusettes (1877). It was originally a small school handling men's clothing and furnishing goods He proved so successful that he opened a second store in nearby Hartfird, Connecticut (1884). A series of other stores followed, most in the Northeast (1880s-1900s). He opened a wholesale office in Boston (1902). In all his stores he had a local partner who served as a resident manager which is what he called a Besse System. The company claimed that they could offer better prices as a result of this corporate structure. A company was formed for each store. As a result, some of the advertising has corporate sponsorshipp like the Besse-Sprague Compamy. This was the store in Syracuse New York. Besse would eventually operate stores in 27 cities and become one of the wealthiest clothing retailers in the United States. Besse and his wife, Elenor Pass had six children. A HBC reader tells us that this is incorrect. She reoirts that "Lyman’s wife was Henrietta Segee Besse. You said it was Eleanor Pass Besse. That was Lyman’s son Arthur’s wife." 【Toll】 Besse moved to Springfield, Massasachusettes and built a mansion there (1888). There was a separate floor for servants and porte cochere. The children were raised formally. The Besses dressed formally for dinner and ate separately from the children. They summered on Martha's Vinyard. [Kabaservice, p. 16.]


Kabaservice, Geoffrey. The Guardian: Kingman Brewster, His Curcle, and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment (Macmillan: 2004), 573p.

Toll, Gertrude Besse. Personal communications (June 19, 2023). Toll is the great grandaughter of Lyman and Henrietta through their daughter Gertrude Louisa Besse King and her daughter Gertrude King Toll.


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Created: 9:29 PM 1/27/2014
Last updated: 2:04 PM 6/19/2023