Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


Dressing by-the-book, or using illustrated and swatched sample books to buy fashionable apparel, offered the American man extensive assortments of fabrics, colors, and styles, often more than he could get from the local merchant's stock. The sample book was convenient for the seller because he could offer more apparel options to his customers without purchasing inventory in advance of sales. Sample books were used both by retailers selling custom-made clothing for wholesale manufacturers and direct sellers. Direct sellers, representing manufacturing companies, carried a sample book straight to the customer by-passing the retail venue. In this paper two types of apparel businesses were examined which dressed men by-the-book in distinctive clothing, hosiery, pajamas and underwear. The sample books examined are The International Tailoring Company 1925, for men's tailored clothing and Superwear, Incorporated 1930-31, for men's underwear, pajamas and hosiery. Both books are in the textile collection of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Garments similar to those sold by these companies were also examined from the costume collection of the same museum.

The International Tailoring Company was a tailor-to-the-trade (also known as merchant tailor) who sold custom made clothing " ... only through reputable local merchants." They were reported to be the largest individual clothing manufacturer in the United States doing a business in made-to-order men's clothing. The tailor-to-the-trade firm was defined by the Federal Trade Commission as "a specialty clothing firm that cut a single garment according to exact measurements of a consumer who had ordered that garment from a retail outlet serviced by the manufacturer." They functioned since preCivil War days but achieved recognition as an important branch of the clothing industry in the late 1800' s. Harry Cobrin, men's wear executive involved in The Clothing Manufacturers Association for thirty years of the twentieth century, explained that the service appealed to small tailor shops especially those in rural areas. The sample book service was particularly popular in the Southern states where the roads were less developed and sales possibilities were the greatest.