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Bespoke Aspiration – Diamond Tailoring Company Style Books

January 31, 2011.

Window sign for the Diamond Tailoring Company.

Diamond Tailoring Company Style Books

We just made a very fun acquisition: style books and advertising material for The Diamond Tailoring Company, a “bespoke” tailoring firm based in Chicago during the 1920s.  Rather than making clothes at individual premises, the parent company licensed outlets (probably department stores, small clothing shops, or similar) and provided them with them with style books like these. Customers visited their local shop to select from the available cuts and fabrics, and to have their measurements taken. A detailed order slip was filled out by the staff and mailed back to Diamond for tailoring, which would have been carried out on a large scale either as piece-work or within a factory, though we haven’t been able to find out which. Much about the company is a mystery to us–how it was structured, the extent of its reach across the US, and the length of time it was in business. Please leave a comment if you have any information about Diamond or similar tailoring operations; we’d love to know more. (And as usual, click to enlarge the images).

Diamond Tailoring Company Style Book with cloth swatches.

Above, a style book open to display fabric samples and fashion plates. These books are very large (18 ×15.5 inches, and 2 inches deep) and heavy. They’re nearly as big as I am, and I’m afraid I’ve made a comical sight carrying them around the shop this week. (A good indication that Diamond was  using outlets rather than traveling salesmen!)

By the way, does anyone else think that the guy on the right in the image above looks like F. Scott Fitzgerald?

Diamond Tailoring Company order form.

Above and below, the front and back of an order slip. Salespeople were asked to go into as much detail as possible, describing the age, body type and occupation of the gentleman, even what type of underwear he had on. This gives a good idea of the difficulties involved in making “bespoke” clothing for customers you can’t actually see. The detailed instructions for taking measurements also indicate that Diamond did not expect everyone using its order forms to be a professional tailor.

Two hanging signs. These each measure about 20 × 10 inches and would have been displayed in the local outlet.

Most of the fashion plates depict men running industrial empires (often with machinery visible behind them), having important meetings, or acting paternally towards children. These were aspirational images, intended to appeal to middle class workers and young men with dreams of achieving greater things. Diamond took advantage of Chicago’s extensive industrial resources (technology & efficient factories, transportation links, and surplus labour) to provide a cheaper form of bespoke fashion for those who couldn’t afford traditional high-end tailoring.

In addition to being of historical significance, these books are unusual in that they’re so well preserved. Typically, the style books would have seen much wear and tear in a shop, the order slips would all be used up, and the posters would have become faded by the sun. The survival of these items as a group indicates that a shop owner probably became a Diamond licensee and received the basic kit for 1920-21, but for some reason never began operating. The books must have sat somewhere safe for a long time before finding their way to us, making this a very lucky survival of Jazz Age fashion ephemera.

Laura joined Peter Harrington in 2009 after completing a master's degree in book history at the University of London. Her special interests are science and medicine, modern literature, and the book culture of the medieval and early modern eras.

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