The business of dressmaking.


While dressmakers were in the business of making clothes, their clients were actively involved in their own wardrobe selection and production. As the Minneapolis Saturday Evening Spectator observed in 1882, "With many women, dress in all its details and necessities of shopping, fitting, etc., is a business requiring an average of three or four hours daily." This remained evident in the early twentieth century. Diaries of Mrs. Louise Weyerhaeuser detail her shopping habits, listing seven visits to four dressmakers and one millinery shop in the month of May 1914 including fittings at Madame Boyd's. Custom clothing required repeated visits to the dressmaker for fabric and pattern selection and multiple fittings as the garment was built. Mrs. James J. Hill visited Mrs. George F. Hall in Chicago, " We found Mrs. Hall all ready for us although her shop opened only yesterday. Spent all forenoon selecting materials, the afternoon talking over designs and some fitting. {March 11, 1902]." Invoices from Madame Boyd’s establishment billed Mrs. James J. Hill for the time of three staff members to attend to her fittings at her residence on Summit Avenue. Cutting the intricate pieces of a 19th century garment and fitting that garment to a particular person who may not be a standard size would be a challenge to the most skilled dressmaker. Clients were not always happy with the results. "it took literally hours to fit a dress and the over fatigued woman would twitch and sway and become very pessimistic as to how a dress would eventually look."

Besides multiple visits to assure the best fit, time and energy were expended by the client to acquire the best fabrics and buy exclusive patterns. Mrs. Peavey paid dressmaker, Miss L. Morrissey, $30 for an exclusive dress pattern in 1903. The client needed the dressmaker to make the fashion that was visible in the women's fashion magazines and interpret it to their own style and understanding of what may put them in the fashion forefront in their inner circle. Bessie Pettit Douglas noted, "If one bought a model dress before it had been copied the price was high but one could be sure there would not be another dress like it in the city." From the client's point of view, the dressmaker may make her wait hours for her finished gown. From the dressmaker's point of view, that gown may not have been ordered in a reasonable time for it to be finished without long, overtime hours endured by her staff of seamstresses who often did not get paid extra for their labor.

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