I received today my order from Katie Blueford, who specialises in selling vintage pages, and I am so excited! I bought twenty pages of a 1902 Sears Roebuck and Co. catalog depicting their fashion illustrations.
Why? It is a fantastic addition to my fashion courses, especially Fashion Illustration and Trends, Fashion and Society.
Sources like fashion and store catalogs from the turn of the 20th century are indisputable as to what where people wearing, how was clothing sold, and how illustration is used to not only depict clothing, but to lure customers into buying it. It is ironic, since the illustrations in the Sears catalog are photo composites, using the head and limbs of pictures of real women but with the clothes drawn on top of those pictures. This is the same fashion illustration method used in fashion schools in London, particularly Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion.
Another feature of these illustrations is the distortion of the female figure. The ‘S-shaped’ silhouette was in vogue during 1902 and the illustrations help women fantasize how their bodies will change once they order those specific clothing items and wear them. Remember, fashion illustration not only sells you the clothing, but the mood it seeks to convey. It is about the fantasy, about becoming someone else when one wears certain clothes. Psychologically, these illustrations lure the customer into a fantastical world where their bodies will become, through using specific garments (and undergarments), socially-approved.
Moreover, the use of photographic images of real women superimposed to intaglio drawings supports the notion that the silhouette suggested by the illustration is not only socially desirable, but physically possible. The body is fragmented into two different units that look entirely independent of each other! With the correct undergarments, women can have 16” waists, heavy upper-bodies and smaller hips.
Who knew a Sears catalog from 1902 could tell us so much about how people function in society and how fashion and society are related? What other conclusion can we draw from these illustrations?