I found this gorgeous book on the “New Books” shelf and had to pick it up:
It’s got all those things I love: gorgeous photography of beautifully-made clothing, tailoring, the history of a business and how it fit into the city around it, pictures of men and women wearing the clothes made by the tailors, hilarious images of old advertising campaigns, and an appreciation of well-fit, well-made clothing.
“The history of most tailors is preserved in their paperwork: not their business receipts and invoices, but the measurement ledgers and paper patterns they create for each customer. In the ledgers are recorded the intimate details of each body, including the exact measurements of the belly, the shoulders, and even the seat-measurements that are sometimes hidden from customers to shield them from uncomfortable truths.” (Mendes, Introduction xiii)
Tailoring, like couture, is an intimate art. The materials and stitches turn rectangles of cloth and canvas and cotton wool into clothing that lies on top of the human form, and transforms it. It seems old fashioned to go to a physical shop and have a person measure one, then make a specific garment just especially to fit one’s own shape, instead buying an anonymous garment made by someone in another country to generic specifications that appears magically in one’s mail bin. It’s hard to remember that this intimacy, a relationship with a single person who knew one’s uncomfortable shaped secrets, was the dominant form for centuries and that our mass-produced fast-shipped way of life is the recent cultural anomaly.
Toronto in the 1900s was growing rapidly, and its largest business was the clothing industry. Young Walter Beauchamp (pronounced “BEE-chum”) returned there from (unsuccessful) adventures as a cattle rancher and wanted to start a business with his childhood friend, Alfred How. How had been working as a cutter at a tailoring shop and wanted to go out on his own. Beauchamp had the social contacts to draw a good clientele, as well as the marketing acumen to promote a successful business. The company made early use of advertising and the term “Tailors’ Row” to promote the business area where they set up shop. Together they formed the original men’s tailoring shop Beauchamp & How in October 1908.
Canadian officers were responsible for their own non-combat gear. When World War I broke out in 1914, Toronto’s young men enlisted. The need for dress uniforms helped establish Beauchamps & How securely as a trusted military tailor in the area with the watchwords “It is our duty to look after those who serve their country.” More military uniforms remain of their historical work than do of their civilian work. This book has lovely detail shots of this gear.*
In the 1960s, as menswear grew more casual in styling, the firm launched a playful ad campaign to keep their company in the public eye. The firm publicized a contest on how to pronounce the owner’s name. The prize was admission to the Playboy Club in New York City. The ads featured a fully-clothed Playboy bunny, but were still racy for the time. The audacious campaign angered the Walter Beauchamp Jr.’s wife, but succeeded in bringing a fresh crop of young customers into the store.
This picture, taken in 1983, shows four generations of the Beauchamp family.
Walter Beauchamp: A Tailored History of Toronto is a colorful and personal walk through changing menswear industry of the twentieth century. Come take a look!
*the beautiful shots of perfectly tailored, slightly worn military uniforms in this book reminded me of the book Vintage Menswear: A Collection from the Vintage Showroom, which I wrote about here: