The History of Menswear Told Through NYPL’s Digital Collection: Part 4

Earlier this year the New York Public Library shared 180,000 prints, maps, manuscripts, and much more in a digital public domain collection for the very first time. In it, we unearthed menswear ads from over one hundred years ago. In this series, we explore them. Discover part four below, and find part one here, part two here, and part three here, in case you missed them.

Ballou’s Patented French Yoke Shirts 1865.


Better fitting men's shirts

This print advertisement from over two hundred years ago shows that fit – specifically a better fit – has always been something for which stylish men strive. Ballou Brothers’ diagram shows the points on the man’s body they’ve identified as being critical to obtaining a good fit; basically their fit philosophy, and it appears to have been patented. Because they’re very focused on the yoke, it doesn’t seem that they truly factor in the waist of the torso, unlike our 12 new-to-world sizes. Now, our Shirt House’s fit off the rack rivals them all, in any city!

The yoke of a dress shirt is the sort of triangular panel of fabric located towards the top of the back under the shirt collar, extending from shoulder blade to shoulder blade, that holds the shirt’s backing over the body. When made well, it’s the piece of the garment that acts as a hanger, and creates the crisp lines of the shirt’s backside. If created improperly, it can cause gathering of the fabric in the center of the back, which makes the back look pinched, and often cheapens the entire look of the dress shirt. There are two types of yokes: a one piece yoke is made from a single piece of fabric, and a split yoke such as Ballou Brothers’ is split down the middle and sewn together in the middle.

The other feature Ballou Brothers highlights in the ad is their quality. Quality is a word that’s easy and appealing to use because the definition is a bit murky; it can mean so many different things to people. Does quality mean it lasts a long time; does it mean it feels silky smooth to the touch; does it mean it’s made of only expensive materials; and so on. It’s interesting that they also let readers know their shirts are available for a lower price than their competitors, but don’t feel compelled to feature the price in the ad.

Another curious thing about the ad, is that within it Ballou Brothers mentions their own catalog, featuring drawings (not photos!), as being available to request for free. It seems that they’ve identified their catalog as being an important part of moving customers through their marketing funnel. And, they also do a good job reinforcing their legitimacy by mentioning their shirts are available at all the “principal dealers” throughout the U.S. That makes readers realize how big their operations are, and how many other people may have discovered them already. Though, they don’t list their own store hours, which might make it hard to stop by and shop if you’re commuting by horse and buggy.

What else do you find intriguing about this Ballou Brothers’ ad?

The History of Menswear Told Through NYPL’s Digital Collection: Part 4
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