Let your fingers do the shopping

A year after the U.S. Mail began Rural Free Delivery in 1896, Sears claimed that it was selling four ready-to-wear suits every minute. When the Parcel Post Act of 1912 authorized the post office to deliver packages weighing more than four pounds, mail-order really took off. In 1910 Sears, Roebuck mailed out 2.3 million catalogs; in 1929, more than 7 million.

Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1922

Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1922

“The more you order by mail, the more convinced you will be that mail-order is the easiest way to order the necessities of life.”

–Sears, Roebuck catalog, 1927

Chicago Mail Order Company catalog, 1913

Chicago Mail Order Company catalog, 1913

"How to Order Garments For Women, Misses and Juniors"

Chicago Mail Order Company catalog, 1913

Chicago Mail Order Company catalog, 1913

"How to Order Clothing For Men, Young Men and Boys"

Even in the 1890s, ready-to-wear clothing was available in fixed sizes. But not until World War I were the first national standards established defining specific measurements for each size—making mail-order shopping less risky. At the same time, a new taste for looser-fitting styles helped mask variations of fit within a particular size.