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Suit with a Photo to Boot!

Posted in This months highlight on 01 Apr 2023

One of Reading’s most famous stores was Jacksons Department Store, indeed Jackson’s corner is still a recognisable landmark in Reading today, ten years since the store’s closure. They started as a gentleman’s outfitters and then expanded over the years to sell womenswear, shoes, textiles, school wear and much more. This month’s highlight looks at one of the handbills of this well-loved store.

In 1903, one of the selling points of purchasing ‘a Suit to Measure, either from Pattern…or choice of Grey Worsted or Tweed Suitings’ was getting one of Walton Adams’ portraits for free. Customers could choose from having a mounted portrait, 18″x14″, or six pencil tint photos of themselves or a friend. The poster advertising this deal included an example of Adams’ work with a photograph of Jacksons founder, Edward Jackson (ref. D/EX2670/4).

1903 handbill for made to measure suits ref. DEX2670-4-4

Walton Adams was a photography pioneer. He worked with Dr Richard Leach Maddox to develop the dry gelatine plate process. They industrialised the process of making plates, allowing more people to take photographs as there was no longer a need to use dangerous chemicals

As a photographer he was highly respected and took photographs of many significant figures, including Queen Victoria, David Lloyd George and Herbert Asquith. They had the seal of royal patronage and numerous studios in Berkshire.

A group of people stood and sat together in front of a house. NPG x199822 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.
His seven children, seen in the image above held by the National Portrait Gallery [NPG x199822 © National Portrait Gallery, London. Reproduced under Creative Commons License.], grew up in the studio assisting him. His son, Marcus Adams, became a respected photographer himself.

Adams’ photograph of Edward Jackson on the handbill not only demonstrated his photography abilities, but also promoted the suits Jacksons were trying to sell (ref. D/EX2670/4/5).

Brochure showing suits for men c.1900s ref. D/EX2670/4/5

1903 was at the beginning of the Edwardian period. Men’s fashion had not altered much from the end of the Victorian era. Three-piece suits were normal business wear, although the height at which waistcoats and jackets were fastened was beginning to alter. Dark and sturdy fabrics were used with small and narrow lapels. Collars were either starched and upstanding or turned down with rounded edges. Changes were coming with a demand for less sharply tailored suits; however, there was still a demand for more formal attire.

Lots of this can be seen in the advert. The suit jacket on Edward Jackson has small and narrow lapels. The fabric swatch included on the handbill is of good quality and dark colour, whilst customers would have been able to see examples of the Grey Worsted or Tweed Suitings options at the store.

This promotion was for ordering a ‘suit for Measure’, customers would need to come into the store for fittings and choose their desired fabric. This would suggest they were appealing to an upper-class clientele, to whom the added appeal of a photograph by a prominent photographer with the seal of royal patronage might be too strong to resist.

Further reading on the history of fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum can be found online.

If you'd like to read more about the history of Jacksons, why not read our newsletter from 2019?