Although the banner in the background mentions ladies and gents, I see only women and children here. I suppose the students were making both women’s and men’s clothing. The photo possibly depicts some kind of open house or graduation ceremony. Some of the women appear to be wearing ribbons—a marker of achievement? The participants are of all ages, from the oldest woman in black, center front, to the tiniest child standing near her. I searched through my research data bases for information on the Tanaka School, located in Seattle, but found nothing. Perhaps it advertised in local Japanese American papers or found its clients by word of mouth.
Here is another photo showing women at work with pattern making tools. Just what was “Mrs. Tanaka’s System”? The tools look pretty standard from what I can see—a curved ruler, an L square and a long straight stick. Are those tape measures that most of the women are wearing around their necks? The teacher on the right is wearing a very long dress for 1925.
And here, perhaps, is Mrs. Tanaka herself. It is interesting that this banner reads “Tanaka School of Dressmaking.” Maybe there were two different programs—one for dressmaking that used premade patterns and another for designing and tailoring, where the students gained more advanced skills. According to my Japanese speaking friend, the banner on the right commemorates ten years of the Tanaka School.
All photos were taken by the Toyo Studio, which documented Seattle’s Japanese American population. I would love to hear from people in Seattle if any traces of these once thriving businesses remain.