Where are the roots of American fashion? Where to begin the story of hundred years in the making and decades of design? We cannot start the story of fashion, without the rise of the American clothing industry, which dates back to the early 1800s.  They say that the birth place of global and modern fashion industry is in Paris ( 1860s), but where should american dreamers stand? I’ll begin my fashion research in the land of opportunities. So this is American fashion 101.

Studying fashion

Fashion research

Where to begin?

1800 is the birth year of the American clothing industry. At first it was all about menswear. Tailors used to produce clothes for sailors who were on a leave. This was a century of Northeast tailoring business rise ( NYC, Boston, Philly).  Back in those days clothes weren’t vary expensive, let alone fashionable. The outfit of sailors were called slops. They actually represented bad taste and poverty. However, from this point the market of the upcoming american fashion began to grow. Clothing changed within the changes of society, culture, laws and etc. Without changes fashion would look dull, so the context always puts a mark on our outfits. 

American Sailors

The change came in 1850s when Brooks Brothers began to tailor clothes for the middle-class. They grew from 75 tailors in 1818, to 1,500 employees in 1857. Clothing industry felt the push of industrialization. 

Brooks Brothers MAD avenue

By the mid 19th century with the rise of a “gold rush”, US fashion system began to change drastically. Here is the name you probably know by heart, Mr. Levi-Strauss ordered a resilient fabric from France ( serge de Nîmes ) so that it could serve the demanding market of gold prospectors. At first this fabric was used for tents, but within years Strauss began to produce utilitarian work trousers and we know them now as denim.  Thus American jeans were born and this birth provoked further changes of the forming fashion industry. If it wasn’t for Levi-Strauss, Lana Del Rey probably wouldn’t sing about blue jeans and white shirts. 


Another factor or the invention which put a foundation for American Fashion industry, was the sewing machine ( Isaac Singer). So the supplied industry began to grow in immigrant labor force so as in the number of machines. But the great transformation came with the distribution and production of clothing. This was a time of change in department and specialty stores. Businessmen began to focus on the retail space, so clothing industry was transformed into the  market of fashion, it was no longer just the market of need. US clothing system moved beyond workwear and menswear. Maybe because of these major changes we live in the american fashion dream, where clothing businesses center around department stores, vertical chains and the best fashion designers. 

Singer Sewing machine

The rise of the American Fashion


Up until the rise of clothing industry in US, American women used to tailor their own gowns at home. This was mainly because of post-colonialism and the dominance of English/European taste. It was about time to change those Victorian era English dresses into something Parisian. Just by the time of the Civil War, American wives began to adore Parisian couture, but their hand-made clothes looked unsophisticated. Even if there was some sort of importation of Parisian clothes, Americans found a way to copy French fashion. How did they reassure their clients about the proper quality of so-called Parisian clothes? Just like today’s Chinese market use Italian labels, American sewed on French tags on their own clothes. Such american fashion marketing tactics were used up until 1900s. 

Parisian couture

Gone with the wind

New York in the late 19th century grew in the concentration of transportation system, so as in the number of immigrant workers. Such conditions had a great impact on american fashion. Therefore the production of clothes began to concentrate here in the Big Apple. New York was considerate as a ready-to-wear capitol. By 1925 in Manhattan womenswear production rose up to 78%.

The American Fashion flourished during 1920s, mainly because of isolation from Europe and its war conflicts ( WW1). It was a time of Jazz, booze, The Great Scott Fitzgerald, the birth of Sound Cinema and etc. In between two wars, US fashion industry provided people with ready-to-wear clothes. It’s was thought to be the American style and the American way of life.

Sewing Amrerican fashion

When Parisian fashion capitol was isolated by the Fascists and the whole Europe was under the fire of WW2, American fashion industry began to form the ideal attitude and an image of an American woman. This was the time when European fashion looked suspicions rather than stylish. 

1940 fashion in NY

New York in the mid-20th century  became the capitol of the American women fashion. This was the year of functional and smart couture.  This city was less conservative and fashionably aspiring. It was the time of manufacturing facilities formation and pre-existing commercial transformation of American clothing industry. Besides NYC, Hollywood was the second fashion production region. It was mainly because of film industry and the new wave of immigrant workers from Eastern parts of the world. 

Follow Rabbity Fashion’s board Stepford Wives on Pinterest.

How the American fashion changed by 1980s? There were a lot of social, cultural and political transformations. The rise of Feminist movement, fights against segregation, Hippies for peace, Vietnam War… The list goes on and on. By 1980 American fashion industry began the outsourcing of their clothes to Taiwan and the Pacific. NYC still remained the capitol of fashion in US. 


In NYC designers, distributors were ready for the commercial and marketing revolution. They were all a part of American fashion community. Even today NYC fashion system exists, like some sort of phenomenon. Even if sweatshops (a pejorative term for a workplace that has socially unacceptable working conditions) vanished from the market,  ready-to-wear and fast clothing industry remains strong.  New York was responsible for the global and “fast fashion” trends. It may not be possible without cheap labor, rapid production and affordable prices back in the early days, but how situation changed? Do still have the same result?

Sweatshop 19thMad ave

Why this attention for fast fashion, fast consumerism and sweatshops? The idea of sweatshop dates back to 19th century. Even if cheap labor is unethical noways, somehow clothes that become obsolete, unwearable as soon as we come home, still remains. So is fast fashion a value? We hear about fast-consumer-goods, but we hope to move towards more ethical and durable fashion. 

Sweatshop in 19th century

For a long time American Fashion values concentrated on: comfortable, casual ( Jeans and Sportswear) and practical. However, glam and sophistication just as value for money still remains common in the eyes of an American Dreamers.