The definition of fashion according to the Oxford DictionaryFashion is a form of self-expression and autonomy at a particular period and place and in a specific context, of clothing, footwear, lifestyle, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, and body posture. In its everyday use, the term implies a look defined by the fashion industry as that which is trending.The modern industry, based around firms or fashion houses run by individual designers, started in the 19th century with Charles Frederick Worth who, beginning in 1858, was the first designer to have his label sewn into the garments he created. Fashion started when humans began wearing clothes. According to Life 123, people began wearing clothes somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 years ago. Clothing established social status and individuality. These clothes were typically made from plants, animal skins and bone .Before the mid-19th century the division between haute couture and ready-to-wear did not really exist. All but the most basic pieces of female clothing were made-to-measure by dressmakers and seamstresses dealing directly with the client. Most often, clothing was patterned, sewn and tailored in the household. When storefronts appeared selling ready-to-wear clothing, this need was removed from the domestic workload.(reference Immigrant Influence in the Garment Industry Immigrants & the Garment IndustryBy Dzvinka Stefanyshyn)
New York, known as the “melting pot” of cultures, each immigrant group attempts to retain their traditions. Immigrants settled in particular neighborhoods in order to feel a sense of community of their old countries, and they even opened and expanded particular businesses that established ethnic niches. However, there is one commerce that has spanned across several immigrant groups, and that is the garment industry. Immigrants with limited knowledge of English and other skills turned to this industry as a source of income. With such an influx of immigrants, who provided cheap labor, America became reliant on production of clothing in the states (particularly New York). Since the early 1800s until the present, Germans, Irish, Russian Jews, Italians, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, and Latin Americans all have impacted the clothing industry. Though each of the immigrant groups that worked in garment manufacturing did preserve their background in the domestic sphere, they all partook in the shaping of how Americans, but particularly New Yorkers dress. It is the economic and social forces that contributed to the employment of various immigrant groups in the garment industry, and they name New York as one of the world capitals of fashion.
Famous foreign designers such as the Belgian Diane von Furstenberg stated: “There’s a buzz, a creative energy in New York City that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It’s an extraordinarily stimulating place for fashion—I think that’s why so many people choose to be here.” New York City is home to one of the largest populations of immigrants, and thus, it is no surprise that it is the epicenter of world fashion. Its history of the garment district has been and continues to attract hundreds of designers, famous or those on the rise, to shape how people dress.
In New York, the women began working at home, and when they acquired enough money, they began hiring workers. Eventually, many of them were able to open small businesses (their ethnic niche) that focused on specific areas of clothing production, such as designing and buying fabrics, and the actual sewing.
Up until the early 1900s, workers of the garment industry focused on creating clothing most suitable for the working immigrants.
Tedious working conditions in the garment industry led to changes in clothing worn by workers. Women began wearing more tight-fitted blouses to prevent them getting caught in machinery
Clothing was not the only thing that was transforming during that period. Drastic changes were occurring within the production of clothing itself; at the time, most people worked from home, but changes in the law no longer permitted fabrication in residential buildings. Consequently, tailor businesses and small companies shifted to commercial lofts and assembly-like factories located in today’s garment district. As more and more people were migrating to New York, the demand for ready-to-wear clothing (clothing that was not tailored to individuals, but rather produced and sold in standardized sizes) was higher than ever. This led to a change in the casual women’s style – from skirts and blouses to dresses. Moreover, by the 20th century, American designers wanted to express the latest European haute couture styles, but such made-to-order clothing could not be easily transferred onto the American mass-produced clothing. Instead, manufacturers took apart the diverse styles of haute couture clothing, picking specific details such as a particular sleeve design, and applied each of these to separate clothing pieces. As a result, a greater variety of clothing was made available for the New York public; not to mention, it was also simpler. Lastly, mass production of clothing led to the need for showrooms, which paved the way department stores that still surround the garment district.
A new wave of employment was entering the market due to the changes in immigration law in the latter half of the 1900s. By the 1950s, the earlier immigrants wanted and urged their children to pursue different career paths than themselves (that is, not work in garment manufacturing). This led to opportunities for other immigrant groups. Those who arrived after 1965 found that starting small businesses within this industry proved to be the most rewarding. Lacking native competition (many believed that the prestige of a small business, which required demanding working conditions was low), Asians and Hispanics seized the opportunity to make their mark in New York fashion. Small tailor shops started to alter the garment environment, and trends that emerged were attributed to the skills these immigrant groups lacked.
Unlike the well-established clothing firms, which created their own products and provided numerous specialized services, small immigrant-owned workshops were limited to a few styles. Rather than having to teach immigrant workers – who also lacked knowledge of English – manufacturers sought simple, labor-intensive designs (which also interrelated with the demand to mass-produce simpler couture-inspired European styles). Similar to an assembly line at a factory, each laborer focused on creating one part of the clothing piece, and passing it on to the next worker.
Nevertheless, New York City continues to pave the road for world fashion. Social and economic forces brought about by the immigrants shaped the industry’s unique history regardless of whether they were tailors or customers of the clothing. As those forces shifted from one immigrant group to the next, production of clothing impacted fashion trends on a global scale. New York modified and adapted European styles that have been brought over since the 17th century, and is recognized for its much more casual flair.
Although it is perceived that modern European designers influence how New York dresses, this is limited to the highest ends of couture fashion found in the exclusive boutiques of Fifth Avenue. For everyone else, it is ultimately what an individual chooses to wear that solidifies what it means to dress like a New Yorker. In fact, American designers turn to attire worn by the young people on New York streets for inspiration to incorporate into their latest collections. European designers compete with American designers to recreate the authentic “American” and “New York” style, but fail to express simplicity and comfort in tandem. Ironically, what they don’t apprehend is that these styles originated from Europe and were merely shaped and simplified to fit people’s lifestyles.