Fashion Factoids

Nail Lacquer in purple, green, and blue first became popular in 1920's
The first great American jeweler: Tiffany&Co was founded in 1837. 
Polaroid sunglasses are an American innovation. They appeared in 1937, and sold 1 million pair in 1939. 
1860's Goodyear created  the rubber sole for shoes.1917-Keds and Converse- sneakers.  1960's-Vans introduced  concept of customized sneakers.
By 1870 the street suit was prevalent: a shorter skirt, (which cleared the ground)  with matching jacket .
The first crop of American Fashion Designers, were mostly women.

The Evolution of American Fashion

European style vs American Style. Paris Couture Vs. American Design.  The dichotomy did not actually come into being until the late 1800ís. Prior to that, fashionable wealthy women were dressed by Paris. Period. However, therein lies the seed of the evolution of American fashion. What about the rest of the American public? How were they clothed?  Fashion is fashioned by the culture. American women were different, their lives and needs were different.  The culture and the economic times slowly shaped the trends which eventually became American fashion.    

New York City became the Fashion center of the nation as early as late 1700. First of all, it was always a transportation hub. Secondly,, there has always been a concentration of wealth. Thirdly, NYC developed into a manufacturing center, enabling the rise of ready-to-wear, thusly making stylish clothing available to all:  rich to poor.

Word Bytes which define the evolution of American Fashion : Innovation, Simplicity, Modernity, Functionality, Adaptability, Individuality, Comfort, Sportiness, Ease, and Suitability.




By mid-1850ís large Department Stores were established in NYC. Their scope and influence inadvertently created what was to become, in time, the American Fashion Scene. They introduced the first fashion shows, originally presented as opening days in the Spring and Fall. These same stores later birthed the iconic boutique trend.  Stores such as Lord & Taylor were instrumental in the mass manufacturing of clothing, in developing ready-to-wear, and in the sponsorship of American Designers. Many famous stores such as Bergdorf Goodman began as custom tailoring establishments. Originally, the names of the designers were unknown to the public. They worked for the department stores, the department stores produced their clothes, and put the store label on the garments. By 1850Ēs Lord & Taylor was manufacturing some of its own womenís clothing. In 1907, the NY Times reported that American tailor-made clothing was being copied abroad. So a historical trend, America copying Paris fashion, was beginning to reverse itself.  However, American Designers were not credited for their work until well into the 1930ís.

The big stores such as Franklin Simon, Bonwit Teller, Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altmanís and Best & Co., Henri Bendel, and Macyís  continued to sell European fashion along with their own labels. But, Hello,  the American woman was only buying what suited her, her lifestyle and her taste. Eventually, Paris began to cater to American tastes.

In the Spring of 1932, American Designers were featured and named in a window by  Dorothy Shavers of Lord & Taylor, thereby actively promoting American Designers. This was a huge first.  Stores began placing ads in major newspapers with illustrations, and photos of designs carrying the designers name. And of course, today, department stores not only carry designer labels but also house boutiques of major fashion names: Calvin Klein, Micheal Kors, Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein, Donna Karan, and others.


Economics before during and after the World Wars had a huge impact on fashion and design. Scarcity of materials, and the interruption of fashion production in Europe resulted in a tremendous amount of innovation by designers in America. Silhouettes became slimmer, hems shorter, and  the use of available fabrics cleverly and creatively worked. Jackets were cropped and the midriff was bared at times. Thong sandals first became fashionable during WWII due to shoemakers having to skimp on leather! Nylon was developed by Dupont Co., and replaced silk for parachutes. Nylon hosiery replaced silk hose but became very scarce during the war causing women to resort to leg make-up!  And you thought that was new! Synthetics including rayon, latex, and spandex were largely an American innovation born out of necessity. So were zippers! Further, the uniforms and work clothes of the war eras such as jumpsuits and bomber jackets were adopted and adapted by American fashion designers. The great depression also influenced fashion. Movies became the great escape from the  difficulties facing Americans, and they lost themselves in the fantasy and the glamour of the silver screen. The look of those screen goddesses was coveted by American women and copied to this day,        


Beginning with colonial times, American women developed traits of independence, resourcefulness, and strength. From the beginning American women were a hardy bunch, they had to be.  These traits have persevered, even as their role in society changed. From farming to child rearing and managing  households, to significant roles outside the home in business, society, politics, and athletics; all  impacted on what women  wore.    

American women became more independent, working outside the home and fighting for the right to vote and their place in the mainstream of society. American women became increasingly involved in social activism, and also increasingly involved in athletics. The suffragette suit appeared in 1909. It consisted of a jacket with lots of pockets ( for pamphlets), and a divided skirt with creases and cuffs just like a man's. It did not become popular but was actually quite avant garde.   The shirt dress was more readily accepted and was the standard for many years because it was so adaptable to different situations. Designers had to deliver  fashion which was adaptive and modern: pants, culottes, shorts playsuits, sundresses, simple and comfortable clothes women could work and play in. Ready-to-wear and sportswear became the mainstay of fashion in America. The big shoulders look of the 1980's is an example of how fashion announced another change in women's role. They were emerging as CEO's and powerful. Although, if we check out some old movies, those shoulder pads had appeared before.      

Iconic American Fashion looks  seminal to the development of an individualistic  American Style: The Gibson Girl, The 20ís Flapper, and The Hollywood Glamour Queen. To this day those looks continue to influence American fashion in one way or another. Romantic icons such as the cowboy, the rebellious youth, and the rock star  also have deeply  influenced the design of American fashion.