Learn the Rich History of the Garment District

There is so much going on in the New York City fashion world that it’s easy to forget what a rich history it has. NYC’s Garment District is recognized in fashion circles around the world, but how many Americans really know about its origins and accomplishments?

1955: Men pulling racks of clothing on busy sidewalk in Garment District, New York City/World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna.

Running about a square mile from 35th to 41st streets, and between Fifth and Ninth Avenues, the Garment District was established in the 1880s and helped meet the demands for mass produced clothing. The area offered a large and talented labor force, as well as some extremely skilled designers.

The output and quality coming from the area quickly established it as a major force. By 1910, almost ¾ of women’s clothes sold in the United States originated from the Garment District. More than 100 factories cranked out product that was shipped everywhere and the area prospered for decades. However, by the 1980s, the influence of cheap overseas labor began to affect sales and the recent trend towards outsourcing hurt even more.

There’s a mix of fashion, tech, and real estate concerns nowadays, with less than 50% of the tenants making clothes. Thankfully, its main history as one of fashion’s preeminent hubs survived a recent attempt to rebrand the area. A new title might have better reflected the new industrial diversity, but it would also have robbed NYC of perhaps its greatest designer brand name. Best of all, thanks to a combination of factors, these manufacturers are enjoying a resurgence that should help guarantee the Garment District’s role in fashion for decades to come.

Interested in learning more of the Garment District’s history firsthand? Sign up for the Free Walking Tour. Hosted by Michael Kaback, who got his start there in 1965, the following dates are still available:

Sunday, November 19 @2PM
Thursday, December 14 @10AM
Friday, December 22 @10AM
Wednesday, January 3 @10AM
Sunday, January 21 @2PM
Sunday February 11 @2PM
Thursday, February 22 @10AM