Skip to main content

Fall Fashion 2009 Edition: Walking By the Yard in New York's Garment District, Crimes of Fashion, and Fall Fashion Trends

While no longer a bustling center of manufacturing, New York's Garment District between Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Streets and Fifth to Ninth Avenues still hums with fabric stores, machine shops, specialty notion stores, and showrooms catering to the fashion and theatrical trades. Shoppers for domestic and imported fabrics or silk or lace or even spandex explore the streets of the neighborhood, variably called the Fashion District, for particularly good deals from suppliers. Students of fashion, like the aspiring designers enrolled at Parsons or the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), roam the stores in search of swatches for projects. Maybe one day their names will be as acclaimed as those honored along the Fashion walk of fame on Seventh Avenue - among them, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Halston, Marc Jacobs, Anne Klein, Perry Ellis, Oscar Del La Renta, and Giorgio Di Sant’ Angelo. With the right fabric, Project Runway is in their future.

A good place to begin a walk through the Garment District is on the NE corner of W. 39th St. and Seventh Avenue. In addition to picking up information at the Fashion Center Business Improvement kiosk (official site), look at the oversize needle threading a button and the bronze sculpture of the garment worker sitting at a sewing machine. Walk north and wander west along 40th Street to browse a large selection of fabric in NY Elegant Fabrics or for wedding lace in Sposabella. Wander down W. 39th Street and look for buttons, sewing and knitting supplies in Vardhman. Nearby, Beckenstein Fashion Fabric carries on its legacy from its Lower East Side Orchard Street origins, providing high quality fabrics for men's wear. Look for sewing notions at Steinlauf & Stoller Inc. At Hecht Sewing Machine & Motor Co., the long-standing family-owned business in the Garment District can repair any sort of sewing machine. Many of these businesses reveal the heritage of early 20th century garment workers, especially Eastern European Jews and Italian immigrants. Today, workers in the garment trades are more likely to come from Central America, Asia, and the Caribbean. Stop in for a drink at Stitch's, a nicely tailored bar, or have lunch at Ben's, an old-school deli that recalls the days of an older New York.





View New York's Garment District in a larger map

The Garment Industry in New York: Tragedies, Crime, and Economic Decline

Occasionally, down in my Village neighborhood, someone will ask me for directions to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building, the site of the horrific fire that killed 146 garment workers on March 25, 1911. At the time of the fire, the building at 23-29 Washington Place, a block east of Washington Square Park, housed a factory that made women's blouses and employed 600 workers, most of them immigrant women and many of them quite young. They worked long shifts and were paid low wages. When the fatal fire broke out in the factory, seamstresses on the ninth floor found one staircase full of smoke and flames, and the other exit door was locked. Many jumped to their deaths. The shame of the working conditions revealed in the tragedy helped spur growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (now part of UNITE, Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees). Complaints about substandard labor conditions in New York still keep investigators busy today, with many new complaints coming from older neighborhoods downtown or in Long Island City in Queens (see this news story from Crain's New York.).

Sweatshop conditions and exploitation of immigrant labor are only part of the industry's unfortunate history. By the 1920s organized crime took hold in the Garment District, and in the 1950s, the Gambino crime family started controlling the trucking companies that served the district. By the 1980s, Gambino's control was so pervasive that many companies could not afford to do business in the area. In more recent decades, the shift to overseas factory production coupled with rising Manhattan rents has contributed to an overall decline of the district. A recent article from The New York Times characterized the area as "in danger of extinction," noting new efforts to save the district by consolidating businesses in specially designated buildings. If New York is to remain a fashion capital, many workers in the fashion industry argue that they need to keep the suppliers nearby. (See NYT, "New York Seeks to Consolidate Its Garment District," Aug. 19, 2009.)

Fashion Week

The two seasonal events known as Fashion Week (one in September, the other in February) publicize the importance of the fashion industry in the overall economy of New York, the second largest after finance. Considering what has happened to finance, industry leaders in fashion naturally worry about the effects of a prolonged recession. On top on the agenda is creating a more optimistic consumer, and if the traditional advertising strategies of manufacturing desire do not work, an argument about saving jobs just might. The language on the website for Fashion's Night Out (official site), a multi-venue public event scheduled for the evening of September 10, 2009 and sponsored by American Vogue, NYC & Company, the City of New York, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, makes this argument clear. And, as merchants reminded me during my walk through the Garment District, there's a critical symbiotic relationship between the Garment District and the nearby Theatre District.

So, finally, what must we wear this fall? Synthesizing the fall fashion previews, I think the following list about covers it (so to speak) - short biker jackets, party outfits from the 1980s, layers, pinstripes and camel hair, tights & leggings with shorts, tailored skinny jeans, layers of gray and black, revealing shoulders (preferably one), short velvet dresses, shoulder pads, tall boots, neon pink and chartreuse dress, and something in brick red. For men, the list is shorter - classic shapes, dark shades and suits. Think Don Draper of Mad Men. If you're ever in doubt as to what to wear in New York, my advice is to go for the classic tailored look, in whatever shade of black you prefer.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple: top, window, NY Elegant Fabrics, W. 40th St., middle, "The Garment Worker," 1984 (info at Smithsonian) by artist Judith Weller near corner of W. 39th and 7th Ave., and bottom, window, Invisiwig, W. 36th St.

• For more information about garment workers and labor history in New York, please see the NYU's Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives' New York City Labor History Map.

• Read about one West Village designer's efforts to keep the work within the Garment District in "Made in New York," by Adrianne Pasquarelli, Crain's New York Business, Sept. 6, 2009.

• To read more about the individual businesses described in this walk, please read my list on Metrotwin titled "Fabricating Fashion: New York's Garment District."

Please read the follow-up post, My One-Night Stand With Fashion, for a report on my experience at Fashion's Night Out.

Comments

Women's Fashion said…
I like that you have a list of all the fall fashions, but I was wondering what you mean by camel hair...
Teri Tynes said…
That's a good question. In matters of fashion, I have no idea what I'm talking about. I think I meant the general color of a camel hair garment.
vineshkumar said…
Superb article very informative. I always like to see other peoples design process. Thanks for this
website design New York City

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

Places from The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath's New York, and a Map

After her long night with her friend Doreen and Lenny the DJ, Esther Greenwood, the protagonist of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar , decides to walk back home to her hotel, the Amazon, and pulls a New York street map out of her pocket. Calculating she was "exactly forty-three blocks by five blocks away" from her hotel, she sets out on foot uptown. (p. 15 Bantam Windstone paperback edition, 1981) If the Amazon is based on the Barbizon Hotel at Lexington and 63rd, then her starting point could have been around 20th and 8th Avenue (or, even possibly, uptown on the Upper West Side). I don't think Plath intended this to be precisely autobiographical. A walk from the Village to anywhere around Lexington and 63rd would make a nice hike, probably in the neighborhood of 3.5 miles. In a real life incident from June of 1953, Plath tried to track down poet Dylan Thomas outside his favorite bar, probably the White Horse Tavern on Hudson (marked on the map), and she could have walke

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on East 52nd Street

"-S'il vous plaît… dessine-moi un mouton!" Like many others, I learned French in school by reading  Le Petit Prince,  the charming and thoughtful story written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. So I was delighted, even in a child-like way, to come upon a charmer of a building, 3 East 52nd Street, and to see on the exterior a plaque honoring the French author and aviator. According to Christopher Gray, in an April 2001 NYT Streetscapes article about the building , the organization La Section Americaine du Souvenir Francais put up this plaque memorializing Saint-Exupery. It's not where he lived, as I shall explain. During the early years of WWII, from January 1941 and April 1943, the writer lived much of the time in a penthouse at 240 Central Park South and in a rented mansion in the village of Asharoken on the north shore of Long Island. He also spent some time in Quebec City. He wrote The Little Prince in the Long Island mansion during the summer a