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

  1. I like that you have a list of all the fall fashions, but I was wondering what you mean by camel hair...

    ReplyDelete
  2. 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.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Superb article very informative. I always like to see other peoples design process. Thanks for this
    website design New York City

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thank you for your response! Walking Off the Big Apple is accepting comments. Please be relevant to the content and do not solicit or engage in self-promotion. Thoughtful responses are welcome. Comments are moderated at all times.










Popular posts from this blog

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block. 
Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.  In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia University Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, at 1150 St. Nicholas Avenue, was the closest to the train stop. The Fort Washington Avenue Armory at 216 Ft. Washington Avenue is located a couple of blocks to the west.On Saturday, I …

A Daytime Walk on Broadway and the Theater in the Dark

On October 9, the Broadway League announced that the theater season has been postponed through May 2021, leaving Broadway dark for the winter and into the spring of next year. According to the press release, “Broadway performances were initially suspended due to COVID 19 on March 12, 2020. At that time, 31 productions were running, including 8 new shows in previews. Additionally, 8 productions were in rehearsals preparing to open in the spring.”It’s hard to imagine New York without the theater. Even a daytime walk along the way in the Theater District near Times Square will reveal that the theater, in terms of live performances with an audience, has gone dark. Without Broadway, that leaves visitors to Times Square with few options for general amusement. Many stores and restaurants have closed as well. The lights are still up and blazing. When the Empire State Building was left nearly empty during the Great Depression, just a few years after it opened, the building crew kept the lights…

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north. 
One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red. Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.  Still, October is a great time for a walk. Exploring the villages along the Hudson line may be accomplished on foot, and many cater to visitors with signs and maps indicating the village’s…

MoMA in Masks

Update. Beginning September 28, MoMA will require all members to reserve tickets in advance.*Walking into the gallery devoted to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (c 1920) at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Saturday afternoon, I saw a woman seated on a bench. She was looking at the artist’s dreamy depiction of his garden at Giverny, and I thought for a moment she might be dreaming as well. As she was the only person occupying what is usually a packed room for fans of Impressionism, I was hesitant to invade her private garden reveries.I would enjoy my own such private moments with my favorite MoMA works that afternoon, including Marc Chagall’s I and the Village (1911). The painting depicts a colorful and geometric fairy tale of peasants and animals, memories of the artist’s childhood home outside Vitebsk. And I had a long time to feel the scorching sun of photographer Dorothea Lange’s Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (1938), a setting closer to my hometown. Later I would sit in t…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

An Early Autumn Walk in Central Park: 2020 Edition

This week, the singer Diana Krall released a cover of “Autumn in New York,” the standard by Vernon Duke. An accompanying video, filmed in New York by Davis McCutcheon and directed by Mark Seliger, portrays the city in moody yet beautiful black and white tones. Beyond the lack of autumn colors, the film shows the empty streets of the pandemic city. The mood riffs on the underlying melancholy of the song’s lyrics, that the fall season “is often mingled with pain.”

When I think of autumn in New York, I automatically imagine walking in Central Park in the vivid colors of the season. The images here, from a meandering one-mile stroll this past Saturday, show only a hint of autumnal glory but reflect more conventional representations of both the season and the song. Yet, walking in Central Park at the beginning of autumn is tinged for me with a hint of sadness, or truthfully, with some anxiety about the coming months.

I hadn’t ventured into Central Park since before the pandemic. While I’ve b…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED October 10, 2020. Many favorite local destinations have now reopened. 

Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations   
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity.
• As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER.
• The 9/11 Memorial reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices.
• (update) Libraries: NYPL. The library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.
Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets. 
• The High Line reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entrance only at Gansevoort Street. See High Line website for details. 
The Bronx Zoo reopened July 20 fo…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

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 only. 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.
• The Metropolitan …

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…