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Why New York?

The design, manufacture, and marketing of ready-to-wear clothing was New York City's dominant industry from the early 20th century through the 1950s, both in terms both of numbers employed and in the value of articles produced. At one time, three-quarters of the clothing worn by American women and children was made in New York, largely in the small area between Sixth and Ninth Avenues, 35th to 41st Streets. These are the traditional boundaries of the Garment District.

Why did New York City dominate this industry? From the early 19th century, the city's location on one of the world's great natural harbors and its development into a hub for canal, rail, and road systems were key factors. Raw materials and manufactured goods - such as wool, cotton, and silk fabrics, furs, buttons, and thread could easily flow into the city, while finished dresses, coats, blouses and other goods were efficiently shipped from the city's factories and showrooms on boats, trains and, later, trucks to department and dry goods stores across the continent. The harbor was also the gateway to the immigrants who not only dominated the garment industry's labor force, but also owned the factories, and designed and built the lofts where garments were manufactured.

By the mid-19th century, New York had also become the arbiter of culture and fashion for the nation, with its garment manufacturers, designers, and publishers of popular fashion magazines, such as Godey's Ladies Book, Harper's Bazzar, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, introducing the latest fashions to women across the continent. By the first years of the 20th century, New York City was unquestionably the fashion capital of America.