But as the century approached its midpoint, more and more respectable Americans started to buy their clothes off the rack. This was especially true of men whose clothes were loosely fitted and not subject to the volatility of fashion as that of women (Soyer, 2005). During the 1830s, the textile industry became more established in America and machine-made clothes were made available to average households.
The ready-made garment industry marked its beginning in America history in the early eighteenth century. The first clothing factory was established in 1831 in New York City. Ready-made clothing, however, remained a small part of the American garment production which was still dominated by home-made clothing. New York rapidly became the center for ready-made garment trade because of its regular shipping connections with southern states.
The Civil War brought in demand for soldier's uniforms and this increased production and led to the introduction of standardized sizes. This period also marked a substantial technical change in the mode of manufacture of garments. Sewing machines were introduced into the manufacturing sector and the shift moved from manual to machine labor. This important technical innovation also paved way for mass production of clothing in the industry.
Between 1880 and 1920, over 2 million Jews migrated to America to escape persecution in their home countries and to take advantage of the economic opportunities in America. Their skills as artisans and factory laborers became important assets in their adopted homeland. The sheer concentration of Jewish immigrants within the industry helped shape the American garment industry, especially in New York. From the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, the garment industry was the largest manufacturing industry in New York City. By 1900, Eastern European Jews constituted a majority of both workers and employers within the industry. One of the many accomplishments of the Jewish contractors was the priority given to ethnic ties in the industry, as they hired mostly members from their own community. The Jewish immigrants built the New York based garment business into a billion dollar industry.
By 1900, ready-made clothing was within reach of the average working family as well. Distribution was handled through a network of department stores and shops across the country. The stores offered a wide range of goods that catered to a broad spectrum of customers. Special sales, newspaper advertisements and window displays worked to entice customers. Mail order catalogues were introduced to reach customers in small towns (yumuseum.org).
Followed closely behind the Jews, in flooding the garment industry, were Italians, especially Italian women. On the one hand, they worked in large, modern shirtwaist factories and on the other, they made up approximately 98 percent of the home workers within the industry (Soyer, 2005).
The garment industry also played a crucial role in shaping the American labor movement. Many of the rights taken for granted by workers today were fought for by the garment unions. Concepts of such significance today, such as arbitration and collective bargaining, emerged out of the struggles of the then garment unions (yumuseum.org). By the second decade of the twentieth century, workers formed unions that became powerful forces within the indus