A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry, 1800-1960

Texas Tech University Press  2012

 

Coffee table books are generally handsome but not often scholarly. This beautiful and erudite book is an exception. A Perfect Fit: The Garment Industry and American Jewry, 1800-1960, is a well researched study of the Jewish role in the garment industry illustrated by exquisite photographs of designer dresses, accessories, fashion magazine advertisements, and of the fashion celebrities themselves. Accompanying the photographs are thirteen lively articles written by distinguished historians of Jewish life and Jewish decorative arts, design, and material culture.

Jews worked in every aspect of the clothing industry, from tailors, seamstresses, and cutters to designers, manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, and of course union organizers and labor leaders. Jewish involvement in the trade dates back to the early 1800s. Most of the 200,000 German Jews who immigrated to the United States between 1825 and 1875 became dry goods peddlers and small shopkeepers all over the South and West as well as in the Northeast. Many of these small shopkeepers transformed themselves into clothing manufacturers with the invention of the sewing machine in 1846 and the growing demand for soldier uniforms for the Northern and Southern armies in the Civil War. These same entrepreneurial manufacturers built the new “ready-to-wear” clothing industry that arose with the increasing demand for attractive, affordable work clothes, needed by the men and women who filled the expanding shops, offices, and factories in the late nineteenth century. The arrival of millions of East European Jews in the 1880s provided a ready and willing work force to design, cut, sew, sell, and market the clothes all over the United States and Paris and London. In addition, it was former garment industry executives who used their money, along with their production and promotional skills, to create Hollywood and movie stars.

It is impossible to do full justice in a brief review to the breadth and depth of this beautiful, scholarly study of Jewish involvement in the multi-billion dollar world of fashion. Bibliography, index, notes, photos.



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