Picturing the City: Fashion in New York City in the 19th & 20th Century

Ciara Greaney, 105674247.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. – Coco Chanel

New York City is arguably the fashion capital of the world. The heart of that industry is found in the Fashion District, a square mile where the majority of the city’s major fashion labels operate showrooms and execute the fashion process from design and production to wholesaling. No other city in the world has a comparable concentration of fashion businesses and talent in a single district.


Fashion & shopping began to have a huge influence on the city.

The early 20th Century saw the emergence of women’s fashion as we know it. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, memberships of women clubs increased immensely. We also saw women beginning to work outside the home and participate in sporting activities – clothes needed for these activities helped to push and modify existing styles. No longer are females interested in the restrictive styles of the past.

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“As this catalog from Koch & Co., a long closed 19th Century New York department store on 125th Street, shows, woman’s liberation didn’t come a moment too soon. Before they were even enfranchised, women and girls were tightly stitched from hair to toe.Imprisoned in their own bodies, these were what passed for liberating fashions in 1893 — just 120 years ago.”

Fashion tells us much more about the city than just what people are wearing. It tells us a story of politics, of revolutions, of modernity. The emerging modern woman tells the stories of her new-found liberties through her fashion choices. She is no longer restricted. She has the capacity to be as powerful as man. She is equal.

Modernity: Shop windows filled with colour and new ideas for a new people.

Paul Poiret, who became known in America as “The King of Fashion”, was the originator of fashion branding as we know it today. He was the first designer to sell a lifestyle – taking advantage of the growing media, hosting lavish parties and fashion shows, creating an image that people wanted to belong to. Even if you couldn’t afford the high-end clothing, you could buy the bag, hat, scarf or fragrance. He liberated women from the corset, introducing vibrant colour to the female wardrobe. We begin to see fashion and art merge.

Paul Poiret – “The King of Fashion”.

The social practice of fashion allows us to follow the move from traditional to new; the many representations of the female form and femininity & who we have become as women in the modern city.

20th Century Fashion magazine featuring the new functional wardrobe of the modern unrestricted female.








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