The nineteenth century was the beginning of America's influence in global fashion. This was propelled by extensive industrial and economic growth as well as growing levels of literacy. Increased opportunities in different sectors, notably in New York, also contributed to American fashion progress. Although most of the fashion products retailed in New York at this time were imported from France and the rest of Europe, American fashion consumers developed sophisticated tastes from extensive travels and cultural influence. The introduction of fashion magazines such as Godey's Lady's Book in 1837 also significantly influenced the fashion development of America.
Additional influencing factors of fashion growth include the expansion of the American middle class and their increased wealth. Also, the invention of the sewing machine and the creation of paper dress patterns established a means of copying the styles of Parisian and London women. In addition, other machines that could create patterns, covered buttons and embroidery were invented and adopted by dressmakers, contributing to the rise of the ready-to-wear market. Further progress was made in mass production techniques making ready-to-wear goods widely adopted in New York between the 1860s and 1890s. The fashion public also embraced ready-to-wear fashion as a result of the simplicity of the American lifestyle, which was different from the prevalent European aristocratic opulence. However, European imports remained perceived as more superior and sought after throughout the century.
All through the nineteenth century, the American fashion public, however, continued to favour the French style. As a result, wealthy members of society imported their fashion goods from France while the rest of the population relied on New York to produce 'copies' of the French style. This factor also contributed to the rise of New York as the centre of business and fashion for those who could not travel to Paris. By the middle of the nineteenth century, New York stores like A.T. Stewart, founded around 1875, offered custom-made clothes and fitted ready-to-wear replicas of French fashion.
Several fashion retail innovations were also developed in America during the nineteenth century. Notable among these are the concept of 'Opening Days', which were special days when the designs of the next fashion season were shown. This can be likened to today's pre-collection shows. Another retail innovation of this period was the introduction of the decorative window display at retail stores, which remains a prevalent aspect of luxury fashion retailing.
The American fashion advancement of the nineteenth century also extended to the emergence of other luxury fashion departmental stores in New York, that continue to exist today. Notable among them are Lord & Taylor, which began in 1852; R.H. Macy, currently known as Macy's, which started in 1878; and Brooks Brothers and Hearn. The fashion retail industry and competitive levels in New York grew rapidly during this century. The concept of retail 'cathedrals' also materialized during this period with the introduction of A.T. Stewart's elaborately decorated $3 million New York store in 1862, which occupied five storeys and two basements. The store also had continuous organ music and its clients included the first lady at the time, Mary Todd Lincoln.
By the end of this decade, America's prestigious retail locations like New York's Fifth Avenue could be compared with Paris' Rue de la Paix and Rue Saint Honoré and London's Regent Street. The American luxury departmental stores retailed both imported and homemade fashion goods. The stores also contributed to the growth in acceptance of indigenous American dressmakers, milliners and fashion designers. Although this century did not produce an American designer who attained international recognition, it paved the way for the success of the designers of the next century. By the end of the nineteenth century, the American fashion scene had evolved to a level of international standing.
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