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Fashion Industry: A Resource Guide

Historical Resources

Monday night shoppers at Woodward & Lothrop, 1965. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

We have included this section for those that want to look at the history of fashion as a business. Some of the titles included are more business focused, but those that aren't, should be helpful in providing context and contain information for those looking at the business end of the industry. This is just a small collection of titles, searching the Library's catalog will retrieve many more. Most of the resources are looking at the industry in the late 19th and 20th centuries. For those interested prior to that time, the 18th and 19th century saw the rise of female mantua makers. In the United States it might be helpful to look at places where the manufacture of clothing and fabric was a major business like New York City (think the Garment District) and Lowell, Massachusetts's textile mills.

If you are looking for any business in a particular location newspapers advertisements can be quite useful. Look for and search on the words merchant tailors, Mantu-makers (dressmakers), corset, and millinery/milliner (hats and other bits and bobs) in full-text databases. Also, it may be helpful for those studying the industry to research the founders, creative directors for companies, or the names of those who established business prior to the 20th century. This is particularly true if you are researching women of the industry or whose stories became more like Elizabeth Keckley who made clothing for Mary Todd Lincoln and other Black designers. Names include Charles Frederick Worth, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Donna Karen, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, etc.

If you are researching the history of men's fashions, look to the history of Savile Row in London and the history of firms like Henry Poole & Co., Huntsmen & Sons, Anderson & Sheppard, Gieves & Hawkes, etc.

We have not looked at individual components that would make up the modern industry that trace their history much farther back like the cloth trade (mercers), milliners, cobblers, undergarments, etc. Other aspects to look at which aren't specifically addressed here in detail are unions like the International Lady Garment Workers Union or the history of major department stores like Macy's, Garfinckel's, etc. and their role in the industry.

There will be a lot of articles in older periodicals that may be of interest. In the Fashion Magazines & Trade Literature page of this guide we have included some of the print sources for indexing of trade literature though databases will provide citations as well as full-text articles that are either from older literature or are current articles with historical perspective. If you are looking to understand and use the older print Census title at the Library of Congress, Business Reference has published U. S. Census Connections: A Resource Guide. If you are interesting in looking at fashion and the fashion business in newspapers the Headlines & Heroes blog from the Newspaper and Current Periodical Division has a post "Women's Fashion History Through Newspapers: 1921-1940."

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to online resources are included when available.


Directories are always a good source for understanding an industry. Older directories will be quite important for those doing historical research. We have just included a few, but there are others and often the can be specialized. You can find them by searching the catalog.