New York Garment District, 1970s

Until the early 19th century, clothing was made at home and by hand.  But soon a modest clothing manufacturing operation was established in New York. Plantation owners ordered clothing from New York for enslaved people.  During the Civil War, the Union army ordered uniforms from New York.  After the invention of the sewing machine in the 1850s, the garment industry greatly expanded. New York was home to the industry for more than a century.

I was new to New York and to photography when, in the mid-1970s, I discovered the Garment District, an area roughly bounded by West 35th and 42nd streets between 7th and 9th avenues. In all seasons and all weather the streets were bustling with manual laborers pushing garment racks and loading trucks. Men in pin-striped suits and women in furs maneuvered among the workers on the street. To me, the Garment District was non-stop theatre.

Now, 40 years later, New York's Garment District is still there, but in name only.  Our clothes are made in third world countries where labor is cheap. Southeast Asia is the world's Garment District.  These photographs from the 1970s document a piece of New York City history.   Back to Series