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In This Series, We Examine Modern Fashion Industry


Back in 2005, the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City introduced the exhibit “A Perfect Fit: Garment Industry & American Jewry: 1860-1960”. In a press release for the exhibit, they claimed:

The very fabric of American culture cannot be fully understood without an appreciation of the role that the garment industry has played in our history.  To understand the schmatte business or rag trade, as it is playfully called, one must realize the role American Jews have played in designing, altering and literally stitching together the whole business.”

Further explaining these Jewish influenced, the press release wrote that:

“Together they fashioned an industry that helped propel the American economy as it launched the livelihood of tens of thousands of American Jews.”

The modern fashion industry has transformed society and spread American influences around the world.

In early America though, most people wore hand-sewn clothes made at home.

During the industrial revolution though, the invention of sewing machine began the mass production of clothing.

In the Jewish Virtual Library, Johanna Neuman wrote the article “From Ghetto to Glamour: How Jews Re-designed the Fashion Business”. She explained that during this period:

“Jewish immigrants – rushed to capitalize on the opportunity. The country was on the move, expanding South and West in a migration of people and commerce that gave new definition to the term pioneer and new weight to the gods of convenience.”

Neuman claims that by “by the turn of the century, 60% of all the Jews employed in New York made their living in the garment industry. It was one of those paradigm-shifting moments in history.”jewishclothingfactory

By 1900, most clothing was still produced within the home.

However, many Americans began to purchase some of their formal clothing.

Jews role in the fashion industry allowed them to shape and influence modern American culture. According to Neuman, these jobs were more than “just to earn a living but to re-invent themselves”:

“Here was a country where image was king, where even if you spoke no English you could look the part, where a newcomer could go from Yid to Yankee just by changing clothes.”

As the American fashion industry grew, Neuman claims:

“Jews were involved in every aspect of clothing – from the supply end to the retail world, from the sweatshops and manufacturing to the department stores and the advertising. Corporate America still maintained a strong glass ceiling – the Gentlemen’s Agreement barred entry into fields like medicine and the law – but in the schmatte business, the only ceiling was creativity and sweat equity, savvy and timing.”

In 1917, Jewish author Abraham Cahan wrote “The Rise Of David Levinsky” about a Jewish immigrants arriving in America. In the novel, Cahan wrote:

“I was forever watching and striving to imitate the dress and the ways of the well-bred American merchants with whom I was, or trying to be, thrown. All this, I felt, was an essential element in achieving business success.”

In other words, these Jews understood the connection between clothing and culture. Their initial goal was to exploit the fashion industry for a financial profit.

Although the Jewish factory owners were earning profits, there had been various setbacks along the way. Most notably, the Triangle Factory Fire Scandal of 1911.


Jewish businessmen Max Blanck and Isaac Harris owned the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan, New York. It was a sweatshop that employed around 500 young immigrant women. They worked for nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays, earning between $7 and $12 a week.

On March 25 of 1911, a large fire broke out in the factory. These women tried to escape but the doors to the stairwells and exits were locked. In all, 146 women died and was the largest industrial disaster in the history of New York City.

Gradually, new safety regulations were implemented and wage laws were introduced. (However, clothing producers have moved their factories to other countries to avoid these legal restrictions…)

Despite these factors, the fashion industry continued to expand in America. Cahan actually claimed Jewish immigrants had created American fashion:

“Foreigners ourselves, and mostly unable to speak English, we had Americanized the system of providing clothes for the American woman of moderate or humble means. . . The average American woman is the best-dressed woman in the world, and the Russian Jew has had a good deal to do with making her one.”

Gabriel Goldstein, a fashion expert from Yeshiva University claimed that:

“Every Bar Mitzvah became a garment industry convention. The calendar was marked by the High Holidays and Fashion Week.”

However. most Americans still continued to wear clothes produced at home. Christina Binkley, the fashion columnist from the New York Times claimed that  “Before the war, even into the 1950s, people made their own clothes or clothes for their kids.”

The fashion industry exploded after World War II. Neuman claims that “with the post-war boom in manufacturing, ready-to-wear transformed the landscape, and the hunt was on for an engine of design to drive sales.”EdwardBernaysjewish

This “engine of design to drive sales” was created by a Jewish marketing executive named Edward Bernays. He is recognized as “the father of public relations” and created modern marketing.

In 1928, Bernays wrote his book “Propaganda”, which explained his strategy. In this book, he claimed:

“We are dominated by the relatively small number of persons – a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million – who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.”

Bernays also wrote that America was ruled by a group of “invisible governors,” filled with marketing executives like Bernays, who “pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”

In “Libido Dominandi”, Catholic author E. Michael Jones explained:

Mass marketing, as Eddie Bernays realized, was an all-or-nothing proposition. It meant replacing one set of values- ethnic, traditional, religious – with another – impulsive, suggestible, “scientific.” It meant, in other words, the erosion of traditional societies by Mass-media and the substitution of local products by national brand names.”

These “national brand names” are the foundation of the modern fashion industry.

Jewish fashion designers use marketing to promote modern clothing styles.

Many Americans define themselves by the company they buy their clothing from.

Therefore, Jett and Jahn Media created the “Jewish Clothing Styles & Modern Fashion” Series to examine (in their own words) “the role American Jews have played in designing, altering and literally stitching together the whole business.”


Check back for future articles in the “Jewish Clothing Styles & Modern Fashion” series:

Introduction: JnJ Presents “Jewish Clothing Styles & Modern Fashion” Series
Jacob W. Davis Invents Denim Pants (Jeans)
Levi’s Jeans: Levi Strauss
Adrian Greenberg & Fashion In Movies
Macy’s Inc: Fred Lazarus Jr.
The Timberland Company: Nathan Swartz
T.J. Maxx: Max & Morris Feldberg
Judith Leiber Creates Luxury Handbags
Diane von Furstenberg Invents Wrap Dress
Polo Ralph Lauren: Ralph Lifshitz
Calvin Klein: Calvin Klein
The Gap & Banana Republic: Donald Fisher
Men’s Wearhouse: George Zimmer
American Eagle Outfitters: Jerry & Mark Silverman
Guess Clothing: Paul Marciano
Kenneth Cole Productions: Kenneth Cole
DKNY: Donna Karan
Ecko Unltd: Marc Milecofsky
Juicy Couture: Pamela Skaist-Levy & Gela Nash Taylor
Conclusion: Homosexual Jews & Modern Fashion

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