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Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or, In Praise of the Ladies Garment Workers Union

If you were a teenage immigrant in New York in the early 1900s, you might have worked in a dress shop. And if you worked in a dress shop, you would have worked nine-hour days, probably crammed into some moldy basement with locked doors and a complete dickhead for a boss who was likely also a mobster. You would make about $3 a week—about $77 in today’s world—but you wouldn’t be able to keep it all. Some of it you’d have to give back to your dickhead boss (who sometimes beat you) to pay for the thread Read More »

Bill Blass Gets Guns a’Blazing Angry about Fashion Piracy

Here’s a pretty cool follow up to Katrina’s history of fashion piracy from last week: A Bill Blass ad published on this day in 1964 that warns counterfitters just what they are up against if they try and knock off big, bad Bill Blass!

In the ad, two machine-gun toting models face the reader, while Blass stands in the background, Don Corleone–style. (And, um, this photo looks eerily similar to another image we’ve seen on this site.) The text underneath the image (you have to read it in Marlon Brando’s Sicilian accent for full effect) warns:

They can’t knock off Bill Blass.

Seventh Avenue gets away with murder. Somebody creates a hot design and bang, before he even gets it in the stores they knock it off. That’s why Bill Blass got himself some protection. The protection of exclusive fabrics nobody else can have. Of subtle Read More »

“We are Either All Creators or We are All Pirates and Thieves:” A Brief Look at the Long History of Fashion Piracy

On this day in 1966, The New York Times published an article exposing the illicit behavior of unscrupulous individuals who bribed, sneaked and transmitted unauthorized sketches and photographs of top-secret fashion designs from France to the United States. These fashion “pirates” poached on valuable assets and degraded the work of artists. They infiltrated the Parisian couture shows by bribing employees. They hid cameras and sketch pads under their jackets and sent their illegally obtained evidence back to Seventh Avenue and to those manufacturers determined to undermine the producers willing to pay for their line-for-line copies of Paris originals.

Hardly a new phenomenon but unknown to most American shoppers, the practice of “bumping-off” designs has existed since the early 20th century—if not earlier. In the 1930s, the Fashion Originators Guild was established in the United States to prevent copying, but was disbanded in 1941 by the U.S. Supreme Court because of methods deemed “an illegal boycott in restraint of trade.” Early in 1941, the National Retail Dry Goods Association voted to create a committee on design protection legislation. The importance and necessity of such measures disappeared during World War II, when fashion piracy was hardly a primary concern. (Not to mention the lack of materials and styles available to copy.) Read More »

Skirting the Law: Yet Another Ban on Miniskirts

I haven’t posted a story in reference to the history of the skirt in a while, but this item is too good to pass up. Yesterday the mayor of Castellammare di Stabia, a southern Italian resort town, “has ordered police officers to fine women who wear short miniskirts or show too much cleavage, as part of a battle to raise what he describes as the level of public decorum,” according to an article in the Guardian today.

Banning short skirts and arresting women for the length of their hemlines began long before the miniskirt was introduced in 1964, though Tunisia was the first country to ban the skirt altogether, soon followed by other African and Muslim nations, including Malawi, Madagascar and Swaziland. Twenty-six years later miniskirts were again outlawed in Swaziland in 2000 when it was believed that wearing them encouraged the spread of AIDS. Many men vocally defended the ban, vowing to rape any women they saw wearing miniskirts, saying, “They want to be raped and we’re giving them what they want.” The classic “they’re asking for it” theory often comes up when a skirt ban is on the books. One example is from 2006, when then South African deputy president Jacob Zuma allegedly raped a 31-year-old AIDS activist because she crossed her legs in a knee-length skirt, signaling her desire to be raped, according to Zuma. “In Zulu culture you can’t leave a woman when Read More »

Madrid’s Becomes the First Fashion Week to Say No to Skinny

I’m in pretty good shape, but I’m quite sure I wouldn’t stand a chance of beating Naomi Campbell in an arm-wrestling match—and I’d probably suffer a worse fate than bruised knuckles for even trying. On this day in 2006 though, even Naomi wouldn’t have been deemed fit and healthy enough to work during Madrid Fashion Week after organizers announced they were banning skinny models from the runways.

That year, the fashion world was grappling with the death of 22-year-old Uruguayan model Luisel Ramos, who died of heart failure after stepping off the runway at Montevideo’s fashion week on August 2, 2006. She was 5-foot-9, weighed 97 pounds, and had reportedly been living on lettuce and Diet Coke. Eating disorders were—and still are—rampant in the fashion industry; 20 to 40 percent of models are thought to have one. So the Spanish Association of Fashion Designers decided to do something about it. They established a requirement that all models who walked their runways have a Body Mass Index of at least 18, becoming the first fashion Read More »

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