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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 »

Fashion Meets Music: An Interview with Triangle Shirtwaist Commemorator, Musician Jim Kuemmerle

Salt Lake City–based musician Jim Kuemmerle makes music with social justice at its heart. The jazz composer, pianist and accordion player has spent the past year composing and recording a 10-track album to honor and commemorate the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—a tragedy on March 25, 1911, that claimed the lives of 146 workers in the garment district of New York City and led to an uprising in the workers’ rights movement in the United States—and raise awareness of the unacceptable conditions still in existence today. Kuemmerle’s Triangle Shirtwaist Jazz Project, an instrumental jazz album, stems from an interest in the larger story of the victims and heroes of the tragedy that had been lying dormant since he was in Read More »

Bust Out the Gold Needles: New York Poises for Fashion Dominance

On July 7, 1941, a ceremony and fashion show was held on the steps of City Hall showcasing 25 of New York’s “prettiest needleworkers” sewing inaugural “New York Creation” labels on 25 award-winning garments. The young women threaded gold needles and pressed their feet on the pedals, marking the first of what would be hundreds, if not thousands, of promotional campaigns encouraging shoppers to wear clothes “Made in the U.S.A.”

These were the World War II years, a rocky time for international fashion. For decades any fashionista worth her Worth knew that Europe, particularly Paris, was “the only place for mode,” as the saying went at the time. But Europe was under siege, and many design houses were struggling to stay afloat. Gabrielle Coco Chanel, deep in an affair with a German officer and working as a spy for the Nazis, closed her fashion house in 1939, saying that wartime was not the time for fashion. Mandatory fabric rations swept across the continent, making it impossible Read More »

New York Sweatshops Meet their Match

On June 3, 1900, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was founded.

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, Read More »

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