Saturday, January 31, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Garment Shops on the LES

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.

Where did Harris Levine get the pattern and fabric he needed to sew the dresses produced in his garment shop at 97 Orchard Street at the turn of the century? Who supplied all of the necessary materials?

During the late 19th century, manufacturers in New York’s burgeoning garment industry were responsible for designing, cutting, and marketing garments. One manufacturer on the Lower East Side was Jacob Vogelmann. During the 1890s, he operated a shop at 264 Broome, between Allen and Orchard Street, where there is a tailor shop today. In 1904, Vogelmann served as a witness to Harris Levine’s naturalization petition. He might have designed the garments, cut the cloth, and subcontracted the pieces out to be assembled by subcontractors like Harris Levine of 97 Orchard Street.

Both manufacturers and subcontractors working in the Lower East Side’s the turn-of-the twentieth century garment industry were likely to be immigrants and tenement dwellers. Subcontractors like Harris Levine lived in tenement apartments and competed for the contracts that Vogelmann and other manufacturers offered. Without money to rent a separate space for their businesses, they transformed their kitchens and living rooms into small garment shops. Many hired their neighbors and/or family members to help with the sewing. The contracts usually went to the shops that could sew quickly, cheaply, and without making mistakes.

(The Levine family story is told on the Piecing it Together tour; read more here.)

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