U.S. fashion industry’s history is steeped in labor unions

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Labor Day has more to do with fashion than the old-school rule that it’s the last time to wear white until next year.

In fact, the industry owes much of its evolution — particularly in the 20th century — to the social, economic and creative accomplishments of labor unions and their members, a legacy that lives on today through vintage apparel, archival material and other U.S. fashion sectors.

For Marissa Vogel, a Pittsburgh-based curator/seller of vintage lingerie and loungewear, the contributions of labor unions are never far from her fingertips. When she sells her finds on Etsy.com or shows them off on Instagram, she’s always sure to point out the union label and craftsmanship. Given her focus on women’s clothing, she’s learned a lot over the years about the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which was founded in 1900 and at its height had more than 400,000 members. It merged with another union in the 1990s.

Looking at vintage garments, “you can just tell people were so knowledgeable about what they were doing and how they were doing it,” says Ms. Vogel, who ran the vintage shop Calligramme in Lawrenceville from 2014 to 2018 before shifting to selling exclusively online.

“People who were working in the industry were building up their skills and they had a place to be creative with it. They came up with these unique styles,” she said.

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