Union-Made: Fashioning America in the Twentieth Century

Promoting the Union Label

it is very likely that hundreds—if not thousands—of individuals have labored to produce your clothes. While technological advances and machinery have accelerated the production process, the apparel industry remains labor-intensive. Ask yourself: Who are the people who make your clothes? What working conditions do they endure every day? Do they make a living wage?

Are you able to answer these questions?

The union label made it possible to answer these questions. Sewn into every union-made garment, the label was, according to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), “a symbol of decency, fair labor standards and the American way of life.” At the beginning of the 20th century, the United Garment Workers of America (UGWA) advertised the union label as a form of identification that could empower consumers to “discriminate against inferior, unclean, sweat-shop clothing.” Making the union label fashionable became increasingly important in the latter half of the 20th century as imports surged. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 95% of an American’s wardrobe in 1960 was manufactured in the United States; by the end of the 20th century, that number dropped to 29% and today hovers around 2%.

Video

"Hillary Rodham Clinton Promotes the Union label", New York City, March 6, 1996. Created by UNITE!. Nicole Miller sample room. Collection ID: 6000AVb10f016

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