Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Seattle Clothing Industry, Explained By Cartoons

This week I was featured in a small section of the Seattle Times because I have a cool job. The online version is here, and it will be in print in the Sunday paper tomorrow. As I enjoy my last hours of anonymity (I assume that the "classified jobs section" is another term for "front page") I am bracing myself for all kinds of questions about how I got to be so amazing and cool and what the secret is of my success.

Me pictured with some adoring fans which I later discovered were inanimate objects
(Photo credit: MOHAI / Kathleen Knies)

Coincidentally, the Seattle Times actually IS one of the secrets of my success. Ever since I discovered that their paper was digitized from 1900 to the present and completely word searchable, my life has never been the same. The resource is free through the Seattle Public Library (with a library card), or for a fee through their website. In grad school I didn't know about the free access and so paid $20 for the all-you-can-download-for-24-hours option and spent the entire time pulling up every single reference to JDB. Nowadays I use it constantly for big research projects and quick lookups of donor names or labels I find in the collection.

This week I came across a delightful series about the fashion industry in Seattle which ran for five days in 1956. Each article was accompanied by a humorous cartoon illustrating some aspect of the story.

The second entry was titled "Tradition of Quality Established by Seattle Garment Makers." The author explains that while "today" (1956) you can have nearly any kind of clothing made in Seattle, the industry was founded on--and continues to specialize in--durable, functional clothing. "Down-filled equipment for Alaska, slicker wear for the commercial fishing industry and tough work clothes and boots for loggers." The point is illustrated by this cartoon: 

Seattle Times, Feb 6, 1956

Later, the topic turns to the details of the industry in Seattle. The article explains that one of the persistent problems is the small labor pool, but business owners stay here because they love the area. One brand exec spends too much time skiing at Steven's Pass to think of moving. Another admits she doesn't want to expand her business because she is an avid fisherwoman and wants time for leisure activities. And thus we get this wonderful cartoon:

Seattle Times, Feb 8, 1956

I love this. The New York/LA industry represented by an uptight guy in a suit, while Seattle is represented by a sport-loving woman. 

And then the final installment is titled "Casual Style Marks Seattle-Designed Clothing," and explains pretty much that. Seattle style is defined as part of the West Coast leaning toward casual looks, and designers emphasize how Seattle women demand practicality as well as fashion. As one designer puts it, "Women here want a skirt that will get them from a muddy driveway to the city and back for a weiner roast." A concept which the cartoonist depicts like this:

Seattle Times, Feb 9, 1956

Once again, wonderful. The treasures to be found in a digitized newspaper are ENDLESS. Just another reminder of how important it is to preserve historical resources and make them available to the public. Museums, libraries, and archives are important cultural institutions from which we all benefit. 

Couldn't resist.

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