Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work: A Century of Industry and Immigrants in Paris and New York

Duke University Press
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Nancy L. Green offers a critical and lively look at New York’s Seventh Avenue and the Parisian Sentier in this first comparative study of the two historical centers of the women’s garment industry. Torn between mass production and "art," this industry is one of the few manufactauring sectors left in the service-centered cities of today. Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work tells the story of urban growth, the politics of labor, and the relationships among the many immigrant groups who have come to work the sewing machines over the last century.
Green focuses on issues of fashion and fabrication as they involve both the production and consumption of clothing. Traditionally, much of the urban garment industry has been organized around small workshops and flexible homework, and Green emphasizes the effect this labor organization had on the men and mostly women who have sewn the garments. Whether considering the immigrant Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Chinese in New York or the Chinese-Cambodians, Turks, Armenians, and Russian, Polish, and Tunisian Jews in Paris, she outlines similarities of social experience in the shops and the unions, while allowing the voices of the workers, in all their diversity to be heard.
A provocative examination of gender and ethnicity, historical conflict and consensus, and notions of class and cultural difference, Ready-to-Wear and Ready-to-Work breaks new ground in the methodology of comparative history.
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About the author

Nancy L. Green is Professor of History at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jan 16, 1997
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Pages
446
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ISBN
9780822382744
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / General
Design / Fashion & Accessories
History / United States / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Few issues attracted more attention in the nineteenth century than the "problem" of women's work, and few industries posed that problem more urgently than the booming garment industry in Paris. The seamstress represented the quintessential "working girl," and the sewing machine the icon of "modern" femininity. The intense speculation and worry that swirled around both helped define many issues of gender and labor that concern us today. Here Judith Coffin presents a fascinating history of the Parisian garment industry, from the unraveling of the guilds in the late 1700s to the first minimum-wage bill in 1915. She explores how issues related to working women took shape and how gender became fundamental to the modern social division of labor and our understanding of it.

Combining the social history of women's labor and the intellectual history of nineteenth-century social science and political economy, Coffin sets many questions in their fullest cultural context: What constituted "women's" work? Did women belong in the industrial labor force? Why was women's work equated with low pay? Should not a woman enjoy status as an enlightened homemaker/consumer? The author examines patterns of consumption as well as production, setting out, for example, the links among the newly invented sewing machine, changes in the labor force, and the development of advertising, with its shifting and often unsettling visual representations of women, labor, and machinery. Throughout, Coffin challenges the conventional categories of work, home, and women's identity.

Originally published in 1996.

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