Columbus Fashion Foundations: Dressmakers, Tailors, Manufacturers and Merchants
Columbus began as a town on the edge of the frontier in 1812 and for all intents and purposes was considered rural for the first 50 years of its existence. It was only after the U.S. Civil War 1861-64, that the United States experienced tremendous growth and rapid industrialization, Columbus included. By the 1890s, Columbus’ population had almost quadrupled. Improvements in communication and rail transportation created a national marketplace that could be fed not only by agricultural products, but by the factory-produced goods made in the city. Columbus was the nation’s buggy and shoe capital and with its central location within the United States, Columbus had the advantage of being a prime distribution center for those goods.
Clothing throughout most of the nineteenth century was predominantly custom made, not bought already-made and available in multiple sizes on racks in a clothing store. Male tailors made men’s and boy’s apparel, which was purchased from a ‘merchant’ tailor, a ‘gent’s furnishings’ shop, or a ‘clothier.’ Female dressmakers and milliners created gowns and hats for ladies and girls. Dry Goods establishments sold the fabrics, trims and buttons necessary to create the clothing, and later in the century they also sold the ready-made clothing that was becoming more and more prevalent. Coats, underwear, simple skirts and shirtwaists were clothing items available from dry goods merchants. Each type of fashion manufacturer and retailer was represented in Columbus.
The Columbus city directory from 1852 lists 11 dressmakers, 8 milliners (hat makers) 13 merchant tailors/men’s clothing shops 22 boot and shoemakers/shops and 21 retail dry goods merchants. These numbers steadily grew throughout the second half of the century, along with Columbus population. The number of dressmakers reached an all-time high of 350 in 1895, compared to 111 manufacturers/sellers of men’s and boy’s clothing. Using the city’s population of 88,150 persons in 1890, 350 dressmakers represents one dressmaker for every 250 people living in Columbus. With these numbers, not every woman was making her own clothes at home for her and her family; some were having outside help.