American conservatism responded to the simplicity, versatility, and comfort of ready-to-wear clothing. As a nation, Americans did not have a long-standing history of social class differentiation from their British counterparts. In many parts of the country— particularly the Midwest and the growing suburban areas of the large cities—they adopted a more casual, traditionalist lifestyle.
In California, a relaxed ‘beach style’ evolved after the introduction of the Hawaiian shirt in 1946/47, together with Bermuda shorts, and the subsequent decline of business suits in favor of more ventilated and comfortable attire. New technologies resulting from the Second World War made it possible to utilize new, lightweight materials in garment manufacture.
Ralph Lauren, perhaps the number one American ready-to-wear designer, is a supreme stylist. Trained initially at Brookes Brothers, a traditional sartorial menswear establishment, he designed for clients who ‘did not want to stand out in a crowd’, but who wanted their clothing—based on simplistic styling and the use of fine fabric—to reflect good taste and upbringing.
The subtlety of this paradigm, based on ‘lifestyle’ or ‘concept’ dressing, underlined the success of many of the emerging designers in the 1970s and 1980s. Lauren launched his Polo menswear range in 1968, and three years later turned to tailored womenswear: shirts, blazers, and suits that appealed to businesswomen even though they resembled sportswear. He is often quoted as saying: ‘I stand for a look that is American.
Conglomerate corporations grew from the 1960s onwards. Many high-profile designers, including Klein, Karan, Kors, and Perry Ellis, amalgamated with numerous other companies to form giant international networks. Their distribution channels include regional, national, and international department stores, mass merchants, sports-related specialty stores, and corporate wear distributors throughout the world.
Many of these huge global conglomerates developed from humble beginnings. For example, a relatively unknown businessman named George Feldenkraus started a small apparel wholesale company called Supreme International in 1967 as an importer of guayabera shirts—a pleated, four-pocket shirt favored by Hispanic men. The company expanded rapidly, and by the late 1990s had acquired companies including Penguin, Crossings and Perry Ellis, who had established his classic American sportswear in 1978.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, the fashion system had changed profoundly. The ‘global village’ first mooted in the 1960s by Marshall McLuhan, 14 a Canadian philosopher and writer, had become a reality. With increased technological communication systems, the world increasingly became a smaller place, where shared ideologies grew, a consumer culture dominated and social belonging no longer adhered to the concept of clothing as an identifying signifier.
Clearly, this homogenization of style did not allow for individual differences, regional biases, or cultural flavor; instead, it promoted a uniformity of thinking and taste. But by creating a global aesthetic, global fashion ultimately undermined individual and cultural differences.
These huge global corporate conglomerates license 12 of their proprietary brands to third parties for the manufacture and marketing of various products—footwear, fragrance, underwear, activewear, loungewear, and outerwear. In terms of marketing, these licensing arrangements raise the overall awareness of the brands.
They use highly sophisticated ‘family of brands’ promotions to develop and enhance a distinct brand, styling, and a pricing strategy for each product category within each distribution channel. They target consumers of specific ages, incomes,s and ethnic groups. This globalization of fashion has impacted the apparel sector in America, as well as other countries, in four major ways.