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Mass production was key to affordable ready-to-wear clothing. Multiple copies of each piece of a garment were cut to patterns from stacks of fabric. As early as the 1890s, electric saws replaced long cutting knives (which had replaced scissors in the 1870s).

Cutting stacks of fabric, about 1920

Cutting stacks of fabric, about 1920

“The more work [that] can be done, [and] the cheaper it can be done by means of machines—the greater will be the demand.”

–The New York Tribune, 1850, predicting the future impact of mechanization on clothing sales.

Cloth-cutting machine for cutting stacks of fabric, 1920s

Cloth-cutting machine for cutting stacks of fabric, 1920s

Gift of U.S. Cloth Cutting Machine Co., Inc. 

Singer sewing machine, 1920s

Singer sewing machine, 1920s

Patent for cloth-cutting machine

Patent for cloth-cutting machine

Because lighter-weight fabrics were easier to cut, the clothing industry abandoned heavier fabrics and designers reconsidered traditional styles.

Garment workers in Chicago, 1922

Garment workers in Chicago, 1922

Sewing machine operators stitched together the cut pieces of fabric. In a division of labor, each worker assembled only a specific portion of a garment.