From the advent of the automobile to the approval of NAFTA to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the current impact of the Great Recession, WWD has kept readers up to speed about the changing face of America and the world, and its relation to the many facets of fashion. After more than 15 million of Henry Ford’s Model T cars were sold in 1908, the newspaper, in its earliest years, kept readers informed about “motoring fashions” such as dusters and veiled hats.
As World War I pushed American women into the workforce as ambulance drivers, assembly line workers, streetcar conductors and other traditionally male-oriented roles, WWD reported on how functional clothing for freedom of movement was taking hold.
On the heels of the Great Depression, World War II saw women head back to the workplace, and the dress code become even more practical. WWD noted that the kerchiefs worn to keep hair from getting caught in machinery by Rosie the Riveter, the poster girl for women working for the war effort, set off a fashion trend across the country.
The paper also reported that women were turning in their silk hosiery to be recycled for parachutes. Along with nylons, rationing was in order for food, fuel and fashion—and one result was slim skirts that didn’t use a lot of fabric.
Before the war, American manufacturers frequently traveled to Europe on ships like the SS Normandie—aka “the Seventh Avenue Shuttle”—to get inspiration from the fashion houses of Paris. However, with ocean liners being converted into troop ships, transatlantic voyages were curtailed. Unable to rely on the French for direction, Hattie Carnegie, Norman Norell, Adele Simpson, Claire McCardell and other U.S. designers stepped up, ushering in an era of American style and heralding clothes for an active young woman: sportswear.
In the Fifties, WWD highlighted merrier matters, such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and Grace Kelly’s fairy-tale wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
WWD avidly followed Mrs. Kennedy during and after her White House years, as well as the Civil Rights struggles, the Women’s Movement and the start of the Vietnam War, which sparked a youthquake, making hippie style the norm for most Americans under the age of 30 by the decade’s close. In the summer of ’69, WWD featured Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic first steps on the moon on page one, as it speculated about space-age style and fashions of the future, and also sent a reporter to upstate New York for the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, which one police officer on the scene described as “a drug convention, not a music festival.” The day before mayhem overtook the tiny hamlet, WWD got the scoop that the event’s expected headliner, Bob Dylan, was spotted aboard the Queen Elizabeth en route to the Isle of Wight.
By the early Seventies, much of the news centered on how the recession and energy crisis were chipping away at the fashion industry’s sales and union membership. There was no shortage of reports of factory jobs heading overseas as manufacturers sought cheaper sourcing.
Fast-forward to the fashion-hungry Eighties, when Nancy Reagan’s high-spending White House ways epitomized the decade’s decadence. WWD followed the freewheeling wives of Wall Street titans who had made fortunes in mergers, acquisitions and leveraged buyouts, dubbing the likes of Susan Gutfreund, Anne Bass and Carolyne Roehm the “social cyclones.” All the self-indulgence stopped short on October 19, 1987—Black Monday—when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dove 508.32 points, a 22 percent decline.
The Nineties did not bring just the reign of supermodels; it also provided the North American Free Trade Agreement, making the continent a virtual free-trade zone, an issue that importers and domestic textile producers still wrestle with today.
WWD detailed how the industry—around the globe—was dealing with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the very next day, despite having jammed phone lines and limited electrical power in the newsroom. Not only did the event cut short New York Fashion Week, leaving thousands of out-of-town buyers stranded, but the impact on the overall economy was detailed for weeks, months and even years afterward.
As globalization has taken hold in the past decade, WWD’s pages have become increasingly packed with stories about China being “the world’s factory,” Asia’s overall might, worldwide retail checks and emerging cities. The current recession has lead to a plethora of articles and analysis from Wall Street to Main Street. Beyond just reporting the news, WWD always asks “Why?” to help readers prepare for what’s next.