Abstract: Elements of Style: Changing Business Practices and the California Menswear Industry, 1930-1960

William R. Scott


Between 1930 and 1960, men's styles became increasingly informal and the three-piece suit, once a male uniform, became associated with work and the organization. Southern California rose from obscurity to become the world's second-largest garment production center during this period, largely by producing casual clothing for men and women. This paper looks at the business practices that accompanied the transformation in men's styles. Leisurewear's rapid obsolescence and the necessity of responding rapidly to consumer demand required more flexible production practices than did suits, underwear, and overcoats. Companies had to prioritize marketing to achieve success. Notably, during the same period that economic historians tout as the "era of Fordism" and the epoch of the managerial corporation, the growth of the Los Angeles market represented a triumph of small-scale, un-unionized manufacturing, of batch production, and of patronage-driven, informal financing.