This is the term given to clothing that, unlike made-to-measure, is designed either for commissioned consumption (as in uniforms) or speculative sale at the retail level. When pertaining to retail consumption, another common term is "off-the-rack" or "off-the-peg." Evidence of speculative production can be traced as far back as ancient Babylonia. Guilds in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance tried to restrict mass production but, by the late 1600s, their power ebbed. Records of preindustrial commissioned consumption exist throughout England, France, Italy, Belgium, and Spain, with one of the earliest being the British Navy's commission of uniforms in 1666. As preindustrial international trade flourished during the 1700s, merchant houses traded ready-made clothing between the United States, China, and Europe. The American Civil War provided statistics for men's sizing and the invention of the tape measure (1820) helped in standardizing sizing measurements. However, the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe (1846) and the electric sewing machine by Isaac Singer (1889) not only made mass production possible but provided unskilled workers with the chance to work in a factory production line, sewing a piece of the garment (known as piecework) rather than the whole garment, which required much more skill in tailoring and/or dressmaking.
   By the end of the nineteenth century, New York City was the hub of ready-to-wear in the United States, especially fueled by the number of department stores and mail-order catalogs that sprung up in the mid-1800s. After World War II, the European haute couture houses Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Jacques Fath recognized that ready-to-wear was the future of the industry. Rather than continue being copied, they signed lucrative licensing deals with American manufacturers to produce less expensive lines. Other designers followed suit and the first prêt-à-porter show was held in Paris in 1973. Designer's ready-to-wear collections bring a much bigger return on investment than their couture collections. Most companies that manufacture ready-to-wear present their collections twice a year during fashion week, namely, in February, they show their Fall merchandise and, in September, they show their Spring merchandise. Couture is shown in January for Fall collections and July for Spring.

Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry. .

Look at other dictionaries:

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