Clothing manufacture in Texas has increased slowly through a series of expansions and declines. At the beginning of the Civil War five establishments in Texas were manufacturing wearing apparel, and during the war uniforms for Confederate troops were made at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. By 1870 there were thirty-three establishments, but the census of 1889 reported only four plants. By 1899 the number had increased to eleven, but only 0.13 percent of the total value of the nation's ready-made clothes was produced in Texas, while 1 percent in 1939 was of Texas origin. At this time Texas ranked eleventh of all states in clothing manufacture. Until about 1910 the clothing manufacturers in Texas produced only men's clothing. Since that time there has been a shift to the production of women's apparel, but the manufacture of men's clothing, particularly pants and work clothes, engaged the major portion of the industry. The manufacture of apparel and related products by Texas producers in the twentieth century has been a "rags to riches" story in both the literal and figurative sense. Texas producers and designers have challenged successfully the hegemony of the New York and California industries. With 1,250 establishments employing 65,100 workers and an annual payroll of approximately $875 million in 1994, the industry was a statewide phenomenon with factories located in smaller communities as well as large cities. More than a fourth of the state's apparel-manufacturing enterprises were located in Dallas County; they had 12,305 employees and an annual payroll of $160,694,000. El Paso and Bexar counties were also centers of production.
By the late 1920s pioneer companies had emerged that manufactured clothing better suited to the regional tastes and seasonal demands of the Southwest. Such enterprises as Finesilver Manufacturing Company (1897, San Antonio), Lorch Manufacturing Company (1909, Dallas), Farah (1920, El Paso), Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company (1922, Fort Worth), Juvenile Manufacturing Company, now Santone Industries (1923, San Antonio), and the Haggar Company (1926, Dallas) produced men's work clothes and pants, ladies' cotton dresses, and children's play clothes. During the 1930s such Dallas companies as Nardis, Donovan, Marcy Lee and Justin McCarty capitalized on the marketability of the low-cost cotton house dress and produced new distinctive lines of sportswear, especially ladies' slacks, for national consumption. Texas had 73 clothing factories in 1917, 102 in 1929, and 103 in 1933. The receipt of federal contracts to manufacture large quantities of military uniforms during World War II enabled Texas firms to modernize plant machinery and expand national sales contacts. In 1942 manufacturers formed the Dallas Fashion and Sportswear Center, now the Southwest Apparel Manufacturers Association. This aggressive trade organization used advertisements in national fashion magazines, sponsored elaborate style shows, expanded the size and number of apparel markets held in Dallas, and published its own magazine, Dallas Fashion and Sportswear (later Texas Fashions) from 1942 to 1972.
Growth in the national importance of fashions designed and produced in Texas continued in the postwar period. In 1947 the state had 361 factories with 20,164 workers. The three Frankfurt sisters of Dallas, founders of the Page Boy Maternity Fashions Company, achieved national prominence. Seeking new labor markets, many of the pioneer firms decentralized manufacturing operations from large urban centers by placing factories in smaller communities throughout the state, especially along the border with Mexico. Producers introduced new lines of casual clothing made from wrinkle-resistant polyester fabric. Fashion-minded retailers, such as Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, produced a favorable fashion climate for the expansion of Texas apparel producers. Operating in a conservative economic environment, management successfully discouraged any meaningful unionization of workers by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, combined later as the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers. In 1963 the manufacture of apparel and related items was, in number of employees and size of payroll, the fourth largest manufacturing industry in Texas. With 40,150 employees and a $124,809,000 payroll, the industry was outdistanced only by manufacturing of machinery, transportation equipment, and chemicals and allied products. A catalyst to the continued growth of the Texas industry was the opening of the $15 million Apparel Mart building in Dallas in 1964. By 1984 it was the nation's largest wholesale fashion market under one roof, having 2.3 million square feet of space in seven stories with 2,000 separate showrooms. The Apparel Mart attracted approximately 80,000 buyers annually. Such Dallas companies as Howard B. Wolf, Jerell, Prophesy, and Victor Costa established a special niche for themselves by upgrading the styling of garments targeted for a distinctive segment of the market. An emphasis on private corporate ownership and the passing on of traditional values from one generation to another brought about a continuity in ownership and longevity of existence among many Texas companies that were unprecedented in the national apparel industry. Competition from imports produced by low-cost labor began to alarm all Texas producers by the mid-1980s. By means of creativity in policy and audacity in action, however, such challenges were being met successfully.