Mary vowed to choose only USA-made, sustainably made and/or secondhand clothing this year and is having some fashion fun with the challenge!
The Sad Shift From USA-Made to Fast Fashion
Ever brought home a cute top or sweater, scored at an even cuter price, only to see its buttons start falling off within weeks, or a hole open up at the armpit after a couple of washings? If so, what was your next move? Did you try to repair it for a longer life in your closet? Did you pass it on to a charitable organization, hoping against hope that someone in need could benefit from the subpar item? Or did you just give up and (ugh) toss it into the trash?
We’ve all done it. The “easy come, easy go” approach to dressing that’s taken root in many of our households is part of a global trend, whereby a stunning 60% of all clothing now ends up in landfills or incinerators within a year of being produced.
It wasn’t always this way. Clothing used to be a rather special purchase, selected carefully and built to last. In 1960, the typical American bought 25 items of clothing a year at an average cost (in today’s dollars) of $150 per item -- and 95% of that clothing was actually made in the USA.
Today we purchase about 67 apparel items a year—more than one per week—at an average cost of $28. And less than 5% is USA-made. Let that last part sink in: from 95% made in the USA clothing to under 5% in just 6 decades.
Why the sad shift? Trade agreements like NAFTA cut tariffs on apparel manufactured outside the U.S., widening a path cut by big companies like J.C. Penney and the Gap, which had already pivoted toward low-cost non-domestic labor to boost profit margins while appealing to U.S. consumers on price. The more brands followed suit, the less feasible it became to produce here at home and still price goods competitively. Who would pay $40 for a t-shirt when an identical-looking one could be snapped up for $20, $10, or even $5?
To make a large-scale difference, many more consumers need to ask, as part of their purchasing criteria, what clothing brands are made in the USA? But American-made clothing is slowly coming back.
The higher cost of manufacturing here seems to create, understandably, an aversion to fashion risks—so you’ll find many more basic, even bland silhouettes than on-trend outfits. And the prices, in general, will be higher than for non-USA-made clothing, because they need to be. But with a little hunting, you can score genuinely stylish, non-disposable clothing that supports American workers and brings pleasure over years, not weeks or months of wear—at prices still well below what high-end European and U.S. designer labels charge for clothing that is actually made elsewhere.
20 Made in USA Clothing Brands
Here is a list of my top 20 favorite clothing brands that are made in the USA. It's a concerted effort to show you that USA-made fashion is alive and well!
CLC by Corey Lynn Calter
“Limited edition, sewn in Los Angeles with love” is the inviting descriptor that made in America clothing designer Corey Lynn Calter uses for her firmly feminine pieces, from office-appropriate pleated skirts to playful babydoll dresses. A sense of wanderlust infuses her vibrant prints, and rich, saturated colors are a regular feature. Some shapes are streamlined, with flattering touches like the stretchy collar and cuffs of my CLC “Taylor” tops -- pictured above in mixed-snake-print and solid fuchsia -- while others are more fanciful. If you're a "more is more" type, rest assured this designer is not afraid to deploy ruffles, lace, tulle or sparkles when the mood hits. Favorites from the new "Supernatural" collection: dresses and separates crafted from a Garden Leopard motif that puts a delicate spin on always-fashionable animal print, with prettily illustrated big cats and botanical elements on a mint background; a bolder Birdseye print on EcoVero (a more sustainable version of viscose) twill; otherworldly Zodiac, Palmistry and Space prints; and a modern black-and-ivory grid pattern to cleanse the proverbial palate. Find your ideal wedding guest midi dress here too, with ease. Hot tip for the budget minded: An unusually robust, season-spanning sale section sets CLC above many other American-made fashion brands, with pieces ranging from ruffled sundresses to graphic shifts -- check out the cool pleated sleeve on the Emma cloud-print one -- to silk satin PJ sets (early Christmas shopping, anyone?) and even outerwear, like an adorably fuzzy tie-neck plaid coat. If you follow Anthropologie brands, CLC will not be new to you, but one caveat: the CLC pieces available at Anthropologie, while adorable, are often imported versions. So do read the fine print and, if needed, try to purchase directly from Calter's website, if clothing manufactured in the USA is a priority for you as for me.
My awakening to the drastically shrinking percentage of American made clothing came by accident, two decades ago, when — at a small, well-edited clothing and accessories shop — I came across a display of soft cotton Ts in every gorgeous shade of the rainbow. They were by Michael Stars, sized back then in an intriguing “one size fits most” method, and per the care label, made in the USA. The thought hit that while I hadn’t really noticed it until that moment, this had become a rarity. I went home, started peeking randomly at my clothing labels, and found very little made domestically. I didn’t buy a Michael Stars top that day, but soon after I picked up one that began a small collection, along with another for my mom, who also became a fan. In the years since, this LA brand has helpfully expanded its sizing (truth be told, the “one size” mainly fit small to medium) and range of styles, way beyond the original classic T. The ribbed “shine” fabric pictured here is a favorite, especially in the flattering elbow-sleeve length. Founded way back in 1986, this company has stood the test of time. And while clothing brands that are made in America are notoriously pricey, Michael Stars' sale prices are not so painful for USA made fashion. A white bodycon dress or bodycon midi dress in fantastic colors like red, green, pink, hot pink and wonderful blue hues is easy to find here.Tanks come in several flattering fits -- like the Paloma and Pina -- and vibrant color choices. Find always-cute women's gauze tops plus pants and gauze dresses in a variety of lengths and sleeve styles, most in the label's double-gauze fabric that provides decent coverage without heaviness. Saturated shades like Salsa, Camilia and Neptune are perfect for vacation, but the brand does great neutrals too; there really are choices for all tastes and skin tones. Exciting update: Michael Stars is partnering with online clothing reseller ThredUp to offer store credit in exchange for gently used items sent to ThredUp. I've taken advantage of this system with 3 of the 21 current ThredUp partner stores -- Christy Dawn, Amour Vert and Reformation -- and loved the hassle-free way to refresh my closet with some special USA made and sustainable pieces, without opening my wallet. I've also sold clothing for cash via ThredUp, but exchanging for credit at partner stores (note: these are now called "Resale-as-a-Service" shops and are buried in the FAQs, sigh) was faster, as ThredUp pays you outright for accepted items when you go that route, rather than making you wait for someone else to purchase your clothing. To sweeten the deal they currently offer a bonus, too, at Michael Stars and the other stores I've mentioned. (Tip: If a black bodycon dress appeals, there are several great Michael Stars ones on the ThredUp website now, including ruched, midi, long sleeve and other styles.)
I promise, I’m not obsessed with Los Angeles. It’s just where most of the cute women's clothing made in USA is born! Whether or not you’re looking to break loose of boring workout wear — like I did with the smooth, silky Dazey LA hand-print leggings pictured above — your mood will be boosted by a visit to young artist/designer Dani Nagel’s candy-colored corner of the web. Nagel jumped from designing Ts for fast-fashion players like Urban Outfitters to calling her own shots at this sunny, female-empowering label. Her collections are hand-drawn, handmade in small batches, with sustainable fabrics. Tops, dresses, loungewear & high-quality athletic fabrics are featured, infused throughout with a theme of female empowerment. The shop even lifts up other female designers producing in the USA, from made-in-Arizona vintage-glam silhouettes by K.S. Garner (whose dual-animal-print, elastic-waist pant for fall 2021 is a perfect transition out of the pandemic sweatpant uniform) to hip hair accessories by LA-based I'm With the Band. From Dazey's new fall 2022 collection, I predict star status for the flattering "work/play pant" and its matching suit jacket and fitted vest: a trio of 70s inspired silhouettes in fun new prints. And the Proudly Plus section of this online shop is a terrific assortment of items available in sizes 2X+ -- including the collaborative T design shown above, the proceeds from which will help the brand continue to expand it's plus-size made-in-USA clothing offerings. Word to the wise: Summer sample sale is on now, with fantastic deals on multipacks.
From hipper-than-average basics to pretty party pieces like the satiny tiered dress shown above, women's made in USA clothing from LACAUSA (“the cause” in Spanish) is ethically manufactured in Los Angeles and “dedicated to transparency and giving back to our community.” Fair wages, low waste, and great charitable causes that rotate each quarter are hallmarks of this company, founded in 2013 to blend comfort and style for the modern woman who cares how and where her outfits are made. The '70s-inspired Bodhi jacket and Dama dress (looks like a floral, but it's actually the cutest mini mushroom print!) I've been coveting are, happily, on sale now, in limited sizes. The brand's latest eco-innovations include a circular marketplace for buying and selling pre-owned Lacausa pieces--including some in new-with-tags condition--and the "Flow" collection of stretchy, sexy workout wear crafted from fabric made from recycled water bottles. Slip dress satin silhouettes are always on tap, with the Thea, Leia, Freya, Alma and Harmony styles offered in shades from charcoal and mocha to sea glass, absynthe and rose--along with classic black, of course. (In Freya, a stunning green slip dress awaits. Trust me, unlike the chartreuse that goes dramatically on and off trend, this rich hue will never spend a minute out of style.) The popular Zappa flared leggings look great in sea glass, too, along with limited-edition cocoa plus basic colors. Cassidy could be the cream shacket of your dreams, with hidden side-seam pockets. And raw silk plus gathered sleeves have transformed what might be the world's most boring shirt style--the henley--into something pretty cool. More colors, please! And while I'm putting in requests, Lacausa, could you give us some hippie tops, or maybe a petites-friendly dress, in that sweet mushroom print?
Read More From Bellatory
If I were writing up top USA made fashion brands 10 years ago, unquestionably the #1 pick would be slow-fashion pioneers Suno. After their unfortunate shutdown in 2016, it was anyone's guess whether another American designer could match the brand's eco-luxe exuberance. Now we've got our answer: matched, yes, and maybe surpassed! A New Yorker until recently (one guess where she’s moved...yep, it’s LA!), Autumn Adeigbo is one of the most exciting designers producing clothing in the United States. Look to her for vibrant colors, playful pattern-mixing, gorgeous tailoring, dramatic figure-flaunting shapes and luxe hair accessories -- favored by Regina Hall, Kerry Washington, Amanda Gorman, Mindy Kaling, This is Us's Susan Kelechi Watson and other stylish women you may have seen onscreen. Selected a Tory Burch fellow in 2019, Parsons-trained Adeigbo was inspired by her Nigerian mother, who made all of her clothing growing up, and launched her line with a collection of Africa-influenced dresses while working for W magazine as a fashion assistant. While most of her work is (sadly) out of my price range, just browsing her website is a can't-miss act of self-care in and of itself! Each piece is currently made to order, which reduces waste, at female-owned production facilities. And while Adeigbo’s brand will surely expand through the $4+ million in capital she has raised since summer 2020 -- and with retail partners like Nordstrom, Shopbop and Neiman Marcus -- I’m betting she’ll grow gracefully, without abandoning the ethical-production values that make her company so special. Right now I'm swooning over the spring 2022 Autumn Adeigbo collection, especially looks #1, 11 and 30. Tip: Investing in a truly special hair accessory is a way to access a bit of this high-end designer's magic without -- relatively speaking -- breaking the bank. And the new floral bucket hats in gorgeous fabrics are awesome, for those with cash to spare.
A page in the February 2021 issue of Vogue raised the profile of this bohemian-branded purveyor of made in America women's clothing. Of all the California brands I’m touting here, Christy Dawn may be THE most iconically Californian. From deadstock fabrics, as in the “Paloma” dress pictured above, and eco-friendly original prints -- some born from a truly inspiring, two-year-and-counting "farm-to-closet" initiative that began with regenerating depleted land -- this brand crafts lovely frocks that wouldn’t look out of place at a Laurel Canyon party circa 1968. If you're pining for a singularly sweet nap dress that's created as ethically as possible, look no further. My dress came packaged with a high-quality reusable tote bag, a sprig of lavender, a vaguely new-age missive that I’m too Midwestern to feel entirely comfortable with (“May Your Daily Dressing become a Celebration and Reminder of Your Radiant Presence” is, well, aspirational at best...), and a prepaid label for sending gently worn items from my closet to ThredUp. There they can find new homes and earn store credit on a Christy Dawn purchase -- just as they can through ThredUp's partnership with Michael Stars, mentioned above. Also welcome is the online shop’s detailed cost-breakdown graphic, including hourly pay for the person who sewed each limited-edition piece, along with the label’s markup rate compared to industry standard. All of these touches, on top of the irresistible romance of a Christy Dawn dress, have earned the label a loyal fan base. Spring 2021 marked the debut of a new, and helpful, Christy Dawn Petites line for those of us 5'4" and under, and that's where I exchanged my credit for selling -- get this -- 28 neglected items from my closet to Thredup for just one Christy Dawn dress, the "Brooklyn" style pictured below. (Worth it? Absolutely!) For fall 2022, check out the pretty new blouses, along with the expected array of much-imitated dresses. Plus, adorable mom and daughter matching outfits await in the Mama and Babe section of Christy's online shop.
This made in America clothing brand is an LA-based family business, started by Ms. Kane and her husband as newlyweds out of their garage. It produces wearable, size-inclusive pieces that won’t break the bank, especially at sale prices. The styles at Karen Kane are a little conservative for me overall, but I love the Piper pant (pictured above), this year’s versions of which are offered in sizes XSP to 22W so that virtually everyone can get in on this comfy, flattering piece that can be easily dressed up or down. For spring I like the drapey, feminine Shirred Sleeve Shirttail T -- currently on sale in pale pink, pale yellow and black, and still reasonably priced in the brighter grass, orange, lime and peacock non-sale options.The new paisley prints in warm, happy tones -- sizes XSP to 3X -- are cute too. I love the dainty star print on a new sweatshirt, in 3 color choices, that combines movement-friendly raglan styling with the refined touch of a blousy, cuffed sleeve. Need a linen dress for summer? KK's has a roll-tab sleeve and perfect length for most heights. Or give your LBD meaning, if a little black dress is what's called for, by choosing a domestically made, timeless design from one of Kane's numerous excellent options. Note: Online thrifting can be fruitful for this brand, with well over 1,000 Karen Kane items on sale at ThredUp as of June 2022.
Zero Waste Daniel
Finally, we’re moving to the East Coast with this next made in the USA clothing recommendation! As a young sweater designer, NYC 30-something Daniel Silverstein was devastated by the waste involved in bringing his designs to life. He began rescuing pre-consumer fabric scraps to keep them out of landfills, then “re-rolling” them into the coolest one-of-a-kind, made-in-Brooklyn hoodies, sweatshirts, Ts, (new!) tank dresses, and joggers -- like the gray side-stripe pair (pictured above, along with a more exuberant pink patchwork jogger in ZWD's "all-over reroll" style) that I gifted myself as a reward for wearing my kid’s hand-me-down Old Navy sweatpants until they fell apart! My sweet new Zero Waste Daniel joggers fit great, feel great, and even have decently deep pockets, unlike so many I’ve tried. These unisex-sized pieces come in hues from neutral to bright (Coral Florals is the latest, awesome line -- including a sweet crop top), and adorable scrunchies, bandanas and totes are available too. Helpfully, the shop offers money-saving multi-piece bundles in several great colors plus a mixed-florals bundle, mixed black-and-white prints, and an attention-grabbing multicolor mixed-print motif. (Note to thrifting fans: How is this incredible ZWD crop top still available on Poshmark?) For truly special rainbow clothing, check out the 2022 limited-edition rainbow T and shorts collection that is on sale as of late July. Plus, find a limited-edition, mixed-print Christmas sweatshirt that kicks ugly sweater contests to the curb. One caveat: True to the slow-fashion ethos, orders can take a long time to fulfill -- which I hope means that word has spread far and wide about this groundbreaking label, driving up demand! So be prepared to delay gratification if you take the plunge on a special handmade ZWD creation, which (truth be told), is not cheap -- but it's a quality-over-quantity choice that can be worth budgeting for, even if that takes a while. To learn more about Daniel's process, check out this CNN clip.
Started in Berlin, 2006, by identical twin sisters Daphne and Vera Correll, this wonderful label employs gorgeous saturated color and textile appliques, based largely on their self-professed “lifelong collective play with circles, squares and triangles.” A love of geometry infuses their online shop from start to finish, but above all their signature items: soft cotton Ts and sweatshirts centered around single, shimmering silk-blend velvet circles and squares. When moths eviscerated my sweaters and I vowed to start swapping them out gradually for moth-unfriendly sweatshirts special enough to stand in for sweaters, Correll Correll was my first stop. The cost is no joke, but watch closely for sales, like the one that brought me the purple beauty shown above. Color choices in 2021 included brick, ochre, a dark berry shade, navy and lapis for the brand's iconic velvet-circle design in sweatshirt, hoodie and T formats. (Plus, fan-favorite black came back in stock!) New for fall 2022, I love the aqua, wine and sand colors. Linen dresses for women featuring -- you guessed it -- geometric color blocking are also on offer. See if your body temperature doesn't drop a degree or two just looking at the cool, crisp oatmeal-and-white one. And an artfully curving row of buttons adorns a lovely new fall dress.
"We are future vintage" is a slogan for this San Francisco based company that creates, in limited quantities to reduce waste, effortlessly stylish pieces you can plan on handing down to a loved one in 20 years or so, once you've thoroughly enjoyed them yourself. Recognizing that more than half of clothing's environmental impact comes from fiber and fabric manufacturing, Amour Vert (French for "green love") works directly with mills to produce its signature sustainable fabrics. As with my Christy Dawn smocked dress, I have used ThredUp's partner-stores option to trade some gently used, infrequently worn items from my closet for several Amour Vert tops that I just love: the Monroe pj-style blouse in a rich navy cottonseed cupro fabric that looks and feels just like silk charmeuse (this one cured my skepticism on "vegan silk"!) -- but is much easier to care for; the Inverness turtleneck in French-girl-chic striped organic cotton with some modal mixed in for drape and a touch of spandex for shape; and, most recently, the ruffled Zuri top, also in silky cupro. In terms of cooler-weather styles, I'm a sucker for a sophisticated stripe -- like the Ocean Rose combo in long- and short-sleeved sweatshirts and matching skirt, all in luxe terry. A great dark floral is always welcome, and the Saint Germain print delivers -- especially in a washable silk blouse that, rarely for AV, comes in XXS. (Wouldn't it be great if they expanded to at least XXS-XXL size inclusivity for all items?) Look for dreamy new satin separates in flattering colors, the fan-favorite Renata blouse in several new florals, the chic Wynnie jumpsuit, and Berkeley Dream Knit Tee (in 9 different neutral stripe motifs!) for spring/summer 2022. For a classy midi wedding guest dress, try the Cortney in polished cupro.The AV website conveniently offers American made jeans from AGOLDE as well. Of the made in America clothing brands at work today, Amour Vert may be the closest to a one-stop-shop for both work and play, especially if you watch for sales. An exciting new development is ReAmour, a well-stocked space on the brand's website for buying and selling gently used and new-with-tags Amour Vert pieces.
Mostly too luxe for me personally to go beyond coveting, this terrific eponymous label has been spotted on Beyonce, Gabrielle Union and Michelle Obama, profiled on Oprah’s OWN network, and collaborated with Lebron James and Nike on a fabulous shoe design. Flowing from the vibrant creativity (and admirable work ethic) of Brooklyn-based, first-generation American designer Noel — whose family comes from Grenada — the brand marries proud Caribbean influences with sexy silhouettes like flowy sheer trousers, dramatically ruched crop tops, slinky robes and stretch bodysuits in gorgeous color palettes. For exceptionally feminine takes on the "muscle top" concept, check out the hip Paradise Muscle T -- featuring artist Cristina Martinez's cool sun/flower/face graphics (I'm not doing this justice; please go check it out!) direct-to-garment printed alongside embroidery of her hand-written notes on the art's meaning -- and the slinky, well-priced Morgan Cropped Muscle Tank in cream, sage and cinnamon shades fit for a stunning modern beach cottage. Hot tip: Check Saks Fifth Ave for 10 pieces from Fe Noel's new Golden Hour collection, including the sultry Sundance Slip Dress and a super cool pleated wide-leg jean. While the Met Gala fashion news this year was dominated by statement-makers like Kim Kardashian and AOC, I liked the fashion statement made by beauty influencer Jackie Aina, reportedly the first African-American content creator to attend the event, in a head-to-toe hot pink look by Fe Noel. Note to celebs: Please follow her lead and give emerging, or more established for that matter, made in America clothing companies a chance when you're dressing for special events sure to garner media coverage. But it's hard to top the Spice Gradient pieces from the designer's resort 2022 collection, including a stunning ruched dress that has, unsurprisingly, already sold out. I thought I hated mesh, but the way she's paired warm neutral mesh pieces with richly hued gradients is super cool.