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Seattle Fashion Roots Changed the Industry Forever

Updated: May 14, 2023

By Chele Sellman

Seattle fashion history
Credit: MOHAI

Seattle is known for its rainy days and gloomy weather. But this doesn't stop Seattleites from being fashionable. In fact, Seattle has a long and rich history of fashion with many notable icons and designers who have made their mark on the city.

The first documented mention of Seattle fashion was in 1857 when a newspaper article described the dress of a woman as "far from the style worn by any other woman in this country."

Notable icons include: Rachel Comey, who founded her namesake brand in 2002; John Young, who opened his eponymous store in 1956; Elaine Turner, a former model and designer who founded her namesake brand in 1963; and Deborah Lippmann, a nail polish company founder who also dabbles in fashion design.

Seattle is a city with an expanded history in the fashion industry. It may not be commonly known, but Seattle fashion is rich in heritage and is definitely something we should strive to remember. Seattle’s location on Puget Sound and its proximity to Canada make it an ideal spot for manufacturing and distribution. In the 1970s, Seattle became known as a hub for production of garments such as coats, slacks, dresses, and sportswear.

In the early days of the 20th century, for example, department stores in Seattle were among the first to offer ready-to-wear garments and designer labels. This led to a thriving fashion industry in Seattle that continues today. Seattle is now a hub for the fashion industry in North America. Some of the designers and brands from Seattle include Alaska Airlines' uniforms, The North Face, Xbox Live's clothing line and Microsoft's Surface computers. Seattle is also home to more than 10 international fashion houses that produce apparel and accessories, including Coach (since 1997), Eddie Bauer (since 1895), J. C. Penney Company Inc., Nike Inc., Pacific Northwest College of Art University (since 1911), and Ralph Lauren (since 1967).

With so many grand beginnings, it is no wonder Seattle attracts such talented and creative innovators. More and more, fashion designers, such as Tony Vicente of Rossario George, are seen in the pages of Vogue and will be walking the runways of Paris Fashion Week. It won't be long before Seattle turns into a fashion mecca. Seattle, after all, is a city of makers and doers. It is the home to Boeing and Microsoft—not just because of their size but also because they are thought leaders in design who have never shied away from innovation. This can be seen in the recent runways of Seattle Fashion Week last season, where designers presented garments made entirely with 3D-printed models that were later shredded and recycled by designer Timo Baer before being turned back into new fashion items. 

The fashion industry in Seattle is a flourishing one, with many competent brands and cool events. It's no wonder that some of the elite fashion publications of the world are taking notice. The city has been featured in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair, both of which feature Seattle-made clothing, designers and even a model who made it big on the runway. The Emerald City has seen an explosion in amazing fashion, handcrafted apparel, and accessories in 2022. The explosion is happening with young local design companies like Lizzy & Jesse that have quickly gained popularity through their fashion-forward approach to clothes. 

With Seattle’s enhanced credibility in the fashion industry, we can be sure to see more creative minds emerge as up-and-coming designers explore and produce the next best fashion staple. 2023 is looking to be a phenomenal year for the Seattle fashion community and this writer is looking forward to it.

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