JF Ptak Science Books Post 1937 (Part of the series on the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things)
Tony Soprano may have been a murdering and lecherous crook, but the man was always on hand with a handkerchief if a sobbing woman needed one. They were washed and ironed and folded by the wife he would cheat on, and he'd dab his brow from murderous sweat with it, but, well, he had one when it was needed. Few people carry one around, nowadays, and very few people manufacture them, at least here in the U.S., let alone in NYC, the place opposite Tony's Exit 13.
The Gold Book Directory of Men's Apparel ("published by Men's Apparel reporter") was issued for the World's Fair in 1939--it is a stubby, 320-page, 5-inch-tall and designed booklet, and it is pretty much a mausoleum-y reminder of what once was. New York had been a center of clothing manufacturing for a long time, and this pamphlet reminds us of that--and I'm not getting too rosey and sentimental about a tough trade that had its share of abuse of the unprotected, as there were generations of immigrants who passed through those sweat-box meat grinders choking out pants and shirts for the lower- and middle-class while making pennies-per-piece. The shirt-pocket-sized golden book does remind us of industry that once was, and now moved overseas to perhaps even more vast abusing sweatboxes to produce cheap goods at clothing prices lower than they were (CPI-adjusted) in 1939.
It is striking to see the tabbed division headings: "New York Hat and Cap Manufacturers" (listing 100+ businesses), "New York Handkerchief Makers"(60+!), robes (60), shirts (300), underwear (250), robes (90), evening dress (100), waistcoat (50), cumberbunds (24), label makers (woven (!)75), and of course New York Pajama Manufacturers, weighing in (with a line of pj's called "Mr. Stubb" for "the short man") with more than 120 manufacturers. It is really enough to make the modern reader misty for lost times. Now, these categories were not mutually exclusive, and the Zenith Underwear Company could also produce handkerchiefs, but there is ample evidence here of vastly lost and different times--not only in the loss of domestic manufacturing, but also in the disappearance of the need for evening dresses, cumberbunds, waistcoats and (almost-but-not-quite) handkerchiefs.
Here's a bit that appeared on this blog a little while ago on the grim part of the garment manufacturing industry in NYC (called Ancient Myths Modern: the Other Statue of Liberty, 1911, here):