WWD has had more than its share of big scoops through the decades, but 81 years ago it missed a big one. The stock market crash of 1929. While the recent recession and its aftermath have been almost daily fodder in today’s WWD, the catalyst of the Great Depression was regarded more or less as a blip by the paper in those days. It would be months before WWD caught up with the reality of the situation, as U.S. employment skidded steadily to a jobless rate of 25 percent in 1933. (ILGWU membership had slipped by more than half by 1932, although by the end of the Depression it had grown to around 300,000.) The day after the market plunged on October 29, 1929, WWD took a somewhat rosy view of Wall Street’s devastating performance. In a small box on the top of page one under the headline “Sees Only Benefit for Ready-to-Wear From Stock Deflation,” the paper said that during the “troublous times of 1893, 1903 and 1907” stores saw continuous increases in rtw sales, because “the public wanted to economize and turned to stores for ready-to-wear instead of having its clothing made to order.” WWD concluded that demand for the holiday season was apt to rise, and recommended that “stores should have a full and complete stock to take advantage of the situation. All in all, clever merchants seem to feel there is a splendid opportunity for our retail industries…to divert to practical gift giving for the holiday business which Wall Street developments may take away from more expensive items.”
On October 31, two days after the crash, the paper reported that on Seventh Avenue, “They’re all back to work with the old sportsmanship which so often has taken with a smile the turn of the fickle wheel of fashion,” and on November 1, a box at the top of page one proclaimed (without any story attached), “The Garment Business Is a Pretty Good Business, After All!”
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.