Photo from Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

When the word “fashion” is springs to mind, cities such as New York City, Paris, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and London are usually on the tip of the tongue in response. However, since the Windy City is one of the most populous cities in the United States, and one of the most culturally diverse and sought after to visit cities in the world, Chicago is a location that is a hotbed for any activity, fashion or otherwise.

The breadth of Chicago fashion history information, therefore, is vast; quite possibly with more interesting nuggets of information than one might expect or think. For one, how did Michigan Avenue — commonly known as the Magnificent Mile — become a central destination for big name brands and designers clamoring to set up a storefront on the street?

The Basis for Chicago Fashion: The Magnificent Mile

As any resident knows about the Mag Mile and Chicago — especially if you live close to Michigan Ave. like those who call The Residences at The St. Regis Chicago home — the designer names, the cute boutiques, and the restaurants that line the street are worth visiting, despite the crowds.

The Mag Mile, like the boulevards found in suave European cities (especially that of Paris’ famous avenue, the Champs-Elysees), was planned to attract residents and tourists alike to Chicago. This idea, created from the Magnificent Mile Association over 100 years ago, was centered around the Water Tower and Pumping Station, and it was to extend south to the Chicago River.

Now, 100 plus years have passed since the plan was enacted and Michigan Avenue, with its shops, restaurants, and residences (among other high-profile places luring people in to visit), has continued to expand south of the Chicago River, with Grant Park, Lakeshore East, and the Loop merging the fashion and culture of Chicago into one larger piece of the city.

Chicago Based Fashion Designers

Although the company was not based in Chicago, one of the largest cosmetic brands, Maybelline, has a strong connection with the Windy City. The founder of Maybelline, Thomas Williams — the name created in homage of his sister, Maybel — was from Chicago. Despite New York being synonymous with the cosmetics brand, and as an offshoot of fashion, Maybelline could then be tenuously linked as being founded by a Chicago based fashion designer.

Although not a fashion designer, one of the most crucial pieces of Chicago fashion history, and likewise, nationwide fashion history, was the department store of Marshall Field’s. Originally from the east coast, Marshall Field opened the store in Chicago, starting a fashion merchandising point in the city’s history.

Similar to Thomas and Maybel Williams and Marshall Field, the grafting for the fashion industry was started in Chicago for Harry and Max Hart. Better known as the founders of the men’s suit shop of Hart Schaffner Marx, the company was founded in the late 1800s in the Windy City. Yet another fashion organization that has led to today’s designers being shaped by Chicago.

A major name in women’s fashion in the mid-1900s was Halston. The designer, originally from Iowa, attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and proceeded to open a store on Michigan Ave before opening a boutique in New York City.

Not necessarily a clothing fashion designer but, regardless, one of the most influential Chicago based fashion designers for interior and home design is Nate Berkus. As a Midwesterner, Berkus has stayed true to his roots and has a private store location in Chicago that he calls home.

Chicago Fashion Schools

Although there aren’t true fashion design schools like the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising located in Chicago, there are niches to colleges, schools, and universities that could, for the right person, become their own Chicago fashion school.

Two such schools have great programs for any budding fashion designer, regardless of if they want to be Chicago-based or not. One is the aforementioned School at the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) while the other is Columbia College Chicago. 

SAIC features a Department of Fashion Design, with students who undertake those studies to challenge themselves with the “artistic and theoretical approach” to fashion design. Columbia College Chicago, on the other hand, provides students with the opportunity to declare an undergraduate major in fashion, with a choice in a Bachelor of Arts in Fashion Studies or Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion Design.

Looking for a chance to ply your trade in the fashion industry, whether you’ve gone to a fashion school or not? Since 2008, Chicago has been home to budding Chicago based fashion designers with the Chicago Fashion Incubator. It’s a worthwhile non-profit organization that sees Chicago-based fashion businesses going head-to-head with designers from around the globe.

Fashion Shows in Chicago

Do you live in Chicago and are a purveyor of fashion design but you are not a fashion designer? You’re in luck as there are a few fashion shows in Chicago that are must-dos. 

One such fashion show that has been a longstanding tradition is an event put on by The Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center. In 2016, the show became the nation’s oldest continuous charity fashion show. 

For more designer-driven fashion, Chicago Fashion Week, organized by Fashionbar, is an annual show featuring top designers. From avant garde pieces to more daily wearables, Chicago Fashion Week has it all.

There’s so much fashion all around the city, and what’s more, it’s close to home. When you live at The Residences at St. Regis Chicago, the fashion world is at your fingertips once you step outside the doors. Do you long for a place to live and design? Reside with us and you’ll be inspired with your next line in no time.