KC Garment District Museum holds key to fashion history

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - The Kansas City Garment District Museum sits at West 8th Street and Broadway, in the heart of downtown.

Ann Brownfield is the museum’s curator, but she also has first-hand knowledge of what used to be in the area.

The garment factories of Kansas City began to pop up on the upper floors of dry goods companies in the 1920s. After World War I, the men coming back from overseas didn’t want to go back to farm life after seeing the big cities of Europe.

Brownfield says it was easy for the industry to grow. “You could have someone sew up two or three garments. Then you could go out and get orders for them. And you come back to your factory, and buy the goods, and cut and sew and deliver,” she recalls.

After finishing college at Stephen’s College in Columbia, Brownfield got a job working as a shoe designer in St. Louis. She moved to Kansas City with her husband in 1960 and got her first job with Danny and Debbie Dar designing little girls’ sportswear.

Kansas City was known for well made products using quality fabrics. Brownfield says, “since we had the section line, that we put [clothes] together in an assembly line. We could make them faster, and better, and cheaper than anyone else in the country.”

Brownfield says she designed the first pants suit for women in Kansas City because the Chiefs came to town. She says, “everyone wanted to be warm when they sat out in the stadium.”

But as the styles changed over the years, the factories began going out of business. People started dressing in more casual clothes for work and jeans became very popular in the fashion world. By 1988, all the factories were gone.

The museum’s collection displays photos and garments from the 1920’s to 1988, and the all the garments on display were made in one of the Kansas City factories.

Some of Brownfield’s own designs are on display today. And she says some may still be hanging in closets across the county.

The museum is open to the public on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Scheduled group tours are done Wednesday - Saturday. For more information, visit the KC Garment District Museum's website.

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