Lord and Taylor Shoes – The innovative history
Any person walking through a large mall probably does not think about how consumers shopped for clothing and shoes in the years before retail outlets. The innovation in apparel marketing came about with the growth of Lord and Taylor shoes, a retail juggernaut that has provided nearly two centuries’ worth of service to fashion and trendy themes.
Lord and Taylor shoes began in 1826 under inauspicious circumstances. Like many immigrant families coming to the bustling American east coast, Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor looked to create a business that could accommodate their families’ needs. They started a store on Catharine Street in Manhattan, New York, then a city of only half a million people and only a shadow of the fashion and commercial hub it would become. The original store only sold hosiery, scarves, and some fashion for women pieces.
By the start of the Civil War in 1861, the company had expanded to provide clothing to many of the major stores in New York and the northeast. With more customers and more demand for their products, the decision was made for Lord and Taylor shoes to expand into nearly every area of fashion — shoes were some of the most popular sales pieces, but full apparel was also included in their sales catalogs. Expansion into new stores in Manhattan proved somewhat successful: an outlet on Broadway was successful but too small for a thriving customer base. A new storefront on 20th Street would not only hold more wares, but also was the first building in New York to be constructed with an iron frame — a forerunner of the architecture needed to build the metropolis’ skyscrapers.
Soon, the 20th Street Lord and Taylors shoes outfit had so much popularity that it not only had swelling ranks of shoppers, but saw rival stores open up shops nearby to cash in on the traffic. This led many New Yorkers to call 20th Street “Ladies’ Mile”, as a passer-by could often see mothers, wives, and daughters thronging to Lord and Taylor in order to get a glimpse of the newest apparel. The store introduced a steam-driven elevator, one of the first in the entire city, which became a tourist attraction all its own. Throughout the financial boom of the late 19th century in the northern United States, Lord and Taylor shoes for women became a mainstay in the fashion language of the well-connected and trendy.
1903 would be the benchmark for the company when Lord and Taylor moved to New York’s Fifth Avenue and set up their company headquarters, along with an all-new show floor. The property rates on Fifth Avenue were low and the exposure was high, so again more fashion outlets flocked to Fifth Avenue and set up shop. Lord and Taylor shoes, thus, remains the reason why Fifth Avenue is synonymous today with innovative fashion. Indeed, the original building has been named a New York City landmark for its pioneering effort.
In 1916, Lord and Taylor formed a conglomerate with American Dry Goods; this would later be purchased by May Company, the current owner of the company. At the time, many clothing trends were European; Lord and Taylor boots scorned the status quo and utilized styles and models that were Americanized, encouraging their customers to purchase what was popular in the United States rather than Paris or London. In 1938, the Lord and Taylor shop would be the very first to use a light-up Christmas display to attract shoppers during the holiday season. Today, the Lord Taylor shoes division of May Company is one of the corporation’s most successful arms.